By the end of this vlog, you’ll get 2 things:
- Understand exactly how procrastination fits into Executive Function and how it impacts students
- Know my #1 key strategy for what to do about it
I also cover:
- EF aspects
- Two sides of the same coin
- Self-starting, task initiation, get the train going
- Procrastination, unmotivated, undisciplined, stuck
- Do not have skills to self-start
- The impacts and consequences of procrastination
- Emotional overwhelm, avoidance
- Energy depletion
- Strategy, chunking, 2 types
- Abstract vs concrete
- Plan chunks
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Parents and teachers, what’s up? In this video I’m going to talk about procrastination and by the end of this video you’re going to have two things one. (1) You’re going to understand how executive function and procrastination go together, how they’re related, how procrastination fits into executive function now that impact students. (2) You’re going to know my number one key strategy for working with students who struggle with procrastination and why I use that strategy, and I’ll break that down for you.
So my name is Seth Perler, I’m an executive function coach based out of Boulder, Colorado and I help struggling students navigate this thing called education. I’m going to start off by telling you that procrastination you can think of as an aspect of executive function, or poor executive function. Here’s what I mean. You can look at many experts out there who talk about executive function, you’ll find that different experts breakdown executive function into different aspects. Some experts may say there are three aspects to executive function, there can be five, there are eight, etc… When I’m doing speaking presentations, I have anywhere between fifteen and twenty. I do not fit in the box and don’t really care to have the exact number. I do not care to give you a perfect recipe for how things are done. I care to communicate things in a meaningful and useful way so that you can better help kids. When I look at the aspects, there are different ways to look at it. Now, I will tell you what you will often see in terms of procrastination as an aspect of executive function. So basically, first of all, let me explain the many aspects to executive function. Some of the common ones that you might see would be: focus, attention, concentration, organization time management, planning, prioritization, etc…
Aspects of executive function are any of the things the brain needs to do in order to execute a complex task. So for example, when I painted this room and put all the posters up that required planning, that required time management, that required task initiation, that required task persistence in order to complete this project which took me a day or two. It required a lot of executive function. I had to execute, I had to do different things. My brain had to do different things to make the goal and to accomplish the goal. So I wanted to mention the aspects really quick because what I’m going to tell you now is specifically looking at procrastination as an aspect or a part of an aspect of executive function. How do we do that? Alright, so we have procrastination. Procrastination is basically two sides of the same coin. So when you are thinking, if you are listening to somebody speak about executive function and they’re speaking about the other side of this procrastination coin, what they are going to say in clinical speak is they’re going to the term ‘task initiation.’ Task initiation is to initiate a task. Well, that just means self-starting, it just means getting started, it just means getting the train rolling. So one side of the coin, one aspect of executive function on one side that is task initiation, self-starting or getting the train going, or starting your work, or starting your homework; we’re getting started. Getting started in and of itself is a difficult thing when you don’t want to do it, when it is a non-preferred activity. Obviously your kids don’t procrastinate when it comes to doing something that they’re interested in, something they care about, something that matters to them, something that’s fun for them. But if it comes to something that is a non-preferred activity task initiation, self-starting, getting train going, getting started on your work is not easy for them.
So what’s the other side of the coin? The other side of the coin of self-starting or task initiation is not initiating the task, and we use the word procrastination to describe the many ways that we avoid starting. Procrastination is not starting. People will often use other words interchangeably with procrastination and sort of lumping them under these different categories, not really interested in that part of executive function, which doesn’t help the kid. For example, an adult might say, “Oh, yeah, the kid is just unmotivated,” or “the kid is just not motivated,” or “the kid just needed to get motivated,” or “this student is not disciplined. This student needs more disciplined. This student just needs to work harder, the student just needs to care more.” But essentially we have the words lumped together: procrastination, unmotivated, undisciplined, and stuck. So those are sort of the common ones that we see. So on the one side of the coin, we have task initiation and self-starting. On the other side of the coin, we have a lack of motivation or we have procrastination.
