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Procrastination = not always bad

Everywhere, lots of advice, procrastination = bad. Do it now! Get started! Don't sit on your hands. Do the tough job today - don't put it off!

Sometimes when you have a tough programming problem, you have a solution, but an ugly one, a bit of procrastination can be good.  Often, you come up with a better solution, during the procrastination period.

S. Tanna
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Efficiency is just productive laziness.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Years back, I worked with one client (major insurance co.) that made changes to the specs very frequently.  My way of handling them was to delay making the changes for a few days.  That cut the work in half since they'd often change their minds again and return to the original decision or even pick a third option.

So by being slighly lazy, I only had to do half the number of changes.

Bruce Perry
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I agree with the original post.

I find that in many ways the subconscious area of the brain is a better problem solver than the conscious part.  When faced with a particularly difficult task it is often better for me to step away from the computer and go out for a walk and not even think about the problem in the conscious part of my brain.  More often than not, when I go back to the problem later I find that somehow my subconscious has magically worked out all the difficult parts and the solution is now very clear.

Whether or not that truly qualifies as 'procrastination' is up for debate.

Mister Fancypants
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

My methodology is usually

At the start figure out if I can do all the tough parts, at least some method, even if ugly.  Maybe write a test app for the very toughest parts to prove it if necessary

When I get to an ugly part in the app (not necessarily tough), I sometimes leave that for 1 hour, 1 day or even a week or two, while working on other things.  When I come back, nearly always I find that I have a better way to do that ugly part, although occassionally I just have to then bit the bullet.

S. Tanna
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I was thinking of this very thing last night and I've become convinced that anything but the most mundane task should be started (substantially) and then returned to a day or 2 later.

Invariably the task seems clearer and the subconscious mulling clarifies it.

B#
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

My rule of thumb:

Never make a design decision the same day you conceived it -- go home, sleep, come back at 9am the next day, and give the final word.

Steve
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The best trick is to swap tasks.  Work on one while your subconscious is working on the other, so that you aren't actually procrastinating at any point.

Flamebait Sr.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Even better, some problems just go away if you wait long enough.

mackinac
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Never put off until tomorrow what you can skip altogether.

Martha
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

That's not procrastination; that's just setting a problem aside and working on something else.

Procrastination is setting a problem aside and not working on anything else.

Kyralessa
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

This is the quintessential artist's dillemma - how do you force a work of art? Scientists are known for coming up with solutions while doing something completely unrelated, and actually avoiding the problem in order to solve it.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

MarkTAW: There are actually some statistics on just that, about how people solve problems - such as while working on the problem, working on a related but different problem, working on an entirely different problem, not 'working', etc.

About 60% was through working directly, and the 2nd biggest was different but related...but can't recall the rest. It's all in the book "Jump Start Your Business Brain: Win More, Lose Less, and Make More Money with Your New Products, Services, Sales & Advertising" by Doug Hall. It's really an incredibly, incredibly good book on cultivating creativity, among other neet subjects.

I highly reccommend it.

Plutarck
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

It is now item # 433 on my Amazon.com wishlist...

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Wow guys! You are really in tune.

This is how it works totally and glad to see others on the same wavelength.

Some days I blaze through the code, like I am running across the prairie chasing a deer.

Other days are like climbing a slippery waterfall, like today. Stare at 1 function in the code for 1 hour. I think, "damn." Go mow the lawn. Glance at the code. Think, "Shoot, that is complicated. I'll never figure out how to make the change." take a shower. Stare at the code. Think, "This is really screwed. I am doomed. I need to rewrite this entire system from scratch." Go plant some tomatoes, come back, stare at code. Change one line of code and add two new ones. Everything works.

The alternative would be to dive in, screw everything up hopelessly making all nsorts of changes and then have to roll the whole thing back at the end of the day, making no progress.

The thoughtful time spent mowing and showering is what we call 'design'.

X. J. Scott
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I'd like to recommend against procrastinating something because it hurts to think about it. You need to manage your risk by solving the hard problems first, then the easy ones. If you put off the hard problems, not only do you risk that the hard problems take a lot more work than you thought. It may also turn out that the only solution to the hard problem invalidates the work you've already done.

I totally agree that sleeping on a problem helps one understand it better, and as such is very useful to do, but if you have not given the problem any serious thought first, no amount of sleeping will help.

Big B
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Kyralessa - procrastination doesn't have to involve not working (at least, in my book). Sometimes I'll put aside a difficult and unpleasant in favor of a less important but easier or more enjoyable task.

GersonK
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Since we're in Joel's Forum, I thought I'd post some articles that he'd written about this kind of thing.

Where do These People Get Their (Unoriginal) Ideas?

