How Developers Procrastinate

I hate my blog theme.

Sure, it’s free and it’s mobile responsive. And I’m using WordPress which is a good platform for SEO in Google and more. There’s really nothing blog-wise to complain about.

How my blog looked circa 2018

My issue is that it doesn’t look or behave how I imagine it can possibly be. This is the curse of being able to write software.  See, developers have this occupational hazard. Whenever they have an idea, they go “Oh, I can write that.” Developers like to ask themselves how to write software to solve a problem. They never stop to ask whether the problem is worth solving in the first place.

Only their imaginations are the limit!

And before you can say “Problem Analysis”, they have already whipped out v1 and push to GitHub.

No wonder even developers think they are their own worst enemy.

Procrastinate by Coding

What I was really doing by spending so much fantasizing what to change and even what features I want to see in my own version of WordPress is I was procrastinating. I was specifically procrastinating about writing more articles.

In my /now page, I stated that my goal for writing in this blog was to hit 25 articles. At this point, I am almost at 50% with less than 3 months to go. I’m definitely experiencing anxiety right now about my writing progress.

Photographic evidence in case I update /now page

I also have mentioned before I have the bad habit of abandoning blogs. A track record that suggests my muscle for writing is not as strong as my muscle for writing code. So, can you blame me for wanting to turn away from the anxiety-inducing task of writing 16 now 15 articles in 2 months time by turning to one of my core strengths?

Other Developers Do That Too

Even Paul Graham of Y-Combinator fame points out this tendency of developers. They use programming as a way to not deal with other icky tasks aka anything that’s not programming.

See this excerpt from his 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups

16. Not Wanting to Get Your Hands Dirty

Nearly all programmers would rather spend their time writing code and have someone else handle the messy business of extracting money from it. And not just the lazy ones. Larry and Sergey apparently felt this way too at first. After developing their new search algorithm, the first thing they tried was to get some other company to buy it.

Start a company? Yech. Most hackers would rather just have ideas. But as Larry and Sergey found, there’s not much of a market for ideas. No one trusts an idea till you embody it in a product and use that to grow a user base. Then they’ll pay big time.

Therefore, I probably shouldn’t feel bad. But that’s not good enough if I want to grow and develop as a person, and as a developer running my own business. Growing new skills by definition requires us confronting our fears or weaknesses.

Procrastinate by Turning To Your Strengths

If I were to generalise this phenomenon, the abstract version would be this

Humans procrastinate in many ways. One awesome way is to turn to tasks they are good at. It allows them to feel productive while avoid confronting the truly necessary.

Let’s use the context of a startup. You are the founder of your startup. Your startup is facing an existential issue. How will you deal with it? Chances are…

If you are a fantastic sales machine, you will sell your way out of problem.

If you are a highly technical person, you will build your way out of it.

If you are great at hustling, you will hustle your way out of it.

If you are great at X, you will X your way out of it.

Regardless if it makes any sense that solving the existential issue really requires your particular set of strengths and skills. It may be an issue of anxiety. It may be an issue of being too enamoured with a golden hammer. Don’t do it!

First, Recognise You Have a Problem

Alcoholics Anonymous has this famous 12-step program to help alcoholics quit their drinking problem. Their first step is: admit you have a problem.

In my case, I need to admit I have the tendency of thinking about redesigning, choosing another blog platform, fantasizing about what cool features to have in a blog, or just anything I love to think about just to put off writing.

And here’s the rub. I know I will get better at writing and get better at confronting a blank page by simply writing more. Sometimes, the only way through is to go through. Writing can be like that for me. At least for now.

And how did I recognise it? By complaining to a friend on Telegram about my ugly blog theme. That’s when the conversation turned towards procrastination and my subsequent insight I was procrastinating by coding.

Me realising I was procrastinating… and using that as post inspiration

So yes, this is how this post came about. Because I recognised my own irrational behavior and quickly acted on it. Even if this post comes out a little half-baked so be it. I just need to break the dry spell.

Thanks to Zac Kwan for the conversation. Always happy to talk shop and life with a friend.