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Precrastination: what it is, causes, examples, and how this problem affects us

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In recent years, the word “procrastinate” has become viral. This refers to the act of leaving something important for later, either due to laziness or anxiety. It is not a good strategy because, by making things accumulate for us, the only thing we will achieve is having to do them at the last moment full of stress.

One might think that doing things as soon as possible is the healthy thing to do. It is true that for many things it is better to have them ready as soon as possible, but what if hurrying causes us as much stress, waste of time and energy as procrastination?

The time has come to talk about the other side of the coin, the twin brother of procrastination: precrastination.

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What is precrastination?

Everyone is familiar with procrastination, the bad habit of putting off tasks that we know we should do as soon as possible. possible, the temptation to leave for later something that we know that, if we postpone it any longer, it will mean more stress and long-term work term. Procrastination implies suffering and loss of productivity with what one would think that the opposite, that is, doing the tasks as soon as possible, would be healthy and positive. Actually, that can be just as or more pernicious than procrastination itself. We talk about precrastination.

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Precrastination occurs when we strive and hurry to get our chores done as quickly as possible, sooner than is really necessary. This translates into, for example, answering all emails, even the least important ones, as soon as we get up in the morning; remove the pasta from the saucepan before it is done or remove the tea bag before it has impregnated the water with its flavor. Precrastinating is doing things ahead of time for the simple desire of wanting to have things done sooner.

This term is relatively new, although the phenomenon behind it has always existed and surely everyone has precrastinated at some point in their lives. "Precrastination" is a word coined by psychology professor David Rosenbaum's research group in a study published in 2014. According to him, precrastination can be defined as the tendency to do tasks as soon as possible, even if that means having to do more work, waste more time or incur extra cost that, if he had waited a little, would not have happened.

Rosenbaum, along with his colleagues Lanyun Gong and Cory Adam Potts were able to study this phenomenon in a series of experiments. In their study they asked students to walk down an alley along which they would find two buckets filled with water, at different distances from the end. The task consisted of going through the alley without stopping, taking one of the two buckets and leaving it at the end of the path. They had complete freedom to choose the bucket of water they wanted.

Despite being given the option of taking either of the two cubes, the trend observed was that most students preferred grab the first cube they found, even if that meant having to travel a greater distance carrying it and, therefore, a greater effort. When asked why they had chosen the first cube, most of the students answered: “because I wanted to finish the task as soon as possible”.

The conclusion reached by Rosenbaum and company was that, by picking up the first cube, their experimental subjects felt relief when they mentally crossed off the task of picking up the cube. When deciding which cube to take, the mental overload that implies having this matter pending without resolving was an obstacle when choosing the most efficient option, which was to take the cube closest to the goal so as not to spend so much time loaded. They chose to work harder instead of working smart.

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Everyday examples of precrastination

Precrastination is a more common problem than many people think. It is something that humanity has done throughout its history. We have all precrastinated at some point, what happens is that since this phenomenon had not yet received a name, it has gone unnoticed for a long time. Here we talk about some everyday examples of precrastination:

Shopping in the supermarket inefficiently

Many people go to the supermarket with a shopping list, which is always recommended. One of the most common things is to load the shopping cart as we go through the aisles, instead of making several trips going to pick up each thing. At first this would make sense and could even be seen as logical, however, becomes a problem depending on the type of product.

For example, if the water section turns out to be the first as soon as you enter the supermarket and we have to load four 5-litre bottles, picking them up first is a sign of precrastination. We take them to cross them off the list as soon as possible, but without realizing that the best thing would have been to take them last because they weigh a lot, and now we are going to carry them all the time.

Examples of precastination

Another example would be frozen food. If we have to buy frozen foods and it turns out that your section is near the entrance, picking them up as soon as we enter the supermarket is not worth it at all. As they are frozen, the longer we carry them, the more risk we run of breaking the cold chain and going bad, so the ideal is to take them just before going through the checkout.

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Poorly completed to-do lists

Another example of precrastination is having a list of tasks and starting doing the simplest ones as soon as we wake up. We behave this way because it feels great to check off tasks that are easy to do, because it gives the feeling that we are being productive.

The problem is that we are spending time and energy on unimportant tasks, while we should invest them in the most complex ones, especially in the morning, which is when we usually have more Energy. Leaving the most difficult for the afternoon can be a problem because, perhaps, we no longer have energy and we do those tasks much worse.

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What are the causes of precrastination?

Ironically, the root cause of precrastination is the same as procrastination: get rid of an unpleasant emotion.

Let's focus for a moment on procrastination, with "O". If we pay attention, what causes us to procrastinate is often accompanied by a strong and uncomfortable emotion. It may be anxiety, boredom, shame... whatever it is, it's something we don't like to feel. And, precisely, leaving tasks for later is a good way to temporarily get rid of negative emotions. In other words, when we procrastinate, we are making a decision based on what makes us feel good at that moment, instead of thinking about what is in our best long-term interest.

In precrastination, with "E", a very similar process takes place, almost identical. The difference is that in this case anxiety, boredom or shame, among other emotions, they arise from the feeling of not having the tasks done and that they should be done as soon as possible, even if that means more effort or cost. The goal is to stop feeling anxiety or other negative emotion. So, as with procrastination, precrastination involves making a decision based on what we would make us feel better at the time instead of thinking about what would interest us or benefit us in the long run term.

But, added to the main cause of precrastination, we can observe other common causes that explain why many times people do a task before what would be ideal.

1. cheap satisfaction

Science has seen that we tend to get more intense pleasure when we complete small, easy-to-achieve tasks with fixed deadlines, than the most important but of greater difficulty and unclear duration. It is more addictive to do simple and fast things than uncomplicated and slow things because the first ones generate almost immediate pleasure.

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2. Survival instinct

Throughout our evolutionary history as a species, seeking the things that are easy and within reach has been more advantageous than putting them off for long-term rewards. The primitive human being lived in a hostile world, in which he was in danger at the slightest, so giving up immediate benefit could mean choosing to die.

For example, exploring a dark cave to see if there is any food does not sound so good if one thinks about the possibility that a bear could be killed. Nor would it make much sense to embark on a long journey to find a place with more food if you are not sure that it will be found.

Because our brains were subjected to those circumstances for thousands of years of evolution and we've only been a couple of hundred years In a relatively safe world, putting off the easy, immediately rewarding little things goes against our survival instinct.

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3. Time management and energy management

Many people are brought up to think of work and productivity in terms of time management properly.. For example, if a student only has an hour to take an exam, it might make sense to start with the easier questions and then move on to the more complex ones. However, really the smartest strategy is usually knowing how to better manage energy, not time.

For example, and related to one of the examples that we have mentioned before, if we are people with more energy in the morning that in the afternoon is more convenient for us to do the most complex tasks, nothing more get up If, on the other hand, we are more productive in the afternoon, it is better to leave simple tasks for when we do not have so much energy or time.

4. Meticulousness

People who tend to be more diligent, attentive and hard-working tend to precrastinate more than procrastinate. If you have as a general rule to do things the sooner the better, it is easier to start doing them soon without stopping to consider whether it is worth the effort and time as much as other tasks.

Being conscientious and getting the job done as quickly as possible is generally a positive trait. However, it can become problematic if it is not controlled or if the tasks are done sooner. than it should and therefore you are not being intelligent with the management of the energy and the weather.
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