Either way, whatever way you look at it, the problem that adults, teachers, and parents often encounter is that the way that they approach this does not work. It may work in the short-term through shaming the kid or putting a lot of pressure on a kid, but it doesn’t work in the long term to help the kid learn what they need to learn. So, what is the right way to do this? The right way to help a child overcome procrastination, so to speak, or lack of motivation or lack of discipline or however you phrase it. The right way to really look at this in my opinion and I work with a lot of kids who struggle with this stuff and I have for many years, the right way to approach this isn’t to use those terms, but is to say, “Hey kid, how do we help you learn skills to help you self start, even when it’s a non-preferred task.” Obviously, I wouldn’t use those words with the student, but the essence of this is how do we empower you, the student, to have skills, to have tips, tricks, strategies? How do we help you have a way to self-start on a task that is an important task for you to get done for your life. Homework, responsibilities, things that lead to a bigger goal. Even though the big goal is fun, the steps to getting there may not be as fun. For example, you may want to go to college but doing a college application is a massive, massive job. Just doing a college application takes a lot of executive function. So if you want to go to college you have to do a lot of things get there. If a student wants a car and they want to buy a car, well all of the work that it takes to get the car, there’s a lot of work to that, or even just getting a driver’s license, there’s a lot of executive function that’s required the one big goal. So basically the question is how do we empower these students? I’m going to say this again, to have some strategies to help them self-start even when they don’t feel like it? So I’m not trying to motivate my students as a coach. I don’t tell my students, “I want you to be motivated.” I tell them, “How do we trick you? How do you learn to trick yourself into starting even if you don’t feel motivated?,” because if I’m looking to help them figure out how to feel motivated, that is a losing game as far as I am concerned. I want to give them practical tools and tips and strategies on how to self-start.
I told you in this video that I would help you understand how I do that. Before I do that I wanted to talk about the impacts and consequences of procrastination. I have 5 impacts and consequences of procrastination to share.
Number 1: The obvious is that their grades suffer. They have lot of missings, incompletes, late work, zeros, and a lot of test corrections. So their grades are suffering from procrastination.
Number 2: The relationships. Often times the relationships your child has with you the parents, there’s a breakdown. There’re homework battles, there’s a problem, they might be lying, there might be challenges in the relationship because of procrastination and trying to get them to do what needs to be done and to their relationship with their teacher. Their teachers may perceive them as somebody who doesn’t care even though they do, or somebody who isn’t trying hard enough or isn’t is undisciplined or motivated in, and they get an image of the student that may or may not be accurate. But often that doesn’t take into consideration the legitimacy of executive function challenges. So that’s grades and relationships.
Number 3: There is overwhelm. Often times the students get overwhelmed emotionally and that leads to avoidance. Procrastination impacts them because they put things off and they get overwhelmed and they either deal with that really stressed or they pretend it’s not going on. So it affects them emotionally.
Number 4: Procrastination also affects mindset, and often times these students who procrastinate, they start saying, “You know what I give up. This is stupid. Why try anyhow. I don’t need to do this. I’ll do it later.” They start to get a lot of mindsets that help them not take action and avoid, which is the emotional that I mentioned before.
Number 5: Finally, energy depletion. Procrastination really takes a lot of energy for them to procrastinate. For them, it sort of lingers in the brain that there’s something that’s undone. Even if they’re not conscious of what it is, they have the sense that something’s undone and it can really take energy away from them. So procrastination can really deplete your energy directly and indirectly.
