Ideas to Increase Motivation for Homework

Most teens I speak to struggle to motivate themselves to do homework.  Most of the time, they don't feel like studying, don't feel like they have the energy, have very little interest in the work and just dread having to sit down and do it.  Having no motivation for something that you kind of "have" to do is a real pain.  It's like a black cloud that hangs around over your head.  

Without motivation for homework, a few things happen.  Often parents nag and/or worry.  This is painful. Because of a lack of motivation, often teens leave things to the last minute, which then makes life stressful.

The good news is that there are some things you can do about increasing your motivation.  You can't flick a switch and make yourself permanently motivated, but you can, when you want to - increase your motivation from a 1 out of 10, to a 3 or 4 out of 10.  Which is enough to get you started.  Here are some ideas to try.

1. As soon as you get home (or get into your free study period), get all your books out, open and ready so that they are easy to see and get started with. Even if you go and have a break before you actually start, make the first thing you do to get ready for study. The easier it is to start, the more likely you will start.

2. If you are someone who does homework for the subjects you like, and never for the subjects you don’t, then do this: Start with something OTHER than the subjects you like. Tell yourself you are going to do JUST ten minutes of this other subject. Whatever happens, you will MAKE yourself do ten minutes and then you can switch to the subject you like.

3. Use the clock to help motivate yourself to study in SHORT blocks. For example, say to yourself, okay I will start this English essay and just do 15 minutes worth before I am allowed to stop. Keep an eye on the time and coach yourself through it every time you get distracted – “okay, only 11 minutes to go and then I can have a break …okay 7 minutes to go and then I can stop this stupid essay …come on three more minutes, keep going”. If you are “on a roll” and want to keep going after the 15 minutes are up, by all means keep going, but make a deal that you must do at least 15 minutes on it.

4. Use short blocks of time 15 minutes here and there, instead of long blocks of time on things you really don’t want to do.

5. Use the “on/off” method of listening to music, using it as a reinforcer. In other words, listen to the radio/your I-Pod for 15 minutes and then turn it off for 15 minutes, and then back on etc. You can make a deal with yourself that you HAVE to do ten more minutes for example of Physics before you can listen to music or something like that. Changing the atmosphere slightly like this will help increase motivation just a bit.

6. Have “focus” days in which you really work hard on one subject in particular. Mondays might be Physics, Tuesdays might be Chemistry etc.

7. Use rewards. Draw up a whole heap of counters and get a jar/container to put them in. Give yourself one counter after every half an hour of good solid work. Make it that once you have got X numbers of counters then you can get a CD.

8. Keep your medium term goals in sight. Set a goal for the grade you want to get for each subject this term. Write them up around your room and in your diary. Look at them often.

9.  Work with short term “grade” goals. Every time you have a test/essay/assignment to hand in, set yourself a specific goal for the grade you want to get for this individual test/essay/assignment.  Write it down. Keep it around you to help motivate you.

10.  Also work with short term “task” goals. Set a goal for how much you will complete in the next 15 minutes. Set yourself a goal to do a certain number of questions in the next 10 minutes. Tell yourself you will do two paragraphs before tea, or 3 items before getting a drink or whatever. Keep setting little goals all the time, rather than just one large goal only once.

11.  Understand the horse and cart of motivation: Often motivation follows action. Do not wait until you feel like studying before you do it. Just start. Motivation will often follow.

12.  Vary your homework habits to keep your interest high. Do things in different ways and in a different order. Be creative in the way you study and revise. There are very few unbreakable rules for how to study.

13.  Plan time for things you’d rather be doing – then learn to wait! Write down what you would rather do and plan a time to do it. Also train yourself to wait – for 30 seconds, then 60 seconds, then longer and longer before you stop homework.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed by this list, just pick one (anyone) of these items and give it a go tonight.  And tomorrow, try another one.  The good news is that the more you do these things, and actually get started on homework - over the long term you can train your brain to do less procrastination and you will get into the habit of getting things done sooner and with less pain.

Good luck!