Adapted from a response to “Ask the Expert” by Frédérick Dionne, Ph.D.
Procrastination is the tendency to delay the start or completion of a task despite the potential negative consequences such as decreased performance and stress. Studying for an exam, writing a long assignment, and decision making are all susceptible to procrastination. Studies show that many students postpone their schoolwork, which affects school performance. Procrastination is particularly present in students with learning disabilities (LDs), where resilience and persistence in dealing with a task are often weaker.
Strategies taught to reduce or prevent procrastination in students with LDs are the same as those provided to students without LDs, except they may need to be addressed more explicitly for students with LDs.
1. Time Management
Time can often pass quickly with very little schoolwork being done. Ensure your child is using their time effectively when they are working. Many tools and strategies are available to help keep your child working steadily:
- Use planners and organizers to develop time management skills. Click here to access the Weekly Planner template.
- Break down tasks into manageable pieces. Click here to access the Assignment Planner template.
- Set short work sessions and take frequent breaks
- Use a timer
- Perform one task at a time
Being motivated to begin a task can stop procrastination in its tracks, but in order for a child to improve their work habits, they must first be aware of them. Discuss these habits with your child, and work on a reward system that may help motivate them. When working with your child consider the following:
- Does the child understand the task and know what the first step is?
- Build awareness of behaviours that lead to procrastination (e.g. working on other, less important tasks, playing video games, checking their phone)
- Develop strategies to change their behaviour (e.g. keeping their phone out of arms reach) and discuss the possible positive outcomes of avoiding procrastination (e.g. more free time, better grade)
- Reward them when a task is started effectively, and they have worked hard (e.g. outside playtime, technology break, or choosing a movie to watch at the end of the day)
Having a proper workspace can make all the difference to someone who is a frequent procrastinator. Because focus can be difficult for those who procrastinate frequently, having an environment clearly designed for work is a step in the right direction:
- Ensure there is a comfortable and organized workspace for the task to be completed (e.g. clean desk, proper seating, bright room)
- Reduce environmental distractions (e.g. visual, auditory)
- Put cellphones and personal technology away while the student is working
- Refocus attention to the task at hand. (e.g. gentle reminders and encouragement)
4. Set the Stage for Success
A strong start to tasks helps builds momentum and allows students to experience a sense of accomplishment. This helps to strengthen the belief that completion of the task is possible and reduces the need for excuses to avoid the work; they can avoid procrastination and feel a sense of accomplishment. If your child is unsure of the task or doesn’t know how to get started, they will find more excuses to procrastinate.
Set the stage for success with your child:
- Be clear on expectations and encourage them to ask questions.
- Make sure that they have a clear understanding of the directions. When assignments have multiple steps, it might be helpful to use checklists to stay on track. Click here to access the article Checklists and Achievement Charts.
- If possible, help your child tailor activities to their strengths and interests; for example, does the assignment allow students to choose elements such as subject matter, materials, deadline, and presentation format? To learn more about how to adapt the learning process to meet the needs of all learners, click here to access the article Differentiated Instruction.
5. Support their Progress
While you want your child to learn to work independently without procrastinating, it is helpful to check in on their work every so often to ensure they are still moving along effectively. Help your child create a specific time frame to work within and follow up with them. Learning to be accountable can help improve student motivation.
- Regularly check to see how their work is progressing.
- Set a specific deadline and be clear about your expectations.
- Provide feedback after each step of the assignment has been completed.
Dionne, F., Raymond, G., Armand, M. (sous presse). « Je le ferai demain » : stratégies d’intervention pour prévenir la procrastination chez les élèves. Dans Le bien-être à l’école : enjeux et stratégies gagnantes N. Rousseau et G. Espinosa (Éds.) aux Presses de l’Université du Québec, Collection Éducation/Intervention
Xu, Z. (2016). Just Do It! Reducing Academic Procrastination of Secondary Students, Intervention In School And Clinic, 51(4), 212-219.