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000068.html

Fire And Motion

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000339.html

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I think that humans, by nature, are somewhat random. It's genetically programmed in to us. Look at how our ancestors lived. You had to focus for a few minutes - a half hour at most, catching your food, building your shelter, etc. Maybe some things took a few days of solid work to get done, but the goal was always in sight.

Nowadays, the goal is several months out, and the actual goal has no effect on you whatsoever - the company you work for makes more money. It has an indirect relationship to whether or not you're shielded from the elements or get to eat.

So it was probably useful that as you were crouched waiting for that (whatever you're going to eat) to come along, your mind wandered. Maybe your mind wandering allowed you to think of better ways to reinforce your dwelling from the rain.

The same way, being opposed to changing something that works also is in our favor because it helps us survive. I think it's that dychtomey that drives us as a species - don't change what works unless you've had some insight into the process that will make it better.

I don't think we're alone in this either. My cats repeat what works until they seem to have a better idea and then they stick to it.

I should write a book on this topic and then do the lecture circuit.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I would say that doing your work and getting to eat are very much related.  And if you are the company you work for... well.

B#
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

He didn't say they're not related. They are, it's just that the relationship is indirect, so it's less transparent, less immediate, easier to ignore.

Martha
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Yeah,  I should read twice and blurt once! eh?

B#
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I do that too. My motto is "measure once, cut twice" lol.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Measur? <g>

B#
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

mesur uns kut twise

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

As I continue to address the issues I have with work habits, I've recognized one thing about my procrastination - when a task is (mentally) a big ball of mud, then even looking at it is like similar poles of a magnet - I'll do anything else.

When I have a concrete bug list in front of me, then I can work for hours and hours, because I have a "recipe" for what to do - small tasks that need a little work, then I check them off and feel progress.

I'm working on fighting the urge to run away when I have "Implement customer preferences IAW specifications" sitting in front of me. Heck, I'll just open a page and throw on a table and a datagrid just to start *doing* something.

It's helping a lot, tho (IMHO) not enough... :-/

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Procrastination is also good sometimes when it comes to technical decision making.  People often make decisions to go with approach X or platform Y long before they know enough about the requirements to make an informed decision, where there is no need to act so hastily.

Or they start deciding low-level implementation details way too early and have to rip them out halfway through the project.  Or they make a decision too early and every decision afterwards is forced by that decision and the system is so tied to that decision that it becomes impossible to choose any alternatives.

For example, if you decide from day 1 that the product will be backed by an Oracle database, forces will tend to lead the design in a direction that makes it become tied strongly to Oracle and prohibitively expensive to make it run on anything else.  But if the database decision was left to a later stage, a database-agnostic design would begin to take shape, and whatever database is decided on in the end it will be much easier to port it to another database should the need arise.

T. Norman
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Just usually bad.

anon
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Don't put off until tomorrow what you can put off indefinitely.


Wednesday, June 11, 2003

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what procrastination means here.

Procrastination is bad because it means not doing things which you know you should do now - a lot of the examples here are when not taking the next action was the right thing to do and that's not procrastination.

Yanwoo
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

No, the examples here are when normally you would think the next thing to do is tackle the problem head on, but it turns out that by not doing what you think you should, you actually help yourself.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

> Procrastination is bad because it means not doing things which you know you should do now

Look it up at http://www.m-w.com/

Procrastinate basically just means to put off intentionally

S. Tanna
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

or

'to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done'

Yanwoo
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

>>No, the examples here are when normally you would think the next thing to do is tackle the problem head on, but it turns out that by not doing what you think you should, you actually help yourself.

I take your point - but surely with experience you learn when things need to be left a while and when things should be done now? Hence, one you have procrastinated once and had positive results surely the next time it is not procrastination since you are choosing not to do it for a good reason??

Yanwoo
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

"I don't think we're alone in this either. My cats repeat what works until they seem to have a better idea and then they stick to it.

I should write a book on this topic and then do the lecture circuit."

You know Mark, that sounds actually perfect for the lecture circuit. Sounds dumb enough to get attention, yet not completely and utterly absurd enough to turn people off (not that that would be possible...), and actually makes some sense.

How about the title "Unleash Your Inner Pussy?"

...on second thought, maybe you should just pick out your own title, or get the advice of someone who has learned to resist the urge to make gratuitous "cat/pussy" jokes.

Plutarck
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I still can't get over that Who Moved My Cheese book that was so popular. I read it over the course of 10 minutes while in the Harvard bookstore. I can't believe how simplistic it was, yet it was a giant best seller. I think it was shorter than a Joel essay.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I just thought of a great response to this thread. I'll come back and type it up when I get the time...

Darren Collins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

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