Between now and the end of the school year is usually a crunch time, when teens feel pressured to do nightly homework while also finishing projects, writing papers, and studying for final exams. But many are honest enough to admit that they make this stress even worse by procrastinating. Instead of getting down to work when they get home from school or right after dinner, they find a trillion “reasons” (read as: excuses) to put off opening the books: “I’ve got to clean my room before I can do anything else,” or “I’ll just watch one show to relax first.” Most often, it’s “I’ve to check my Facebook updates for a minute….” Of course, what usually happens is: “But then I got sidetracked by looking at everyone’s pictures. Before I knew it, an hour had passed…”
It’s human nature to procrastinate. We do it for various reasons: when we’re tired, we don’t feel like doing something, or we’re distracted by other thoughts and feelings. Sometimes certain tasks make us anxious or totally bored. So we get involved in something else—or opt out by taking a nap. Either way, we keep from feeling bored, annoyed, frustrated, or afraid. Procrastination is just a fancy word for avoidance!
The problem, however, is that it’s not a particularly good coping strategy. As soon as we face up to what we have to do those same feelings return—with a vengeance. Now we have even less time to get things done, putting additional pressure on us. Even while engrossed in playing a computer game or shopping online, you’re probably aware of that huge To Do list hanging over your head. That only worsens the stress. Plus, procrastinating often makes us feel bad about ourselves.
The good news is that you can learn to stop procrastinating—or at least to do it less. First, figure out the cause(s). Then you can find solutions that work. Use this mental checklist to understand what’s making you put off ‘til later what you can finish now:
Sleepy? After a long day of school, you’re probably tired (especially if you didn’t sleep enough last night). But before you take a quick power nap that turns into a 3-hour sleep-fest that makes you groggy (and keeps you wide awake tonight), try these strategies:
• Listen to upbeat music. That’ll perk you right up.
• Switch your routine. New and different experiences cause a rush of brain chemicals that make you more alert. If you usually sprawl across your bed when you work, sit cross-legged on the floor.
• Get active. You’ll be more awake if you’re moving than if you’re sitting still. A 10-minute walk will boost your energy for up to 2 hours. (BONUS: Taking your dog might earn you brownie points.)
Hungry? Our brains need fuel, especially when we’re stressed. Avoid raiding the junk food, which will probably make you sleepier. Instead, boost your brainpower with a high protein snack such as a handful of nuts, some cheese, hummus, or yogurt.
Mentally exhausted? Is your brain on overload?
• Make a list. Write down all tasks and due dates in order of priority. Enjoying the feeling of crossing them off when you’ve accomplished them.
• Pace yourself. Alternate easy and hard tasks—or ones that take you the most and the least amount of time.
• Take breaks. Play a quick game on your iPhone to have fun and activate brain cells. WARNING: Make that ONE game—or set your phone alarm to go off in 5 to 10 minutes.
• Breathe deeply and exhale fully. This will get rid of excess carbon dioxide so you get more oxygen to your brain and feel more mentally alert.
• Work out. Exercising in the early afternoon or up to two hours before bed lowers the stress hormone and releases feel-good endorphins.
• Do whatever works. Spend 10 minutes doing whatever you know definitely relaxes you.
To avoid procrastination, the best strategy is to use self-discipline. That’s when we make ourselves do things even when we really don’t want to. It’s not easy, but well worth the effort. Research shows the most successful, confident people aren’t necessarily the smartest, but they’re persistent and self-disciplined.