Stumbling block #7 – Procrastination

Stumbling Block #7 - Writing Procrastination

In our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing, last week we looked at the problem of laziness. But laziness has a close cousin in the obstacle we’ll explore today: procrastination.

Stumbling Block #7

Problem: The procrastinator waits till the last minute to write her paper.

Solution: Break up assignments over time and provide accountability for your student.

The Pressure of Procrastination

If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done.  ~Author Unknown

When we feel overwhelmed, we tend to put off distasteful tasks—or those that seem big and scary—such as cleaning the garage or preparing for a big party. Claiming we work best under pressure, we shop, bake, clean, and decorate in a last-minute frenzy. As time rushes forward and the deadline looms, we sweep piles of laundry and schoolwork into drawers and closets, abandon the balloons and streamers, and purchase a hastily chosen gift card because we never got around to buying a present.

“Procrastinators generally don’t do well under pressure,” says Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at Chicago’s DePaul University. The idea that time pressure improves performance is a myth. In truth, procrastination can result in:

  • Health and sleep problems.
  • Anxiety and panic as tasks pile up.
  • Poor performance and inefficiency.
  • Guilt.

As William James aptly put it, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

Five Steps Toward Overcoming Procrastination

The best way to get something done is to begin.  ~Author Unknown

Putting off a writing assignment till the last minute can lead to a rushed and sloppy paper hastily written just before it’s due. It may also leave your child feeling too pressured or anxious to do a good job. As with the lazy student, the procrastinator needs a strategy. Try these suggestions to help your child make wiser use of her time.

1. Work on adopting a “do it first” attitude.

Tackling unpleasant or disagreeable tasks earlier in the day—when your student is fresh and alert—often means greater progress in shorter time.

2. Establish a deadline for the writing project.

When you don’t give a cut-off date, you imply that your child can put the task off indefinitely. Set a date and stick to it.

3. Divide the assignment into smaller chunks.

While a deadline is important, it doesn’t ensure that your student will pace herself. So in addition to assigning a distant due date for the whole composition or report, give more frequent due dates for parts of the project. For a short composition, assign brainstorming, rough draft, self-editing, second draft, parent editing, and a final draft. For a report or term paper, you’ll also want to see topic ideas, note cards, outlines, etc.

The writing process, by its very nature, is a series of steps. However, the procrastinator is prone to completely skip steps (or else cram several steps into one last-ditch writing session). Assignments spread over several days or weeks—with mini due dates scheduled along the way—help train her to spread out her work and not save it all till the last minute. A schedule or plan that outlines each step makes the best defense against procrastination.

4. Don’t neglect to follow up.

Your student needs to allow drafts to rest between writing sessions. But since she tends to wait till the last minute, she typically leaves no time for revising or refining. Make sure that you hold her accountable along the way with checklists and deadlines, and check her work regularly to keep her on task.

As the parent and teacher, you’re responsible to ensure that your child is doing the work and sticking to her deadlines. We homeschoolers can get lax about this. If you say “I’ll check over your work later,” but fail to do so, you continue to perpetuate the problem of procrastination. By not checking up on your student or asking to see her assignments, you unfortunately model the very behavior you seek to correct.

5. Set up task-appropriate rewards.

Come up with ways to reward your student’s steps of progress. Completing her brainstorming on time or writing her rough draft may earn her some computer or TV time. Finishing a task ahead of the due date could merit even more time to spend with her friends, read for pleasure, or work on her hobbies.

Do you ever feel like YOU are your child’s main stumbling block? If so, you won’t want to miss next week’s article, which addresses parental criticism. Check it out and soak up the encouragement!

Share a comment: Does your child procrastinate? What is one new thing you can do toward changing his or her behavior?

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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WriteShop  provides schedules and checklists that give direction to a procrastinator. Parent supervision is also a key element of the program. Train your little ones early using WriteShop Primary. For older students, choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Photo: fdecomite, courtesy of Creative Commons

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8 comments ↓

#1 Tammy on 12.14.09 at 5:29 pm

Thanks once again for the uplifting lecture. Now, if I can get better at the follow up, our assignments will be less stressful.

#2 Kim on 12.14.09 at 11:10 pm

Good goal, Tammy. I know how hard it can be to follow up on our kiddos, especially when we’re homeschooling several children and juggling multiple extracurricular activities to boot. I have every confidence that you’ll see improvement in this area!

#3 Isabelle aka Canadianladybug on 12.28.09 at 4:50 am

“Work on adopting a “do it first” attitude”

I find that doing something that is less interesting in the morning is better anyway because the brain is more awake… I even do that myself. Besides, it helps to not forget about it either. My son loves his math but writing and reading in both official languages is not so fun for him. So I try to do it in the morning so he can enjoy something he really like later…

#4 Kim on 12.28.09 at 10:16 am

Very wise, Isabelle!

#5 Amy on 01.08.10 at 7:09 pm

This used to be a problem for me personally, but I have changed my ways… hopefully permanently. For my kids so far, we have no trouble in this area because all the assignments I have given are finished the same day, no biggies yet. But as soon as we start officially with some bigger writing projects, maybe we’ll have some issues in this area. I hope not! :)

amy in peru

#6 Kim on 01.08.10 at 8:34 pm

Bravo, Amy! I love to hear personal success stories!

#7 Lisa on 01.10.10 at 2:20 pm

I am a big procrastinator but I always get the task done! My 8th grade daughter however NEVER gets assignments done on time! She avoids tests especially math and I have to nag her to take the test which usually results in failure for her. She is not a poor student-she is an avid reader and very creative! But when it comes to written work she puts it off and her grades show it. I’m worried that she will have to repeat the grade. HELP!

#8 Kim on 01.10.10 at 3:47 pm

Lisa, thank you for your transparency. Your situation is a tough one. Whether your daughter procrastinates or is just plain lazy, it’s time to nip her behavior in the bud. I don’t have easy answers, but I do know you need to take back the control that belongs to you as the parent. Your daughter needs to learn that she must earn the right to work independently, and until she does, you’ll need to exert more control over when and how she does her schoolwork.

For example, your daughter should not be the one to determine when to take a test. Instead of nagging her, may I suggest that you try these steps?

    1. Pick a date for her next math test and give her sufficient notice to study and prepare.
    2. The day before the test, remind her of the test time, such as “I’m giving you a math test tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.”
    3. On the day of the test, at 9:00 sharp, administer the test. Have her clear her work surface. Give her a copy of the test. Then set the timer for 50 minutes (most math tests are designed to complete in a class period of less than one hour). For a quiz, allow a shorter time.
    4. Stay in the room with her to supervise. Let her know that she may not get up for a snack, a drink, or a bathroom break. She should take care of these needs before the timer starts.
    5. When the timer rings, collect the test from her—even if she didn’t finish. Grade it before the day’s end and return it to her in the morning.

This puts you in the driver’s seat, not your child—and rightly so! As her parent and teacher, it’s your job to call the shots no matter how stubborn she may be!

For writing, give her frequent deadlines for each part of the writing process. Help her work within time limits, and teach her to respect due dates.

Since procrastination is something you also struggle with, it will be important to make some significant changes in your behavior, too. For instance, edit or grade her work promptly and return it to her in a timely manner. Failing to return work to her on time (or not at all) simply models the same bad habits you’re asking your daughter to change. It’s the old “Do as I say, not as I do.” Helping your child become more disciplined should be wonderful incentive for you to do likewise!

I pray things improve for both of you, Lisa! Please let me know how it goes.

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