When Struggling to Take Action, Try This Nourishing Task First

It’s STILL final exams season! Last week I gave four tips on how to deal with overwhelm.

This time around, I want to share a different kind of tip that’s more related to self-care.

Recently I found myself really dreading a difficult meeting with my coach, which is not unlike the dread students feel when needing to sit down and study. Both are potentially uncomfortable and hard tasks.

To help myself get into the mood, I did the following which I actually show you a picture of in the video:

For those of you in a hurry, here’s my whiteboard summary of the tip:

Are you struggling to take action on anything in particular right now? If so, feel free to “reply” and rant about it to me for a moment. Maybe I can help.

Do These Micro Decisions Cause You to Procrastinate?

Did you know that we make hundreds and hundreds of micro-decisions every day? These decisions can make or break a student!

Recently I was talking to a 16 year old client about the tiny decisions he makes on a daily basis that result in lots of procrastination … and zillions of overdue assignments.

This client brilliantly came up with the phrase “set back decisions” to describe the choices he makes that result in procrastination, and we discussed how he can plan better around his “set back decisions.

Tune in to hear me describe our interaction, and why he decided to move his cell phone to a different bedroom, as a result of the discussion. 🙂

For those of you in a hurry who simply want to check out my whiteboard summary of the tips, here they are:

3+ Ways to Productively Procrastinate

Did you know that there are some GOOD ways to procrastinate?

Recently I checked in on a client (a sophomore in college) about how well she’s following through on a project plan, and she told me that she was doing terribly. However, it was a “productive” kind of terrible, because she was getting something else important done as well.

This made me curious about how many ways there are to procrastinate productively, so I made a little video musing on this issue. Check it out!! Make sure you watch until the end so that you hear the warning about how not to overuse this sneaky way of procrastinating.

And if you don’t feel like waiting here’s the whiteboard:

If Procrastinating on a Digital Project, Try This

I know that you probably procrastinate a lot (I do!), but I wonder if you identify with this scenario:

Sometimes I have a hard time taking action on projects that are digital, boxed up inside my computer screen. I feel cooped up and have such a hard time getting going.

Today I finally got momentum on a digital project, and I noticed it’s because I did a very specific thing — I got the project OUT Of the computer.

Check out the video to hear all the gory details.

Here’s a pic of the white board:

Do you have any questions? Or additional ideas about how to get started with a project that’s stuck inside your laptop? Please reply and let me know!

Don’t Wanna Do Your Homework?

Do you ever have the strong, stubborn feeling that you just DON’T wanna do your homework?

In a client session recently, a junior in high school reported in that she just couldn’t motivate herself to get her work done over the past weekend.

When I questioned her about what was in the way of taking action (I have a checklist I use to help students identify what’s going on when motivation flags), she pinpointed her “mindset” as the problem. So, I helped her investigate how she might shift her mindset to take quicker action in the future.

Check out this video, where I summarize our subsequent conversation:

Hey, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, here’s a short summary:

In the last week of September, I was talking with one of my clients, she’s a junior in a very rigorous high school, and she said that this was the first weekend she just didn’t want to do her homework. So we did a little investigating about what was going on in her brain that was making it so hard for her to take action on her homework. First, we investigated the idea of “I don’t wanna”, but I put “because” after that in order to see the beliefs behind the strong stubborn feeling of “I don’t wanna”. As a result, we came up with a list of beliefs that she had that were holding her back.

Gretchen Wegner, Homework, Procrastination, Stubborn feelings, mindset, how to shit your mindset, Academic Coach, academic coaching, The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying

So the first was that there was too much homework, the second that it was too hard, and the third was that she didn’t know what to do. Once we had this list, we asked, a couple of questions of each belief. First, we asked, “is it true?” and as we were discussing it, my client said, “You know, there really wasn’t too much once I looked at it, but I hadn’t looked at it when I had this belief, so I just was convinced in my mind that there’s too much.” So in this case, asking “Is it true?” and then checking to make sure that’s actually the case, can help you overcome this belief. Similarly, the belief “it’s too hard” she couldn’t know if it was true as she hadn’t started yet, so once she started she realized it wasn’t, and if she first checked she’d have seen that it wasn’t too hard. Had the homework actually been too much, or too hard, she could have then asked herself, “What’s the next small action I can take?”.

Now, the reason these questions can help you shift your mindset and allow you to take action is that the statements, the beliefs, on the left of the image are what’s known as fixed mindset thinking. These are items that come from a place in the brain where we think that it’s always this way, this is the truth, the truth doesn’t change, and everything is locked in place. On the other side though, we have growth mindset thinking, which is based on the fact that our brains can be changed over time through practice.

