“Why haven’t you still completed your homework?”
“When will you start studying for the exams? They are just a week away!”
“Oh my God! You still have not started working on the project to be submitted day after?”
Do these expressions ring a bell? I am sure most of us would have heard them from our beloved parents!
An analysis in 2007 by a US university psychologist, Dr Piers Steel, reports that 80% to 95% of college students end up working in the last hour, particularly when it comes to doing their coursework.
Let’s take a glance at few of our present day scenarios which we face as parents or professionals. How often have we jumped across tasks and started working on something that is entirely unrelated to the one that is of more priority? Have we faced a seemingly tough project but felt the need to relax at the moment and deal with it later? Have there been instances when we fretted over the outcome before starting to work and later had sleepless nights about how our superiors would receive our work? There could have also been cases when we underestimated the time taken to complete and ended up burning the midnight oil.
So what exactly is the reason behind our children or ourselves ending up in such ‘last-minute-work-not-done’ situations? Is it laziness or irresponsibility or carelessness? Experts call this behavior as ‘procrastination’. Let us first understand how it is defined and then we shall delve into the root cause of it.
Procrastination — a word derived from Latin root word, pro, which means “forward, forth, in favor of,” and crastinus, which means “of tomorrow.” So procrastinators are in favor of tomorrow. A tomorrow that will never come, until the deadlines knock at the door.
The act of procrastination is a vicious cycle that creates an imbalance in our day to day execution of various tasks. Delaying a task gobbles up the time set for another task which in turn gets delayed, and we end up doing shoddy work to reconcile ourselves with the feeling of completion.
Research by an online magazine, Psychology Today, suggests that there are three different types of procrastinators:
The first one are the thrill seekers, who do it just to feel the euphoria of success at the last moment. They purposefully procrastinate as they value doing things at the nick of the moment. However, last moment failures can demotivate them from trying anything in the future.
The second one, where the majority fall in, are the avoiders. They put off the task primarily because of the fear of failure and the biggest question that wavers their mind off the task is “What will people think of my performance?”. Societal reaction tops their anxiety list, and they get depressed by failures.
The third type is the indecisive ones who are unable to take a decision and consider this as an excuse to put off the job. They end up never starting the job and feel better off facing the consequences rather than tackling the problem.
So, it is evident that the act of procrastinating has many deep-rooted psychological reasons. A close analysis involving constant interaction with our children and constant behavioral observation can very well help us identify the reason behind their avoidance. Let us look at a few tips that could help us get our children to avoid falling into the vicious cycle of procrastination and get them motivated to take the challenges, head on. We shall also discuss strategies that could help the various types of procrastinators we discussed earlier.
The first step towards the goal: Beginnings are always the most challenging part of any task.Children are clueless about where to start and how to start. A sloppy beginning can lead to a sloppier end. A brilliant strategy that can work wonders in this situation is to ‘ Visualise the goal’. As the quote says, “If you can visualise it, you can achieve it”. However, this is not as easy as it sounds. Children mostly are clueless about what is the result they would want to see, and they refrain from making a start. With a little guidance from parents or teachers about the concrete result to be expected, children can surely hold the threads to spin them on. It’s also a great idea to help them decide what the first step towards achieving the same is , though giving into their creativity does wonders . This strategy works well for the indecisive ones who fail even to make an attempt at the task.
Time Table: A great method that helps in a long term perspective. A well planned time table can act as a guiding star in leading a child towards effective time management and task completion. Parents can sit with the child and help them to understand the priorities based on various deadlines specified and create a well-defined table that places the tasks to be done on each day over the next two weeks or so.
Prioritize – A striking strategy that could help the child prioritize various activities could be to prepare the Eisenhower matrix. A sample describing a child’s activities is given below.
Find below a brief description of the significance of each quadrant in the matrix :
- The Q1 quadrant indicates those tasks that require immediate attention and are of high importance and hence have to be completed immediately on the same day itself.
- The Q2 quadrant lists those that are important but have a more extensive timeline to work on.
- The Q3 quadrant, though urgent, isn’t as important as the others and hence are the perfect tasks that could be avoided if possible.
- The Q4 quadrant denotes the tasks that are neither important nor urgent and hence could be avoided as much as possible.
Parents could help their children place the various tasks in these 4 quadrants and also express the importance of concentrating on Q1 in the short term and more importantly on the Q2 quadrant that helps them work on their long term goals.
The above strategy of proper planning and execution could be tried on thrill-seekers who might have most of their tasks listed in the Q1 quadrant initially. They might succeed in a few but might face failures in many others. Parents could help shift focus on the Q2 quadrant that makes them realize the importance of long term planning and reap the benefits of the same.
It is OK to fail: This is one of the most beautiful phrases that we as parents or teachers can pass on to our children. The great basketball legend, Michael Jordan had once quoted, “ I can accept failures, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying!” The biggest reason behind a child not trying is the ‘consequence of failure’ which could range from humiliation from parents, teachers or peers to comparison with peers and judging the ability of the child. It is imperative for the parents to realise and make the child realise that failures are a part of the learning process and the fact that a child has failed does not undermine his/her abilities in any way. This is the best strategy for the avoiders who always fear the outcome and how it is received in society and end up avoiding the task at hand.
Break them down: “Break down the tasks. Nothing needs to be so huge that it overwhelms you. One step at a time. One thing at a time.” Let’s assume that a child in 2nd grade has been given the task of creating a model of the water cycle. For a child aged 7 or 8 years, this obviously is a huge project. Help the child split them into parts and give appropriate deadlines for each. The parts could be exploring about the water cycle to start with, prepare a drawing of the expected outcome, explore the things needed to make the model, decide the placement of each element and then attempt the final model. When the targets are small and realistic, children find it achievable.Let them take one step at a time. The joy of seeing the significant outcome which these little targets achieved for them would give them immense pride and confidence to take on future challenges! An excellent strategy to get indecisive ones to make a start and gradually complete the task!
Model Behavior: Scientists claim that procrastination is a learned behavior. Learned behavior is the one that is developed by a person through experience or an action that is developed by watching others, be it elders or peers. Well, that sets the stage for us, as parents and teachers, to model a ‘No-procrastination’ behavior. Children look upon their parents as their role models. An environment filled with positivism and constant motivation at home can inspire a child immensely , and it does not take too long for them to mirror them too. So, it is a wonderful idea to take a step back and reflect, how we react to various situations before labelling our children as procrastinators. “ Model the kind of behaviour you want your children to exhibit!”
Working together with our children in overcoming their fears not only helps them conquer their fears but also helps us to reflect on our own shortcomings. Procrastination is just one of those challenges that children face. But, collaborating with our children makes every challenge a cake walk for them. It’s a joint effort initially. Once they learn the tricks, they become our role models in the effective execution of tasks.
Happy Parenting! Happy Facilitating!
And of course, happy collaboration!
To know how CueMath helps your child focus better: