We all want to help our teens to stop procrastinating! This article has some great tips and tricks to help your teen do just that!
As teens approach their schoolwork or a task, they must be aware of
their Current Self, which seeks immediate gratification
and their Aspirational Self, which drives the goals they want to attain.
What does procrastination mean for your teen? When your teen sets goals, like acing a final exam this semester or going to an Ivy League school, they are making plans for their Aspirational Self. They need to envision what they want their life to be like in the future. Researchers have found that it is pretty easy for their brains to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits when they are accessing their Aspirational Self. The Aspirational Self values long-term goal attainment. However, while the Aspirational Self can set goals, only their Current Self can take immediate action. When the time comes to make a quick decision, they are no longer choosing from the viewpoint of their Aspirational Self; their Current Self is driving the brain. Studies show that the Current Self likes instant gratification, not long-term goal attainment. This is true for parents and teens alike. So, your teen’s Current Self and Aspirational Self are often at odds.
- The Aspirational Self wants excellent grades to get into the best colleges.
- The Current Self wants to eat a donut, check out social media, or play a video game.
- The Aspirational Self wants to study several days ahead of a test and dedicate enough time to complete a paper to meet the standards to get into the school of their choice.
- The Current Self can’t see into the future and doesn’t realize that poor choices today will impact your teen’s ability to get into the top schools on their list.
Your teen’s Current Self rationalizes their choices because it’s far easier to see the value of having a donut or playing a game and not doing the school work needed, which results in procrastination. When procrastinating, the Aspirational Self causes feelings of guilt in your teen for not starting what they know they should be doing, which causes even more stress for everyone involved.
When a teen needs to complete a task,
they rely primarily on their self-discipline to take action.
- Their self-discipline is further supported if their motivations are aligned to get things done as scheduled.
- Your teen may experience distractions like lack of clarity, anxiety, or fear of failure in some instances.
- They sometimes may experience feelings of exhaustion (from only getting 4 hours of sleep) or worry about getting into the right college. Both can interfere with their self-discipline and motivation to do the right thing.
- When your teen’s distractions outweigh their self-discipline and immediate motivation, they will justify procrastinating.
- They will procrastinate until they have to complete a task: study for tomorrow’s math test or finish a paper due tomorrow. When an assignment is due tomorrow, they force their self-discipline and motivations to align and take action, and they cram to get the job done in the time they have left. See the graphic below:
While this may occasionally work because your teen is bright and can use brute force, it is not sustainable and results in subpar work (because they are tired). It also creates further anxiety and stress because they know they could have done better if they had just spent more time planning properly.
To understand what procrastination means for your teen,
they need to identify the primary reasons.
Review the list below:
- Anxiety: in light of potential negative feedback from teachers or parents.
- Overwhelming feelings: often while lacking a plan to organize their day to complete the tasks correctly.
- Unclear goals: generally vague about when and how they intend to study or complete their assignments.
- Perfectionism: in the form of expecting that their work must be their best and cannot have any errors.
- Fear of failure: concerns over how failure reflects on their abilities and skills, either for themselves or in the eyes of others.
- Task reluctance: especially in cases where they find an assignment worthless, boring or unpleasant.
- Lack of personal motivation: often due to not caring about academic performance, feeling disconnected from their Aspirational Self, or having goals that are too far in the future.
- Physical or emotional exhaustion: often due to a combination of a high academic workload, sports, and lack of sleep due to distractions and overcommitments.
- Annoyance: generally toward studying or assignments directly, or toward the source, such as a parent pushing them to do well in a subject that doesn’t interest them.
- Thrill-seeking: waiting until just before the deadline to work on the task to make a boring assignment more exciting.
- Poor study environment: generally due to many distractions or temptations present.
- Lack of clarity from teachers: for example, when not having thorough directions and due dates for a specific assignment.
Take a few minutes with your teen to reflect and decide which are the top three culprits. If you determine it’s something not listed, note it down. By naming the reason, you can now help your teen determine specific actions to help manage or eliminate them.
What specific actions can your teen take to stop procrastinating?
Enough about the reasons for procrastination. Check out some specific actions they can take to help reduce their procrastination. Please have your teen do the following in the order specified: Make a list of their Top 5 Aspirational Self Goals that they want to accomplish when they are finished with high school:
- Graduate with an X GPA
- Be accepted to Wharton and X other schools
- Get 8 hours of sleep a night–not a week
Make a list of their Top 5 Current Self Activities (aka eating donuts) that they want to enjoy while in high school. For example:
- Posting on TikTok
- Perusing their social media feed
- Reaching level “quadrillion” in their favorite game
They now know their top aspirational goals and those “guilty pleasures” that might currently distract them and cause them to procrastinate. We’re going to help your teen figure out a simple way to get the grades and sleep they seek while also enjoying a video game or social media along the way! First, they need to get all their competing priorities down on one piece of paper (or Google Doc) using the Eisenhower Method.
Eisenhower Method will help your teen stop procrastinating
Eisenhower differentiated all tasks between urgent and important.
- Urgent tasks are those tasks that require immediate attention.
- Important tasks are those tasks that contribute to your long-term success and personal core values.
