The Pitfalls of PREcrastination??
We’re all familiar with the drawbacks of procrastination – the rushed work, the impact on teamwork and family dynamics, and the toll on health from last-minute, caffeine-fueled efforts. But what about its seemingly virtuous counterpart, PREcrastination? The individual who sets artificially early, sometimes excessively early, deadlines to ensure tasks are completed well ahead of schedule. Surely, that’s a positive trait, right?
Welllllll… not so fast. The first time I heard the term was during an interview with Adam Grant, author of our Book of the Year. Initially I thought he was contextualizing it as a positive character trait. Afterall, how awesome are people who always get things done in advance, quickly respond to emails, and never wait until the last minute? (yes, my shoulder was a little sore from patting myself on the back). Then I replayed that portion of the interview and dug into some of the original research from Dr. David Rosenbaum on the subject and reality struck pretty hard. Yes – there are clear negatives to procrastination, but downsides to the other end of the spectrum – procrastination – aren’t really that different. In fact, they are often mirror images on different calendars.
In college, I wrote papers and prepped for exams weeks in advance. The only all-night study session I ever did was to prove to friends I didn’t need caffeine to keep up with them. I would stay alert by drinking only grapefruit juice and running a few miles every couple hours through the night. It worked until it didn’t (I fell asleep during the exam). That approach “sounds” smart, but on closer review, there was ALWAYS another paper or exam coming, which meant I was likely doing exactly what my procrastinating peers were doing, but nobody noticed because it was my internal clock that was driving the same rushed, less-than optimal outcome.
The research on precrastination reveals an interesting paradox. Those who embrace it often remain oblivious to its downsides, believing they are ahead of the game. However, the reality is that the treadmill-like pace of tasks never slows down on its own. There is no real “ahead” – only the present moment. While precrastination may feel satisfying to the addicted and appear commendable to onlookers, the rush that impedes procrastinators also hinders those who attempt to get ahead. The tendency to dive into checklists without discerning between “nice” and “need,” neglecting to evaluate the best use of time, and overlooking moments of reflection all contribute to compromised outcomes.
So my PREcrastinating friends, what are some positive steps we can initiate? Here are 3 ½:
- Acknowledge our predisposition or addiction: “I’m Brad, and I’m a precrastinator.”
- Reflect on:
- What truly matters (versus what comes next)
- The reasons behind our current pursuits
- Measure progress based on optimal outcomes rather than mere completion.
Now, it’s time for me to return to writing columns and recording podcasts for 2025! 😉