The Homework Bottleneck

Do you wish sometimes that there was a simple way to end procrastination around homework?

First, take a minute and ask yourself which of these scenarios sounds more like your teen? Both students have the same class and homework assignment.

Student 1 walks in the door after school, drops his backpack by the front door, and gets a snack. You ask about homework, but he says that he needs a break first. You notice him texting friends until dinner time.

When you ask about homework again, he gives you a “why are you nagging me” look, and takes his study materials out of backpack. He spends 10 minutes looking for his assignments, and another 10 complaining about how lame his class is. He texts a classmate to ask about the assignment, and is soon deeply involved in a lengthy text conversation.

At 8:45 he decides he’s still hungry and gets an after-dinner snack. Then he finally starts in on his homework, and finishes by 10:30. He complains about how homework takes “all night”.

Start time: 3:30;
End time: 10:30 p.m.
Homework time: 40 minutes

Student 2 walks in the door after school, and drops his backpack on the desk – his regular study area. He pulls out his planner, decides which assignment to do first, and sets a timer for 5:30. He gets a snack and spends half an hour texting friends. At 5:30 he starts his homework, and by 6:10pm he’s finished. He relaxes for the rest of the evening and gets plenty of sleep.

Start time: 3:30
End time: 5:30 p.m.
Homework time: 40 minutes

If you’re like most parents of scattered teens, you probably see scenario 1 a lot more often.

Here’s the interesting part: the key difference between these two scenarios is a 3 minute routine. Three minutes of focused time at 3:30 pm makes a huge difference in what happens at 10:30pm. That’s because the typical homework bottleneck starts when students first walk in the door.

Sailing Solo

Every year since 1978, 30 or so sailboats head out across the ocean sea, heading from San Francisco to Hanalei. They travel over 2,120 nautical miles as part of the annual “Singlehand Transpac”. The trip takes two weeks or more. With no engine. And no one else in sight.

This year’s race starts tomorrow.

When you sail solo, you’re in charge of everything – navigation, maintenance, communication. There’s not a lot of room for things to go wrong.

But of course things do go wrong all the time: tropical storms, equipment failure, and loneliness.

What keeps the boats moving toward Hawaii, one winning skipper said, is having a routine. When a storm sends the boat in the wrong direction, or the radio transmitter fails, the best way to regroup is to go back to the same actions you’ve taken dozens, maybe hundreds of times before. Routine, he said, is king.

Get More Done in Less Time

Distractions are part of life. The key to reaching your goal is finding a way to stay on track. That makes having a routine one of the best strategies around for ending procrastination.

Routine is king.

B.J. Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University takes this a step further. He suggests that routines need to be easy. Each component needs to take 30 seconds or less.

Learning to create these simple routines is a skill. When you get good at it, you can string several 30 second routines together and really make things happen.

Fogg uses this strategy to create major change in the culture of organizations.

You can use it to make your mornings easier or to be more effective at work. You can help your teen use it to end procrastination around homework.

The “Setup Routine” to end procrastination around homework

Let’s take a look at one of my favorite routines to end procrastination around homework: the 3-Minute Setup Routine”. Here are the steps:

Set backpack on desk (or wherever you’re going to do your homework) (30 seconds)

Take out books, materials, and planner (30 seconds)


1. How much total homework you have (30 seconds)
2. Which subjects you want to tackle first (30 seconds)
3. When you will start (30 seconds)
4. Set a timer to remind you to get started (30 seconds)

This simple routine helps end procrastination around homework by sidestepping some of the major obstacles that lead to procrastination. Two of them are handled in advance, so they don’t get in the way of the actual work.

Materials (backpack, planner, assignments) are organized, so they’re ready to go later in the evening. Decisions, which take energy, are made in advance. Students who do well in school have other routines as well. Some of them are organizational, such as a…

- Leaving-home-in-the-morning routine
- Turning-in-homework routine
- Keeping-the-planner-up-to-date routine
- Staying focused routine

Other routines help with specific study skills…

- Note taking routine
- Essay writing routine
- Math quiz review routine
- Vocabulary memorizing routine

Routines help stressed out students end procrastination and become excellent, focused students.

Smoother Sailing

A 3-minute Homework Setup Routine can make the difference between an evening filled with tension, and one that’s relaxed and enjoyable. The principle of creating routines is simple but powerful, so you can apply it to any area of life – getting more exercise, reducing stress, or becoming more productive.

Routine is king. The Transpac sailors depend on routines to get to Hanalei safely every year. Organizations use them to create serious internal change. You can use them to end procrastination around homework, and do away with the homework bottleneck.

Author's Bio: 

Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D., helps help students study smarter, get better grades, and still have time for friends and fun. As a psychotherapist, Board Certified neurofeedback practitioner, and former credentialed secondary school teacher, Pat knows a lot about learning and the brain. She has taught middle school math, high school chemistry, college social sciences, and has 30 years of her own schooling under her belt. She is the mother of college-age twins, and provides Academic Life Coaching in Berkeley, CA.