We live and work in a culture that values productivity (and in turn, profits) above pretty much everything else. But we’re also big fans of instant gratification. (Isn’t the best part about making a checklist adding a few things you’ve already done, just so you can tick them off right away?) As it turns out, when you mix the push for productivity with our love of instant gratification, you can end up falling into the trap of “precrastination.” Here’s what that concept means and how to avoid it.
What is ‘precrastination’?
Dr. David Rosenbaum, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, first coined the term “precrastination” in a 2014 article in the journal Psychological Science. He describes it as “the hastening of subgoal completion, even at the expense of extra physical effort,” but it can apply to tasks (like office work) that don’t involve physical labor.
Basically, you precrastinate if you opt to put in extra effort in the rush to complete a task (and tick it off your to-do list) that may end up being unnecessary with a little more time and planning. Chris Bailey, writing for CNBC’s Make It vertical provides this example:
You and your team are gearing up for a complex project, and they’ve sent a number of emails asking for clarification on certain points. Rather than taking the time to write back in a thoughtful and deliberate manner or schedule a call to discuss, you send back a series of half-baked replies.
Task complete, right? Not quite. While you may have temporarily dealt with a few items on your to-do list, your lack of clarity generates further questions. As a result, more effort is needed to get everyone back on track.
How to avoid ‘precrastination’
The key here, Bailey says, is to identify when zipping through tasks is a good idea, versus when it’ll actually end up costing you more time in the end. Here are his recommendations for getting stuff done without precrastinating:
- Ask yourself, Would this task benefit from added time? Precrastination happens when we’re working on autopilot. Though it may seem counterintuitive on busy days, stop and consider all the tasks on your plate. Those that require creativity, thoughtfulness or emotion will benefit from a slower response.
- Know which tasks you can rush through. If a task takes just a few minutes to complete, it can be helpful to get it done quickly in favor of clearing your attentional space.
- Keep a calendar and to-do list. This might not seem revelatory, but externalizing what’s cluttering your mind is a wonderful thing. Tracking appointments, tasks, distractions and ideas using a notepad or smartphone app allows you to step back and organize. In addition to freeing up mental space, these tools can help you decide where to channel future energy.
Ultimately, avoiding precrastination is all about working with intention—and if that means slowing down, so be it.