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Prolonged by Procrastination? Try the 90-90 Rule to Finish Well


Conquer procrastination – pace yourself. Know that the first part of the job takes 90% of the time but the second part of the job takes 90% of the time too.

Procrastination can be an enormous adversary to personal success in all undertakings.

Professional procrastinators, a group in which I consider myself an elite member, are adept at finding excuses or rationalizations to put off doing necessary or distasteful tasks. Home education, I have found, is no stranger to this phenomenon.

One might ask in an introspective moment the reason for this remarkable tendency. Is it laziness or fear that keeps one from starting or doing work? What about people who start and then never finish? Why do they put off the job?

The 90-90 Rule

A concept I have found insightful comes from the fast-paced tech industry. It’s called the 90-90 rule, and, when applied to everyday tasks, goes something like this: “The first part of the job takes 90% of the time. The second part of the job takes 90% of the time.”

At a glance, this statement seems contradictory, yet this defiance of logic is what gives this saying its genius. On paper, some endeavors, whether in school or elsewhere, should take only a certain amount of time. Yet when that time threshold—or one we have set for ourselves—is reached, one’s efforts can begin to falter and task completion never occurs.

Take for example a home repair that involves opening up a wall to fix a wiring problem. After fixing the wiring, “all that remains is a patch of drywall.” In theory, it’s just a quick patch, but in reality, that piece needs to be cut, installed, plastered, sanded, and painted. The job might also involve a trip or two to the home center.

If you are like me, you will be staring at that hole for an embarrassingly long amount of time before it’s addressed. Finishing the job, not completing the first 90% of it, is the stumbling block.

In homeschooling, this sort of thing also occurs. Perceived troubling subjects or assignments are avoided, consciously or unconsciously, and remain unfinished because of the difficulty or effort necessary to complete them. For some students, a pattern or cycle of partial completion develops, and those lingering assignments eventually add up to one big albatross.


A remedy to this approach is to change expectations and not find an excuse to begin the next project or assignment. We must be realistic about our abilities and the time commitments involved in one’s studies, accepting that learning is a type of work. It is more important to finish well than to finish fast.

Whether memorizing history, learning vocabulary, or working through the nuances of a math problem, understanding that the last part of one’s learning—that is, entrenching the knowledge so you know it and will not forget it—may require just as much (if not more) time and effort as the first part. This recognition prepares a student to finish—rather than put off—a given task.

At Seton, we want you to finish each class before moving on to the next subject or grade level. Take comfort that, because you are homeschooling, you are on your own schedule and actually are never totally late when progress is slow. Indeed, it may be a boring slog to finish an assignment or to study for a test, but this is when one’s character is forged. Rather than procrastinate, it is time to dig in with both feet, put one’s shoulder to the wheel, and finish the job.

About Nick Marmalejo

Nick Marmalejo
Nick Marmalejo, a history major, graduated from Christendom College in 2001. He holds a Virginia Teacher Certification and lives in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and three children.

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