Education Specialist, Natalie Nicholls, defined procrastination as “an intentional delay of something that we need to do, despite being aware of the negative outcomes.” This delay often involves spending time on less important tasks, which can be more appealing. For example, instead of doing laundry, one might opt to scroll through social media or make a cup of coffee.

This avoidance behaviour is common and stems from the task’s cognitive load and the lack of immediate gratification it offers. Procrastination can lead to increased anxiety and stress. The more we delay tasks, the more our brain becomes accustomed to this behaviour, creating a cycle of avoidance. Natalie emphasised that tackling tasks promptly can alleviate this burden, making us feel better once the task is completed.

Strategies to Overcome Procrastination

Natalie shared several strategies to help both adults and children overcome procrastination:

  1. Set clear goals: Determine what you want to achieve and the benefits of completing the task. Visualising the positive outcome can motivate you to start and finish the task.
  2. Break tasks into smaller steps: Large tasks can be overwhelming. Breaking them into smaller, manageable steps can make them less daunting.
  3. Create a time limit: Allocate a specific time frame to complete the task. This can create a sense of urgency and help you stay focused.
  4. Incorporate enjoyable activities: Combine tasks with enjoyable activities, such as listening to music or watching comedy videos. This can make the task more pleasant and less of a chore.
  5. Use positive reinforcement: Reward yourself after completing a task. This can reinforce the behaviour and make you more likely to tackle tasks promptly in the future.

Helping Children Overcome Procrastination

When it comes to children, Natalie highlighted three main areas to focus on:

  1. Motivation: Understand what motivates your child. Ensure the task aligns with their interests, not just your expectations.
  2. Self-Regulation: Teach children how to plan, set goals, and reflect on their actions. Help them develop executive functioning skills, which are crucial for managing tasks.
  3. Self-Efficacy: Foster a belief in their ability to complete tasks. Support them with positive reinforcement and a growth mindset, emphasising that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Natalie addressed common pitfalls parents and educators face when helping children overcome procrastination. Key points included:

  • Managing Expectations: Understand that children’s brains are still developing. Adjust expectations accordingly and provide the necessary support without doing the tasks for them.
  • Avoiding Anger: Recognise that anger often stems from unmet expectations. Instead of reacting with frustration, approach the situation with understanding and compassion.
  • Providing Guidance: Facilitate and guide children rather than doing tasks for them. Help them understand the why behind their actions and support them in developing their own strategies for task management.

Final Thoughts

Natalie’s final advice centred on maintaining a growth mindset. Embrace the idea that we are all still learning. Focus on how to achieve tasks rather than fixating on obstacles. Encourage open, compassionate conversations with children to help them understand and manage their responsibilities. Overcoming procrastination is a journey. By setting clear goals, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and providing support, we can develop strategies to tackle procrastination effectively.

Listen back to Natalie’s full conversation on Table Talk.