Task Initiation: A Guide for Educators

Post-pandemic, many educators have seen a significant drop in task initiation. Getting our students started on their assignments has become 90% of the battle. This could be attributed to decreased academic resilience, technology, or simply more distractions than ever. While this decline has impacted students across the board, it is even more noticeable among those with executive function deficits like ADHD, dyslexia, and anxiety.

It can be frustrating for educators to watch students struggle to begin tasks, especially when they think it should be relatively quick and easy. It can be easy to assume your students are simply lazy. 

Let’s debunk this myth. When a student hesitates to start a task, it is rarely related to a lack of motivation. Multiple factors could be at play, and these may evolve. Below, we offer strategies to support your students when they have trouble getting started. 

Break down assignments and projects. Large projects can overwhelm even the most capable students, leaving them unsure where to begin. Here is where you come in. Break down those intimidating assignments into manageable chunks. Setting mini-goals with your students ensures they remember the bigger picture while tackling one step at a time. 

Implement consistent routines. For disengaged students, establishing a consistent work routine can work wonders. When students know there is dedicated time and place for their work each day, it becomes more manageable to begin a task. Deciding when and where to study can often lead to distractions and decision fatigue. This leads to other activities like video games being more tempting and a decreased quality of work. 

A structured routine enhances students’ efficiency and confidence in completing assignments. In the classroom, this can look like the same order of events each day or regularly planned work time to study and get assignments done. 

Recognize and celebrate students’ achievements. Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Celebrating their efforts goes a long way in boosting their motivation. Focus on the positive aspects of their progress, especially when they kickstart their work independently. This technique will encourage the desired behavior and help them stay motivated.

Make it Small

Tiny habits make a big impact. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg is a groundbreaking book that explains Fogg’s approach to forming habits. He emphasizes that one should focus on starting small, achieving easy-to-accomplish tasks, and building from there. Most routines and habits fail because students try massive changes all at once. Fogg’s research shows that students should start embarrassingly small and build. This gradual approach has been proven effective. Fogg’s research shows having a routine of doing one push-up or flossing one tooth was more effective than tackling larger goals. Making the job tiny made task initiation less daunting and more likely to be completed.

Here are a few more recommendations to improve task initiation in the classroom:

  • Practice brain breaks – incorporate short breaks between tasks to refresh and refocus students.
  • Use a timer – A countdown timer adds a sense of urgency and encourages them to get to work.
  • Sentence starters – provide sentence starters to kickstart their writing or discussion.
  • Increase assignment structure – enhance assignment organization by titling presentation slides and giving students a structured framework.

As educators, you can nurture these skills in the classroom. You can improve productivity and maintain a healthy learning environment by understanding their struggles, implementing effective strategies, and using positive reinforcement.


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Some Thoughts for Teachers on Helping Teenagers Develop Task Initiation

Executive Functioning in Children with Asperger Syndrome, ADHD-Combined Type, ADHD-Predominately Inattentive Type, and Controls

Task Initiation Made Easy: 8 Ways to Start Tasks with ADHD

EF Skills: Task Initiation


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