No Better Time Than Now—or Is There?

I’m sure you are more than familiar with procrastination, but how about precrastination? Yes, that’s a thing, and—spoiler alert—not always a good one. 

As per definition, a precrastinator is a person who does things immediately or at least well ahead of any deadline. So if you are struggling with getting shit done on time, the idea that there are people out there who actually feel an urge to do all the things right away might sound really appealing. I’m one of them, and let me tell you, it can suck badly too—especially in what’s supposed to be a Month of Slow (more about that here).

Last week, for instance, I had a lot of work. As always, I got all of my stuff done, most of it ahead of time of course, but … there’s the nagging feeling that some of it could have be done better. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not Perfectionista speaking but science: It’s proven that people who work this quickly, rob themselves of the chance to develop a second or third idea for a project that may be better and more creative than the first solution they handed in. Overall, our first ideas tend to be the most conventional. I like to be creative, so knowing that bothers me quite a bit.

Then, there’s email. Seriously, if you are not a precrastinator yourself, you have no idea how much time we waste reading and answering individual emails right away. It’s ridiculous. If I could resist the urge to respond immediately, I would probably see that half of the emails I get don’t even require an answer. And some may deserve a better answer than the quick one they are getting from me. 

And one more thing that speaks against never putting things off (because they have to be done anyway, is our reasoning): Precrastinators often prefer to do lots of small things first because that means lots of things can be ticked off the to-do list early in the day before the real work starts. But even small things require decisions and thus drain our decision-making capability before we even turn our attention to the important stuff. Remember decision fatigue? (More about that here.)

So, what can precrastinators do to be as efficient as they want to be?

My latest trick is to set a few times a day when I am allowed to check email. I actually put these on my schedule so that I stick to them. It helps. I am also trying to teach myself batch-responding, but I am not there yet. I swear it’s like an addiction: I have a hard time concentrating on anything else when I know there’s emails I could reply to and clear my inbox. (An empty inbox is my recurring Friday afternoon dream—for which I am willing to work until Sunday night, if need be, only to see the whole game start over again Monday morning.)

Another thing you can do is prioritize items on your to-do list. First comes whatever is important and urgent, and it goes to less important and less urgent from there. This way, list-lovers can make sure that the big things get their full attention and after that, they can do all the little things that help them tick off five or ten or twenty small items in an hour to get the satisfying feeling we precrastinators love above all.

It also helps to put things on the to-do list when they actually must be done. Let’s learn a bit from the procrastinators and think from the deadline back to how long the project will reasonably take and schedule it this way. If it makes you feel better (it works for me), you can open the project right away to double-check your estimated timeline and jot down some initial ideas, but then put it aside and only open it again when it comes up on your calendar. Or, if that is too big a step to take, do it right away but then let it sit until it’s due—and give yourself time to maybe come up with another, more creative idea.

One last word for procrastinators: Precrastination has a better reputation, that’s for sure, but your chances of doing more creative work are pretty high. So if you are okay with working last-minute and under pressure, don’t feel like you should make it over to the other side. The grass may be greener over here, but only because we constantly water it—instead of focusing on the important and urgent tasks of bringing out the lawn furniture and making the lemonade. You wouldn’t have any to spare, would you?

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