Have you ever had that circular argument with your students about using class time wisely?  You know the kind.

They have a paper or project due in a week. They haven’t done much about it. And they’re sitting in class goofing off, talking to their friends, and doing just about anything to avoid the work.

When you chat to them about it, the answer is always something along the lines of, I can’t concentrate in class. I’ll just do it at home.  But then they return to class in the next lesson and they haven’t progressed at all!

It’s enough to turn your make your hair fall out from stress. Because in you’re head you’re thinking, Uhhhhh, now I’m going to have to call their mum and she’s such a bleep and it will be all *my* fault.

yellow phone dangling and text uh! I'm going to have to call home again

It’s never the kid’s fault.

But have you considered that perhaps your students procrastinate because they genuinely don’t have enough skills in avoiding procrastination?

What is procrastination?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, procrastination is “the act of delaying something that must be done, usually because it’s unpleasant or boring.”  

Your students will generally know what they need to do. They’ll have a task sheet that tells them what the assignment or project is.  Likely you’ve explained it forty billion times.  And they’ve probably also had a peer explain it too.  

Usually, your students will understand how to do it.  Again, you have given them a list of steps, a checklist, or modeled what to do.  Plus you’ve talked yourself hoarse about it.    

They have often had time in class to work on the task and ask questions to clarify.  And yet . . . 

It’s still not done!  Why?!?

Because they’re procrastinating.  And maybe they don’t yet have the skills to work out why they’re delaying the work or how to just get on with it.  So, how can you help them?

Check out these ten tips for teaching your students the skills they need so that they become pros at avoiding procrastination!

#1: Avoiding procrastination by doing a time audit

One reason people tend to procrastinate is that they don’t think they have enough time to complete the task.  So instead of using the time they have right now and completing a small part of the task, they avoid doing it and often waste the time doing something unproductive.  

All the while, they tell themselves it’s because they don’t have the time to do the thing.  And that they’ll do it later.  The problem is, that as the deadline for the task looms closer, the task seems bigger and harder to complete.  

One way to teach your students to avoid procrastination is to have them do a time audit (see here or here for worksheets you could use).  A time audit is kind of like a study schedule, but you want to teach students to look at the time available between when they get a task and when it’s due.  

Then get students to block out the time they spend at school, at work, getting to and from school, and at work.  

Next, tell students to block out other daily tasks such as eating and sleeping, as well as commitments such as family time, time with friends, any social clubs they’re part of, and/or sporting teams they play on.

Once students have blocked out that time . . .

Get them to count how much time they actually have to get the task done.  Remind them of the tasks they may have for other classes that will also take up the ‘unblocked’ time.  

And then suggest that perhaps they want to use their ‘unblocked’ time hanging out with friends instead of doing school work.  Especially since they have time at school to do the task right now.

Doing a time audit does a few things for students:

  • Shows students they have time to complete the task on time
  • Shows that they don’t have as much time after school as they think they do because it’s taken up with other things
  • Visually displays when they can do the task
  • Shows students how much time they have between now and when the task is due

Hopefully, when students see that they have time in class to complete the task they will use that time instead of frittering it away.  Because we’ve all had students that think, oh, it’s only twenty minutes, I can’t finish it in that time, I’ll do it at home.  Only for that twenty minutes to compound into an hour and twenty minutes over a few lessons.  

And we know that an hour and twenty minutes is plenty of time to complete tasks and a lot of time wasted if students don’t do some work.

#2 Avoiding procrastination by teaching students to plan and organize their time

study time table to help avoid procrastination

Following on from doing a time audit is planning out study time.  If students learn to look at when they have time to do school work by doing a time audit, a great add-on is to plan when they will actually do the variety of tasks they have.

You can show students a variety of ways to do this, but a good place to start is to think of a list of ongoing tasks and one-off tasks. Ongoing tasks are tasks such as studying and planning, whereas one-off tasks are tasks such as reading a chapter of a novel or writing an outline for a paper.

Once students have the tasks they need to complete listed out, getting them to suggest when they’ll complete them is a good idea.  Remind students that everyone works differently and needs different ways to organize their time based on that.  

Suggestions you could make include, having students think about whether they want

  • a dedicated afternoon to study a specific subject each week
  • the weekend off for work or sport
  • a ‘study’ session/s and a ‘written tasks’ session/s
  • time to plan out their week
  • homework time, papers and essays time, and longer-term study time
  • afternoon schoolwork sessions or morning schoolwork sessions
  • how late they want to stay up at night or how early they have to wake up in the morning

You could even model an example of a schedule or timetable that you used while in school or college.

