Winning the Battle Against Procrastination

Annalisa DeGuzman (’23) reflects on why we procrastinate and offers advice for writers on how to combat it. “…with slow and steady efforts, we can all spend less time staring at a blank screen and agonizing over assignments, and more time writing creatively and doing other things we love.”

With constant commitments to sports practices, music rehearsals, club meetings, volunteer work, and other extracurricular activities, it’s inevitable that plenty of us high school students will struggle with time management due to being busy during the week. But what about the instances where we do have free time to get work done, yet can’t bring ourselves to do so? I’ve had this happen countless times: I’ll sit down at my desk, a pile of notebooks and worksheets beside my computer, all ready to complete my assignments until I pull out my phone to check a notification… and suddenly thirty minutes will have passed and I’ll have done absolutely nothing.  Writing assignments, in particular, are difficult for me to start, as they can seem like a daunting task, beginning with a completely blank piece of paper or a white screen and disorganized ideas. This causes the assignment to be pushed off to another day, resulting in stress that could have been avoided.

I know from conversations with others that these aren’t unique experiences; most students have put off work for one reason or another. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and detrimental to our wellbeing, but it’s also extremely common in students. However, by understanding what causes our procrastination, we can also develop strategies to make it happen less and alleviate the anxiety that comes from this act. The Writing Center in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has an entire webpage dedicated to helping students change this habit, but these are the main contributing factors that cause procrastination in my life, as well as the tactics that have worked best in helping me to combat it. 

Causes of Procrastination

  1. Perfectionism: Oftentimes, the reason we don’t start writing is because we feel like if I do, it won’t turn out the way we want it to. We’re not sure where to begin, we can’t come up with any ideas, and we don’t feel like we’ll end up with anything worth submitting if we try to start right then and there. 
  1. Boredom: Writing for school can be challenging for many, especially those without much passion for the specific topic they’re given, making it very difficult to sit down and compose full, nuanced paragraphs.
  1. Low motivation: Although I usually get assignments done on time, there have been instances where I’ve cut it extremely close to the deadline. Without that sense of urgency, I tend to believe I can just “do it tomorrow”—that is, until the due date comes and there is no more “tomorrow”, leaving me in a frenzy to finish the task I could have done days before.
  1. Because it can work: Building off of the previous case, the last factor that pushes students to continue this habit is that even though we do it, things (usually) turn out fine. This cycle of reinforcement causes a continuation for the behavior, making us think that since it worked last time, it should work this time too.

Helpful Strategies to Address It

  1. Create a productive environment: What environment do you focus best in? Some prefer to work alone in a completely silent space, while others prefer to listen to music in their room or sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. Personally, I like working in my room, but I find it very hard to focus with my phone next to me, so I combat this by putting it away in a drawer until I’m done.
  1. Break into smaller tasks: Having to write an entire essay in one sitting can be overwhelming. But breaking it into chunks—for example, deciding to just work on the introduction or a body paragraph—can relieve these feelings and make the assignment seem more manageable.
  1. Write a rough outline: This has probably been the most helpful tip for me. Just scribbling or typing down ideas in bullet points can give me a clearer picture of what I want to say and help me formulate how I intend to write a paper.
  1. Set a time limit: For most people, me included, it’s unrealistic to be able to work on a single task for hours straight with no breaks. Instead, it’s much easier to choose a period of time to write (for example, twenty minutes) and allow a break after that (or keep working if you’re still motivated). This helps to at least get the paper started and not feel dread towards having to write for several hours.

Still, no one is perfect. Breaking a habit like procrastination doesn’t happen overnight, involves trial and error, and takes persistent attempts, so it’s important to not be too hard on ourselves. I’m definitely still in the process as well—in fact, I even had trouble starting on this blog post because I was having trouble deciding on a topic. But with slow and steady efforts, we can all spend less time staring at a blank screen and agonizing over assignments, and more time writing creatively and doing other things we love.

