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What is the Opposite of Procrastination: Is Precrastination a Bad Thing?

Jan 6, 2023

We're all familiar with the word procrastination, and most people have experienced it as well. Delaying till the last minute to start or complete a task can incite panic, anxiety, and uncertainty. So what is the opposite of procrastination?

While there are many different interpretations of the opposite of procrastination, the direct opposite of the term is called precrastination and it can be just as unhealthy as the former.

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Table of Contents

What is Precrastination?

Precrastination or pre crastination is the act of jumping quickly into action to complete an activity well before it’s due. The term was coined by Rosenbaum in 2014 and is also sometimes referred to as "antecrastination".

An example of precrastination would be rushing to submit an assignment two weeks early instead of letting it sit for a while and reading it through again. Other examples include:

  • Checking notifications on your phone as soon as it's received, even when it's distracting you from important tasks.
  • Rushing to conduct an experiment or build a product without taking time to research or checking the design.
  • Interrupting people mid-conversation to say the first thing that comes to your mind, even if letting them finish first, would be better.
  • Checking and replying to emails first thing in the morning, even if taking time to give a proper, thoughtful response, would be better.
  • Starting the first task at hand without making priorities.
  • Rushing to start a project before gathering the relevant information.

Signs of Precrastination

David A. Rosenbaum, a psychologist, mentions three common traits present among those who precrastinate:

  • Conscientiousness
  • High energy
  • Eagerness to please

Here are the signs of precrastination or being a precrastinator based on some academic research.

Reaching for low hanging fruit

Precrastinators have a tendency to start with the simplest and least difficult tasks to get the feeling of satisfaction of finishing a task. This may result in bigger tasks being left to the last minute (i.e. precrastination can be a sign of procrastination).

Planning Ahead

In 2009, two psychologists from Newcastle University, Daniel Nettle and Jean Adams, studying the relationships among conscientiousness, future time perspective, and health and task related behaviours, found that generally, those who are highly conscientious are more likely to have a future time perspective. Such people are more likely to plan ahead, sometimes into the distant future.

Starting Unpleasant Tasks Early

In relation to starting simpler and easy-to-finish tasks early, precrastination also involves focusing on completing tasks that are unpleasant, evoke negative emotions, and cause memory load. So people rush to complete tasks that are unpleasant to get rid of the unpleasant feeling as quickly as possible.

Psychology of Precrastination: College Students

The term "precrastination" was first coined back in 2014, when psychologist David A. Rosenbaum of the Pennsylvania State University conducted an experiment asking college students to carry one of two buckets to the set finish line.

The buckets were placed at varying distances, so the students either had the option to carry the bucket closest to them or the one placed halfway towards the path or a bucket placed closer to the finish line.

As part of the experiment, Rosenbaum put emphasis on choosing the task that would be easier. However, surprisingly, most college students chose to carry the bucket closer to them rather than choosing the one placed closest to the end goal. This meant they carried the bucket a longer distance than necessary.

The study participants in this experiment prioritised starting a task earlier by choosing the nearer bucket, even though it took more physical effort. In other words, they decided to work hard instead of working smart.

Based on the results of the reports of participants, Rosenbaum et al. (2014) came to the conclusion that this outwardly irrational decision is the tendency to pre crastinate, which they referred to as "the hastening of subgoal completion, even at the expense of extra physical effort."

Rosenbaum and his colleagues also noticed the students who carried the nearby bucket (i.e. longer distance to carry it) were more likely to use their non-dominant hand thus making them use more physical exertion. 

This fascinating discovery made them come to the conclusion that people would rather use physical exertion than put in mental effort when left with a choice. Once the bucket was in their hand they no longer needed to put in the mental effort or think about the task they were assigned in the beginning. They only thought of reaching the goal with the bucket in hand.

