You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 2!
And if your teen has ever left an assignment to the last minute OR gotten started early BUT taken waaay longer over a task than was necessary then this episode is for you.
Hi VIP’s and welcome back! I’m so excited that you’re here for round 2. It means a lot to me that you’re here and I am really focused on giving you everything I can to help you understand the power of the techniques and tools that underlie strategic study and exam performance. When I was thinking about what I wanted to put in these first 5 podcast episodes, I really thought about what most students struggle with and what most parents ask me about. So, if you haven’t already listened to episode 1, I started with the Study Success Formula. Because SO many students are working really hard but not getting the results that reflect their effort or ability, and that formula reveals exactly why that is. There’s something missing in their skills of application - in being able to put the subject knowledge they’ve learned across in the way it’s required, in the way a question is worded or in what the mark scheme demands.
And a common way this shows up is by your teen studying for hours and either producing lots of what I call ‘busy work’ they’re or going around in circles over something, re-drafting it, or agonising over it. Or they might be putting things off, leaving things to the last minute and then rushing or staying up half the night to get it done.
Either way, it’s frustrating for you.
You’re thinking why is this taking so long? .. SURELY this amount of work isn’t actually required? OR… you’re nagging or bribing to try and get them to take action and get the damn thing done.
So, that’s what I want to talk to you about today. I want to talk about how to stop your teen procrastinating. Because that’s what it is, but procrastination is different to not being motivated.
A lack of motivation is a different mindset to procrastination.
Procrastination is ‘I know I need to or want to get this thing done, but I can’t seem to get started - or get finished’ - whereas unmotivated is more apathetic, a lack or energy or drive.
And although I know that can certainly be an issue for some students and I definitely do get emails about that from parents, and I expect I will do an episode on motivation in future, given that this is the Parents of HardWORking Teens podcast, then we’re going to focus on procrastination right now - why it happens, how it sometimes is happening seakily without us even realising it - and I’ll give you 3 keys to overcoming it.
So I want to start by sharing a couple of real life examples of this happening.
Two students who really stuck in my mind with this hurdle.
One was Bianca who I coached a couple of years ago, and then there was Shayna who I helped with this about 6 months back.
Both of these students were dedicated students getting mostly great results, so why were they procrastinating over particular tasks, even, for Bianca in a subject that she loved.
So, let’s start with Bianca.
Bianca was in Y12 and had a Drama assignment to write. She was going through the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program which is my flagship program. It’s where I train your teen in the skills of application in detail - AND how to build and revise their subject content more effectively.
And students get to come to 3 of our live group coaching calls during that program and on one of them she asked me to help her get over this procrastination issue.
She’d written part of it, but just couldn’t seem to get it finished. She’d been ‘busy’ trying to make progress, like making notes from study guides on the play, drawing out a mindmap of the themes, but she was like, I just can’t get myself to finish this.
Now, I didn’t start asking her about her mindset or her motivation levels, or how busy she was in other things. Because, from experience, I know those aren’t going to be the things that were stopping her from making progress. Instead, I got her to share with me the task sheet. We talked through the key components. We broke down the wording of the task. We dissected the marking criteria. Not by me doing it for her, but by getting Bianca to talk me through it just by me asking some strategic guiding questions.
And here’s what happened. As she went through, I realised that in the task instructions, there was one key term she kind of skipped over, didn’t mention in her explanation of what she had to do. And that was the trigger, the alarm bell. I specifically asked ‘what do they mean by that specific wording?’ and after a couple of um’s and a maybe guess, it was clear to Bianca that even though she was familiar with that term, she wasn’t 100% clear on what it really meant and therefore how she was going to cover it in her response. Without waffling and vagueness that is.
That was what was keeping Bianca stuck. THAT one bit of vocabulary was what was making her THINK she wasn’t motivated. So, what was the solution?