Combatting Senioritis

Soon-to-be-graduating Senior Nina Taleb Bendiab (’23) offers advice for this year and next year’s Seniors on battling senioritis. “…we all need to remember and honor the immense effort being put into all the time and work to get us here.”

Many of us have heard of the term senioritis: the ever growing disease in high school seniors. The lack of motivation drops below freezing, the yearning to go to college is amplified, and everyone is itching to be done with school and experience the freedom that summer brings. But, it is important we don’t let this fall of motivation take over and diminish all the hard work we have put in the past 4 years. It is definitely easier said than done, so how do we combat this burn out ? 

A study from the University Southern New Hampshire (USNH)  suggested a couple tips to help one with feeling burnt out during and even some preventative tips. An academic advisor from USNH  described senioritis as “seeing the finish line and realizing you don’t necessarily have to work as hard anymore to reach it,” (Tincher).  Feeling less motivated towards the end of the year can manifest in different ways for everyone. Some techniques might be more effective than others or vice versa.

Keep goals set in the future: Keeping goals set for the future allows you to still find the why behind what you are doing. The magnitude of goals can vary, yet any goal is a great motivational catalyst. Goals also allow you to have something to look forward to. Many times the fun parts of senior year seem so far away leaving students feeling discouraged. But, keeping little things to look forward to in the coming months can help students feel a purpose for the rest of the school year.

Stay organized: As the school year ends there are lots of events and activities happening. It can be easy to let schoolwark fall on the back burner and forget what needs to be done when. Also, becoming disorganized and missing assignments and such initially, could heighten procrastination in turn. Keeping an online calendar or writing in a planner are some ways that you can visually see what needs to be done.

Incentives are your friend: Whether they are big or little, rewards can be helpful to keep going. The incentives can vary based on what fits you! Whether it’s watching a couple episodes of a show, going out to eat or just as simple as small breaks in between homework or studying, they can all be great options . Keeping enjoyable or less stressful moments in times of low motivation can help people finish out their tasks while also doing their best.

We all know the end of the year can be a challenging time and we all just want to be done. With that being said we all need to remember and honor the immense effort being put into all the time and work to get us here. I hope everyone can use and tailor these tips so you continue to succeed throughout the end of the year.

Beat the Burnout: Five Steps to Help You Finish the Trimester Strong

Olivia Palmbos (’23) provides tips and tricks to help Skyline students tackle the last push to final’s week. “Approaching a massive to-do list on your own can feel hopeless, but this does not have to be the case…Communicating with those you are working with will open the door to receiving support, accommodations, and/or agreeable solutions that will help you manage and get ahead of your workload.”

As spring break draws nearer and the second trimester comes to an abrupt and rapid end (courtesy of three unexpected back-to-back snow days), it is easy for students to wind down and kick back their feet in anticipation of spring and summer vacation. However, just as students are beginning to feel the slow-motion slog of academic burnout, the workload and assignments begin to step up with the looming presence of finals week on the horizon. With depleted motivation weighing students down more and more heavily with each passing day, the task of staying on top of the to-do list – and the homework assignments due before finals – begins to feel impossible. How do we stay on top of our workloads without falling prey to lack of motivation? In this article, I have compiled several tips, tricks, and strategies that may help you stave off the burnout, and stay motivated till the end of the trimester. 

Step #1: Communicate and get the support you need.

When dealing with a pileup of work and a decrease in motivation, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, discombobulated, and even isolated. Approaching a massive to-do list on your own can feel hopeless, but this does not have to be the case. When it comes to dealing with a heavy workload, communication with teachers, students, and peers is key. Communicating with those you are working with will open the door to receiving support, accommodations, and/or agreeable solutions that will help you manage and get ahead of your workload. 

Step #2: Set up an accountability partner.

