I put lots of projects off until the summer when I will supposedly have more time. My husband works teachers’ hours and has most of the summer off. He enjoys being what I call “The Crazed Cruise Director.” He has lots and lots of plans for us to have lots and lots of fun. And while we all have a good time, every fall I find myself asking what I got accomplished during the summer. The fact is, I need to stop procrastinating, imagining that I’ll be able to do it all come summer.
I see the same procrastination habit in my children. They have to get their school work and chores done during the day, but they typically wait until the last minute when my husband typically announces we are off to do something fun. Again, while we all enjoy our free time, I find myself frustrated that important work isn’t getting done.
Do you put things off until the summer or the end of the day? Do your children? Does procrastination frustrate you like it does me? If so, read on.
While I put things off, I think a lot about why I do. I wrote about procrastination that is based on our dislike for obligations. Anything we have to do, we don’t typically like to do, so we avoid it. I give you some suggestions for coping with this type of procrastination on my Not Wonder Woman blog for Christian women.
But there’s more to understanding and defeating procrastination.
First, we have to address the argument often made that we procrastinate because we work better under pressure.
Not so, say psychologists. Did we really need a psychologist to tell us the truth about our last-minute, panick-stricken work episodes? I think not. Deep down, we know that this way of working is inefficient and just plain stressful. Like any bad habit, I believe it also diminishes our self-esteem.
If we aren’t procrastinating because it’s more effective, why are we? The simplest explanation is that we will always do what is most rewarding now, rather than later. What’s most rewarding now isn’t for your child to do the math worksheet he doesn’t enjoy. What’s most rewarding now isn’t for you to make breakfast for tomorrow. What’s most rewarding now is for your child to run around pretending to be a cowboy and what’s most rewarding now for you is to surf the Web.
The reward we get for not doing the less pleasant work now can create a habit–a bad one.
Second, we have to break the habit of procrastination.
- Don’t shame yourself or your child. It’s natural for us to do the most rewarding tasks first. What goes against the grain is building our skills at delayed gratification. Even though it’s challenging, you and your child can break the habit.
- Take small steps. The website, tinyhabits, explains how we can be successful in changing our habits by making the changes very, very tiny. You might have your child start by doing just one math problem and you could just decide what to make for breakfast.
- Reward them. We develop the habit of procrastination because it’s rewarding. To change the habit, we have to reward our new work behavior. You could congratulate your child or give him a sticker after doing one math problem. You could give yourself a piece of sugar-free gum or put an X on your calendar as a reward. Even an “Atta, girl!” can work wonders.
- Make the long-term reward more visible. The reason the allure of playing cowboy is greater than doing a math worksheet is because your child can’t see the positives in being good at math. To help him, you might read from a book like Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians. Or you might simply tell Dad how smart he is getting at math which will enable him to do a special math-related activity with dad (e.g., build something). For yourself, you might read a list of reasons you want breakfast made ahead of time each evening. I use my iPhone to give myself reminders at critical times for habits I want to change. I might use something like, “Remember how nice it will be to have a healthy breakfast already made when you get up.”
With just a little effort, you can break the procrastination habit in you and your child. Don’t postpone it!