Do you get anxious or stressed about things before they become problems? Do you feel overwhelmed about what to do when you have a moment of free time? If this is you, I’d like to share something called pre-work that might help.

I define pre-work as the process of channeling your fear, stress, and anxiety away from something that hasn’t happened yet or that you want to do and into solving that problem in the present before it does. Then, you set that shit aside and think about more important stuff.

Pre-work is also meant for the fun stuff you’d rather spend your free time doing such as creative projects, sports, travel, or anything else joyful you want more of in your life. By setting up organizational systems, you’re doing the pre-work that enables you to jump right into something when you have free time rather than twiddling your thumbs or scrolling social media when you’re bored.

If you’re successful, pre-work prevents you from making an irrational decision when the shit hits the fan and from feeling overwhelmed by all of the other things you want/need to do in your busy life.

While pre-work is just a catchy word for being proactive, it’s meant to help you act quickly and gracefully during high-stress moments. Unfortunately, it won’t prevent them. This article will highlight a few examples to help you get started.

Do the pre-work

Instead of trying to add a pre-work exercise into your already busy schedule, do it during the free time you currently have. While I wouldn’t encourage it, you might even multi-task while watching Netflix or some other meaningless thing.

Start small in the beginning. The purpose of pre-work is to help those crazy mental loops we get worrying about what could happen or will happen. You might find that just planning something on your list completely in a way there’s a clear action plan may be all you need to feel less anxious. Then, accept your great work and put that shit aside. You have a life to live in the present.

for dreaming big

Have you ever thought about that imaginary financial number you “need” to live comfortably or achieve the lifestyle you truly want? Pull up an investment calculator, determine your number for financial freedom, what are you working towards, how much money do you need to be financially independent, what’s your budget look like, set up an automated system, could you take a big pay cut and still live wonderfully, could you make ends meet if you freelanced, traveled in an RV? Or what could you do instead if you bought less house, bought less car, tightened up over here, and loosened up over there?

Pre-work all things financial in a way that factors in your expenses and take-home pay. This is your chance to dream big and inspire yourself into action. What are the things that contribute to your best life? Figuring this out now helps you make decisions that align with your values when life throws you curveballs.

For fun stuff

Always wanted to do something fun/creative/productive but end up watching Netflix during this free time? Work a little bit one-weekend identifying fun shit you want to do, pull articles about it, line up books you might read, categorize them, make a folder on your desktop or bookshelf, create a binder with information on it, write your initial thoughts on it, start a blog post and stop. Make these things easy to pick up and run with when you’re debating what to do rather than doing all of this at the moment which burns your creative energy and free time.

Don’t have enough money to travel? Good. Channel your anxiety or FOMO towards planning trips to where you’ve always wanted to go by finding times when they are the cheapest, when you might fly out, how you might make room in your budget, time it in your life, planning the stuff you want to do on the trip, price out camping vs. hotel vs. Airbnb, vacation time, what you might do with the dog, find easy weekend trips, etc. You now have a book to reference when these last-minute things come up or you get a free weekend.

for shit that might go wrong

Is your car’s transmission starting to act up like mine? Before it breaks down, call different mechanics to get price quotes, google around for trustworthy shops to do the repair, find out who you would call in case of towing, what will you need to do to adjust your schedule to accommodate this, what’s the trade-in value, is there another car on craigslist you might want, is it worth the repair, etc.

Knowing these details ahead of time enables you to better handle this situation with grace when it happens and helps to avoid an irrational decision during a moment of weakness. Once you’re done, give yourself permission to set aside the old mental loop. The same logic applies to anything that is starting to make you anxious.

For your living situation

Where do you want to live? Your lease is up in June, but it still might be a bit early to look in March or April. However, you might start to price out stuff, estimate your budget in the future, move out of state, find a desirable area, drive around that area, simulate a commute to work, do you know the routes and time the errands you would run take, is there a park nearby, is your job nearby, could you carpool, bike, walk, etc. Do this before you run out of time and pick a place you’re not stoked about.

Buy a house or rent? Plan your down payment and pre-approval for a house, figure out your monthly payment for that house, run the numbers to see if you can really afford it, how does that location/lifestyle compare with rental, what will you have to give up, do you have emergency savings, what changes would you need to make in your life to accommodate this, etc.

For your career

What if you passively apply and/or interview for a job because you’re bored at your current work and get it? Have you really planned what you’re giving up, your salary requirement, who you’ll work with, flexibility, the culture, the open office concept, the commute, the benefits, your family? Even if you aren’t currently looking, do you know your stories, your experience, what you might say, where you want to go when the time is right?

Instead of waiting until you get an offer or an interview, do the pre-work to reduce the stress of the interview prep and all of the other chaos that’s probably going through your mind. Start compiling all of the epic stuff you’ve done in your jobs. Tie that experience into the answers to the questions you may be asked and ingrain the lessons learned.

For your morning

Running out the door each morning trying to manage 5 things at once? Use an hour of your Sunday meal prepping, putting aside clothes, organizing your outfits in your closet, picking your morning podcasts, packing your bag, filling up your gas tank, making sure you have toothpaste, contact solution, a book for the morning during the week, your meditation playlist, a comfortable spot, and a plan.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the ways you might use pre-work in your life. The goal is not to make this exercise another one of the things you “should” do. The goal is to help you reduce anxiety and avoid feeling like you’re putting off the important things you say you want to do. Pre-work gives you permission to do the work and then put it aside to live better in the moment.

Pre-work is not about completing steps 2, 3, 4, and 5. We can’t stress about that now. Step 1 is all that matters and step 1 can be as small as bookmarking an article and a time to read it.

Instead, this exercise should be a “fun” outlet that makes your life easier when the shit hits the fan so you can show up with grace AND gets you excited about finally doing the amazing things you want to do in life.