My wife doesn't allow me to check email on Saturdays. Now, before you start thinking my wife is some overbearing, control-freak spouse, let me explain how we got to this point.
Some time ago, I was under the impression that everyone read work-related email on the weekends. And so, I would open my email on a Saturday or Sunday and boom — there it was — an email bomb.
I refer to these as "e-bombs." These are work-related bombs because, once they go off, there's really nothing to be done about them. Better to just leave them until you’re better equipped (on Monday morning) to diffuse them.
You know, Monday morning? When everyone else is returning to work after a relaxing, re-energizing weekend?
I'm happy to say that, on most weekends, the Saturday rule bleeds into Sundays. Sure, I still work on the weekends, but I'm free to work on my projects, on my timetable.
Email and social media create a sense of panic for many people, a sense that "if we don't fix it now, it will never work again!"
And now, diffusing the e-bomb in the moment has a new name: precrastination.
Think of the exact opposite of procrastination. Some of my students understand this term well. Procrastination is the art of putting things off until the very last minute. Procrastinators are deadline-driven people (for example, most journalists are procrastinators).
Precrastination, according to Dr. David Rosenbaum and his colleagues at Penn State University, is the tendency to complete, or at least start, tasks immediately so as to avoid brain overload.
In a recent Psychological Science article, Rosenbaum's group found evidence to suggest people will rush to complete goals, "even at the expense of extra physical effort."
They argue that we have a strong desire to reduce "working memory loads." Basically, we want to complete tasks quickly because we don't want to think about them any longer than we have to.
"It's a constant struggle," said Dr. Joanne Cantor, an internationally recognized expert on the psychology of media and communication.
"It seems to me that precrastination for one thing is often procrastination for another," Cantor noted. "Answering that new email is often easier than getting into the difficult, longer-term project you promised yourself you'd do. But the correct choice really depends on the situation."
Side note: Cantor didn't immediately respond to my email. She was working on another project at the time. Clearly she’s not a precrastinator.
For me, diffusing the e-bombs on the weekend was problematic because, well, no one else was checking email. So, instead, the bomb kept ticking. Precrastination was easy for me during the workweek, but a stress-inducer on the weekends.
"Try to insulate yourself from email while working on something difficult, so you can really focus your attention, even for short periods of time," Cantor said. "If you allow yourself to look at each message as it comes in, you're handicapping your ability to focus, contemplate, integrate and reason."
Learn more on Cantor’s website at http://yourmindonmedia.com.
~ A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, November 2, 2014 issue of The Vindicator.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.