There’s still time to enter this lovely competition – deadline Friday. Please do! Everyone who’s entered so far has found it fun for the students and eye-opening for the adults. But I can foresee GREAT difficulty in choosing the winning questions, judging by the entries I’ve read so far!
BUT everyone’s a winner because every school will get at least one question answered publicly on my site. Today I’m answering a question from the third school to enter, Kings Langley Secondary School in Hertfordshire. The questions are from “anonymous library users” and I believe all the students were allowed to write their questions and they picked three to enter. Excellent questions! I’m just answering one here but I plan to answer the others later.
The one I’ve chosen is a problem I’ve got great sympathy with myself, as well as some psychological insights:
“How can I stop myself from procrastinating by binge-watching TV and clickbait videos?”
This is not easy because those clickbait videos etc are designed very cleverly to make us click on them. There are all sorts of tricks being used and there’s only one aim: to make money. And this is certainly one of the problems with social media and all our online platforms: we are endlessly given opportunities to click on these things. It’s like being in a sweetshop where everything is free. Well, you’d eat sweets, wouldn’t you? A lot. The video-makers are trying to tempt us in. Some of them are harmless fun, until we find we’ve wasted far too much time, have probably released some of our data, have perhaps bought something, and have only helped the advertisers, not ourselves. So, my personal strategy to avoid them is to tell myself a few truths:
- This is a total time-suck and I have better things to do
- They think they can manipulate me – well, I am stronger than that
- They are collecting my data and I’m leaving a footprint behind – all they want is to know my habits and then target ads at me later
- They do not love me: they despise me
- So I despise them
- I know I’ll feel better if I don’t click
But there’s something else to think about: why are we procrastinating? And the original question mentioned binge-watching TV so I think this is relevant to what I’m going to say.
Face it: we procrastinate because we really don’t want to do the thing we ought to be doing. The part of my job I dislike most is preparing events and I will do almost anything to avoid it. I will even clean behind my fridge or cut my toenails. As it happens, I don’t binge-watch TV but only because that’s not my thing. I certainly binge-play spider solitaire. And i certainly flick between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email in my effort to find something to do instead of preparing events.
For you, it might be that you really don’t want to do your homework or revision. Or any task you know you need to do but is boring or difficult or stressful. So, it’s quite natural to try to avoid it. the first step is to recognise: I’m procrastinating because I really don’t want to do [whatever it is].
Again, we need to use some self-help strategies. Here are some suggestions:
- Say, “I need to get this thing done because [insert reason] AND when I’ve done it I’ll feel great; if I don’t give myself enough time for it, I won’t do it so well. Therefore, it’s going to help me to get it done NOW.”
- Make a rule: “I will work hard on this piece of work/task for 45 minutes, then I can have 5 minutes entertainment.” Write the rule down. Be proud when you stick to it.
- While you’re working, set a timer. You can also put some music on if you like, to help you get in the zone, but make sure it’s music you’re familiar with.
- Most importantly, get all sources of distraction out of sight and as far away from you as possible, especially phone or tablet, as they are so easy to switch on. You need to put them where it will be difficult for you to get them. Definitely out of sight but also switched totally off and ideally not even in the same room as you. Make it really hard to get at them.
- If the work you have to do is on a screen, make sure no social media platforms are open so tat no messages can come and you can’t be tempted to take a quick look at Facebook or whatever.
- (The reason is the same as the reason why, if you were trying to give up chocolate, you would not be so silly as to have chocolate in sight. If it’s easy for us to get, we’ll find it too hard to resist.)
- Record how long you did NOT indulge in your procrastination habits. You could make a chart and block off each period of time you manage to resist. See if you can improve day-by-day.
- Do it with friends. Challenge each other and support each other. Agree to work without distraction for a certain time in the evening and then chill out online (or offline).
- Finally, try an “IF/THEN” strategy. This involves making a rule for yourself, such as, “IF I feel the temptation to do one of these procrastination behaviours, THEN I will instead [drink a sip of water/get up and walk around the room/stretch my arms in the air and breathe deeply five times/say a prayer/close my eyes for a few seconds].” It may sound ridiculous but in fact this gives you a thought-switch and a distraction and teaches you that you CAN resist! There’s good science behind it. (Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Test is a fascinating read.)
I think the main thing is to gradually train yourself to do the difficult thing first. Don’t expect to get it right every time or straightaway: training takes time. Just keep pulling yourself away from the silly stuff and onto the things that matter. Do the work first and then have the reward*. You’ll feel great.
(*NB Careful about the word “reward”. Taking breaks is important for well-being and shouldn’t only be seen as a reward. “Relaxation is not a luxury” is a mantra of mine and one of my 52 Ways to Well-Being. It helps our ability to learn if we take regular breaks and not only after we’ve finished the work. But this article is about those times when we take our breaks before we’ve started the work – procrastination!)
To sum up my answer
Don’t beat yourself up: procrastination is a terribly common, human behaviour to put off the things we don’t want to do. Sometimes, not starting our work straightaway is a good thing, as it gives us time to think and plan, but we can’t think and plan while watching TV or clickbait videos! That’s horribly time-wasting and can make us feel really bad about ourselves and obviously harm our success if it means we don’t have enough time to do the work.
So, keep telling yourself how great you’ll feel if you get the work done first and make that easier by removing all temptation from sight.
Also, remember that this is about self-control and adults should have better self-control than teenagers because we have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain required for control. But adults are very far from perfect. We can all do better and we will do that first by wanting to and then by practising.
And now I must go and prepare some events. But first, coffee…
Thanks so much to Kings Langley School for their questions. The standard and variety of questions for this competition has been so high and Ii want to answer them ALL – in fact, eventually, I will. If your school hasn’t entered, please do! Entry needs to be from any staff member in the school and is very simple. Details here. DEADLINE THURSDAY JUNE 8th.