Your teen needs to understand that not everything that is urgent is important, and not everything that is important is urgent. Have your teen list everything they need to do in the next month for school, chores, relationships–everything! Don’t overthink it, just list it on a piece of paper. This will become their Master List of Activities. Next, have them write 1, 2, 3, or 4 next to each item according to the following: 1- Do First: Most important and urgent tasks to be completed today or tomorrow 2- Schedule: Important but not as urgent. Should be scheduled for a specific time on a calendar 3- Delegate/Get Help: Urgent but not important. Find someone else to do it for them. 4- Don’t Do: Neither important nor urgent. Don’t do it at all. After everything is listed with a number next to it, go back and rank the priority of the 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s. They don’t need to rank order the 4’s. Now that your teen has identified all their tasks for the month, have them use the Ivy Lee Method to help them manage their daily priorities.
The Ivy Lee Method
- Have them review their Eisenhower list at the end of each day and write down the three most important tasks they need to accomplish tomorrow. The key is not to write down more than three tasks.
- Rank those three items in order of their importance.
- When they begin their tasks tomorrow, they should concentrate only on the first task. Work until they finish the first task before moving on to the next task.
- Address the rest of their list in the same way. Move any unfinished tasks to a new list of three tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every day.
As they get comfortable with three tasks per day, they can add one more task each day until they address up to six essential tasks a day.
The Gary Keller “One Thing” Question
As your teen sets their priorities with the Ivy Lee Method above, they should use Gary Keller’s “One Thing” question to guide them:
What is the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?
(Go ahead and read that sentence again to let it sink in. It’s a very compelling question!)
How will this sequence effectively help your teen stop procrastinating?
- It’s simple enough to actually work!
- It forces them to make tough decisions.
- It eliminates excuses for getting started. Stopping their favorite activity in order to start a paper can be challenging. If they spend just 5-10 minutes (without distractions) outlining what they want to write, it will become easier to progress with their work in the next scheduled time.
- It requires them to single-task! Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t work. Many people think that multitasking drives better productivity, but the science shows this not to be the case. The exact opposite is true. Having fewer priorities leads to better work.
(If your teen faces an emergency, they need to deal with it and then return to their top 3 items.)
Reward Bundling Method
So your teen may ask, “When do I get to reward myself for doing my school work? When can I eat a donut or play a video game?” Reward bundling is when a sufficient amount of time is spent doing the necessary tasks to reach specific goals like schoolwork (something you should do but don’t really want to do), followed by a scheduled amount of time for nonproductive activities like social media or video games (something you want to do but really shouldn’t because you have school work to do.) Procrastination is the resistance to starting a task. Prioritizing will help eliminate this problem. Once your teen schedules and begins a task, it’s easier to keep working. With the bundling method, they can “reward” themselves with a donut or video game after completing their task(s) for the day. This satisfies both desires. Knowing that they are taking care of both what they need to do and what they want to do reduces procrastination, stress, and anxiety while enabling your teen to perform better!
Use visual cues to show progress while reducing procrastination
- Find two small containers and three marbles (or paper clips if you don’t have marbles.)
- Place all the marbles in one container.
- Each day as your teen completes each task mentioned in the Ivy Lee Method above, have them take a marble and place it in the second container.
- This visual reference will provide clear evidence that they are making progress!
- As they complete the tasks and place all three marbles in the second container, they can “reward” their accomplishments with a “guilty pleasure.”
- Keep the container with the marbles where they and you or their accountability partner (more on that later) can see it to show that they are making progress.
- Start each day with all the marbles/paperclips in the left basket.
Four steps for using the Pomodoro Technique
Your teen might want to use this method to gain traction and reduce procrastination. When dealing with a specific task to be completed, have them pick a place free of distractions (phone, texts, TV, games, noise.)
- Set a timer to 25 minutes.
- Work on the task for 25 minutes.
- Take a 5-minute break to rest and renew their motivation to continue, then start another 25-minute session.
- After completing four 25-minute sessions, have them take a 20-30 minute break to play a game or check their phone.
It is essential to respect each time allotment. Encourage your teen to avoid telling themselves that if they play the game for an hour instead of 30 minutes, they will make it up later. They’re just kidding themselves and not changing behaviors.
Have your teen select an Accountability Partner to stop procrastinating
- Research shows that if you say you will start a new habit (like no more procrastinating), the likelihood of completion is less than 10%.
- If you share with those who care about you (friends and family), the likelihood increases to 65% that you will embrace the habit.
- If you select an accountability partner, the completion rate increases to 95%.
Have your teen pick someone who cares about them and who they respect to hold them accountable. This should be someone they will actively listen to when making suggestions and not consider it nagging when they share constructive criticism. Remember, their only motivation is to help your teen be their best SELF!
Procrastinating is a tough habit for your teen to break, but they can do it! Remember: they’re looking for progress, not perfection. The hardest part is getting started. If they employ the strategies in this article, they will see tremendous improvement. Have them start with one of the tools and add more as they experience progress. As they stop procrastinating, they will get better grades, which results in getting into a better college. While this article was written for parents, we have found that students tend to “resist” content written for their parents. We get that! To help you, we have created an article below that shares the same concepts while speaking directly to students. Feel free to share the following link with your teen: How to Stop Procrastinating and Still Have Fun. Once your teen completes this exercise, they will be able to easily describe why they procrastinate and realize the vital role their procrastination plays in their future. They will be able to focus their time and efforts to be their best in high school and get into the top colleges on their list. If they want to get more of a head start on their competition, click here to learn more about our Self-Discovery Courses. We are passionate about giving young people the tools they need to succeed in school. If you would like access to our FREE Guide for Teen College Success, click here. If you find what we’ve shared is helpful to you and would like a free consultation call, please schedule a Zoom meeting by clicking here. Email me with any questions at Greg@CollegeFlightPlan.com.