Now that you have communicated with friends and teachers about where you’re at on your academic to-do list, reach out to a responsible friend to hold you accountable for sticking with your plan. Setting out to cope with a large amount of work on your own will inevitably lead to a loss in motivation, and your assignments may fall to the wayside as a result. However, working with a partner will ensure you accomplish what you set out to do. Talk with a partner to check in about your homework load at the end of the day, or go to a library together in order to immerse yourself into a work mindset and setting. By surrounding yourself with work-conscious companions and studying with equally motivated peers, you will hold yourself responsible to complete all of the items on your to-do list.

Step #3: Separate work and relaxation.

Although working from home is often simplest, (and, frankly, a common habit that carried over the pandemic), separating the environment that you work in and the environment that you relax in is beneficial to boost productivity. Trying to find focus in a setting that is more frequently used for play or relaxation can be a difficult task; so, as enticing as it may sound to do your homework from the comfort of your bed, instead try designating a location at which to work, and a location at which to wind down. Whether this means christening the spare room in your house as the designated study spot, or going so far as to visit a library to finish up your math homework, finding the right atmosphere in which to be productive will make all the difference! 

Step #4: Block out your work time and break time. 

Many times, it is easy to either get sucked so thoroughly into a task that you forget to take care of yourself, or to neglect it so harshly that nothing gets done. When trying to maximize your productivity and minimize burnout, it is critical to find ways to walk a fine line between these two polar opposites. While you don’t want to spend too much time on one particular task to the point where you neglect your own needs, you also want to work effectively and efficiently on your assignments. Try blocking out your homework time using websites such as Pomodoro or Tomato Timer. Platforms like these will allow you to set a time period for work, and a time period for getting up to walk around, get a drink or water, or simply relax your brain.  With these toolkits, you should be able to find a happy-medium between blocking out productive work time, and taking time to care for yourself.

Step #5: Reward yourself for your hard work.

Assigning awards after you accomplish specific goals will help you not only stay motivated to complete the tasks at hand, but also recognize and celebrate all of your accomplishments. Rewards such as snacks, break times, or doing one of your favorite pastimes after completing each individual task on your to-do list will help you stay engaged with your work, and make work-time feel like less of a slog, and more of an enjoyable opportunity. 

Between these five steps – and countless other measures that can be taken to finish the trimester off strong – students can tie off their end of trimester exams neatly and start the following trimester on steady footing (regardless of whatever snow days are thrown in our path). Good luck on finals, Skyline Eagles, and finish the Tri off strong.

Having Fun with your Schoolwork, Instead of Letting it Burden You

Elena Mychaliska (’23) gives readers advice on how to change our attitudes around schoolwork. “While in high school students do not always have the ability to choose which subjects they are studying, making it a priority to search for the qualities of the subject that you are interested in may help.”

We’ve all heard the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun,” although does that same principle apply to schoolwork? I decided to look into how changing your approach to homework or studying can not only make them seem less time-consuming, but also help you learn. 

A better mood has been proven to help the brain understand and retain new information in a variety of ways. Firstly, it can help incentivize work by increasing the rewards felt during and after the task. Additionally, a good mood increases the dopamine released into your prefrontal cortex, one of the more advanced regions of your brain that is responsible for many important tasks in learning. This increase in dopamine helps transition people into the flow state, or the “zone”, and comprehensively absorb new information. In all, being intentional about changing your mood can be referred to as cognitive flexibility, “the ability to adapt our behavior and thinking in response to the environment,” and can help people work more effectively and efficiently.

But how does one change their mood and approach to schoolwork? One way is by sparking your curiosity in the subject you are tackling. While in high school students do not always have the ability to choose which subjects they are studying, making it a priority to search for the qualities of the subject that you are interested in may help. For example, you may not love economics, but maybe you are interested in sociology. Thus, within that class, take that angle, looking at how economics intertwines with the “development, structure, and functioning of human society”. Recently, the University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital and the Center of Human Growth and Development conducted a longitudinal study in which they found that curious children performed the best in school. They also identified that more commonly valued abilities, such as focus, were actually less important than curiosity when learning. 

