Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I am so in that place where I have a million things pressing on me to do, and I can’t seem to get up the gumption to deal with any of them. To be honest, I’ll be shocked if I even finish this post. It will probably end up in the trash, like every single other thing I have tried to start this week. This is especially annoying since I am a master of motivation, list-making and pre-planning.

The best things in life are impossible to Pre-do.
Photo: Chad Fisk

The VP of my department, who is both charming and inspiring, by the way, hates the prefix “pre”. “You can’t ‘pre-plan’ something!” She says, “If you’re ‘pre-planning’ you’re already just actual planning, aren’t you??”.  Linguistically, I’ve always been on her side.  However, I don’t think I’ve event noticed the “real life” application until now, because I’ve always been a secret “pre-doer”.
So what, you may be asking, is “pre-doing”? And what are the pros and cons? Well, I’ll tell you. Hopefully. Unless my inability to pre-write this post leaves me trashing it like all 6 others I started this week.

Pre-doing is a wild combination of list-making, convoluted email writing, spreadsheet designing, researching and worrying that control-freaks use to coordinate their lives. Most of these tasks are extremely time consuming, but they don’t really accomplish anything. They just lay out the parameters, and bleed your energy reserves for the actual project. A great example of “pre-doing” is the massive (read: over 2,000 words) email that I sent to the Grige that neatly bullet pointed everything that was bothering me about the wedding. He didn’t read it. We never looked at it for reference later. I just wasted an unfathomable amount of time on it before taking an actual step to correct the problems (i.e., talking to the individuals involved).

Photo: Jeanine Finch

Don’t get me wrong, lists, emails, spreadsheets and research are all important aspects of planning. What characterizes pre-doing and separates it from planning is the fact that it’s completely un-necessary. An example of something that is not pre-doing is the carefully scheduled, moment-by-moment spreadsheet detailing what needs to happen on our wedding day, when it needs to happen, and who needs to be making it happen. That is a useful tool that lots of people will actually use, and it was definitely worth my time.

The cons of pre-doing start with the obvious: If you’re doing something that can be defined as “un-necessary”, you are wasting your time and should stop. Any time spent pre-doing is time that you could spend tackling actual issues. You don’t need to carefully outline most of them first – you do not need to spend 20 minutes on talking points to have a five minute conversation with your cousin about flowers. The worrying aspect of pre-doing is also treacherous. I have actually worried myself to the point of physical illness pretty regularly since hitting adult-hood. It is not attractive, and again – it does not actually fix anything. Finally, pre-doing eliminates your ability to make good, spontaneous choices. If you’re in the habit of excessive research, you’ll miss your opportunity to buy those perfect table settings on sale. Or more seriously, you’ll miss a chance at your dream job because you were paralyzed with fright and uncertainty.
You’re probably wondering how there could possibly be “pros” to pre-doing. As I mentioned, pre-doing is deep in the territory of control freaks. I hate to toot my own horn here, but we worrying control freaks tend to be timely, dependable perfectionists who live in immaculate apartments and produce great work under pressure. We will worry our little hearts out in the process, and we may do twice the amount of work for the same product as someone who doesn’t pre-do, but you can almost guarantee a good final product. Also, pre-doing tends to make you excellent at delegating. When you map out every second of your life before executing it, you become acutely aware of every tiny project on the horizon. If you have people to delegate to, they will love working with you and there will never be any surprises. If you don’t have anyone to delegate to, you will swiftly become overwhelmed and commence the worrying and pre-doing cycle again.
Photo: Jeanine Finch
Don't Pre-do, just JUMP IN!
I am trying to spend less of my life pre-doing. I have three giant projects on my plate, all three of which will be promptly followed by life events that on every psychologist’s “in the last year, have you…” checklist for depression and anxiety. I do not have time to pre-do anymore. I only have time to ACTUALLY DO. There will be no detailed email that no one will ever read about which movers we should research. There will be no marriage preparation checklist to prepare me for something I’ve known I want to do since I met the Grige on the metro 3 years ago. There will be no hand-drawn-to-scale seating chart for the stupid work event that I’m planning that everyone will ignore.
Unfortunately, I am having a hard time getting along without my pre-doing habits (though actually finishing this post would be a start). I feel a little lost and a lot frustrated. These projects are big, and they won’t start themselves. Without the crutch of throwing myself in to a spreadsheet to ease my transition, I’m not quite sure how to start. Has anyone else out there ever tried to drastically revise your work process? How did it go? Let me know and I’ll probably make a chart of your responses to follow over the next few months :-)


  1. Maybe I'm going in the totally wrong direction with this, but I often get bogged down in the preparing to prepare, or the preparing to prepare to prepare. As an alternative to all this pre-planning, I like to visual things. I'm pretty sure this is a sports based technique, I know i started doing to prep for races. I sit down with the course map 1-2 days before the race and visualize myself going through the race, every step. I "see" each mile-marker, envision myself taking water at the water stops, picture the numbers I want to see on mywatch at each split, mentally walk (run!) myself through the tricky parts of the course like hills or mile 25. It's relazing and makes me feel ready when there is nothing left to do.

    I've started doing this for difficult things at work. Walking myself through each step of a process. Going through the to-do list. Imagining myself talking through pieces with attorneys or co-workers, etc. It gives me a sense of readiness and helps me get to actually accomplishing the concrete steps.

    Also have you read Re-Work? You should get a copy ASAP.

  2. i never heard of the term pre-do before but "We will worry our little hearts out in the process, and we may do twice the amount of work for the same product as someone who doesn’t pre-do, but you can almost guarantee a good final product." --> that's me too!
    i always WANT to pre-plan, but i don't always have time to do it...but when i don't, i don't feel like i'm being true to myself.