Precrastination

crispydoc Uncategorized 7 Comments

This morning started innocently enough. I purred awake in a cocoon of toasty sheets and rubbed the sleep from my eyes to find my wife sitting up in bed next to me, fully alert. When she gets excited about something, she can barely contain her enthusiasm. Having stalked her prey for maximum vulnerability, she unleashed a torrent of words at a speed that rendered me incapable of linear thought.

Wife: I found a terrific new app called Do It Later! It lets me schedule emails and texts in advance of when I want to send them so I don’t forget anything! Just consider the possibilities… Birthday and anniversary wishes set a year in advance! Texts to friends that don’t wake them up when I think of ideas in the middle of the night! Emails to demanding clients that I can answer in real time to get my reply out but deliberately delay to counter their unrealistic expectations that I’ll be available 24/7!

Me: Huh?

My wife had discovered the concept of precrastination, defined in a 2015 Scientific American article as the tendency to complete a task quickly for the sake of getting things done sooner rather than later. It enables that subset of humans who compulsively add to their smartphone to do lists or have desks full of post-it notes alleviate what can be considerable anticipatory anxiety.

Technically this is more than just an extension of the automation of drudgery that technology has been aiding and abetting for years. After all, we have our utility bills set to pay automatically from online checking, but while this ensures the bills get paid it does not excuse us from reviewing them on a monthly basis. Precrastination is not about thoughtful advance planning. This is not a college student completing a term paper over a few weeks or a business inquiry being fielded by a customer relations specialist in a comprehensive manner. It is the fulfillment of an urge to complete small, trivial tasks for the pleasure of the quick and easy reward.

There has also been automation of what was previously error-prone manual data entry. For example, we no longer manually enter our work calendars onto our phones and online calendars, since these automatically integrate with our scheduling program. When we swap shifts with colleagues in the ED, those trades update automatically as well. Eliminating the potential for human error would also not be considered precrastination. It has more to do with fulfilling a compulsion: better to do it right this second and get the task off my list than to leave it for later (even if it may make more sense to do so) and face the prospect of a greater workload.

There is clearly some physiologic reward to feeling something has been accomplished immediately, even if the choice defies logic or sacrifices quality in some way. The personal finance example would be the debt snowball, where one pays off smaller debts at lower rates of interest before addressing larger debts at higher rates of interest in order to experience the psychological satisfaction of eliminating a debt. Although the order of debt repayment is not the mathematically correct thing to do, it creates psychological momentum enabling a significant number of people to pay down debt they might not otherwise address.

There are risks in relying too heavily on quick and easy automation for the cheap thrill of checking off one more box on a never ending to do list. You don’t want to be the first to pre-program an anniversary text only to find that the couple separated months ago.

How do we co-opt this desire for the immediate high of checking the box or completing the task? One suggestion is to break a big task into smaller sub-tasks, so that the series of small highs that comes from task completion might satisfy our compulsions. For a personal finance geek, a comprehensive to do list with discrete tasks might offer a way to make a daunting task appear like a less intimidating series of small, achievable quick and dirty steps.

Comments 7

  1. Never heard of the term precrastination before but I like it.

    Personally I have an almost sinusoidal pattern between precrastination and procrastination.

    Before I launched my blog for instance I had so many ideas for topics that I wrote almost 30 posts and scheduled it out almost 6 months ahead before I ever launched the site.

    Then other things I let slip by the wayside and then do it on a mad rush before the deadline (this has been my main modus operandi throughout my life with term papers written night before etc).

    Automation definitely helps now for the tasks you tend to forget (birthdays, anniversaries) so I do find precrastination helpful in some instances

    1. Post
      Author

      You can’t control when the muse will strike, but there’s something about a passion project that means I still wake up at 2am (on those nights I’m not working through 2am) excited to jot down the latest idea for a blog post.

      Feast or famine is a common binary setting for inspiration, I can certainly relate.

  2. “You don’t want to be the first to pre-program an anniversary text only to find that the couple separated months ago.”

    Hmmmm. I never heard of precrastination before. I like what your wife is trying to accomplish. But you make a very strong counter-argument. I got to think about this one.

    1. Post
      Author

      Mr. G,

      Kind of you to slum it with me during your big ranch build, my friend! Interesting reading your latest updates and going over budget / bypassing the guidelines set by younger you – between Jim Collins buying his lake house, PoF buying his second property and you guys exceeding budget, I think it may be more a mark of maturity than indiscretion.

      I deal with anniversaries like many guys – since I never send cards, if I remember to make a phone call at all it’s a win. Underpromise, overperform.

      Happy to see you in these nether parts,

      CD

  3. Isn’t life all about precrastination? Buying a home, precrastination. Funding college, precrastination. Purchasing a retirement portfolio, going to school, precrastination. Setting your alarm clock…

    1. Post
      Author

      Exactly, although in some ways the reason FI appeals is the elusive (mostly false) belief that once you hit your number, you’ll finally finish checking off the boxes.

      FI helps, but not for the reasons you thought on your way there. You are empowered to say no the boxes other people give you to check off, and begin to make lists comprised mostly of boxes of your choosing. You remain industrious, but industry in the service of personal passion doesn’t feel like work so much as fulfillment.

      1. I was always the boss, which meant I always shouldered the risk and always had to make sure the job was done correctly . I had a lot of “futures” riding on my judgments so precrastination was not optional.

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