Precrastination is defined as
The completion of a task too quickly or too early, when taking more time would result in a better outcome.
Essentially, precrastination is the tendency to focus on the tasks that you can complete most quickly over those that take longer to complete, even if the quickly-completed tasks don’t get you to your outcome.
Precrastination is motion without movement. It’s a waste of time and effort.
The question is: WHY would we waste our energy doing things that don’t actually get us to where we want to go?
The Outer Reasons
In a NY Times article, Wharton professor Adam Grant calls it a perversion of diligence — the dark side of people who are really good at getting things done.
Dr. David Rosenbaum, the professor who coined the term precrastination, suggests we precrastinate to free up working memory. This behavior reduces the cognitive load, even if it means exerting more effort.
The Inner Reasons
I’d like to offer two other reasons that go to the inner self.
Escape From Emptiness
Often, the first action to take towards a goal is stillness. In the pause, we can get clear on what we want, why we want it, and the best way to get there. There are many actions we could take; the question is which are most relevant.
These answers come in the pause, which is a natural part of any process. The problem is that our culture doesn’t honor the pause. Most people are uncomfortable with the idea of doing nothing.[Related: Why We Fear An Empty Space]
In the pause we face emptiness, the place where doubts may arise. When we feel uncomfortable with something the tendency is to want to push through it faster. Get this part over with. Rather than sit with those doubts, we push through — escape the emptiness — by means of action.
A Means of Regaining Control
When we feel like we don’t have control over a situation, the easiest way to get certainty and regain the feeling of control is by taking action. Any action.
Research shows that the reward center in your brain, called the nucleus accumbens, is activated more strongly when you complete a less effortful task. Basically, you get a dopamine hit every time you check a box on your to-do list. Check enough boxes and you’ll start to feel certain and back in control.
It doesn’t matter if the fear or feeling of lacking control relates to the tasks themselves, to the anxiety you feel at the cognitive load of tasks, or if it’s completely unrelated to the goal and tasks.
Your nervous system doesn’t tell stories about why you feel certain emotions; that’s the province of the mind. Your nervous system simply knows it feels stress and out of control. Checking boxes helps it feel in control.
Precrastination is a habitual response to stress; a way to feel in control when your nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode.
The problem (among many) is that this doesn’t last. As you continue to “check the boxes” without seeing results, you’ll only be more anxious.