What's behind procrastination? I'll get back to you tomorrow

There are 2 quotes that I live by when it comes to application season:

“WARNING – deadlines in mirror are much closer than they appear” - Anonymous

“Deadlines aren’t real to me until I’m staring them in the face” – Rick Riordan


Each one describes the benefits of having deadlines:

a.   It makes the intangible, tangible

b.   It creates urgency

c.   It helps us recognize when we’re stuck

While this is vital in most any opportunity for planning and execution, it is extremely important during the college application process, for many reasons.  Having my students create their own timelines and organizational systems makes it more real and helps them to take responsibility for the process, a skill that will help them now and in their college career.

It is so fun to see the activity escalate once they have the clarity and accountability of what they need to do and by when. 

But what happens when the activity stops?  Is that procrastination?  Or are they stuck? And how to tell the difference?

On the outside, being stuck can look a lot like procrastination.  But while the actions may look the same, the reasons behind them can be very different. 

Believe me, there is much more to procrastination than meets the eye – especially during application season.  To paraphrase a line from my favorite movie, Princess Bride: 

Procrastination?  You keep using that word.  I do not think it represents what you think it represents.

Like we don’t know this already, there is a ton of stress and pressure associated with applying to college, even BEFORE you start the process. The uncertainty of what to expect, the choice of major (and implication of thinking about your future), and the biggest one – what if I don’t get in?

That’s where the quotes above take on a whole new meaning.

It’s understandable that having those thoughts get “closer in the mirror” and “stare you in the face” would cause feelings of uncertainty, overwhelm, confusion, doubt or worry, which can easily lead to actions of hesitancy at best and locking yourself in your room and playing video games at worst.

So, what to do?

The first step is to acknowledge the behavior.  I love this word, acknowledge, because there are no “assumptions” built in, just curiosity and noticing.  Open-ended questions are great for this because they invite more conversation.  Once you ask,  “did you study for the ACT”,  you get either a yes or no answer and there’s nowhere to go.  Asking “how’s the ACT test prep going” invites more input and could uncover where or how your child may be stuck.

The second step, is to ask a few follow up questions that can help them think about what will help them to get “unstuck” like:  “What do you need to take the next step?” or even “Where are you stuck?”.

Each time I’ve used these two questions with my students it’s resulted in a myriad of responses that have covered the entire spectrum, from helping them to learn the value of not taking on too many shifts at work to having an in-depth conversation about how the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next can also be an opportunity for a huge adventure.  

I'm also apt to point out to them that they couldn't have gotten stuck without beginning the process. It means they took the first steps, identified where they want to go and set a time and date to get there. 

That’s when my other favorite quote comes into play:

A goal is a dream with a deadline.  -Napoleon Hill