Unlike procrastinators, who put off doing things, precrastinators simply can’t wait to get started. But does being a kan cheong spider work against you? LI YULING finds out.

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Unlike procrastinators, who put off doing things, precrastinators simply can’t wait to get started. But does being a kan cheong spider work against you? LI YULING finds out.

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Do you reply to e-mails as soon as you can, sometimes regretting after you’ve hit the send button? Do you stock up on groceries all at once, instead of splitting the load over two trips? If you do, you’re a precrastinator, says Professor David Rosenbaum, psychologist at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). Precrastination – this term was first coined by Prof Rosenbaum and his colleagues at PSU in 2014 – is the inclination to complete tasks quickly for the sake of getting them done. If this sounds a lot like you, you’re far from being alone. In a 2014 study that revolves around a series of nine experiments involving more than 250 students, Prof Rosenbaum and colleagues Lanyun Gong and Cory Potts asked participants to choose between two loaded buckets and carry the chosen one towards an end point. In most of the trials, one bucket was placed near the starting point and the other, near the end point. Surprisingly, most participants picked the bucket that was nearer to the starting point (and to them), and spent more energy carrying it over a longer distance. When asked about this seemingly irrational choice, nearly all said: “I wanted to get the task done as soon as I could.”


The researchers think there may have been some psychological advantage to selecting the closer bucket. “We hypothesise that participants [did this] to more quickly eliminate one goal from working memory, which was selecting one of two buckets,” says Cory. What Cory and his co-authors concluded from their study was that “holding a goal in mind loads [the] working memory, and if there is a way to reduce [that load], people will do so. The urge to reduce [it] may be so great that people are willing to expend extra physical effort.” Think of the working memory as the random-access memory (RAM) in a computer or a to-do list, says Ernest Tan, psychologist at Community Psychology Hub, a Singapore-based non-profit organisation. Precrastination can serve to clear up mental clutter. This appears to be the case for 20-year-old undergraduate Lee Ying Ying. “The longer I delay doing something, the more uneasy I’ll feel,” she says. “Having something at the back of my mind irritates me a lot. I prefer completing tasks the moment I get them.” There’s also the feel-good factor of completing a task earlier – think of the satisfaction you get when you strike items off your to-do list.


The drawback is that being too anxious to complete tasks can result in mistakes, and cost you precious time and effort. Self-professed kan cheong spider Oleania Chen once started on a project nearly a month in advance. However, because the project’s scope and objectives changed along the way, her efforts ended up being for nothing. “It is easy to account for myself, but if [doing unnecessary work ends] up wasting my colleagues’ time and energy, it will affect the team’s morale in the long run,” says the 33-year-old program manager, who adds that she has since learnt the importance of reprioritising regularly, especially for projects that involve collaborations and shifting deadlines.


People who tend to precrastinate may do so for reasons other than satisfaction, says Ernest. “Those with higher levels of anxiety and impulsivity will rush into things without a plan.” Interestingly, although precrastination seems to be the opposite of procrastination, there are similarities between people with either tendency. Ernest says that both precrastinators and procrastinators may exhibit higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of executive control, which refers to higher-order thinking processes such as behavioural inhibition and regulation, planning and organisational skills, and emotional control. It is also possible for a procrastinator to precrastinate, and vice versa. In the Scientific American magazine, Prof Rosenbaum points out that in procrastinators, precrastination could make matters worse. “Not only must procrastinators start sooner to begin tasks they’d rather defer, they must also inhibit the urge to complete small, trivial tasks that bring immediate rewards just for being completed.” What a fix.


If you identify as a precrastinator and realise it’s not always constructive, train yourself to resist the urge to dive into things head  first. “A good strategy is to start work not too long after receiving a task and work out a plan. Procrastination increases anxiety, which breeds more anxiety, and in the long run, your well-being and performance will be affected. Be fiexible enough to alter the plan and try alternatives,” advises Ernest. That’s something Oleania now does; she takes a step back to assess her assignments before leaping into action. “If [the chances of a huge change happening in future is unlikely], I’ll start making a plan, focusing on the high-level objectives and strategy. I like the clarity of having an overview, and knowing where to tweak, once I get more details,” she says.


Still, Cory believes that, more often than not, precrastination is helpful. “Finishing tasks early could earn you a reputation as a conscientious person. You’re also less likely to miss a deadline,” he says. That said, if it is affecting the quality of your work, take a leaf from the procrastinator’s handbook: slow down.


These tips from psychologist Ernest Tan will help you control your inner Miss Kiasu.

1. Stay in the present. When you focus too much on the future, you may become preoccupied with avoiding negative consequences – such as having your workload pile up – and make hasty decisions. Being present in the now forces you to enjoy the process of performing a task as much as its outcome.

2. Avoid trying to manage impressions. Do you hurry to do work so your colleagues won’t think of you as a “lazy” person? If you do, it’s time to be more self-aware. Assess your own strengths and weaknesses by asking questions such as “What can I complete with minimal effort?” and “What would take me more time?” This will help you set boundaries, and will let you recognise instances when your boss is overloading you.

3. Be assertive. Sometimes, the reason you have a hundred things on your to-do list is because you can’t say no. Do not take on tasks that are beyond your limits, and avoid making decisions under pressure by asking for time to consider.

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