Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Procrastination Problem

I am a procrastinator.  I am not proud of the fact but I do try to tame the procrastination monster from time to time.  I do try to talk myself into getting the laundry ironed as soon as it comes out of the dryer or to wash the floor before the bottom of my kids' white socks start to turn brown.  I try.  But, I am not always successful because it seems like something else is always vying for my attention.

We all have tasks we don't like to do.  We all have reasons for putting off today what can be done tomorrow.  But, I have an extra incentive to complete my tasks promptly and efficiently; two pair of eyes watching and learning from my every move.

Because children learn by example, it's up to me to show my kids how I plow through and get my jobs done no matter how much I dislike a certain job (like ironing).  I can't whine or complain or whimper about why I don't like to iron, I just need to iron.  I shouldn't balk at the chance to wash my floor or offer reasons why I should wait until tomorrow (like, because my kids are having friends over after school and what's the point of washing the floor at all)  I just need to wash it.  The person who really wants to do something finds a way; the other person finds an excuse.

Nicholas is learning about the consequences of procrastinating and not completing tasks in a timely manner in 1st grade.  Because he is a natural observer he watches people and situations with great interest.  He is also very social.  While these traits may be admirable in certain situations, they are a deterrent when he is supposed to get in his seat before the bell or turn class assignments in on time.  Nicholas was making a habit of being the last student ready for instruction in the morning or the last student to turn in his work during the day.  Once Nicholas's teacher brought it to my attention, Nicholas and I sat down for a discussion.

I explained to him, in what I thought was a non-accusatory tone, that his teacher was concerned that he wasn't completing his assigned tasks in a timely manner.  He offered excuses about why he was late turning in assignments, but I gently reminded him that he just needs to pay attention to his work, not his neighbor, and submit his work in  a timely manner.  He got frustrated, offered more excuses and became increasingly agitated whenever I said the words, "timely manner."  I reiterated that I wasn't mad at him and he wasn't in trouble, I just wanted him to be aware that his teacher knows he is capable of doing his work and turning it in on time.  He just needs to find a way to do it.

Our conversation about his responsibilities continued over several breakfasts and dinners. We agreed upon ways to apply better time management skills at home.  Now, instead of me asking Nicholas to brush his teeth, make his bed and get dressed in the morning, I tell him he has 15 minutes to complete his tasks.  He has to look at the clock, tell me what time it is now and what time it will be in 15 minutes and finish his tasks by that time.  I also tell him if he finishes his tasks on time he will have extra time to play before we leave for the bus.  Play is a great incentive. 

I told Nicholas that I would follow up with his teacher to make sure he was using good time management skills at school.  Nicholas tried to offer more excuses about why he couldn't get to his seat on time (the bus was late) or why his worksheet wasn't complete (his pencil broke), but I finally told him what my boss used to tell me, "I don't want to hear excuses, just show me the results." 

I did follow up with Nicholas's teacher and she told me after about a week that his performance improved.  I will keep getting periodical updates from his teacher just to make sure he continues to be aware of his student responsibilities. I will, in turn, continue to make sure I am setting a good example and keeping my procrastination monster at bay.

It wasn't until I overheard Nicholas's younger brother, Christopher, playing tag with a boy at the bus stop that I realized how many times Nicholas and I must have had our conversation about getting things done on time.  The tagger wasn't chasing Christopher fast enough, but instead of asking the tagger to chase him faster, Christopher instructed him to "Chase me in a timely manner!"

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