TEEN ROUTINE BEATS MOTIVATION. 10 tips to build routine and make it stick.

If I earnt a dollar every time I’m asked “How do I get my teenager to be more motivated and organised?”… well you know the rest!
One question that prompted me to write 2 books THE ORGANISED TEENAGER and  HELLO HIGH SCHOOL . There’s no quick, one size fits all answer, however there are several valuable tools which can assist parents to understand what motivation means in the mind of a teenager and how routine is the cape-wearing hero! Too may teens experience enormous stress and anxiety at school because they don’t know to set themselves for success, taking charge of their social, emotional fitness , which I help teens unpack in ROC and RISE – The teenager’s guide to building the resilience, optimism and confidence needed to level up at school, in relationships and life.

For the most part, motivation requires teens to-
1. Feel pumped about a task, project or chore they are NOT a fan of!
2. Get off the couch and make a start, keep going and finish the job.

Group of cheerful high school friends

But let’s face it, feeling motivated to do things we LIKE or LOVE is super-easy, in fact motivation doesn’t really come into play. Because cooking a red velvet chocolate cake, pottering in the garden or spending time getting creative in the shed with your favourite music playing is motivating enough. Our level of motivation towards various tasks is personal and equal only to the value we choose to place on gardening, baking or admiring our handy work in the shed.

From a teen perspective, minimal internal or external motivation is required for my son to get to his cricket game on time. WHY? A- He loves cricket – wants to be there, gets something out of it and it obviously brings him joy! He no doubt has all the good natural chemicals flowing in his brain and body when he is involved in cricket, which reminds the his brain it’s good for him and he should do it again.
(He probably has some routines in place, but I suspect this is because so many cricketers are very superstitious…. I mean no-one wants to get out for a duck because they are wearing the wrong socks! Imagine!!)

Now let’s spin it around and take a look at the stuff in a teen’s life they many not love doing.
Homework is stacking up, chores are waiting to be done, assignment needs to be completed or it’s time to study for an upcoming test. Mighty motivation doesn’t show up with as many bells and whistles as it did for cricket?

As adults with our wise and fully developed adults brains, we understand some things in life which don’t float our boat at all, still need to be done . We’ve got life experiences to draw upon, so we often fast forward our minds to the future and recall how good it will feel when that pesky job is complete. We to do the things we dislike.

However the teenage brain undergoing a major frontal lobe renovation, rendering teens less able to manufacture that intrinsic motivation needed to do the jobs that don’t float their boat, struggling to see what’s in it for them?
How will be rewarded and wondering where’s the dopamine hit going to come from? That’s the naturally occurring chemical that shows up when there’s something exciting up for grabs; a prize, money or tangible incentive. We can’t really blame teenagers for relying on dopamine and external shiny things to motivate them, as they are often emerging from their child and tween years, heavily conditioned to seek extrinsic motivation by way prizes, stickers, treats, certificates and copious amounts of praise from adults and peers. But the years soon tick over, teenage years dawn and adulthood awaits; the very time they’re expected to step-up and get motivated.

For teens, this is where a routine-based plan can assist them to stay on track and be beneficial in their adult years too.
This kind of planning saves the day when motivation is missing, and it also helps lessen the cycle of overwhelm, panic, stress and meltdowns as dates loom and teachers ask the same old question. “How are you going with the assignment?”

So, we know  teenage motivation wanes quickly, because dopamine doesn’t stick around long enough to build long lasting commitment and within a very short time, they can fall back into their old ways. Any motivation they did have is now hidden further under a blanket of self-doubt, because they feel like they have failed yet again. Parents nag, teachers on their back, falling behind and trouble brewing. the little voice in the head reminding them they’re so unmotivated, useless and boring. Down the rabbit hole they go!

Here’s the gamer-changer. ROUTINE is the hero of the day.
Routine demands very little other than clear intent, time and practice.

Routine has many benefits for teenagers –
~ Develops their sense of purpose and ability to feel more in control of their life
~ Builds organisation habits
~ Helps make room for the really important things in their lives – sport, friends, Netflix and parties
~ Offers a guiding time structure which can anchor their more productive use of time
~ Takes much of the guess work out of day-to-day tasks, which reduces stress
~ Offers certainty, knowing all tasks will be done, decreasing invisible mental load which can take its toll on mental health

Sleep, eat, self-care, social life routines, along with exercise, cleaning, studying and chill-out routines, if well-established, can support the teenage brain undergoing massive renovation to develop habits which boost mental health and rely less on motivation. It’s a winner.

1.  “Let’s plan your week so you can maximise your time and get a good balance of work, rest and fun.
You’ll feel better when you know you have a solid plan in place.”
2. “How about we set a routine for the things you hate doing the most. Get them out of the way so you can make room for the stuff you love.”
Keep it real, say it as it is and remind them that it’s the un-loved tasks that need the most routine, because they give us zero dopamine.
3. “I’ll help you set your routines and I’ll back you every step of the way, but at the end of the day, you gotta take over and own all parts of your week, the fun              bits and the un-fun bits.”

This reminds teenagers that we’re with them and we want to see them become autonomous and step-up to the challenges of life.
All said and done, routine is the trusty gap filler when motivation is missing.


  1. Introduce SUNDAY SET UP and WEDNESDAY WIND-UP to your families life. This explained step-by-step in HELLO HIGH SCHOOL, page 44,91,93
  2. Clear clutter which has a sneaky way of overloading the brain and ruining routines. HHS p.65
  3. Set up a work station that is pleasant enough to be in. Out work environment has an impact on the way we feel.
  4. Know your WHY….. It may be… I want to finish this so I can play cricket. Simple right!!
  5. Use clocks and timers. Training the young brain to work to time is a great way to compete tasks, especially the ones they aren’t loving.
  6. Have fewer late night, which create harder morning’s.
  7. Dominate devices. Be the boss of them, instead of devices being the boss of you.
  8. Do the work. Magic is magic and it’s lovely, but it doesn’t get the assignment completed and handed in on time.
  9. Rewards. Threes something awesome about rewarding ourselves when we have pushed through to completion.
  10. Tell your freinds you’re on a mission and might be off-line for the next couple of hours. This will help width FOMO, so you can get the job done.

Be patient, stick with it because all the time and effort we pour into helping our teens build regular, consistent, ongoing and realistic routines WILL PAY DIVIDENDS = teenagers who are becoming adults who choose to own their life and bravely step up holding life’s ultimate trophy – RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY.
That’s a good thing!

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