Programmer Procrastination

I talk a lot about productivity on The ByteBaker, mostly from a programmer/student perspective. However, I have to admit that I do procrastinate. Take today for example. I really should do some work for my group C++ project, but I really don’t feel like it. However, I don’t want to be feeling guilty, so instead I did something useful so I could feel good about. Today I wrote a draft for an upcoming conference paper, read a chapter of the Dragon book and then I read up on a new, interesting programing language called Factor. And now I’m writing this post instead of programming. So now that I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t be getting any work done, I might as well list some of the pseudo-work things I do when I want to procrastinate and not feel bad about it. 

1. Program something else

This is my favorite and the most productive. I like programming, so writing some code to avoid other work makes me feel very good. In fact, I have procrastinated on particular programming projects by programming something else. I find this works best when I program using a completely different language or toolkit than I what I was using before. In the past, I’ve used Python as a break from Java and Java as break from ML. You get the idea.

2. Raid Wikipedia or the bookshelf

Reading something interesting, especially if it’s related to your work is a great way to feel like you’re doing something useful. Just today I was reading the Dragon book because I’ll be working on a code optimization-related project over the summer. I didn’t need to do it yet, but I did anyway and I feel pretty good for expanding my knowledge base. If you don’t have a book at hand and still want to read something, Wikipedia is great place to start. It’s easy to spend hours just hopping from one topic to another reading interesting articles.

3. Write that blog post you’ve been thinking about for a while

A lot of my fellow students procrastinate by watching TV or playing video games. I like to write because I think it’s a much better procrastination tool. Once you start writing about something that you find interesting and you get on a roll, you can go on and on and completely forget the passage of time. Even better, there’s something to show for it at the end. While I’ve taken up writing a blog post as an example, you can actually write anything you want. Whether it’s a blog post, or a chapter of that novel sitting on your hard disk or a letter to a loved one, open a text-editor or word processor and start hitting the keys. Very soon any thoughts you might have had about getting real work done will be far far away.

4. Stay in touch with people 

No matter how old you are, there are probably a bunch of people whom you once knew that you are no longer in regular contact with. When you’re busy with everyday tasks, getting in touch with these people often isn’t the first thing on your mind. That’s understandable, but when you’re avoiding work, why not put that time to good use by keeping in touch with old friends? I can’t really say that I do this very much, but you never know when your contacts can come in use. 

5. Start that new operating system/programming language/web framework you’ve been thinking about

Let’s face it: one of the ultimate expression of your skill as a hacker is making your operating system or programming language or something on a similar scale. Any project of this size is going to take time and effort so you might as well get started now while you have nothing better to do (or more correctly, you do  have something better to do, but you won’t do it). Be warned though, projects like this have a tendency to either fall by the wayside or take over your life. But who knows, you might just be able to come up with something useful.

6. Find a fellow procrastinating programmer and strike up a conversation.

I put this at the end, because it’s probably my favorite. And it’s social too. I’ve had some very interesting conversations with fellow procrastinators (and no, they weren’t all about code). If you’re lucky you can come up with ideas for new fun projects or even attract a larger group and get even better ideas thrown around. One great source of conversation topics are the TED videos.


I hope these have given you some good ideas for productive things to do when a bout of procrastination hits. I’d love to hear back on the things that my fellow programmers get up to when work isn’t worth it.

2 thoughts on “Programmer Procrastination

  1. always have some other non-related comp sci project that you’re working on. Its good sometimes to not have to use your brain, and do something purely physical and repetitive. this often gets my creative-juices flowing.

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