A psychology professor at Carleton University, Timothy A Pychyl, mentions in an article that he believes the reason for the precrastination on the bucket task of the students is because it was a low stakes task. He argues that if the task had greater significance (i.e. saving for retirement), they wouldn't precrastinate. Further work in this area may identify nuance to when precrastination applies.

Precrastination has also been observed both in humans and animals in many other experiments. A notable experiment is "Pre crastination the pigeon" by Wasserman and Brzykcy, published in the 2015 Psychonomic bulletin and review, as a follow-up of Rosenbaum's experiment of carrying buckets.

In the experiment, Wasserman and Brzykcy created food-choice tasks with two simple alternatives for the pigeons. The pigeons could decide to switch between a sooner or later response location in a sequence of actions that resulted in a food reward.

However, despite having no economic advantage or extra reward for doing so, the pigeons would switch to pecking the green light instead of following the sequence, resulting in missing food reward multiple times, which shows precrastination to be more general. Wasserman and Brzykcy concluded by saying "pre crastination thus joins other anticipatory learning phenomena in challenging rational or optimal accounts of behavioural adaptation."

From an evolutionary perspective, such tendencies among humans and animals could have been beneficial, such as taking action immediately to help ensure access to any potentially scarce resources. Finally, the evolutionary ancestors of humans and pigeons went a separate way over 300 million years ago, which might represent a long-shared behavioural disposition between the two species.

Why Do People Precrastinate?

In "Pre Crastination: Hastening Subgoal Completion at the Expense of Extra Physical Effort," published in 2014, Rosenbaum and his co-authors Gong and Potts speculated the reasons for people precrastinating based on the far bucket and near bucket experiment. Here’s what they said:

1. Cognitive Load Reduction

When faced with a new task or activity, it can occupy a person’s mind till it gets done. Thinking about deadlines and tasks can create a cognitive load on the working memory, which can be reduced by starting the task early.

Additionally, assessing situations to understand the optimal time to start can also incur a mental cost. Because of this, it can be more efficient and easier to just start the task early by default from a cognitive perspective. So people who precrastinate believe it’s best to do a task as soon as possible and relieve themselves of the load. Rosenbaum et al. (2014) describe it as "the desire to reduce working memory loads."

2. The rewarding feeling

Some precrastinators may find it rewarding to complete a task. So they strive to finish it quickly as a form of reward, such as the feeling of checking tasks off a to-do list. Getting a task done as soon as possible drives the productivity surge of every precrastinator.

3. Fear of procrastination

The fear of procrastinating and not being able to meet deadlines can be a concrete reason for turning people into precrastinators. The irony is that sometimes procrastination can be a better strategy because sometimes tasks get cancelled at the last minute.

4. Lack of Awareness

Sometimes precrastination doesn't come in the form of negative emotions. Instead the constant state of busy-ness can mask negative emotions. This can be appealing to people psychologically, making it difficult to recognize the issue.

How Can Precrastination Be Harmful?

While it may seem that precrastination is better than procrastination, it can actually be just as harmful as the latter. 

For instance, in most cases, precrastinators generally focus on finishing the task rather than putting effort and time into the work. So, they have a tendency to find shortcuts, which increase the chances of mistakes, poor decisions, and a drop in performance. An example would be paying your bills right as it arrives and failing to collect interest income or submitting an assignment two weeks early instead of leaving time to review it before submission.

On top of having the rush of finishing the task, the mistakes take extra effort from your day, which is without considering your stress levels and how motivated you are feeling that day. Mistakes can also affect your mental and emotional state as you beat yourself up over them. 

It could also be the cause of wasted resources and time as a result of premature optimization. It essentially means putting work into improving something when it is too early to do so. Sometimes external forces mean that tasks become irrelevant. If you’ve already completed the work and then the project got cancelled, it was wasted effort. Waiting until the “last responsible moment” can be a better way to go.

Even if the task is necessary to do, starting it before you have gathered all the necessary resources and information can lead to doing unnecessary and irrelevant work. Precrastinators, with their impulsiveness, tend to not have their priorities planned which can lead to added stress and anxiety in your life.

