Do you respond to emails almost as soon as they arrive in your inbox?
When you look at your to-do list, do you start with the tasks that can be completed first?
Do you aim to check off as many to-dos as possible each day?
If so, you may be a precrastinator.
That’s not a typo. It’s a behavior tendency.
David Rosenbaum, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, coined the term “precrastination.”
Precrastination is essentially
the tendency to be reactionary to the demands of your to-do by completing tasks at the earliest opportunity — even at the expense of extra effort.
Precrastination is a byproduct of “busyness.” Studies show it increases as the to-do list increases.
According to Dr. Lisa Fournier, who has studied precrastination, when faced with a long to-do list, most people are drawn to the tasks that can be completed most quickly and have a more immediate payoff.
This feels good: studies show that checking off tasks trigger the reward centers in our brains. But it ignores the fact that the most important tasks often have longer completion times. Sometimes those tasks don’t look like much while we are doing them.
Actions vs Strategy
If you precrastinate, you might consider yourself to be highly productive. You may believe they are good at getting things done.
And you are good at getting things done.
The question is whether you are getting the right thing done. The things that move you closer to what you want.
Checking off the boxes on your to-do list doesn’t mean much unless the tasks are moving you closer to what you want.
Precrastination is a waste of energy. How many times have you rushed to get something done only to have to redo it or find out that if you had waited, you wouldn’t have needed to do anything at all?
Not everything on your to-do list need to be done.
Productivity Is In the Pause
Precrastination is the result of not pausing to consider the bigger picture of what you’re doing.
Meng Zhu, an associate professor who studies urgency at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School explains that when we feel busy,
You stop asking why you’re doing something and just do it.
According to Wharton professor Adam Grant,
What happens when you precrastinate is that your anxiety about making progress causes you to dive in headfirst as opposed to giving yourself time to consider your options.
Be Purposeful, Not Busy
There are always many things you could do. But what makes most sense for you? What’s aligned with your values? What’s necessary to achieve your outcome?
Answering these questions requires us to pause, to find stillness, and to create a strategy.
- What do I really want? What’s the result I’m after?
- Why do I want it? What will it mean for me? For others? For the impact I want to create?
- What are the various actions that could take me there?
It’s not about creating a to-do list. It’s about listing the options and choosing the path that is aligned with your outcomes, purpose, values, and strengths.
It’s about being strategic and putting what you need in place before you just steamroll into action.