Now for the strategy. How do we do this? How do we help? I like, as a coach and a human being, I’m a very big picture person. I like to get things as simple as possible. So I’m going to tell you essentially how I help students I work with, I’m not going to say overcome, how I help them work with and work through procrastination. How I help them to self-start and how I help them to trick themselves into taking action. I’m going to give you one concept that I think encapsulates a lot of how I approach doing this. That word, that concept is ‘chunking.’ I help students by learning to chunk. So in other words what happens is that when a student has action to take and it’s a non-preferred action and they don’t feel like doing it, what happens is it’s often abstract. We have abstract and concrete. If it feels abstract it feels big, it feels overwhelming. They say, “Oh I have homework to do tonight and I don’t even know where to start because it’s abstract. I got a bunch of stuff to do. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know exactly what I have to do. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I don’t know where I’m going to do it. I don’t know how I’m going to get this done.” That’s abstract. What do you think abstraction does to emotionally? It feels overwhelming. Abstract is overwhelming.
Then we go to concrete. The more concrete we get, the less overwhelming it is and the more attainable it is. So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. We work with baby-steps. We break it down into small chunks. When a student can chunk it down they can contemplate, “I can get that thing done, I got this.” or “I can get part of that. I can at least get started. I can’t task initiate and I can get the momentum going.” So how do we chunk? Two ways. One word is chunking and there two ways to chunk. There are plenty of other theorists out there or strategist or coaches or tutors or novelist or whatever. There are plenty of people out there with other good ideas. Use them if they worked for you, I don’t really care. I’m going to tell you how I break it down for kids and why. I break it down into two ways of something. (1) is by time (2) is by task. What do I mean by time? I swear I use these timers so often with kids because this is concrete. It’s concrete because it’s auditory, it’s concrete because it’s visual and you can see it, it’s concrete because it’s kinesthetic and you can touch it. This is a thing. I can contemplate doing 3 minutes and 3 seconds of starting my homework. “Hey, I can get the ball rolling with it. I can work for 10 minutes or 20 minutes with this,” is concrete that helps people get started to self to focus and get their attention. I’ve stayed away from the abstract and back to the concrete so that we can concretely work on a non-preferred pass for X amount of minutes. For X amount of time. So we chunk by time. Again, the kid says, “Oh, I have all this work to do all the time,” it’s abstract. Cool. Ask them, “Can you focus for 5 minutes? Can you plan for 3 minutes? Can you focus for 30 minutes?” If you watched my video last week when I talked about the 3-30-3 method that can help you figure out how to do that. But can you do it for a smaller chunk of time? That makes it concrete. We want to get it within the threshold so that they can go, “Okay, I can do that. Yes, I can work for math on math for 5 minutes” and maybe they have an hour or two hours to work, but we need to get the momentum going. Number (2) we chunk by task. If they have a paper to write, a task for the paper is to get your materials out. A task for the paper is to read over the rubric. A task for the paper is to make an outline. A task for the paper is to draft. A task for the paper is to edit to, revise, to talk with someone about your idea and talk it out. These are all tasks that you can break down. So you can chunk it by task. A task for math might be doing one problem, it might be checking your work, it might be doing 5 problems, it might be doing the front page, it might be putting your name on the top of the math paper, it might be reading the instructions. So we can chunk these things down by task and by time. It is outside the scope of this video to go into extraordinary depth on how to do that, but that’s what I wanted to talk about. We want to get it from abstract world to concrete world. We do that by chunking by task and by time. When you do that, you want to ideally write out your plan whether you’re using notecards or whatever, but write out a plan, a concrete plan. This is concrete. You want to have a concrete plan in your hand of the tasks that need to happen. So go snag one of these timers.
Anyhow, that’s all I got for you today. Again, my name is Seth with SethPerler.com. If you haven’t signed up for my blog on my site, I send out a new video at least every week and I do a lot of things to help support people struggling with executive function. This was a video where I wanted you to understand exactly how procrastination fits into executive function and how it impacts students, and know my number one key strategy for dealing with that. So, please share this, give it a thumbs up on YouTube. If you’re watching me on YouTube feel free to tell me what you think and what works for you for the students that you are working with. I’m going to get out of here. I hope you have a fantastic day. I will see you soon.
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