Precrastination can also be the result of having underlying anxiety. It can be a way to distract yourself from unpleasant feelings or use it to feel better about yourself. But since we are not confronting the reason for the anxiety, it may build up until it impacts your life negatively and turns into a serious problem.

How can Precrastination be Beneficial?

Even if precrastination can lead to negative outcomes it also has some benefits, such as having a reasonable way for trading specific resources for others. For example, if you want to complete tasks early, it will require extra effort, but it will also save you from the need to think about it and free mental resources.

Moreover, precrastination can also provide some emotional benefits by providing a sense of satisfaction. But it can be easily outweighed in the long run through reduced life satisfaction due to not having much leisure time.

8 Ways to Overcome Precrastination

So you are now aware of the bad effects and counteractive benefits of precrastination. Here are the best ways to stop precrastinating:

  1. Start prioritising your tasks: Being aware of your priorities is a good start for tackling precrastination. List out all of your tasks, categorise them according to how important they are and when they need to be done, and decide on the optimal time to start working on each of them. No matter how rewarding it can feel to start that small task on your list, remind yourself of the physical and cognitive load it can bring in the long run.
  2. Being aware when you are precrastinating: Realising when you are precrastinating is the first step to overcoming it. Once you are aware of precrastination, you can take matters into your own hands. Let yourself take a couple of minutes to understand the task and form a plan. Once you are done, set a timer and focus on completing the task. Focus Bear’s focus mode feature can help with that.
  3. Consider spending more time: Rather than rushing to finish the work, gather extra information and seek feedback from other people to improve the quality of your work. For example, rather than scribbling an essay incoherently during an exam in an attempt to get out of there ASAP, it is much more effective and rewarding to gather information, plan, and write, being aware of each section of the essay.
  4. Breaking bigger tasks into increments: Precrastinating on bigger tasks can be a disaster waiting to happen. It will not only take a lot of energy but also is more prone to mistakes, which requires even more energy and willpower. The best course of action is to divide the task into smaller increments and tackle them individually. Focus Bear’s pomodoro mode feature can help you with this by dividing your work day into smaller blocks with breaks in between.
  5. Schedule time for rest and leisure: Perhaps you are procrastinating on fun activities in order to precrastinate on work or study. Putting time for sleep, socialising, and relaxation in your calendar will help you have a balanced approach to prioritisation.
  6. Identify your natural cycles: Try noticing your natural cycles of finishing or starting a task, such as when you are most productive, when you tend to rush making decisions, etc. Let's say you tend to rush making decisions late at night because you’re unfocused and tired. In this case, you can choose to postpone making decisions until the next day.
  7. Make preparations for future contingencies: Prepare for future events by writing them down in a planner beforehand. For instance, if you tend to start school assignments too early, you can look into your planner and take time to decide if it will be better for you to start later.
  8. Establish self-efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to a person's belief in their ability to perform the proper actions necessary for achieving their goals. Having the confidence that you will be able to finish the tasks and reach your goal can help you tackle precrastination. In this case, self-efficacy can help in reducing your fear of not completing tasks on time and having the urge to start early. To develop and establish self-efficacy in yourself, try identifying the strategies you can use to meet your goals and believe in your ability to successfully execute those strategies.


Precrastination and procrastination both come from one place: people's desire to find shortcuts for productivity and efficiency. But it's the difference between getting a boost of productivity due to the pressure of deadlines at the last minute and the instant gratification of starting early.

However, in both cases, strategic and careful planning can help in keeping your life and tasks organised. And when it comes to precrastination, according to Rosenbaum, "It should be agreed in our society that it's okay to smell the flowers. To be deliberate, mindful, and to be allowed to slow down." 

If you want help with making consistent progress on your projects as well as boundaries to stop yourself working (or precrastinating) late into the evening, Focus Bear can help.

Jan 6, 2023

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