Overcoming Procrastination: Strategies for Learning at Home 

After weeks of work-from-home, struggles with focus, engagement, and productivity are common for parents and students alike. It seems that everything takes longer than it should, and we’re all struggling to stay engaged. As you seek to support your child through continued distance learning, identifying which obstacles are in the way of time management and implementing strategies to overcome difficulties can help get your child on a more productive track.  

There are two types of time management difficulties – procrastination and time estimation. Today, we’ll tackle procrastination. 

What does procrastination look like?  

Most of us can recognize procrastination from experience! You may see it in your child when he/she refuses to plan for the day, initiate a task, or even get out of bed. While it may seem frustrating, realize that there can be several causes for procrastination such as perfectionism (i.e., “I am not going to start until I have time to do it perfectly,” but that time never comes); global thinking (i.e., “I only see the whole and it is too big to tackle.”); weak task initiation (i.e., “I don’t know how to get started.”); or work-related anxiety (i.e., “I am so far behind and have so much to do, I cannot do anything.”).  

Strategies for overcoming procrastination 

Identifying procrastination is an important first step. Then, we recommend helping your child to overcome the obstacle through one of these research-based strategies:  

“Just x minutes.”  

This is a strategy intended to help students get started by breaking down assignments into small segments of time. You, the parent, may need to help break the assignment into small parts that fit within the time structure. Set the timer and insist on moving on to a break. In time, you and your child can determine when to add another minute, and another, and another. This approach helps to move the thought process from, “I can’t do all of that!” to “I can do some of that.”  

“Just one more.”  

This is a similar strategy as above, but the process is to measure how much can be done in a given amount of time and then push for just one more. The goal of this strategy is to help students move through assignments rather than drifting off. It is recommended that the “chunking” of material is made obvious (e.g., draw lines, fold paper, etc.) and celebration is made just for getting that much done before the time is up. When the child can do the expected amount, encourage the “just one more” and celebrate with some type of reward. (Read through to the end of this post to learn more about rewards.)  


Planning the schedule for the next day with your child can be helpful. Be sure to include planning for engaging breaks. Try to move between modes of learning such as a hands-on activity, a writing activity, reading, etc. The plan is not as important as the fact that your child is planning.  

Minimize Roadblocks 

Roadblocks prompt procrastination, so find strategies to avoid or overcome roadblocks. If writing is difficult, get your child started with you scribing. If math is difficult, try having him or her copy a sample from the book, then remove one step and have him or her fill in the missing step, or watch the lesson on Khan Academy. 

A Note on Rewards 

Rewarding a child for doing what is expected produces “over justification,” and research indicates it reduces the goal of developing intrinsic motivation to accomplish a task. Instead, set goals with your child and celebrate the achievement of those goals. This reframing is different, as it celebrates the accomplishment of self-selected goals and success. 

Another important note: we discourage parents from using gaming as a reward. While this may be considered the most rewarding activity for some children, it is also the most distracting because just a few minutes of gaming stimulates dopamine productions of the brain, setting up a craving for more. (The same is true for social media.) The computer-bound students are already in a field of temptation that is drawing them to multitask, adding time and less efficiency in the learning process.