The dog ate my homework. A bolt of lightning blew up my computer. My printer ran out of ink...again. Susan Murphy has heard all the excuses, and then some. "One of my favorites came from a girl who never handed in a paper on time and always had excuses," recalls Murphy, a teacher of freshman and junior English at Princeton High School. "She wrote me a note with one assignment saying she couldn't hand it in on time because she was too distraught over the death of her hamster."
If you're writing that one down to use in a pinch, don't bother. Murphy says most teachers can smell a shifty excuse from lockers away. She also says one of the most chronic ailments afflicting high schoolers is the big "P:" Procrastination.
You know the drill. You get an assignment to write a five-page paper the first week of class and you wait until the night before it's due to start typing, in a panic. You are not alone. "We do an anthology project where my students have to read 10 stories and respond," explains Murphy. "I've had kids write in their preface to their anthologies, ‘It's the night before this is due and I've been up all night doing this.' I hear that story so many times, especially with long-term projects. They'll write a nice little platitude at the end of the paper saying, ‘I know Mrs. Murphy warned us about leaving it until the last minute but I did it anyway and I hope I don't do it again.'"
Chances are, unless you take action to change your delaying ways, you will do it again...and again...and again. Chronic procrastination, always putting projects off to a later date, plagues students and adults alike. Ultimately, it can become a serious problem, like when your boss decides to fire you because you keep missing deadlines.
In The Complete Idiots Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, author Michelle Tullier writes that procrastination is often caused by such thoughts and feelings as fear of failure, success, or how you'll be judged, and finding a task so difficult or cumbersome that you don't know where or how to begin or end it. She has some specific suggestions for high schoolers, who she says need to wake up to the dangers of procrastination before they have frittered their life away.
1. Think "Do Dates," not "Due Dates." Use what Tullier calls "the chip-away technique" to break up the project into smaller parts and tackle bits of the project here or there. The earlier you start, the less stressed you'll feel and the better your results.
2. Avoid Conflicts. Let your family know when big projects are due so they can plan activities and outings around those dates.
3. Don't Overdo Extracurricular. Don't get your schedule so packed with activities that you can't keep your grades up.
4. Noise Barriers. Study in the library or at school if home has too many distractions.
5. Pressure Cooker. Mom and Dad may be putting too much emphasis on good grades, causing you to feel overwhelmed. Talk with them about it. They may not even know they're doing it.
The flip side to procrastination is motivation. Murphy of Princeton High sees a common thread in her most motivated students. "For some getting the job done is a reward within itself, and for others, getting the job done is a step toward accomplishing a larger goal. Both ways of thinking work really well for kids," she explains. Don't hesitate to talk with a teacher, school counselor or parent about your problems with procrastinating. Tullier cautions that if you're facing a tough procrastination situation, you might have to try several strategies before you find the one that motivates you to take action. Be patient. Be persistent. Be productive!