Another way to change your mood when completing your schoolwork is incorporating fun. A study conducted at Archbishop Williams High School and the Technical University of Denmark found that students that used Labster, a gamified laboratory simulator, in their classes found the lesson and its content more interesting. So maybe try a Quizlet, a Kahoot, or a Jeopardy game as a study tool!

Finally, altering your study environment can also make it a more enjoyable process. Many things can improve a study space, including but not limited to seating, lighting, noise, and color. Utilizing natural light, a comfortable chair, and a white noise machine could make all of the difference in your daily work. Even having a warm drink next to you could help. 

Studying does not need to be an arduous process, allow yourself to find enjoyment in it. So, when you’re studying for your next math test or finishing your history homework, open the curtains, find a comfy spot, pull up a Kahoot, and get curious. 

It’s the monkey’s fault

Joshua Lee (’24) discusses some strategies for self-control from Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct. “…individuals can strengthen self-control, similar to how muscles become stronger through exercise.”

I often find myself procrastinating when confronted with a writing assignment. I find writing to be more convoluted than other subjects, such as mathematics. In mathematics, there is one—and only one—correct answer. The subjective nature of writing was causing me to set aside writing assignments until the very last minute. I was searching for remedies to procrastination when I stumbled upon the book The Willpower Instinct. This book has been of tremendous help to me, and with courses increasing workloads, I wanted to share some valuable insights from it.

Kelly McGonigal, the author of The Willpower Instinct, explains that two sections of the brain constantly clash: the monkey and the rational self. The monkey is the obstacle that prevents humans from becoming more fit, spending less, and losing weight; it is the part of the brain that prioritizes instant gratification. The monkey is the reason people binge-watch Netflix shows instead of doing math homework. In contrast, the rational self reflects a person’s true desires and goals. McGonigal asserts that the only way to restrain the monkey from controlling decisions is to strengthen self-control.  

To successfully practice delayed gratification (the act of resisting an immediate reward for a more valuable future reward), people must utilize self-control for the three powers listed below:

  1. The “I will” power: the ability to make decisions that improve quality of life;
  2. The “I won’t” power: the ability to prevent decisions that may hinder success or happiness;
  3. The “I want” power: the ability to make choices that align with long-term goals, not instant gratification.

It takes people immense willpower to consistently make decisions that bring them closer to fulfilling their long-term goals. Fortunately, individuals can strengthen self-control, similar to how muscles become stronger through exercise. Self-control is critical in living a successful and fulfilling life, so what are some strategies to improve it?

Meditation is an effective method for building self-control. With just 11 hours of meditation, the brain begins to increase neural connections between regions of the brain that are important for staying focused, ignoring distractions, and controlling impulses. Most individuals avoid meditation because they claim it takes too much time, but five to ten minutes is more than enough to yield fruitful results. Referred to as the “miracle drug,” exercise is another way to train willpower. Not only does it increase gray matter (brain cells) and white matter (nerve fibers that enable communication within the brain), but it serves as a powerful antidepressant. The intensity of exercise can depend on the person. Not everyone is a marathon runner: walking five minutes is better than no exercise. Although strengthening willpower is essential to defeating the monkey, becoming acquainted with the monkey’s deceptive tactics is just as important.

Moral licensing is when the brain justifies a bad behavior by praising good behavior. For instance, a shopper who restrained themself from purchasing fancy clothes may go home and enjoy sweets, or a student who worked hard on a project at school may justify playing video games for the rest of the day. Another common trick the monkey uses to make people relapse back into addiction or break good habits is recognized as the What The Hell Effect. The effect occurs when a person indulges in harmful behavior. For example, if a person on a diet ate a slice of cake, they may feel ashamed that they ruined their diet. The emotions of guilt and shame cause the dieter to indulge in even more unhealthy foods in an attempt to make themselves feel better, resulting in a downward spiral back to their old self.

The information and strategies I shared in this blog post only scratch the surface of The Willpower Instinct, so if what you read here sounded intriguing, I highly recommend reading the entire book for yourself.