Asking for a Friend: Help! How do I stop procrastinating when I have so much freedom because of online learning via Zoom?

  • Do you have difficult, embarrassing or awkward questions to ask? Submit them anonymously and ‘Friend of a Friend’ will do their best to help you out
  • In this week’s column, we answer questions about what to do if you need better self-discipline because of the online classes imposed by the coronavirus lockdown and more
Amalissa Hall |

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How can you force yourself to do your work on your own when you don't see your teacher every day?

Hi Friend,

Our teenage years are often romanticised by the media, portrayed as utopian and carefree, yet this narrative is far from reality. Personally, being a teenager has been a time of confusion and self-doubt.

Recently, I have been keeping my frustrations bottled up, unwilling to speak openly about any internal struggles. This stems from my chronic fear of showing any “weaknesses”, yet I have found this unfair on my parents – who love and support me unconditionally – just to see me spend hours on end in my room alone, and respond with one word answers to their questions.

Any tips on how to normalise showing vulnerability and opening up about any issues?

Thanks, Messages in a Bottle

Hi Messages,

The fact that you are aware you’re struggling to open up shows that you want to make a change, and sometimes that’s the hardest part. First things first: don’t confuse vulnerability with weakness – by admitting that you have an issue, you open up to advice and self-reflection, which ultimately leads to self-improvement.

Think about it like this – when you are studying and you are stuck on a question, you ask the teacher for help or look for the answer in a textbook, right? Emotional and personal problems should be treated similarly. Your parents have lived a lot longer than you, and have most likely been through something similar, so by sharing your struggles with them, they may be able to give you some perspective. Remember that on the grand scale, you are still young, so won’t have all the answers yet. You’re allowed to not know how to handle things!

If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your parents so suddenly, explain to them that you’ve had a lot on your mind and that’s why you’ve been closed off. Show them you want to try and be honest with them. You can do this by having a chat when eating together, or offer to help out with a task – making dinner, going to the supermarket – which provides plenty of opportunities for conversation. Leaving your room will also help you get out of your head.

From there, you can gradually express your feelings – it could even be through WhatsApp or written notes to begin with if speaking feels difficult. Healing takes time, so don’t beat yourself up for acting this way. Your parents sound like they want to support you, and it’s okay to let them.

Friend of a Friend

Asking for a Friend: Help! I love my puppy, but how do I stop him from rolling in poo?

Hi Friend of a Friend,

I call my friends every evening so we can chat. My brother (who is five years younger than me) uses any excuse to come into my room, especially when I am on the phone, and seems to enjoy interrupting my conversations.

To give you some context, I only make my call after I’ve played Nintendo Switch for an hour with my brother. When he comes into my room, my friends start talking to him, and we don’t get to finish our conversations.

Do you have any advice on how I can get my brother to stop interrupting my chats without seeming like the mean older sister?

Thanks, Girl Interrupted

Hi Interrupted,

It’s nice to hear that you are so patient with your brother, and that you don’t automatically want to be mean! Being five years younger, your brother is likely interested in everything you are doing, and obviously enjoys spending time with you. He probably feels welcome, too, as his older sister’s cool friends seem to want to chat to him!

But I totally understand your desire for privacy and girl time, and it can be frustrating to have him in the room if you want to talk about something personal. You need to set some boundaries.

It sounds like your friends enjoy speaking to your brother, so it would be good to have designated “Us Time” where you can all chat on the phone together once or twice a week. That way, you, your friends and your brother can bond. You’ll be thankful to have such a good relationship when you’re older!

Then you need to establish “Alone Time”, and explain this is when you want to talk privately to your friends. If you explain these boundaries clearly, it’ll be easier for you to ask him to leave the room.

In the meantime, I recommend you extend the time you play games together before your phone calls, because one hour probably isn’t enough for him, which is why he follows you into your room. Maybe try some other activities besides gaming – what about board games like Uno or Blokus, or try mixing things up by going outside to skateboard or scooter?

Give it time – in a few years, he’ll be less interested in what you’re doing and will have his own friends – and you might miss his company!

Friend of a Friend

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Dear Friend of a Friend,

With the amount of freedom we have for online school, I have been struggling with organisation. That means sometimes missing deadlines and I’ve had issues with really poor essay structures.

What’s a way to resolve this? I’ve tried a lot of different approaches and wanted to know what you would do.

Sincerely, Stuck in Struggle City

Hi Stuck,

You are not alone with this: a lot of people are going through similar issues. It can be hard to motivate yourself; I for one am the type of person whose environment really affects my productivity, so I completely understand where you are coming from. Not being at school may change the way you view the importance of your work, but you need to remember that this all still counts towards your final grades, so you’re going to have to accept that studying from home is a part of the new normal, and you need a new routine.

Start by keeping a journal or a to-do list of what you need to get done on a daily basis. If you feel like your lists are getting out of hand, prioritise: focus on the things you absolutely need to get done, first. Doing small tasks will make you feel accomplished, so if you struggle getting started, do the small things and work your way through to bigger tasks to give yourself a sense of achievement.

Managing your time on a calendar will not only remind you of deadlines, but also give you an idea of how long it takes for you to do different things. If you find yourself having trouble with big assignments, break them down into smaller tasks, and block out time in your calendar every day to do those things. You’ll find that micro-tasking is much more doable than trying to complete the whole thing at once.

As for essays, it always helps to start with an outline. Brainstorm all the points you want to make, pick the most important ones, and organise them into a rough structure. You can follow a formula of breaking the main body of your essay into three points, and supplementing each point with three reasons/quotes/etc. That way, you have a basic structure to follow, and you can manage word count as well. Gather all your information before starting your essay so you can write without interruption, and always include the sources so you can refer back to it if necessary.

In terms of being motivated to do your work, be honest with yourself and your teachers. Are you struggling because it’s difficult, or are you having difficulty due to a lack of motivation?

I would strongly recommend speaking to your teachers about your troubles, because it’s likely that other students may have reached out, too. If you are willing to find a solution with them, then you are on the right path to improving your attitude towards work.

Friend of a Friend

If you have a question you’d like answered (about anything at all), please send an email to [email protected] with “Asking for a Friend” in the subject line. Don’t worry, you will remain anonymous!

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