#3: Avoiding procrastination by prioritizing tasks

Teaching students to manage their study load by prioritizing tasks is another way to teach them how to stop procrastinating.  Sometimes students (and adults!) become so overwhelmed with their massive list of tasks, they can’t figure out where to start.  So they avoid it altogether by not doing anything.

Modeling to students how to prioritize tasks is a great way to show students this skill  Get students to get out their time audit sheet and task plan and then look at it.  Ask yourself and the students some questions and see if they want to rearrange their tasks or time.  Good questions to start with include,

  • Which tasks are the most important? Which tasks are the least important?
  • Which tasks are due this week? Should they get done first?
  • Does that task need to go on a Monday or could you do it on a Thursday?
  • Is that task worth a lot of your grade or just a little bit?
  • Do you need an hour and a half for longer-term study each day or would half an hour be enough if you concentrated?

Another option to model prioritizing is to get each student to write one task on a piece of paper.  Then as a class, get students to arrange themselves in order of most important to least important.  While they do so, question them (using similar questions to those written above) to see if they change their order.   

By learning to prioritize their tasks, students will find it easier to get started on the most important tasks first and reduce some of those overwhelmed feelings.

#4 Just get started

apple timer and text set a timer and just do it

One of the best tips for how to avoid procrastination that I’ve ever come across is just to get started.  Usually, we’re avoiding something because it’s uncomfortable or boring.  But just getting it out of the way usually makes us feel *so* much better.

So, one of the best ways to avoid procrastination is to just do it.  Set a timer, tell yourself you’ll do it for five, ten, or fifteen minutes, and just get started.  You only have to do it until the timer goes off.

But often, this strategy for avoiding procrastination will result in you completing the task.  Because once you’ve started, you’ll want to finish the job (or the part of the job) that you’ve set yourself.  

And because you’ve invested a little time already, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to just keep going for another five, ten, or fifteen minutes to finish it.

Enter ‘focus blocks’

In the classroom, a great way to do this strategy is to get your students to work in little ‘focus-blocks’.  So, at the start of the lesson, tell your students that they’ll get to chat with their friends at the end of the focus block as a reward for working silently for the whole block.  

I usually insist on silent working because students get more done when everyone is quiet – there’s no hiding in the noise! If students get off-task or talk, restart the timer.  You only have to do that once or twice before they get the idea!

Then, project a timer on the board (or use an old-fashioned wind-up timer) and get going.  Set the timer for how long you think students can concentrate – I usually do between fifteen and twenty minutes.  And then give students five minutes of chatting with friends before starting another block.

By doing this, you are not only modeling a strategy for avoiding procrastination, but you’re also ‘training’ students to concentrate for a fixed amount of time, take a short break, and then concentrate again.  This is one of the best ways to avoid procrastination because you have a strategy to get started and you have a reward for doing it.

#5 Just do a little bit

This tip for overcoming procrastination works in a similar way to the one above. But instead of setting a time limit, you set a goal. This is a little harder for students though, because they have a limited capacity to concentrate and aren’t always great at judging how long a task will take.  

And sometimes, students will rush the task so that they get the reward.  And while doing a rushed job is better than not even attempting it in the first place, you want students to make a decent effort so that they aren’t having to work so hard to improve on the initial task.

A great way to do this is to say that students can have some reward for completing the task.  So for example, you might

  • Give students free time after writing the introduction to their essay
  • Let students chat with their friends after writing down ten notes from the textbook
  • Say you won’t set homework for a week if all students finish a specific part of an assignment by the end of the lesson

This is one of those cases where you have to make sure that the task is achievable in the time limit you give – and you may need to give more assistance to some students than others.

But this is also a great way to get students to really concentrate on finishing a draft of a paper, essay, or project.  Then, once the draft is done, students have something to improve and refine before the final copy is due.

#6: Make it a habit

Another tip for avoiding procrastination is to make the task a habit. Have you ever noticed that you’re much more consistent about a task if it’s a habit that you work into your routine?

You are way more likely to go for a walk if you do it as soon as you wake up in the morning or after dinner at night. Why? Because it’s part of your routine and not something else you have to try and fit into your day.

A great way to implement this in the classroom is to use bell ringers, lesson starters, or entry tickets to get students working on their assignments, essays, papers, and projects.

So, when students enter the classroom, they need to write five sentences of their paper, essay, assignment, or project.

Or, before they leave, they need to finish one paragraph and hand it in.  

This strategy has the benefit of breaking assignments down into smaller chunks that students complete a little at a time, which can make it much less overwhelming for students to do.

It also models a strategy that they can use on their own – but you may need to be more explicit about why you are doing it this way so that students connect the dots of what they are doing in class with how they can approach tasks independently later.

