We all know about procrastination and its dangers. In its simplest terms, procrastination is the putting off of the important tasks which you know need to be done. Everyone does it to some extent. Those who have the greatest ability to manage their procrastination will achieve the greatest levels of success. While procrastination limits your results by causing you to take longer than necessary to complete your most important tasks; the opposite, precrastination, can be just as harmful. Precrastination is when we rush to get through something as quickly as possible. In time management and productivity, we are often thought that speed is of the essence but this overlooks one incredibly important factor; if you are doing the wrong things, doing them faster is not going to benefit you. Both choices can cost us time and effort if we fail to approach our work rationally.
The precrastination problem
The major problem with prercrastination is that important decisions get made without the necessary thought being put into them. In a study, students were asked to pick a bucket to carry across a finish line. Surprisingly, many selected the bucket closest to them rather than the one nearest the final destination, even though that meant carrying the load further. If you take a moment to think about that, you will realise that the students chose the bucket which meant they would have to carry the additional weight for a greater distance, all due to convenience i.e. it was the closest bucket. Making decisions based on convenience is a recipe for precrastination and, it rarely ends well. Precrastination can be just as counterproductive as procrastination.
If you take pride in jumping on each new task without delay, you may want to think twice as you are probably doing more harm than good. The following are some suggestions which will help you to avoid precrasination.
- Focus on importance
Precrastination is usually the fault of ineffective thinking. When people brag about their work, they usually speak of the quantity of work they completed or, the amount of time that they spent in work. Neither of these factors means anything of importance. If I spent 24 hours in work and completed 1,000 tasks; does that meant that I have had an effective day? If you think that it does, you need to think again.
The value of a day’s work is dependent on the quality and importance of the work done, not the quantity. If you complete one very important task, it is much better than completing 1,000 tasks which fail to bring you closer to reaching your goals. Your most important tasks should be determined by the contribution they make to achieving your goals and, these are the tasks that should fill your day. Strive to fill your life with meaningful undertakings as much as possible.
- Focus on quality
Once you have reassessed your task list and identified the most important tasks to complete; it is natural that you will be more enthusiastic. When you realise that completing these tasks will bring you closer to your goals, you may want to rush through them. However, you must remember that these tasks will only bring you closer to your goals if they are completed properly. You have taken the time to identify your most important tasks, now you must treat them with the level of importance they deserve.
The focus of important tasks should be to complete them to the highest standard possible, not to complete them as fast as possible. Allow yourself the time needed to do the job properly. That way, you will do it right and only have to do it once.
- Take time to think
When you are making an importance decision, you may have to take a great deal of information into account. It is essential that you allow yourself sufficient time to consider all of the information. While you do not want to spend forever on decisions which are not that important (a form of procrastination) it is essential that each decision receives the level of thought and time which adequately reflects its importance e.g. choosing which supermarket to go to shouldn’t take very long while choosing which University to go to would require more time and consideration.
- When in doubt, relate it back to your long term goals
Remember your long term objectives. There will be times in life when you are unsure as to which task you should be focusing on. In these moments, you can refer to your task list and ask yourself ‘what is the most important task that I can complete now with the time and resources available to me?’ Again, importance would be defined by the contribution made to the achievement of a key goal.
- Create batches
One symptom of precrastination is that your attention is constantly stolen by small, relatively unimportant tasks. Quite often, these tasks can be bundled together and completed as a batch. For example, you may receive invoices both by the post and email. Rather than pay an invoice as soon as it arrives, you can keep an invoice file and schedule a time each week for paying invoices e.g. Tuesday morning. When that time arrives, you can take out the file and pay all of your invoices together. Any invoice that arrives outside of this time is simply added to the invoice file, to be paid in the next batch.
- Slow down
Pausing also enhances decision making. Your brain will often work at its best when it is most relaxed. Schedule some time to take it easy and have some fun. As you do this, your subconscious mind will be working on finding solutions to your challenges. Relaxing allows your creative juices to flow.
- Keep contextualised task lists
Many people write a task list. They tend to do this from memory. At the beginning of each day, they list down every task that they can think of which needs to be completed. However, this is as far as it gets. They make no attempt to organise it. As they complete a task, they cross it off. As they do not complete every task each day, they soon find themselves with a task list that is spread out over many different pages and, as a result, causes more problems than it solves.
An easier solution is to have a contextualised task list for every situation e.g. when you are at your desk; when you are at your phone; when you are in town, etc. When a new task arrives, you decide which list it belongs on and add it. Then when you find yourself in that situation e.g. you are in town, you consult the relevant task list and begin to knock off some of the tasks on it.
Contextualised tasks list allow you to make decisions quicker and, if you have more than 20 tasks, they are considerably easier to maintain. I use a Google spreadsheet with a tab for each list. This allows me to access it on the computer or on my phone, meaning my list is never far away.
Despite what some experts might teach, acting fast is not the cure for procrastination. There are times when you will be able to act swiftly but most times, you will be in danger of precrastination. Working quick, without the necessary thought, planning and organisation is a recipe for disaster. Precrastination can be as much of a problem as procrastination. You must establish priorities, and keep the big picture in mind. The best way to avoid procrastination and precrastination is to do the right thing. To do the right thing, you need to know your goals, determine the important tasks which are going to get you there and, schedule your time based on importance. With this mentality and a little organisation, you can make both procrastination and precrastination a thing of the past and, walk the narrow middle ground which takes you all the way to your goal.