Not more research, not more study notes or mindmaps - that’s just ‘productive procrastination’ - where we keep ourselves busy with tasks that feel PRODUCTIVE, feel like they should move use closer to getting the task done. If your teen is always studying but not always getting tasks DONE and done efficiently, then they are likely a productive procrastinator. I know this has been me, for sure.
The solution was the good old-fashioned - Ask the teacher for clarification or use the textbook - to get clear on that ONE element. Once Bianca had that clear in her head, she could get stuck in and complete the task. Because she had CLARITY. But she had sort of glossed over the wording she wasn’t clear on before, - which is why it’s so important for your teen to have a systematic approach to breaking down tasks and the wording of Qs.
Another student who I remember coaching on procrastination is Shayna.
She was on a coaching call telling me about how she was procrastinating over a relatively simple summary homework task she had to do.
Now it’s funny how sometimes it’s the things that sound simple, or feel like they should be straightforward that are sometimes the things that keep students the most stuck.
And here’s why. Sometimes, the more basic the wording, the less info we have. In other words, the less detail or specifics we have to work with, the harder it can be to know exactly what we have to do or how we have to do it.
This actually happens in essay questions and I’m going to do an episode on essays made easy very soon, so I’ll go into this in more detail then, but Situations where they give just a short statement and then say ‘discuss’ can often be more overwhelming for students than the essays where they have long but much more specific wording.
So Shayna was feeling silly, she was feeling embarrassed and actually a bit annoyed with herself for not just getting this summary done. So again, I asked her some detailed Qs about the task. Like, how long does the summary have to be - a page, a 100 words?, what is the format - bullet points, a paragraph, a mind map… I got her to tell me about the task in her own words in detail. And Yep, you guessed it, she wasn’t sure. Now, that wasn’t her fault.
She hadn’t been told any of those things.
She’d just been told to summarise the info they’d been given. Specifically, it was 7 pages from a longer resource. And in fact, I did find this exact coaching call and have picked out the key parts of it for a blog video I made a little while ago so I’ll link that up in the show notes for you so you can check it out.
I have to admit, I did also go back and try to find the call with Bianca as well, because I wanted to include what that key element was, but that was over 2 years ago now and spending 10s of hours trying to find the exact call and part in that call, I’m afraid I decided that wasn’t the best use of my time in producing this podcast or helping more students.
So, some of the specifics we decided on there and then, from what Shayna did know about the purpose of the summary and what it was leading up to and some things, just like Bianca, she had to go and find out. But she DID not have clear action steps. She knew exactly what she needed to do to be able to move forwards and we even set specific timings for her to do that.
Now, here’s the thing I want to make clear from these two examples:
No amount of nagging, bribery, carrots or sticks - or wall planners or homework diaries or to-do lists would’ve solved the reasons for this procrastination.
Procrastination is not solved by creating time deadlines or rewards.
I know that is the advice we sometimes hear and try to use.
And it’s NOT that those things aren’t useful in other aspects of study, like time management, getting organised and efficient, or prioritising, but they are not the root cause of what’s keeping your teen in the two types of procrastination.
So let’s also take a moment to talk about what this procrastination can look like.
I already mentioned productive procrastination. Where we end up doing twenty other things OTHER than the thing we really need to be or want to be doing. This is not just whiling away time on social media or watching cat videos on youtube or binging netflix.
These are things where we feel like the tasks are important or productive.
For me it’s checking my emails. Something that feels productive, there are always emails to be responded to so it also feel necessary and I get to mentally ‘tick things off’ like - ooh - three emails done, or revel in the achievement of getting my inbox to zero. (Yes, I do that with my work inbox - always inbox to zero every day - however, before you get too much a one-sided view of my ninja organisation abilities, my personal email - nowhere near zero. I will say I do good job of using folders in there when it comes to important things, but still, could definitely be improved. ).
