Putting off tasks that we don’t enjoy, or are difficult is pretty common. Even if the consequences are uncomfortable. Many folks, kids and adults alike, delay certain tasks despite negative consequences. According to research, about 20% of adults in the U.S. are chronic procrastinators. Some studies suggest that 80-95% of college students procrastinate regularly, especially on big assignments and school work. We often procrastinate when we don’t know what needs to be done, don’t know how to do something, or don’t want to do something. 

What is Task Initiation?

Simply put, it’s when the student is able to begin or start a project efficiently and on time, without procrastination. Some examples would be starting a school assignment as soon as the instructions are given or doing a house chore without any reminders. 

The good news is, there are strategies that can improve task initiation! These strategies help support students who need a little motivation, and inspiration, and give that extra kick whenever there’s some hesitation with it. 

Let’s dive into 7 strategies for improving task initiation:

1. Providing Support

Your student may need materials such as planners, calendars, and whiteboards to help them keep track of what needs to be done, and when. Some students benefit from a ‘study buddy’ to help them be accountable for the work they need to do. Some students benefit from teacher’s notes, and or classroom supports they can hang up at home. When a child can take on a particularly challenging assignment, it is great to start it together whenever possible. 

2. Chunking Information

We talked about chunking in a recent blog post. Chunking information helps a student break a larger project or assignment down into bite-size pieces. An old colleague used to say to me “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same is true for schoolwork, one bite at a time.

Please visit our blog about Chunking Information, where we give you 7 tips on how to implement chunking information into your kid’s study routine

3. Provide Clear Explicit Instructions

Breaking down a project into step-by-step instructions, so that the students understand, is extremely helpful. Even better, include visual support when possible. Many of our students who struggle with task initiation do so because they do not understand the directions and they’re afraid to ask for clarification. 

4. Tap into Metacognition

When beginning an assignment, have the student ask himself or herself “What am I doing?” “What do I need?” “How can I start?” It’s also helpful to be able to identify which content areas are the most challenging and focus there to reduce the difficulty and get the momentum going. Then increase the intensity as time moves along.

5. Model

Teachers, tutors, and parents can always model exactly what they’d like the student to be doing. They can show a model of expected work. You can also take turns (especially in writing and reading assignments, and even math problems).

6. Use a Timer

Using a timer may be helpful to some students who benefit from ‘brain breaks’. That way, a student can do a little bit of work at a time, take a mental and physical break, and come back refreshed and ready for more.

7. Give the Student Choices

Whenever possible, it’s important to give students different choices in their work. They can choose to read something they like or choose to start a specific project or assignment. Each time a student is given a choice they are building their motivation and confidence, two ingredients that really impact task initiation.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. Our tutors are trained in teaching task initiation strategies to and with our students. Please reach out, we can support your student with task initiation and any executive function skill.


Karen Macfarlane

Director of Communications & Orton Gillingham Coach