Procrastination in the Age of Distraction

Procrastination is a crime, it only leads to sorrow. I can stop it anytime, I think I will tomorrow…

I learned that little jingle back in 7th grade, and it still goes through my head when I’m putting things off. Like just the other day when, Ironically enough… I was trying to assess these projects. On procrastination.

Procrastination has always been an issue for middle school students. I mean… it must have been, if my 7th grade teacher, Mr. Everett felt the need to teach us a song about it. And this was way back in 1989, when our biggest distractions (at least mine anyway) were the phone, Sweet Valley High books, and a Milli Vanilli song on the radio. Don’t judge me. I’m sure the 7th grade you had questionable taste as well.

But when I needed to focus, I could. All of my homework was done on paper or a typewriter, and there’s only so many ways you can get distracted by a textbook.

I wouldn’t wish that type of homework experience on our students now—not with the world at their fingertips—but I can’t imagine how difficult it is for them to stay on task, when most of their homework is done on their computers. The Internet, with all of its amazing connections and resources, also offers us infinite hours of distraction.

In a 2011 study, a team of psychologists set out to observe students ranging from middle school through college doing homework on their computers, and found that they switched tasks on an average of once every 3 minutes… and this was with people watching.

Seems like a shocking stat, but given what we know about adolescent brain development, this shouldn’t be a big surprise. Their pre-frontal cortexes are still developing, and they’ve got very little self-control. This is why we need to teach them to develop good habits, come up with a plan, and then ask for support when they need it.

Student Infographic 2 Procrastination Procrastination in the Age of DistractionHere are some tips and resources for a class discussion on time-management.

1. Own it. We’ve all got tech distractions…. video games, instant messages, Instagram, articles on teen health (okay, maybe that’s just me). Have the kids talk about theirs and share tips on how they manage. This is a great topic for a whole class discussion, and I have the kids actually demonstrate how to turn off notifications for certain programs and share what works for them… quite a few of them like the free app SelfControl.

2. Make a to-do list! Show this quick video from Berna & Team Choices with three tips on how to do it right.

My kids love this video. It’s funny and almost all of them referred back to her 45/15 rule in their projects. While old-school paper lists are still my favorite, a few of my students use WunderlistEvernote, or a system of color-coded stickies on their computer desktops for theirs.

3. Remind them about their parents. They are there to help. Have kids share any family guidelines they have in place. Sadly enough, some students don’t have any, so it really helps them to hear from the ones who do. Working in the living room, having a family study area, putting really distracting video games on an external hard drive for your mom to hold on to—I’ve heard all sorts of useful tips.

4. Rewards! Talk about rewards. That’s the best part of the 45/15 rule.

5. Bedtimes… they help us stay on task, just like deadlines do. You’d be surprised how many kids don’t have one. I use this chance to explain to them that even if they think they’re too old for one, that grown-ups have them too.

Speaking of which! It’s way past mine… Maybe I should have written this sooner.

Next week: Setting a tech curfew and the amazing benefits of sleep.