This site began as our effort to shed light on the under-appreciated topic of precrastination. The more we’ve dug in, the more we find ourselves also interested in its foil, procrastination. Like most things, each has their own advantages and disadvantages, and we’ve developed a working theory on how we can draw on both in order to aspire to a hybrid version: preinclination.
Defining Pre & Procrastination
The initiation or completion of things in advance, before they need to be handled.
Her tendency toward precrastination meant that she was always the first to finish and never left anything to the last moment.
Precrastinators look out for their future selves at the expense of their present selves. They will deal with things now in order for their future selves not to have to. They may miss out now with the expectation that they will benefit in some way in the future.
The delay or avoidance of doing things that should be done.
She was highly capable, but her tendency toward procrastination meant that she was always missing deadlines.
Procrastinators look out for their present selves at the expense of their future selves. They leave things for their future selves to handle in order not to deal with them now. They may allow themselves to benefit now at the expense of missing out in the future.
* Notes about “Precrastination” as a term
There is other (largely critical) literature out there around precrastination, defining precrastinationRosenbaum, D. A., Gong, L., & Potts, C. A. (2014). Pre-Crastination: Hastening Subgoal Completion at the Expense of Extra Physical Effort. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1487–1496. … See more as “The completion of a task too quickly or too early, when taking more time would result in a better outcome.” We have chosen to define precrastination more positively, believing that it’s overall a good thing, with notable risks and downsides that should be managed. After all, who wouldn’t sometimes benefit from getting started on a project ahead of time, or getting a full night’s sleep the night before a big deadline, thanks to their forward-looking and hop-to-it nature?
They Both Have Downsides
|Anxiety||Precrastination causes anxiety. If there is something that needs to be done, precrastinators can’t rest until it’s done, and there is always more to be done, so rest is elusive.||Procrastination causes anxiety“the act of needlessly delaying tasks to thepoint of experiencing subjective discomfort.”: Solomon, L. J., & Rothblum, E. D. (1984). Academic procrastination: Frequency and … See more. By delaying or avoiding things now, procrastinators often feel a sense of anxiety or panic as the things to do pile up and the time available to do them decreases.|
|Falling Short of Potential||Precrastinators may fall short of their potential by getting things done efficiently more than effectively, not giving themselves adequate space to reflect, refine, and improve.||Procrastinators may fall short of their potential by not giving themselves enough time to complete things as well as they can.|
|Difficulty with Prioritization||For precrastinators, everything is urgent and important, so even low-priority or unimportant initiatives may be taken care of first.||For procrastinators, by delaying things until the last minute, the highest priority and most important initiatives may not get the attention they deserve.|
They Also Have Strengths
Precrastinators are responsible and efficient, and they can be counted on to get a lot done and follow through on their commitments.
Procrastinators are often creative. By not rushing to start on something, their minds have time to wander. They may work well under pressure.
The Influence of Your Future Selves
Prospectionhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospection is the ability to imagine and evaluate possible future selves. It enables us to plan our future actions and anticipate what might happen to us based on our present decisions.
As you can guess, the concept of prospection is central to understanding how we precrastinate or procrastinate. Depending on how we imagine our future selves to be, or what we think our future selves will do, we will act accordingly.
In a studyO’Donoghue, Ted, and Matthew Rabin. 1999. “Doing It Now or Later.” American Economic Review, 89 (1): 103-124. https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.89.1.103 on precrastination (which they called preproperation) and procrastination, researchers found that people can rationally predict how they will act in the future. When there is a task to be completed, they can figure out what their future selves are likely to do (precrastinate or procrastinate) and adjust their actions accordingly.
In an example using a four-period model, in which someone knows they need to get something done,
- They know that the task should be completed in period 4;
- They imagine they will procrastinate in period 3;
- Abstracting backwards, they figure out that the risk of procrastinating too much will be risky to completing it in period 4, so they start working in period 2;
- Meaning they also figure out that they can procrastinate a little in period 1.
This is a simple (and funny!) illustration of how we’re able to foresee how we’ll act, and calibrate our actions accordingly.
Know Where You’re Going
When we zoom out, the missing link becomes clear. It’s not just about making progress, taking action — but being clear about how to take action in a way that drives us towards our actual goals in various aspects of life (work, education, health, relationships, etc.).
Above, we talked about prospection, the ability to generate and evaluate your possible future selves. The point is that you are able to reflect and choose what you want to do next.
Both of these point to the fact that we need to be clear about what we want to achieve, in order to take the right action today.
Let’s use the ubiquitous Eisenhower Matrix as an illustration. (We discuss this in detail in relation to our To-Do Matrix, which you can copy and use for yourself!)
Both precrastinators and procrastinators tend to work on “unimportant” tasks when we don’t manage our tendencies consciously. (“Unimportant” in this matrix points to things that may or may not get you to your desired big-picture outcomes.)
- Precrastinators focus on unimportant/urgent items to feel like they made good progress.
- Procrastinators focus on unimportant/non-urgent items in a bid to delay work.
The similarity here is the focus on unimportant items going first.
The fact is, what’s important to us requires deliberate thought and prioritization. It’s not as easy to do these things, and since they usually take a longer time to manifest, they’re far from being able to scratch the “instant gratification” itch that most of us feel, especially if we are feeling anxious.
