Are you reading this right now because you’re procrastinating?
On the whole, that’s not a great thing to be doing, but there’s something to be said for a little time to gather yourself before a big project.
In contrast to this, however, is precrastination, which is a work habit that might be altogether worse for you in the long-run.
Whereas the procrastinator will put off their tasks until the very last minute, the precrastinator will aim to get everything done as quickly as possible.
Whereas procrastination uses up all of the allotted time to complete the task, precrastination sees time as something to be beaten to the punch.
David Rosenbaum, who coined the word, mentioned it in his book, Knowing Hands: The Cognitive Psychology of Manual Control, saying: ‘The term was meant to connote the opposite of procrastination, the tendency to put off until later what you can do right away. Precrastination is the tendency to do too soon what might be better done later’.
Some things David and his team noticed people doing that comprised this tendency were picking up shopping early in the trip and having to carry it around all day and paying their bills before they’re due (as a result not being able to pick up interest on their own money).
In an earlier paper on the topic, the team concluded that it was likely people did this to ‘reduce the working memory load’ of our tasks. Essentially, even though the task itself will take the same amount of time, if we get it done sooner (or at least feel that it’s done), it’s less stressful.
The catch here is that, by trying to reduce your stress at having things to do stretching over time, you’re doing things in a more slapdash way and expending more energy than you need to.
So, although you’ve ‘gotten rid of’ the work, you’re not getting more quality work done in the long-term.
Precrastination is similar in its intentions to presenteeism – where people stay later at work than necessary to show that they’re ‘there’.
Not only does it mean you’re rushing right through your own learning experiences, it also means that you’re either going to end up with loads of dead time at work, or plenty more tasks added to your pile.
Yes, you may finish that spreadsheet before you need to, but what happens with the rest of the day you had to do it? It’ll be filled up somehow.
You’ll know if you’re a precrastinator if you find that you’re getting plenty done but never feeling truly finished; with other tasks popping up and it seeming insurmountable.
Similarly, if you work in quick bursts of energy but never have the satisfaction of a job well done, this could be a sign you’re precrastinating and box ticking.
The solution to precrastination is not as simple as ‘do your work in the allotted time’. Instead, you need to look at the root cause of why you’re feeling the need to get everything done ASAP.
It may be because what you’re working on is too difficult, so the process leaves you wanting it to put it behind you rather than dissect it. If that’s the case, you should speak with your managers and colleagues to find out their techniques and tricks.
Alternatively, it’s the same task you’re precrastinating on over and over, you could go for more training to boost your confidence in that area.
Straight off the bat, you can work out your to-do-list so the structure changes regularly. Say you normally do the hardest part of your day first (rushing through it every time), why not try going from easy to hard at the end of the day?
Or, if you normally spend half your day tying up loose ends to get them out of the way – finding that the big things fall by the wayside in the meantime – specifically allow only a certain time for those mini chores. You might even find that, by the end of this time, the things you didn’t get done didn’t matter anyway.
Before each item on your to-do-list take a minute and work out how important it is, how long it’ll likely take, and what’s the best and most efficient way to do it. There’s a whole lot of truth in the phrase ‘don’t work harder, work smarter’.
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