A Study About “Pre-crastination”—as Bad as Procrastination?

A blog about business and economics.
June 4 2014 11:20 AM

Procrastination Is Bad, but “Pre-crastination” Is Too

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Do it now, or do it later?

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

This story originally appeared on Inc.

It would seem counterintuitive that the habit of attacking projects and to-do lists without a moment's hesitation is anything but ultra-productive.

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Yet some researchers think that sometimes doing the opposite of procrastinating—or pre-crastinating—could cost you time and energy, too.

Psychologists from Pennsylvania State University recently conducted a series of experiments, which subtly gave participants the option of physically exerting themselves for either a long amount of time, or a shorter amount of time. 

Penn State psychology professor David Rosenbaum and his colleagues had college student participants complete the task of carrying a heavy bucket full of pennies down an alleyway. Rosenbaum marked a finish line at one end, and the students stood at the other. They were told to pick up just one bucket on the way to the finish line—either one that was closer to them, and farther from the finish line, or one that was farther from them and closer to the finish line. 

The researchers simply told the students to do whatever they felt was easier. Surprisingly, an overwhelming amount participants picked up the bucket that was closer to them and carried it down the alley, according to the Association for Psychological Science. As a result, they carted the heavy load for much longer than they would have if they had chosen the other bucket. 

When Rosenbaum asked the students why they chose the bucket they did, a common response was that they “wanted to get the task done as soon as they could.”

"By picking up the near bucket, they could check that task off their mental to-do lists more quickly than if they picked up the far bucket," Rosenbaum said. "Their desire to lighten their mental load was so strong that they were willing to expend quite a bit of extra physical effort to do so."

So can the world be divided into two categories—those who pre-crastinate and those who procrastinate? Well, Rosenbaum and his colleagues think it's more likely that there's a relationship between the two tendencies. They plan to examine that link in future experiments. 

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc.

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