Precrastination - The Evil Sibling of Procrastination
We’ve all heard of procrastination. The majority of us are guilty at some point of leaving things until the last minute, even though we know it’s wrong and can lead to increased stress and anxiety.
But, what about precrastination? It’s probably not a term you’re familiar with, but if you find yourself doing things quickly to get them off your to-do list as soon as possible, you might be a precrastinator as well.
As the opposite of procrastination, precrastination sounds like the perfect solution to your productivity woes. However, the reality is that it can be just as harmful to your productivity and can also have a negative impact on performance.
So, what is precrastination, why is it bad for productivity, and how do you avoid the impulse to take on tasks the moment they hit your inbox?
What is Precrastination?
Simply put, precrastination is the opposite of procrastination. Instead of putting things off until later, you work on tasks at the earliest opportunity to get them done and out of the way as soon as possible.
- Receiving an email notification and heading straight to your inbox to read it, switching your attention away from your current task.
- Interrupting people during a conversation to tell them something that’s popped into your head, even though it’s completely off-subject.
- Submitting an article or report as soon as you’ve written it without taking the time to get feedback or edit it.
- Parking your vehicle in the first available space you see rather than finding a more convenient spot closer to the store entrance.
- Getting started on a project even though you’re still waiting on some vital information.
- Putting that Ikea wardrobe together incorrectly before you’ve properly read the instructions. (Most of us have done this at some point)
Why We Precrastinate
Psychologist David Rosenbaum was the first to study the phenomenon of precrastination. People were asked to pick up one of two buckets and carry it to the end of an alleyway. Instead of picking up the one closest to the finish line, most participants chose the bucket nearest to the beginning of the alley even though they had to carry it the furthest distance.
When asked about their irrational choice of bucket, people explained they wanted to complete the task as quickly as possible. They chose to start the task early so they didn’t have to think about it again even though it meant expending more energy in the long term — they worked harder rather than smarter.
Rosenbaum also found that rather than precrastination being an impulsive act, it's actually a conscious decision that people make to clear their mental to-do list.
Not everyone is a precrastinator. It’s a psychological behavior linked to personality. People who precrastinate tend to be conscientious and systematic, have high energy levels, and are eager to please.
The Downside of Precrastination
Getting things done early may sound like the best way to stay on top of your to-do list and achieve as much as possible. And, there are some benefits to precrastination, such as:
- Getting things done as quickly as possible makes way for more important tasks.
- Removing tasks from your to-do list means you don’t have to worry about them anymore.
- Accomplishing lots of small tasks can bring a strong sense of achievement and satisfaction.
But in spite of these advantages, precrastination still has the potential to harm your productivity and overall performance in several tangible ways.
Bad Decision Making
Precrastination is not just about doing things too soon. It also leads to you making quick decisions without thinking the situation through or taking into account all possible options.
Slower Work Rate
Rushing into a task before proper planning slows down your work rate in the end. When you’re well-prepared for the task ahead, you approach it more methodically, armed with all the information and tools you need to achieve the best outcome. If you’ve ever rushed to do something to get it over with, only to realize you did it wrong and had to start over, you were definitely precrastinating. Next time, remember: slow and steady wins the race.
Dealing with small tasks, such as emails and other notifications, as soon as they arise severely interrupts your workflow. You may think you’re multitasking, but in reality, you’re really task-switching, shifting your focus between different jobs and using up valuable time and effort.
The end result is predictable: you end up doing none of the jobs particularly well.
Rushing to complete simple or complex tasks can cause you to make errors, impacting the quality of your work. When you make serious mistakes or begin to make too many of them, these errors cause inevitable delays in your work rate as you spend valuable time correcting them.
Neglecting Important Tasks
To achieve the most in your day, you need to plan ahead and utilize your productive times to focus on the most complex and important tasks on your to-do list. Precrastinators often ignore their body’s natural rhythm, getting simple, non-essential tasks completed first, even if it’s at the time when they’re at their most productive. They end up delaying the most important jobs, attempting to complete them when their energy levels are lower.
If you’re not sure when your most productive time of day is, you might want to explore chronotypes, a classification system that helps people plan their work in harmony with their body’s internal clock.
Rushing through tasks uses more energy than when you work slower and more methodically, causing unnecessary fatigue and increased levels of stress and anxiety. This phenomenon is often referred to as hurry sickness–an awful feeling of unrelenting stress that comes from always feeling rushed or under the pump.
Precrastination vs. Procrastination
Both precrastination and procrastination prevent you from getting things done; they simply do it in converse ways. For procrastinators, that means being motivated by the pressure of deadlines. Precrastinators, on the other hand, get a boost when they achieve something early on.
The biggest difference between the two is the type of people most likely to engage in them. Precrastination is closely linked with conscientiousness, a personality trait associated with being organized, disciplined, and focused. In contrast, procrastinators are less conscientious and more impulsive, leading them to make rash decisions without thinking things through.
Simply put, procrastinators delay important tasks for too long while precrastinators don’t delay non-urgent tasks for long enough, often for similar reasons like task aversion. What’s clear is that procrastination and precrastination both have negative outcomes for productivity, and the ideal working practice lies somewhere between the two extremes.
How to Avoid Falling Into the Precrastination Trap
Finding the middle ground between precrastination and procrastination is tough and takes some effort and practice. Check out these few tips that could help keep you sidestep the precrastination trap.
Identify When You Precrastinate
Take note of the times when you precrastinate. Is it in your personal or work time? Do you try and get all the easy tasks done first thing in the morning or cram them into the last hour of the working day?
Also, why is it you precrastinate? Do you automatically head to your inbox to respond to emails as soon as you switch on the laptop so you don’t have to do it later in the day? Is there a particular project or type of task that you always want to tick off the list first?
Knowing when and why you precrastinate can help you implement the right techniques, especially effective planning.
Take some time to plan your day beforehand. Assign specific times for deep work, ideally when you’re at your most productive. Include breaks and sessions for responding to emails, making phone calls, and other non-taxing tasks. And most important: stick to the schedule. A well-planned day helps you prioritize your workload and (hopefully) prevents you from precrastinating.
Turn on the Do Not Disturb
Turn off notifications, such as email alerts, so you won’t be tempted to respond to messages as soon as they arrive. Most laptops, phones, and other smart devices have a Focus Assist or Do Not Disturb setting to block notifications for a preset length of time.
If you struggle to keep to a workday schedule, try using a productivity tool to help you plan different sessions throughout your day. In addition to alerting you when each session starts and finishes, these handy tools switch off notifications during focus times, letting you get on with important tasks without disruptions that may tempt you to precrastinate.
Find the Middle Ground
It’s easy to fall into both the precrastination and procrastination traps. The ideal working practice lies in between the two, and it can be achieved through effective planning and prioritization. In summary, slot your toughest tasks into your most productive times, and save the more menial jobs for the time of day when you tend to have less brain power left. Do this and you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect balance.
You might even start to feel relieved as you realize you don’t have to tackle things as soon as they come in. The stress of being constantly sidetracked and interrupted will melt away as you find the perfect sweet spot for when to take things on. So don’t be afraid to take a bold step away from precrastination and see just how beneficial that step can be for your productivity.