And if you feel like you want more help getting or keeping yourself motivated and on track, please consider checking out my course, The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying™.

Always Write These Two Things In Your Planner

Did you know that the WAY you write something in your planner can have a big effect on whether you actually follow through?

My client recently discovered that there are two things he needs to write in his planner for every major assignment — the WHAT and the HOW of what he needs to do.

Check out the video to find out more.

Hey there, don’t have time for the video? No worries, I’ve got your back, here’s a short summary.

I LOVE it when I get blown away by the concise way my clients articulate something they’ve learned in our sessions. I had a college student who was a freshman in college and in high school, he’d never used a planner. So we were working on making sure he planned out his assignments. In this instance, he came to the session and said he had an essay assignment, but not to worry he was great at writing essays. I asked him to take it out and just review it, and it turned out, while the essay was simple itself, the process for completing was a bit more complex than he had thought.

This led my client to realize that when he’s writing an assignment into his planner he needed to add 2 very important details. He needed to note, not just WHEN he would work on the assignment and when it was due, but also HOW he would complete it. For his essay, he needed to plan out a few different topics to discuss, as well as take the time to go to the library and research the topics chosen. So in his planner, he put down when he would figure out his topics, and when he would go to the library to research them, and when he would do the final writing.

It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t just want to plan around WHEN you will do something, you also need to plan out HOW you will complete what you’re working on when you plan to do it.

If you’d like more time management tips, click here to find out more about my online course.

How to Make Sure You Follow Through On a Plan

Do you ever get a good idea about something you want to do in the future? But you don’t act on it right away, and soon enough you forget the idea… and nothing ever happens?

Recently, I was working with a client who had a very good idea about how to make sure he studies well for his next test! Check out the video to find out how he almost sabotaged his good idea… until I made sure he did one little thing that prompted him to follow through.

Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? Don’t worry; I’ve got your back, here’s a summary:

Recently I was working with my client, preparing his study plans for his final exams. He had the idea to study with his friend, which I thought was a wonderful idea. So I asked him, “when are you going to study with her?”, to which he replied, “Oh I don’t know, but I’ll study with her.” He was procrastinating, so I suggest he send her an invitation to study right now. He laughed and agreed, saying, “you got me if I do it now I’m more likely to follow through.” This is a perfect example of how the “team” part of my “Tools, Team, Routine” triangle I teach in the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying.

The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying | Gretchen Wegner | Studying | Team | Final Exam | Procrastination | Study | Tools | Client

The “team” part of “Tools, Team, & Routine” is not just him studying with his classmate, but also utilizing me as a source to make sure he doesn’t procrastinate contacting his classmate and setting up the time to study. It’s usually other people’s presence that helps us take action on difficult tasks. I know this is true for me, as I always save my hardest tasks for when I’m working with co-workers. It’s a great help to have someone there to help us not procrastinate.

If you’d like to learn more about “Tools, Team, & Routine” or just want other amazing tips on how to follow through on a plan, check out my course here.

How to Get Past Debilitating Roadblocks

Do you ever experience huge roadblocks that make it impossible for you to finish a big project you started?

Recently, I had a client who was working on his first major research project ever. As often happens with students who struggle with executive functioning, there was a supposedly simple task in the research process that seemed insurmountable to him.

In this video, I walk you through how I helped this teen move through his roadblock.

Don’t have time for the whole video? I have your back, here’s a short summary:

It’s so common when working on a large project to hit a roadblock, some task in the project that simply seems insurmountable. So we tend to procrastinate, which is exactly what my client was doing, procrastinating.

The client I was talking to recently, a 9th grader, was working on his first massive research project and what might seem like a very simple task, had become a roadblock for him. He was stuck on the task of transferring his notes into his main rough draft. He knew how to do it, but in his mind, it just seemed like too much, he was suffering from cognitive overwhelm. Not only was he stressing about the task, he was also procrastinating which was just making things worse.

The solution for this is actually pretty simple. With my client I just sat with him while he copied and pasted, over and over, from his notes to his rough draft, acting as a force to help him do what he knew had to be done, but couldn’t seem to force himself to do. Whenever you run into a roadblock, it’s often best to simply ask someone you know, reach out, and have them help you push through the roadblock.

Anyways, I hope you found this tip helpful. If you did, and you want more free tips and resources, click here to check out The College Prep Podcast.

A Silly Tool (to Buy this summer) That Keeps Students Motivated

Do you ever have trouble staying motivated to do hard tasks? Whether you’re 7 or 70, I think we all have trouble with this!

