By Scott Lutostanski
When it comes to completing schoolwork at home, getting started is probably the biggest universal frustrater for both parents and students. Those who are susceptible to executive function challenges will most likely have a difficult time initiating anything from small tasks to big tasks — easy or hard.
It is very difficult to get started when we want to. This equation becomes even more complicated when we throw two ingredients into the mix. The first is the emotional connection. A student’s emotional connection to schoolwork isn’t typically the best. This makes it difficult to independently get going on assignments. It’s the same reason so many of us do our taxes on April 14th or wait to bring our car in when the check engine light comes on. The second is the task itself. The more daunting the task, the more difficult it is to get started. A fairly common scenario is being faced with a difficult task that brings up a negative emotional connection. This results in choosing something besides getting started: video games, netflix, social media, or Netflix. This lack of getting starting can lead to even worse feelings in the long run. Below are some strategies to improve initiation.
1. Visualize Future Outcomes- This is not the same as standing at the free-throw line and picturing the ball through the hoop. We should visualize the future outcome and, more importantly, how it will make us feel. It is important to understand how completion of a task versus not getting started will make us feel in the end.
2. Take a Baby Step to Get Going- Instead of trying to just start, we should make our “on-ramp” as easy as possible. We can create one small step that can get us going in the right direction. For example, if a student has to clean their room, they can say (and expect) to do one task. In this case, they could say, “I will make my bed.” If we give ourselves a simple task, it can reduce anxiety and give us a quick sense of accomplishment that can propel us forward to do more work. If a student is unable to get started on math, they can say to themselves, “I will do just the first problem.” This will give them that starting point they might need.
3. Use a Timer- A timer can be an effective way to provide a tracker and a built-in evaluation system. The Pomodoro Method is the most common method to use. It means a set amount “on” and then a set amount “off.” For instance, 20 minutes on followed by a 5 minute break. Then repeat. This can provide students with the structure and push that they need to get started.
4. Use Others for Help- Turn to another person to help you get going. Whether a student is at home or school, they can ask a friend, parent, teacher, or sibling. Even better, students should try to make an appointment ahead of time so they have a set time to meet with a friend. This can help minimize sputtering and also eliminate the need to ask for help, because they already have an appointment.
Our academic coaches work with students on these skills and other executive function and study skills. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to ScottL@galined.com.