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Do You Suffer from "Precrastination"?

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Here's the scene: You have a big event coming up and need a new dress. You rush to your favorite store, grab the first dress you think is your size and buy it, skipping the dressing room (trying stuff on is a huge pain, right?). Then you get home only to discover that the dress doesn't quite fit—and you don't have any shoes to go with it.

Sound familiar? You might be a precrastinator.

Procrastination is a known productivity killer and super stressful. (Anyone who's ever waited until the last minute to finish a presentation or buy holiday gifts knows this well.) People often say the cure for procrastinating is to do something—anything!—rather than nothing. But a recent study published in Psychological Science found that doing the easiest thing at hand often leads to more work in the long run. Psychologists call this tendency to want to get things over as quickly as possible "precrastination," or "the tendency to complete, or at least begin, tasks as soon as possible, even at the expense of extra physical effort."

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Researchers at Penn State discovered this by telling a group of college students to pick up a heavy bucket and carry it to the end of an alley. One bucket was placed closer to the start line (and the students) while a second bucket was placed several feet in front of them, closer to the finish line. Invariably, most of the students chose to pick up the closest bucket even though it meant they had to carry it farther in the end.

"Apparently, hastening completion of the subgoal of grabbing a bucket made completion of the main goal seem closer at hand," the researchers explained, adding that getting an unpleasant task over with faster lessened the feelings of dread the students felt. The students agreed saying they just wanted to get it done.

While precrastinating might not be a problem when it comes to carrying buckets down an alley (although that depends what is in the buckets and who is in the alley—we're pretty sure there's a horror movie somewhere based on that premise), it can have real-life consequences. At work, you may miss important details, making you look sloppy and careless. At home, small projects done wrong the first time will turn into big projects that need to be re-done—or you'll just be irritated every time you look at that crooked picture on your wall that you hung up without measuring. And as for that big date, if you go into it with a "let's just get this over with" attitude chances are that's exactly what you'll get. So take the time to do things right—even when our day-to-day's seem more rushed than ever.

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