31 Mar 2017

A Message from the Head of Lindfield

Procrastination – In world of Digital Distractions

When I sit down to write a Prep Talk article, I follow a consistent routine that facilitates concentration on the task:

  Clear my desk.

  Get a drink of water.

  Boil the kettle.

  Eat anything.

  Tidy up the bookshelf.

  Check my email.

  Click on iTunes and play something that helps me focus.

  Check Sydney Morning Herald online for ideas.

  Check on the kids.

  Make coffee.

  Repeat sequence all over again.

By this time 45 minutes have passed, I have achieved very little but I have procrastinated and wasted time that was supposed to be used to create the article.

Procrastination for adults is a common issue. For our boys, especially those in the upper grades, who are becoming independent learners with high school on the horizon, procrastination is something that needs to be understood and addressed.

Procrastination won’t end with the taking away of digital distractions, or moving to another room. It is a state of mind and needs to be understood.  For adults, the tasks that are most frequently put off are large, complex, abstract tasks and it is the same for our boys. David Allen, author of the best-selling book Getting Things Done, says that the larger the task, and the more abstract the thinking required, the less likely we are to finish it.

Think about your son’s homework. Which parts are they happy to complete independently and which parts do you find that you always have to help and cajole them to do? Writing is a good example. It is multi-step (brainstorm, ideas, writing, editing), it is abstract, and it is challenging for many boys.

Another factor that may be at work in procrastination is called “the planning fallacy”. People underestimate how long it will take to complete a task because they fail to take into account how long similar tasks have taken in the past, and unrealistically assume that there will be no difficulties or interruptions this time around.

Does your son leave homework until Monday morning, when there is a very limited amount of time, usually less than would be necessary if the homework was done over numerous days throughout the week?

The trick in situations where we procrastinate is to break the challenge down into smaller, short-term steps. Concrete, do-able tasks help, as does reducing choices and eliminating the paralysis that comes from too many choices.

It is actually not good for anyone to have too many choices, it is better to select one idea, commit to it and get down to work. In our classrooms, sometimes it is the boys who have too many choices and ideas that end up not producing necessary work as they find it hard to focus in on one idea.  

Here are suggestions from David Perlmutter in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

  • Know the due date and understand that work has to be completed. Perlmutter suggests creating mini-deadlines for big assignments and putting reminders in an electronic calendar for each stage. Our boys have access to the calendars on their ipads which can provide alerts and reminders for when work is due and other responsibilities are present. As adults many of us use outlook to set out what is due and when.
  • Be clear about the level of quality that is needed. We want all our boys to do their best but the level of precision required for a fun cross word as compared to a speech which assesses understanding of a unit of inquiry, is very different. Perfectionism is one reason people procrastinate – some boys want to keep working on our homework until it’s flawless. Being able to allocate time accurately depending on the importance of the task is a real skill.

This is in line with the research on the importance of a growth mindet by Carol Dweck. A fixed mindset says everything has to be perfect or I’m a failure. This is detrimental for learning and damaging to young people’s self-esteem and the basis for much of our procrastination in life.

  •  If your boys want to succeed they need to plan. “We all underestimate how much time and effort it takes to do anything worth doing,” says Perlmutter. It is important that our families create a comprehensive and realistic schedule for all homework and major activities, being sure to include everything and allow ample time.
  • Get work done early. Finishing work early, minimises stress, gives boys extra time to review their work before it is due. It also leaves time for family and a life outside of school.

To procrastinate is to be human. In this fast-evolving world of endless digital distractions, it is important our boys are aware of procrastination and mitigate for the problems it causes. As our boys become more self-directed in their learning, they need to be able to break down challenges into bite-sized chunks, allocate time and effort to what matters (and put aside what is not).

The ability to plan their time effectively can make all the difference between stressed adolescents, who are constantly working at the last minute and organised young people who can plan what needs to be done and keep a level of normality and balance in their hectic, exciting lives.

“Later: What Does Procrastination Tell Us About Ourselves?” by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker, Oct. 11, 2010

“Varieties of Procrastination” by David Perlmutter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 25, 2012 (Vol. LVIII, #37, p. A39-A40)

“Almost Time to Write. Almost Time…” by Daniela Werner in The Chronicle Review in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 5, 2010 (Vol. LVI, #21, p. B20)

 

Ben Barrington-Higgs

Newington

26 Northcote Road
Lindfield NSW 2070
+61 2 9416 4280

lindfield@newington.nsw.edu.au
www.newington.nsw.edu.au

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