How I’m Dealing With My Anxious Need To Finish Work Right Away

Mindfulness is key to unprogramming precrastination anxiety

Emily PG Erickson

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An open MacBook and notebook sit on a wood desk next to a cup of coffee, indicating unfinished work. The chair behind them is empty.
Photo by Rachel Moenning on Unsplash

This month I increased my freelance workload to levels it hadn’t hit since my third son was born last year. I’m working with new editors and new publications. I’m learning new systems. I’m unlearning something too.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve used the discomfort of a job unfinished as a cue to work. That’s why when I scrolled past a social media post referring to precrastination — the also dysfunctional twin of procrastination — the term clicked on a gut level. I tend to do assigned work as fast and as thoroughly as possible in a fit of anxious achievement. The rest of my life be damned when there’s work to be done.

This has functioned well for the bosses and teachers who’ve assigned me tasks. After all, they have a productive worker they can count on. In some ways, it’s functioned well for me, too, since I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.

But there are ways in which precrastination has been less functional. Anxiety is a painful guide, and obedience to it has hurt my mental health. What’s more, focus on work has sometimes come at the expense of being present in my life. Personal time can be sucked into the vortex of work without my intending it. This cost is more dear to me now that I have children.

Of course, sometimes whole afternoons and evenings do need to be sacrificed at the altar of work. My writing practice has largely come out of moments wrestled back from family life. I’m glad for claiming those moments. But what bothers me is when I do not intend to be working on a project and then, somehow, I am. And I’m not really there when my family is all around me. So this correction is really about intention. I am trying to work when I mean to and not work when I don’t — even when I feel that anxious pull.

The practice, like many sage ones, is simple but not easy. It goes like this: I pay attention.

Here’s what that’s like. I notice when I feel anxious about unfinished work outside of scheduled work time. When I feel that pressure in my chest and that cramping in my belly. I name it for myself. “Oh. There it is. Anxiety about work.” And then I don’t do…

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Emily PG Erickson

Former mental health researcher sharing insights about psychology and parenting. www.emilypgerickson.com