I hope that all the boys have had an excellent holiday and have returned this week well rested and motivated for the academic challenges ahead, particularly all those embarking on GCSE and A Level Mock examinations.
The New Year is traditionally a time for resolutions and I would like to encourage the boys to start Spring Term with the intention to improve themselves in some way. You can no doubt imagine that I, as Headmaster, often hear from boys that they are determined to ‘turn over a new leaf’ or to ‘work harder than ever before’. Understandably, the success rate in turning these good intentions into positive actions is rather variable. Of course, adults are not necessarily any better at implementing their New Year’s resolutions. Human beings are prone to putting difficult things off – ‘procrastination’ if you like. Our habits, whether working habits, eating habits, sleeping habits, smoking etc., are deeply ingrained and psychological research shows that breaking a habit and creating a new habit takes a huge amount of effort and willpower.
Over the holiday, I read an article in the press about procrastination and I share here an associated short video on the subject. This was the subject of my first assembly of term given to Years 6-10, but the topic is, in some respects, even more important for boys sitting public examinations. Professor Tim Pychyl is a Canadian psychologist who leads the ‘Procrastination Research Group’ has focused particularly on procrastination among students. Interestingly, online study has been identified as a massive risk, because at only the click of a button, an essay can be replaced by a video of a sneezing kitten or by discourse on social media. I think that we all recognise how technology can be a massive distraction for all of us, teachers included. I, as a Modern Languages teacher, use an electronic mark book which means that I have to have my computer on while I am marking exercise books. The electronic mark book is very useful but it can be a huge distraction, especially when the Champions’ League is on that evening, so I have started marking on the same table where my son does his homework. We have both recognised the risk of distraction and so work in the same room in order to shame each other into concentrating properly!
Professor Pychyl has made it clear that many students’ obsession with technology makes procrastination a bigger problem than ever before. This is one of the reasons why we have introduced this term new school rules on the use of mobile devices. iPads and smart phones are wonderful educational resources when used well and boys do use them well at times. However, it is also clearly true that they use them to procrastinate. Writing an essay is hard and requires considerable concentration. Watching a video or playing a computer game allows them to switch off and put off the difficult thought that they require. Professor Pychyl describes this as a desire for instant gratification. We procrastinate by looking for something that provides reward (in the form of enjoyment) for little effort.
So what advice can we give our sons to help them avoid procrastination? Here are the three simplest pieces of advice from Professor Pychyl’s research:
All adults want to manage our time effectively as work and family responsibilities leave us so little time for ourselves. We need to be efficient if we want to leave time for our partners and for our leisure pursuits. We need to help train our sons to be effective time managers through the avoidance of procrastination. Parents sometimes tell me that their son needs to focus 100% on his academic work and so therefore can’t commit to school sport or music. I think that this is misguided. On the average Saturday or Sunday, your son will be awake for 15-16 hours. He can’t possibly work all day! Boys who cut down on their hobbies as exams approach usually don’t spend the time saved fruitfully. Nobody can spend every waking hour revising. He’s likely to spend the extra time aimlessly looking at YouTube highlights of Leicester City’s Premier League winning season or of youngsters falling off skateboards and hurting themselves. If he uses his time effectively, he can work hard and play hard, and his mental wellbeing will benefit from the variety in his life.
We can help our sons by repeatedly returning to these three mantras:
If you’d like to watch Professor Pychyl’s full lecture on procrastination, click here.