Several weeks ago, my 7-year-old nephew was visiting me from Pennsylvania. We had lots of fun trips planned, but he ALSO had some summer homework to do (ugh). He TOTALLY didn’t want to do it.
Luckily, I have the tool that’s in this video laying around my apartment. I’ve seen it work on 17-year-olds, but apparently, it works for younger folks as well. He got his homework done, and when we were skyping after he returned home, he asked, “Auntie Gretchen, can you show Ayla that ‘easy’ button?”

Check out the tool that kept him motivated in the video above!


Don’t have time for the full video? No worries, here’s a summary:

I’m curious, do you tend to notice the good things you do as often as you do the things you think you are doing wrong? I’ve noticed, in my work as an Academic Life Coach, that most students tend to just pay attention to the things they have or are doing wrong.

So as an academic life coach, I try to instill in my clients the idea that they should be paying attention to the things they do right as well, and I have a funny story to share about one of my clients. Whenever he’s done something well, in this week’s case it was finishing up his college applications, we hit the “Easy” Button. It’s a silly little congratulatory tool that we use, and have a lot of fun with. I’ve found it’s a nice little motivational bonus for getting through hard tasks.

What silly tools keep YOU motivated? I’d love to hear.

Tired of Making Detailed Plans But Not Taking Action?

Do you ever make a great, detailed plan… which you then promptly ignore?
I’m queen of this! Some of my teenage clients will often cite this as their reason not to do any planning in the first place: “But if I don’t follow the plan, I’ll get mad at myself, so I’d rather not make plans in the first place.”

The subject of “to plan or not to plan” came up in a recent session with a client, and so I thought I’d share my reflections with you.

What’s your experience with following through with plans? Got any wisdom to share or need any advice? Please post them on the blog below

A Surprising New Way to Think About Procrastination

 So many teens come to me distraught about how much they procrastinate! They always reveal it quietly, shamefully, as if procrastination is a huge sin.

But what if procrastination isn’t all bad?! What if — in fact — there are some gifts to be found in putting tasks off?

Let’s look at one of my clients, Lyndsey. Every week in our sessions, she assigns herself several tasks on which she wants to follow through. Lately she has been trying to review her anatomy flashcards every day for just 5 minutes. Just five minutes; that shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Each week, however, Lyndsey reports that she has — yet again — “failed” to follow through; there’s a different “excuse” as to why it didn’t make sense to do her flashcards that week.

Trying not to sound too frustrated, I asked Lyndsey about whether seeing me weekly is helping her break her procrastination habit. She had a fascinating response: although she’s not yet following through on the behaviors I suggest, she is actually NOTICING when she procrastinates. Whereas last school year she was procrastinating unconsciously, this year she is procrastinating mindfully, becoming more and more conscious of the choices she’s making.

This observation about mindful procrastination corresponds with a quote by David Whyte that a friend recently shared on Facebook:

Procrastination is not what it seems. …what looks from the outside like our delay; our lack of commitment; even our laziness may have more to do with a slow, necessary ripening through time and the central struggle with the realities of any endeavor to which we have set our minds. To hate our procrastinating tendencies is in someway to hate our relationship with time itself, to be unequal to the phenomenology of revelation and the way it works its own way in its very own sweet, gifted time, only emerging when the very qualities it represents have a firm correspondence in our struggling heart and imagination.

..Procrastination does not stop a project from coming to fruition -what stops us is giving up on an original idea because we have not got to the heart of the reason we are delaying, nor let the true form of our reluctance instruct us in the way ahead…

From Readers’ Circle Essay, “Procrastination”

Too often I — and my clients, as well as their teachers and parents — interpret procrastination as delay and lack of commitment. It’s all too easy for both Lyndsey and me to conclude that she is not committed enough to her studies because she is not using her flashcards daily, as we’ve decided.

What if, though, Lyndsey’s lack of follow through on flashcards was actually, as Whyte says here, a “slow, necessary ripening through time”? What if, rather than judging her relationship to procrastination, she were to view it as a revelation in the making?

What if I, as Lyndsey’s academic coach, see myself as someone who can nurture this revelation? Rather than just giving up on the idea of flashcards, what if we take Whyte’s advice to “go to the heart of the reason” that she is delaying and “let the true form of her reluctance instruct us”?

If we look deeply enough, we see that the real need here is not to follow through with flashcards. Rather, Lyndsey needs to learn about anatomy effectively and efficiently, in a way that works for her. The flashcards are just *one* of many strategies towards that goal. When I actually looked at the anatomy worksheets that Lyndsey’s teacher provides daily, I realized that perhaps she needs a more foundational study skill: to re-imagining her notes (which have been organized by her teacher) into a structure that makes sense to Lyndsey’s brain.

