Friday, June 5, 2009

Study finds coding to be more effective for procrastinating than blogging

It was great to catch up with so many friends at the Gilbane conference in San Francisco this week. I spent literally two hours saying goodbye on my way out the door. One question that I found myself frequently answering was the reason for my recent blogging lapse. The short answer is that I have been very busy. But being busy doesn't always keep me from lobbing posts into this blog. In fact, I often find myself more compelled to blog when I am immersed in interesting work.

The truth is that I occasionally use blogging as a procrastination tool. I blog to avoid important tasks (like writing reports and deliverables) that I can't motivate myself to tackle. Blogging helps me warm up my brain and prepare me to really think. I guess when you look at it in that way, I am not procrastinating but preparing; after I publish, I am usually ready to work. So why the lapse? I have been using a better procrastinating tool.

I have taken on some application development work and I have found programming to be a more powerful distraction from my other work. When I get an idea for a blog post, I write it, publish it, and I am done. I am ready move on to that deliverable or report. When I get an idea for how to improve a feature of my application, I get sucked in and have a very difficult time stopping. There is always something more you can do to improve or extend your code. Maybe I will get curious about how something works and start exploring. I blink and 30 minutes have passed. Video games are the same way. That is why I don't allow myself to play video games. But I will never entirely give up programming. Technologists who do rapidly lose their relevance and limit their options.

Based on my small survey (sample size: 1), I would say that, other than video games, coding is the most effective tool for keeping you from important writing work (or any other activity for that matter). Knowing this about myself, I usually take every precaution to avoid programming when I need to write. When I write my reports (in XML), I make sure to hire someone else to do the XSL:FO work for my rendering templates. I deliberately started blogging on Blogger because I knew fiddling with a blogging platform would keep me from blogging. I knew this would happen when I took on this development project but it was so interesting that I couldn't resist.

I am wondering if there is some neurological explanation for this disconnect between programming and writing: that your programming brain suppresses your writing brain. My anecdotal observations seem to suggests others struggle with this too. For example, developers often hate to write documentation. I don't think that is because of poor writing skills. Of course, it also be that documentation happens at the end of the project when developers are burned out. Does anyone else have similar experiences? What is your most dangerous procrastination device?