And even better, it means that you get a draft without chasing students, and it’s in time for them to improve on it before they hand in a final copy.

#7: Offer a reward

The past two tips have suggested offering students some kind of reward for completing a task or spending a specific amount of time on a task.  Why? Because rewards increase motivation to complete boring or difficult tasks. 

Think about how you force yourself to clean the house.  Do you

  • crank the tunes
  • give yourself half an hour of uninterrupted reading time and a cup of tea afterward
  • bank the $50 a cleaner would have cost and put it towards your holiday fund? 

These are all strategies that motivate you to do the boring chore of cleaning the house. Teens and tweens are also driven by immediate gratification and rewards. Great rewards to offer students include

  • Time to talk to friends during class
  • Free time during class
  • Creative tasks such as coloring and drawing
  • Positive feedback to parents or carers
  • No homework for a set amount of time
  • Choice of one of the activities in the next lesson
  • Movie or video clip at the end of class
  • Listening to music during class (perhaps during the next ‘focus block’)

Having something forward to is a great way to increase motivation to complete those boring or unpleasant tasks, even for teens.

#8 Learn to manage emotions

Another tip for avoiding procrastination is learning how to manage emotions. Often the reason we procrastinate is to avoid something difficult, unpleasant, or boring.  The feelings about the task are often bigger than the actual task itself.  

By learning to manage the feelings associated with the task, students are more likely to see that the roadblock to doing it is not the amount of time they have, but the feelings they have about it.

Easy ways to try this in class include:

  • Getting students to write down three feelings they have about the task, and then throw them in the bin and get started
  • Do five big sigh breaths and then get started
  • Say what they are feeling, set a timer, and then get started
  • Write down their feelings and why they might feel that way, and then get started

You’ll notice that at the end of these strategies is always ‘and then get started’.  This is important because you’re training your students to acknowledge that they are bored, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, or any other feeling,  and then to do the task anyways.

Once students realize that they can have negative feelings, acknowledge them, and then get to work anyways, they are more likely to try that strategy for avoiding procrastination again in the future.

#9- Re-evaluate what is working

So you and your students have been using these tips for avoiding procrastination but not all of them work.  That’s great! 

Why? Because knowing what works and doesn’t work for your students (and them knowing that about themselves) is a huge step forward over being paralyzed in the procrastination stage.

Once your students know what works for them you can redirect them to those strategies whenever you feel like they are procrastinating.  Or, you can try and see what strategies are not working and why that may be the case.

Either way, having a bank of strategies that you and your students can draw on to avoid procrastinating is a bonus!

#10: Make a new plan if it’s not working or a situation changes

This tip applies mostly to the tips for avoiding procrastination using time management strategies such as doing a time audit, creating a plan, and prioritizing tasks.  Sometimes that plan that works for us some weeks doesn’t work other weeks.  And that’s ok.

Learning how to adjust our plans is an important skill for managing study time, and students learn this through experience.  

But, students will often need help to identify what has changed in their schedule and why it is not working.

You have a few ways that you can do this, but this would be time-consuming to do with every student, so keep in mind that you might need to give general advice and then offer to follow up with students who want more help. 

Ways that you could do this include

  • Creating a fictional scenario about Sally who is struggling to keep up with her work this week when last week was easy, and then modeling how to find the problems and what to do about them
  • Have small-group discussions about what’s working, what’s not working, and strategies students could use to help
  • Do a quick five-minute conference with two students every class and see how they’re going with the strategies
  • Have students do a self-reflection.  This could be a poster, a mind map, or a cartoon.  It doesn’t really matter what it is, but get them to hand it in.  Then skim through their work and identify which students may need additional help.

Bonus tip for how to stop procrastinating

One of my favorite ways to teach students how to stop procrastinating is to show them the Crash Course Study Skills video about procrastination.

The video is great because it explains why people procrastinate and ways to avoid procrastination.

I also love it because I have these handy-dandy worksheets that I can whip out whenever I want to run a mini-lesson on avoiding procrastination.

crash course study skills worksheet on avoiding procrastination

Because they’re so versatile, I can use them in so many ways, including

  • Giving them to a substitute teacher for an easy lesson prep when I’m sick
  • Using them for a mini-lesson when working on an assignment
  • As part of life skills or study skills lessons
  • An easy homework task for students
  • As an activity on those hard-to-plan-for days when you know lots of students will be absent 
  • To send home with individual students who may need a little extra help with managing their study time

Are we missing something?

Have I forgotten an awesome overcoming procrastination tip?  Do you know of any other ways to avoid procrastination?

Let us know! Leave a comment on our Facebook or Instagram pages with your favorite tip for how to stop procrastinating.

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