We spent the rest of our time practicing rewriting the notes, finding new ways to present the same information. It only took 5 minutes to work through one day’s lecture, and Lyndsey realized how effective it might be to practice this “reorganization” strategy every day after class. She appreciated this new problem solving task, which was more engaging than the memorization task that flashcards provided.

Will this new habit be the one that sticks for Lyndsey? Only time will tell. However, thanks to David Whyte’s re-framing of procrastination as a ripening, I find myself honored to be a witness to this “ripening” of habits that emerge only “when the very qualities [the habit] represents have a firm correspondence in our struggling heart and imagination.”

What tasks do you procrastinate on? What do you notice when you reframe them as a “ripening” instead? Please comment below; I’d love to hear.

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A Sure-Fire Formula for Getting Things Done


There are a few REALLY IMPORTANT tasks that I’ve been procrastinating doing.

I’m thinking about them right now because I’m looking at my “To Do” list. And I’m noticing that INSTEAD of actually choosing to order MuseCubes supplies,  I’m actually choosing to WRITE ABOUT ordering them.

For whatever reason, writing about the-thing-I-should-do is WAY EASIER than actually doing the thing-I-should-do.

OK. Fine. So I’ll let myself write. Why? Because it’s fun. And because I also know that I learn while I write. So I’m hoping that as I reflect in this spontaneous way, I’ll actually figure out how to make myself actually DO the thing-I-should-do.

But the truth is: I already know how. All I need to do to follow through is (drum roll please!) answer the question:

“What the next smallest thing I can reasonably do?”

In regards to ordering the MuseCubes supplies, the next smallest thing I can reasonably do is to LOOK UP THE NAME of the place where I bought the packaging in the first place. (I’m sure I would have ordered the packaging weeks ago if I’d remembered the name of the online store where I originally bought them; kinda funny, the odd little barriers we create for ourselves).

Alright. So I give myself permission NOT to order the supplies. My first order of business is to simply  LOCATE THE NAME OF THE PLACE. Fine. Good. In fact, I’ll do that RIGHT NOW before I even type another word.

***Time passes. 11:55am – 12:18pm***

Phew! I did it. My little trick worked. Not only did I LOCATE the name of the company (I order my MuseCubes packaging at PaperMart), I ALSO:

  1. Ordered 500 boxes of the old variety of packaging
  2. Ordered 50 boxes of a new variety of packaging (for a new MuseCubes product I’m working on)
  3. Changed my shipping and billing addresses, which were outdated
  4. Organized my bookmarks so that I can easily find the PaperMart link again when I need it. No more excuses!!!

Ahhhhh. That feels good. Perhaps the secret to following through is to break down the task into smaller, easy incremental steps. There really is power behind the question: “Whats the next smallest thing I can reasonably do?”(See additional thoughts about incrementality here).

But to be totally honest, there’s another reason why I followed through just now. I wouldn’t have ordered the supplies if I hadn’t been writing about it (which is fun) and imagining my readers being impressed with me (which is about accountability).

Aha! I think I’ve just created a winning formula. Check this out:

incrementality + accountability + fun = getting things done!

Case in point: my 2010 New Years Resolution. I want to meditate more in 2010. But judging by my past experience, I just CAN’T seem to sit myself down and do it. So this year I asked myself the question “whats the smallest amount of time I’m willing to meditate every day?” The honest-to-god-answer: 5 minutes!!!

Gretchen’s Inner Critic Voice: Really, Gretchen?! That’s it? Five minutes is all you can muster? Wimp. (Ouch!)

Gretchen’s I’m-My-Own-Best-Friend Voice: Yup. 5 minutes. If that’s what you’ll reasonably do, then you go girl. Thanks for being so honest. 365 days of 5-minute meditations. I love it. And I love you! And I trust you to decide what’s right for you.  (Awwwwww!)

Cool. So far we’ve got the incrementality piece of the equation. But what about accountability and fun?


Accountability: First of all, I bought a calendar that I love, attached a pencil to it, and hung it next to my kitchen window.


Fun: I like to draw, and spirals are pretty. So instead of writing “meditation” on the days I do it, I draw a spiral instead. Funny how much pleasure comes from such a small act!

Yet again:

incrementality + accountability + fun = getting things done!

I’m pretty sure that I’m setting myself up for great success with my goal to meditate for 5 minutes a day for 365 days. I’ll keep you updated on the blog (and if anyone else wants to join me in this task, the more the merrier).

In the meantime, what do you think about this formula? Do you think it might work for you the way it seems to be working for me?