Great word, isn’t it? Precrastination, as in doing things early, even excessively early. It is the opposite of procrastination, which is postponing until the latest possible moment.
I also love completing assignments of all sorts on the early side; procrastination is painful in the long run, and as deadlines are a reality for both project-based work and those who write for a living, “early” seems better than late.
And who in their right mind would find it pleasant to lay awake at night, listening to the clock count down, knowing they are at a loss for words and staring at a crack in the popcorn ceiling?
Then there are those cagey culprits we might, in theory, wish to attack on the early side – those of us who hope to alleviate our (abundance of) angst-inducing obligations, that is. The sort that weigh on the mind. You know – bills, appointments, those pesky professional must-do’s like expense reports or a weekly status report. Many of these are the very items we wish to put off dealing with, if only we could.
But to address the first in my list of examples on the early side is not wise, or so we are taught. Never pay a bill until it is due; better to keep the money in our own accounts for the interest we accrue. Of course, there is so little interest to be had (these days), I ask myself what possible relevance this once-learned-smart-rule carries in contemporary life – unless we’re discussing thousands of dollars.
The second pertains to my distaste for inconveniencing others. Indeed, I’m still of the “be early or on time” mentality when it comes to meetings, and in order to be on time (hello Traffic Nightmares of the Suburban Jungle), that means leaving early and potentially, arriving well ahead of time.
Those spreadsheets and status reports that we may have to wrestle with? At the very least, though we cannot fill them in until the appropriate period is past, couldn’t we “template” their existence and even, to a degree, their contents? Don’t we “template” as much as we can already – from our online profiles to our work product?
Is there a “Template Your Life” app out yet?
Why Are Some People Chronically Early
Naturally, he (or she) who is a precrastinator is a special sort of spirit, a person who may be “chronically early” in as many arenas as possible. This phenomenon requires proper attribution and explanation beyond my recognition that I am frequently chronically early and, now that I have a label for it, a precrastinator-wannabe.
Look no further for clarity than the Sunday Times Business Section: “Sometimes Early Birds Are Too Early.” To our collective cultural surprise, the art of precrastination is more commonplace than we might expect, and Matt Richtel explains in the context of attacking any number of time-based tasks:
… it turns out that many people appear to be finishing things sooner than they need to get them done. They are “precrastinators,” researchers say.
But wait! Scratch my previous observation. Perhaps this isn’t surprising at all, as a hypothesis emerges with a series of experiments, supporting the idea that pushing ourselves to be early will alleviate our worry list. And that in turn…
… reflects the significant trade-offs people make to keep from feeling overwhelmed.
That’s all well and good, in particular given the acknowledgement in the article that we are overwhelmed. I hardly have to recite (again) the extent to which most of us are encouraged (urged, coaxed, coerced, cornered, shamed into, left with, have no choice but) to “do more with less,” and preferably, cheerfully.
We are also counseled that the more we do, the more we can do, with its many interpretations and our tendency not to consider qualifying them.
The Early Bird May Be Motivated by Stress
So what is it, exactly, that drives some of us to be early birds even when we know it’s not the best long-term choice, or, we’re sacrificing something in the process?
Are we all uber-obsessive, hyper-driven perfectionists? Could we be motivated by (now routine) stress and a modicum of experience – aware of morning traffic jams, the ire of the boss if we’re late, or the mouthy complaints of our kids left to last in carpool line? Is this a preemptive strike against a tendency to procrastinate and the resulting guilt if we do?
While The Times article is convincing in pointing out the stress-reducing aspects of checking something off the list well before a deadline, it notes the possibility that we may not buy ourselves much in the process. After all, the deluge of things to do will not run dry, and LIFO – Last In First Out – pays little heed to relative priorities. Won’t we continue to be inundated, reactive, and miss the bigger picture?
Personally, I understand the precrastination motivation completely, but I doubt many of us can be full-blown precrastinators any more than we could survive on full-blown procrastination. For example, if it’s easier for me to pay bills on the fifth of the month because it suits the timing for most, I may be paying a few early and the others on time.
If I’m wrapping up edits for one client five days ahead of schedule, it may be the result of knowing the following week is approaching with an aggressive deadline in which I will be bumping up against the target date. That may not be a consequence of poor planning or even “overwhelm,” but rather, a matter of timing for the data required to complete the task.
Early, Late, On Time… All of the Above
I feel compelled to note two additional factors that influence those of us who are chronically early, or prefer to be.
First, we are believers in manners and respecting other people’s time. Better to be early than late in that regard. Second, we like to be liked. And aren’t we more likely to find ourselves basking in a state of agreeable approval if we don’t irritate those who rely on us?
Naturally, nothing is so cut and dry. If I’m early to meet a friend on a Saturday, I am nonetheless more apt to be late if we’re talking about Monday through Friday when I’m fielding emails, phone calls, and daily checklists.
If I’ve overloaded my plate for the week (common for me) and something unexpected hits (a home repair emergency, an Internet outage), that’s all it takes to topple my task list and send me scrambling.
Of course, with contingency planning in place, I manage. But I will be grateful for anything that I have “precrastinated” that subsequently provides me a small amount of slack.
And with kids, especially when they’re young?
I won’t recommend surrendering to an attitude of “all bets are off,” but you know what they say about the best laid plans. And that leads me back to the beauty of precrastination as a preemptive strike against everything outside of our control, or highly dependent on the schedules and circumstances of clients, co-workers, bosses and babysitters. We’ll be early on some activities (and much relieved), in part because it’s inevitable that we’ll be late on others – like it or not.
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