Therefore, the question becomes:
“How do we recognize important (and urgent or non-urgent) things that we need to do now for our long-term well-being?”
Precrastination vs. Procrastination: Illustrated
To illustrate how this all comes together, let’s explore the multiple facets of the precrastinatory and procrastinatory states:
Precrastinators (Present Self)
Mindset: “Do it now, not later”
Action: Do everything that I can now
Motivation: Let my future self relax
Anxiety: Not getting things done quick enough
Precrastinators (Future Self)
Outcome: One less thing to do, but…
Mental State: Endless loop of stress = burnout
Challenges: Didn’t think things through enough, got it done for the sake of it
Future Self: Never gets to actually benefit; already moved on to the next thing to precrastinate on
Procrastinators (Present Self)
Mindset: “Do it later, not now”
Action: Delay things as long as possible
Motivation: Leave my future self to handle it
Anxiety: Pressure at the back of my mind
Procrastinators (Future Self)
Outcome: Rushing everything at the last minute
Mental State: Self-reproach, helplessness
Challenges: Could have done a better job with more time; less stress if done earlier
Future Self: Always trying to make up for the things that “previous selves” are dumping on the “mythical future self” that will do everything
If precrastinators watch out for their future selves at the expense of their present selves, while procrastinators defer things for later, leaving them to be handled by their future selves, what is the balance we should look to strike?
Are you preinclined? Take our quiz to find out!
Achieving Preinclined Outcomes
To further elucidate how we may find the right balance, we turn to our Preinclined Future Burden x Present Effort (F x P) curve. (You may recognize it as a Supply and Demand curve!)
- You can either precrastinate or procrastinate on a task or goal:
- Depending on how immediately you take action,
- The “burden” of getting a task done shifts between your future and present self.
- The more you precrastinate, the higher your present effort; the more you procrastinate, the higher the burden on your future self.
Examples Based on the Future Burden x Present Effort graph
Scenario 1: You precrastinate (but not profoundly precrastinate) on something.
- You take more immediate action;
- Your future burden reduces;
- Your present effort increases.
Scenario 2: You procrastinate (but not profoundly procrastinate) on something.
- You delay immediate action;
- Your future burden increases;
- Your present effort reduces.
You can imagine more extreme scenarios where a Profound Precrastinator always takes immediate action with extreme present effort, and goes in a constant cycle of never taking a break. Conversely, you may see a Profound Procrastinator who always delays action and leaves their future self to deal with the things they guiltily put off.
Above, we discussed the perils of precrastinating and procrastinating too much. On the one hand, you are in a spiral of anxiety about reducing your mental load quickly (precrastinating). On the other, you rinse and repeat the experience of anxiously putting things off until you can no longer do so, and then anxiously rushing them until the last possible minute (procrastinating).
Neither of these approaches are ideal for your well-being. Therefore, we want to find an equilibrium between future burden and present effort.
Doing so will reduce our anxiety, improve clarity and motivation, and hopefully lead you to the best outcomes in the long run.
How to Become Preinclined
Now we understand why we need to be preinclined, we can start exploring tools to help us with this goal. Below, we share a few tools to help you start framing and managing your precrastinatory and procrastinatory habits.
Each day we’re presented with a long list of responsibilities. Precrastinators tend to find motivation in accomplishing things, and can thrive on a long to-do list. Procrastinators, on the flip side, may feel anxious when tasks are piling up, further compounding the issue as time seems to slip away.
Here’s our framework for handling day-to-day tasks.
Big Picture Goals – The 4 P’s
For bigger picture things, such as goals, being mindful of our preinclinations is a critical part of achieving success. This framework is intended to help you focus on your own unique approaches to accomplishing the outcomes you desire across work, relationships, health, and other important areas.
Here are our four steps to evaluating and achieving a goal.
We’re for Precrastinators and Procrastinators — and Perhapstinators, Too!
We’ve started this site to understand how precrastination and procrastination influence our lives and how we can maximize their benefits while avoiding their downsides.
Whether you consider yourself a precrastinator, procrastinator, or perhapstinator (take our quiz to find out!), we hope you’ll find a home here. We’re confident we can learn from each other.
Where to Go Next
We’ve developed three worksheets to get you into a good planning (and implementing) groove:
We Want Your Feedback!
The frameworks we’ve written about here, and the worksheets we’ve developed, are works in progress. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that we don’t have it all figured out. We’ve put these ideas out in the world because we believe getting started is important. We hope you’ll give them a go, then write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback. Find something that works super well for you? Have tips for improvement? Think we should scrap something and start over? We want to hear it! 💌
|⇑1||Rosenbaum, D. A., Gong, L., & Potts, C. A. (2014). Pre-Crastination: Hastening Subgoal Completion at the Expense of Extra Physical Effort. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1487–1496. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614532657|
|⇑2||“the act of needlessly delaying tasks to the|
point of experiencing subjective discomfort.”: Solomon, L. J., & Rothblum, E. D. (1984). Academic procrastination: Frequency and cognitive-behavioral correlates. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 31(4), 503–509. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0220.127.116.113
|⇑4||O’Donoghue, Ted, and Matthew Rabin. 1999. “Doing It Now or Later.” American Economic Review, 89 (1): 103-124. https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.89.1.103|