UPDATED FOR 2023
Lottie was frozen. For the past fifteen minutes, she had been listening to a playlist of her favorite songs while staring at the desk in her bedroom where her backpack was slung over the chair and her laptop sat idle. She kept making the same promise to herself: finish this song, then start your homework. Except she didn’t. By the time the third song ended, she knew she had to do something. She didn’t want to get into another argument with her mother about staying up too late cramming, and she really didn’t want to show up to her meeting with group members tomorrow with her part of their project unfinished. “Come on, Lottie!” she pleaded with herself. “Why are you always like this?”
What is a Procrastinator?
When people are faced with something threatening—a grizzly bear, for instance—there are two possible reactions: fight or flight. While writing a research paper or doing a math worksheet may not involve gnashing of teeth, for a procrastinator such tasks can be so intimidating that they delay doing them. A procrastinator, in other words, is someone who flees from the responsibility of completing certain tasks on time because they’re perceived as too difficult. What makes a task difficult to a particular person is what determines what type of procrastinator he or she is. Below are some of the most common forms of procrastination.
The Perfectionist Procrastinator
Being a perfectionist is more than just wanting a perfect outcome—an essay with no marks on it, a 100% on a test, a burst of enthusiastic applause after a stellar presentation. It’s also about wanting the perfect procedure for getting those results. The end and the means to that end have to be flawless. Anything less than perfection feels like failure, and failure is emotionally devastating. With such high, and often impossible standards, perfectionists end up paralyzed to start work until conditions feel ideal, and then they get caught in a cycle of self-criticism and revision (editing work, redoing, etc.) so that ultimately tasks remain late or incomplete.
The Confused Procrastinator
To complete an assignment, students need to know what it is and how to do it. If they don’t, they will feel so anxious or lost that they will just give up; their confusion keeps them from getting their work done. Some students can be confused about the material because they missed or misunderstood what they were taught in class. Other students can be comfortable with the material yet confused about how to complete work because they are disorganized, having no clue what steps to take to get things done and possibly even having not written down the assignment at all.
The Moody Procrastinator
A common reason given for not doing work is “I didn’t feel like it.” It’s a simple and accurate way of describing the many ways emotions prevent students from getting their work done. What feelings? What emotions? It depends. It can be hard to be in the mood to work if you’re emotionally exhausted or overwhelmed by other things going on in your life (bullying, divorce, etc.). It can also be hard to get going on an assignment if you dread boredom and only the thrill of a fast-approaching deadline provides the adrenaline rush you need.
Since it’s natural for there to be overlap between the different procrastinator profiles, and it’s possible to be a perfectionist about some assignments or confused about others depending on the subject matter, strategies to address procrastination vary. It may take sampling the recommended strategies to figure out which ones work best for your teenage student.
- Make Big Things Small: Don’t bite off more than you can chew with assignments. So, just like you break up an orange into slices to eat it, break down your assignments. Have to make a PowerPoint? Split it up into researching, choosing a design, making 3 slides a day, and rehearsing. Also, try to get off to a good start and build momentum with an initial brief, timed task (e.g. 5 minutes to get out supplies, 5 minutes to brainstorm).
- Use Lists: Once assignments are broken down into smaller tasks, put them onto a list not only to remember what you have to do, but also to get satisfaction from crossing off completed tasks. It’s addictive.
- Go Out of Order: Experiment with a little chaos. Do hard things first so you can enjoy less worry and more free time without intimidating tasks and deadlines looming. Do easy things first to ease yourself into work. If you hit an obstacle (writing an essay intro), skip it and come back to it later (after writing a body paragraph).
- Give Yourself Rewards: Anything from a small snack, a short walk, time with a pet, and other pleasurable activities can be used as a reward after a set task is completed (e.g. 20 minutes of work, a paragraph written, a set of flashcards reviewed).
- Create Routines: There’s comfort in routines because you know exactly what you have to do and are used to doing them. It’s something to rely on when you’re anxious.
- Remove Distractions: Relocate your workspace and turn off devices to avoid temptations such as video games and social media.
- Try Apps: There are lots of recommended apps you can use on your phone, tablet, and other devices that help you create lists, track progress, and more.
For those in need of more emotional or skill support, consider meeting with a therapist, talking with a teacher, or working with a tutor.
How A+ Can Help
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, procrastinators can benefit not only from the relationships they form with tutors, but also from several programs. For example, for help learning how to simplify complex tasks and set attainable goals, students can work with an Executive Function coach. If preparing for an admissions test, such as the SAT or HSPT, is too overwhelming, there are test prep programs that can provide structure and build confidence. With the right help, your teen can defeat procrastination, so don’t delay!
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Director Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188.