4 Steps to Avoid Summer Procrastination

Even though school is out for the summer, most students still have assignments to do…whether it’s reading 3 books, working through a math packet, taking an online class, studying for the SAT…or all of the above.

Kids time to go to bed. Portrait mom showing daughter clock that it is late. She doesn't like isolated grey wall background. Face expression emotions. Difficult parenting concept. Children's schedule

Left to their own devices, many students end up scrambling to complete these summer assignments in the final week before school starts…which creates a lot of stress & anxiety for them and their families.

While this may be the default way students operate, it’s often not what they really want.

When I sit down with students to discuss how they’d like to handle their summer work, and discuss the pros & cons of different options, they typically choose one of two approaches…

“I want to finish my work as soon as possible, so it’s out of the way and I can relax for the rest of my break!”


“I want to do a little work each week, so I don’t have too much to do on any one day”

So, if students don’t really WANT to procrastinate on their work & leave it until the last minute, how can we help them make better choices about how to spend their time?

Here are 4 tips to help avoid summer procrastination:

1. Put them in charge of making the plan

Students are much more likely to follow through with a plan when they’re the one who created it!

So, before you get frustrated at your student’s lack of progress and start creating a plan for them…or dropping not-so-subtle hints about the importance of summer reading…try turning the tables and asking how THEY want to approach their summer work.

  • Why is completing this summer work important to them? Do they want to make sure they earn a good grade? Get the work out of the way so they can relax?
  • Would they rather complete their work early, and get it out of the way as soon as possible? Or work on it a little bit every day?
  • Will they want to (or be able to) do reading or schoolwork while they’re traveling (on plane rides, car trips, etc.)?  Or would they prefer to get it all done while they’re at home? 
  • How much work will they need to complete each week…or each day…in order to finish on (or before) the deadline?  (Not counting days that will be spent at camp, traveling, etc.?)

For students who are having a hard time creating a plan on their own, ask if they’d like your help talking through their ideas.

Sometimes, talking with someone who is not a parent can make the planning process easier, more fun, and less stressful!  I do a lot of summer goal setting & planning with my students, so if this is something you think would benefit your student, please let me know and we can set up a time to talk.


2. Let it be easy

Sometimes, students put off their summer assignments because reading an entire book — or completing a 20 page math packet — feels overwhelming, and seems like it’s going to take a long time to do…so they decide to save it for later.  

You can help them find easy ways to get started by asking:
– What’s the smallest, simplest thing you could do to begin this project?
– OR, If you were going to work on this today, what’s the very first step you’d want to take?
can help shrink the task down & make it easier.

For some students, the easiest way to start might be setting a timer and reading for five minutes. Or deciding to just read the first five pages, and then take a break. Or maybe just looking up a summary of the book online, so they can learn more about it. 

There’s no right or wrong answer…The goal is just to find something quick & painless they can do to get started, and begin feeling a sense of accomplishment and progress.


3. Turn it into a routine

Once they’ve found an easy way to get started, turning this into a routine is a great way to continue making regular progress. 

Some students love the idea of creating a habit that’s easy for them to follow every day — like reading 5 pages after breakfast — so they don’t have to think about when to do their work…it just happens automatically.
Other students think the idea of a “daily habit” sounds boring and constraining, and feels like too much of a commitment. These routine-phobic students are often happier with a less structured plan that includes more variety…like spending 10 minutes every afternoon reading, but doing it in a different place every day. Or checking off 3 chapters from their reading list every week, at whatever time feels best to them.


4. Make it rewarding

Student studying outdoorsIt can be hard to feel motivated about summer work, because the reward for finishing it (the good grade on the test or assignment) is so far in the future.

So, it’s often helpful for students to come up with a more immediate reward for doing their work.

This could be a positive feeling or experience they will gain from the work (i.e. an “intrinsic reward”).  Students can make work more intrinsically rewarding by relating it to a topic they find interesting, focusing on the skills & knowledge they’re gaining, making the process of doing the task more enjoyable, or turning the work into a game.

They could also create an “extrinsic” reward that’s unrelated to the work itself — like watching a Netflix episode after they’ve finished their daily reading, or getting a Starbucks frappuccino after they’ve finished their work for the week.  You can help students come up with extrinsic motivators by asking them: “What would be a fun way to celebrate reaching your goal?”

Whatever the reward or celebration is, the most important thing is for the student to be the one who comes up with the rewards they think would be the most motivating for them. 

Next Steps:

How do your students typically approach their summer work?  

Has summer procrastination been a challenge for them in the past? 

If so, which of these tips do you think would be most helpful for your family…and what is the next step you could take to put them into action?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please let me know by leaving a comment on the blog below!

About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit http://creatingpositivefutures.com/contact or email support@creatingpositivefutures.com

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