In a 1992 comic strip by American cartoonist Bill Watterson, 6-year-old Calvin explains to his friend, Hobbes, that “you can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.”
“What mood is that?” asks Hobbes.
“Last-minute panic,” Calvin responds.
Although certain aspects of Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes series are fictional, Calvin’s struggle with procrastination is a real challenge for many people today. Procrastination, a close relative of “last-minute panic,” can be a difficult behavior to overcome.
Lauren Hensley, senior associate director of Ohio State’s Walter E. Dennis Learning Center, offers nine tips for overcoming procrastination.
Give the responsibility to the student.
Parents can enable their children’s procrastination habits, Hensley said.
“[Parents] want [their children] to succeed so badly that they start doing the scheduling for them,” Hensley said.
While this method may work, it is only successful as long as the parent is there, Hensley said.
“Ultimately, if there are behaviors that a parent is modeling, it’s really important to shift that responsibility over to the students,” Hensley said.
Praise effort and growth over ability.
Focusing on certain characteristics, such as intelligence or ability, can have a negative effect, Hensley said.
“When the messages from parents or teachers are along the lines of ‘you’re so smart, you’re so good at this,’… students can start to ‘self-protect’ when things get difficult,” Hensley said. “They will put them off, and not put a lot of effort in because effort is seen as a sort of threat.”
Hensley referenced the work of Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, who developed the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” to examine students’ motivation and achievement.
A student with a growth mindset believes that abilities can be developed, Dweck wrote. Challenges are seen as opportunities to build new skills. A student with a fixed mindset approaches learning with the goal of looking smart and shies away from difficulties.
Instead of praising qualities that fuel a fixed mindset, praise work and growth, Hensley said.
“Effort is good,” Hensley said. “Effort leads to learning and change.”
Change the way you think about yourself.
Students may label themselves as “lazy” or a “procrastinator,” Hensley said. Instead, she recommends focusing on procrastination as a choice and moving past it.
Avoidance leads to more procrastination, Hensley said.
“I work with students to accept responsibility for the choices that they’ve made when procrastinating,” Hensley said. “And to feel, for a moment, that disappointment, but to move beyond that.”
Hensley asks students to write apology notes to themselves, she said. These notes give students the opportunity to move forward and make a different choice next time.
Break big tasks into bite-sized pieces.
When confronting an overwhelming task, work in increments, Hensley said.
“Things that you can do in 25-minute chunks, or a little bit every day to see that progress and to recognize it’s not so burdensome,” Hensley said.
Allow yourself to get started.
The initial discomfort quickly dissipates after a few minutes of working, Hensley said. The trick is getting started.
Hensley recommends the 3-2-1-GO method, where students count down and “just try it for a few minutes.”
Structure classes in a specific way.
Large tasks and assignments can be daunting for students and lead to procrastination, Hensley said. Instead, she advises teachers to structure their classes around frequent, smaller exercises.
“It’s generally a good idea to break things down into either drafts and stages of a project that have feedback built in and that are lower stakes,” Hensley said.
Foster a motivational atmosphere.
Teachers can assist students by creating a motivational environment that focuses on growth, Hensley said.
“Effort and challenge aren’t a bad thing,” Hensley said. “And that feedback is a gift that helps (the students) learn and do things in an even better way.”
For more information, listen to the “Inspire” podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, as well as other platforms.