Now, for your teen, it could also be checking emails, and it might also be watching tutorial videos on the topic, writing out notes, doing more research on the topic - that is a common one - that if they just had more information, then something will suddenly click and they’ll be able to move forwards. Now if we take Bianca’s example, that COULD be true - if she’d found out what that key element that key word really meant, but often as we know from the Knowledge plus application = success formula, it’s not always the information part, the knowledge that’s missing.
Here’s the other type of procrastination I see students stuck in. Perfectionist procrastination.
This is where they keep going over, re-doing or refining things they’ve already done. OR making things so perfect as they go, that it’s a huge time consumer. Things like making notes but spending ageas making them look beautiful with the swirly writing and colour-matched headings. Now, let me be clear - colour CODING IS part of effective Not-taking - IF the colours have meaning and are used systematically. That is not the same as just using colours to make things pretty.
Or, spending ages choosing fonts on a typed assignment, or the perfect picture for a front cover, or changing their minds over a character name. These are all things that won’t achieve any more marks or change the effectiveness or quality, but they make things FEEL more PERFECT.
So, the first step is identifying when procrastination is happening. I see so many students spending a lot of time ‘studying’ - and I’m making the finger quote marks there - but doing things that aren’t actually strategic in terms of getting tasks done and done to a high standard but in the most efficient way.
Yes, it might be just putting something off, but it might be sneakily happening by keeping busy with productive procrastination or perfectionist procrastination.
And then, of course, if you or your teen is aware of it, the next thing is to overcome it.
Now, I mentioned that I asked Bianca and Shayna some specific questions, so I’ll share them here with you so you can use them. At a general level we want to be figuring out the WHAT and the HOW.
Do they know WHAT the task requires them to do?
Now, if I just ask a student - do you know what you have to do, that’s too vague. If it was Shayna she’d say ‘YES - I know WHAT to do - I have to write a summary’, for your teen it might be YES - I have to revise this topic.
But that’s too vague. It doesn’t get to the nitty gritty details.
DO they know WHAT every word in the question or title or task really means? What specific things they need to do or discuss or include - oR NOT include? WHAT evidence or examples will they use or include - how many?
WHAT they actually have to produce? In Shayna’s case - what format will the summary be?
And then the HOW. How will they chunk down a larger task? How many words for each section? Howlong do they plan to give themselves to do it? How many sources or references do they need? How will they revise that specific topic? If there is something from the WHAT that they aren’t clear on HOW will they solve for that?
These are all ways to really dig into the task and figure out how to perform at a high level in it.
So, if you’d like to have your teen get trained in all these skills and more, so they can work on any task, small to large, in class to homework to formal exams and assessment independently and strategically, and with confidence, then I mentioned earlier my 10 Week Grade Transformation Program.
You can check it out by going to the Program tab on the Rock Solid Study website.
In the program I train students in note-taking, active revision, time management and organisation AND the performance aspects including Exam Technique, essay planning, structure and writing, really understanding marking criteria and how to use them, dissecting the question - and doing it in any subject.
Because the BEST thing about these skills is that they are universal - they work in any subject, in any academic system or exam board and in any year group from Y9 to senior, Y12 or 13 depending on your country or state. In fact, I’d say that is the JOINT best thing. The other best thing is that these skills are exactly that. They’re skills and skills can be learned. They are not talents you’re either born with or you’re not.
So that’s episode two! What procrastination really is, the two sneaky types of procrastination that mean we might not even always realise that’s what we’re doing and - MOST importantly, why the true root causes are different to a lack of motivation and therefore we can’t treat it the same. We can’t use nagging or rewards or sanctions. Because the reasons students procrastinate are because there is something they aren’t clear on or sure about. There’s something that’s stopping them progressing - and figuring the missing WHAT or the missing HOW is how you can help your teen get past that hurdle.
Now, if you’re finding this information and these tips helpful, and you want to make sure you automatically get each new episode delivered to your podcast library then please make sure to tap subscribe or follow on your podcast app.
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I would absolutely LOVE it if you did that and I know that any parents who then find this as a result will appreciate it too.
So I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day and I’ll see you back here soon.