Yes, you read that correctly. I'm not talking about procrastination, something at which many of us excel. I'm speaking about a different type of behavior described in a new study by Penn St. scholars David Rosenbaum, Lanyun Gong, and Cory Adam Potts. The New York Times reported on their research this weekend. These scholars define pre-crastination as "the hastening of subgoal completion, even at the expense of extra physical effort." What might that look like? Well, you may be working from home on an important project, perhaps to write a complex report about some research you have been doing for work. However, before sitting down to tackle this challenging project, you scratch a few other smaller items off of your to-do list, such as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, etc.
Why do people tackle these smaller items first? According to the article, "People are seeking ways to limit the burden to their 'working memory,' a critical but highly limited mental resource that people use to perform immediate tasks... In essence, they were freeing their brains to focus on other potential tasks." That sounds like a good strategy, right? Well, by now, you can see the risks with this to-do list strategy to limit the burden on our working memory. As Alan Pastel of UCLA notes in the article, "“People who are checking things off the list all the time might look like they’re getting stuff done, but they’re not getting the big stuff done.” Yes, I've definitely fall into that trap.