Are you gearing up to send your kids back to school? Or perhaps you’re going back to school yourself — as a teacher or student. The start of a new school year feels like a fresh start and a natural time to get organized and create new habits to help your life run more smoothly. In this post, Dr. Caitlin Faas shares some tips to help you overcome procrastination, stay motivated, and defeat perfectionist thoughts. And even if no one in your family is heading back to school, you can apply these strategies to any behavioral change you’re trying to make.
Whether you’re a student, parent, or teacher, spending a few minutes reflecting and planning can set up this school year for success.
Gearing up for a new school year!
The back to school excitement always hits sometime in August. First, the stores start displaying aisles of new school supplies. We decide we need that notebook even though there are five good notebooks at home. Friends and family reminisce about their summer vacations and trips. We wonder what else we can fit in before the school year begins again.
Expectations vs Reality
We have visions of gourmet packed lunch boxes and waking up refreshed and energized to our alarm clocks. The kids will be excited to wave goodbye to us in the morning and head off to school. We declare that everything will run smoothly and the school year will be fantastic.
But how many times have you said that to yourself, just to end up exhausted by the time December hits?
All that joy and excitement feels like a distant memory halfway through the school year.
Forget the gourmet lunch box, you just hope you have enough spare change to send with your children to school. And waking up full of energy? How about not hitting snooze 10 times? Or yelling at your children to get up? Where’s the advice for those things?
I used to feel this way too, blaming myself for not having enough willpower. I wondered why August felt so different compared to March. I see it year after year on my college students’ faces and they tell me about their struggles with staying on track.
When I transitioned to graduate school, I was determined to stop procrastinating. I was a master at writing papers just a few hours before they were due. One night, I remember playing video games with friends and writing a paper between rounds. I didn’t even enjoy the game and time with my friends because my mind was elsewhere. I started to hate that feeling of dread and adrenaline. I wanted balance and peace.
So, I put an anti-procrastination plan in place during graduate school. I watched the behaviors of a friend who had already mastered procrastination and asked for her help to stay accountable. It was turning in one assignment at a time that made me realize I was committed to this new plan. I also realized it wasn’t magical. The keys to not procrastinating were out there, but I had been ignoring them. I enjoyed the feeling of having my work completed ahead of time and the momentum kept growing. If I didn’t actively make that plan, I would probably still be procrastinating today.
You can make this your best school year yet, but it requires going beyond buying a new notebook and a fancy lunch box. It requires taking the time now to set your intentions and make a plan that includes accountability.
Creating your plan
First, write down all the reasons WHY you want this school year to be different.
Prompts that can help:
- How do you want to feel at the end of every school day? Week? Month?
- How will this type of school year improve your life?
- Why are you committed to making this school year different?
Now, write down what didn’t work for you last school year.
- I procrastinated on deadlines and ended up turning in low quality work.
- I hit the snooze button and was often late in the morning.
- I didn’t pack lunches by February, everyone was eating at the cafeteria.
- I spent too much time on Netflix instead of getting the kids ready for bed.
Take those examples and write down how you want them to be different this year. The more specific you can make them, the better.
- I want to spread out my time working on deadlines so that I don’t feel rushed.
- I want to wake up on time and enjoy my morning routine.
- I want to meal prep our family lunches.
- I want to only spend time on Netflix after the kids are asleep.
Next, make a list of the barriers that might get in your way. Think of the things that have gotten in your way before.
- I’m not the kind of person that can stick to my commitments.
- I’ll feel tired at the end of the day and give up.
- I’ll miss one day and decide that I might as well give up.
- I won’t feel motivated to meal prep and it requires a lot of work.
- Friends and family will convince me to do something else that isn’t on my plan.
Brainstorm a list of how to overcome the barriers. Think of a time in your life when you did create a new habit and made it stick.
- I can break down my work deadlines into smaller tasks and use a timer to make myself work on smaller pieces.
- I can give myself a reward when I complete a small task.
- I can ask for help from a friend who is in a similar situation.
- I can keep a visual reminder on my phone to show my daily progress.
- I can hire a coach to help me stay accountable.
Choose just one thing you can start doing now to prepare for the school year. Often, when we try to change everything at once, we get overwhelmed. We need to change one thing and use that momentum to keep changing other things. So write down your one thing. That one next step. Put it in a place where you can see it – on the refrigerator, on your phone, or on your desktop background.
Seriously spend the time answering the questions and creating a real action plan. Take that energy and excitement for the new school year and use it to your advantage. Make sure it feels right to you.
You too can make this school year different. I know you must be the type of person who can make it happen because you’re reading this article. This time next year you’ll be thinking about how much progress you made in the past year.
Share your plan: What’s the first step you’re going to take in making this school year different?
About the author:
Caitlin Faas, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of psychology and life coach who is committed to helping busy professionals be their best selves on their academic path. Join her free two-week challenge to become a successful graduate student this year. You can also follow Caitlin on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
©2018 Caitlin Faas, Ph.D.
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