Paul McKellar

WUT. SVAngel. Square founding team. Programmer.

The Many Forms Of Procrastination

When you’re in a startup, you need to be constantly doing the most effective thing for the startup.  Your startup is small, you have limited resources, and you need to use them wisely.

There are a million things to do every day and choosing which ones to do is important.  Making good decisions move your company forward, bad ones leave you in the same place, or worse move you backwards.

Whenever you choose what you want to do each day, there are temptations to procrastinate.  In this case, I’m defining procrastination as whenever you do something you’d like to do, something you find pleasant to do instead of doing something where you can produce lot of benefit to yourself or others.  For example, playing soccer instead of studying, or watching tv instead of playing soccer, or doing nothing at all, instead of watching tv?

These examples might all be easy to recognize, but I think there are more examples of procrastination that are less easy to recognize.  Some of which I do everyday to my chagrin, and some of which I watch other people do.

Solving the big problem instead of doing the minimum viable solution: writing a new abstraction or toolset for an abstract problem (sometimes a real problem) but in the meantime leave the customer without any solution.  Procrastination by solving a fun problem instead doing the minimum thing required to help the customer.  Sometimes, making a tool is absolutely required to your startup, it might be your actual startup, sometimes it is just more fun than doing real work.

Researching new technology, new key value store, NOSQL, eventual consistency.  people love to read about them. reading about it feels like work, but unless you actually need them that day it is more like practice for possible work.  there is value in constantly learning, constantly being a better programmer, but it is investing is a distant future.  we became programers and entrepreneurs because we liked to learn, but, it is procrastination because it doesn’t often doesn’t immediately benefit your users.

Stats procrastination.  I love doing this one.  just paging through page after page of stats.  correct pattern is picking the stats that matter, and work towards them.  just building random stats, or reading a million google analytics pages, it not going to make your company strong.  especially if they don’t change very often.  it is superficial. 

Reinvention procrastination, Recreating a 3rd party library, because you want the functionality you see, but don’t like the number of spaces they use for indentation in their code base.  Do your customers know you rewrote something?

Refactor procrastination. the customer wants their life made easier, not your life made easier.  refactoring is a way of making your programming life easier, or making yourself smart (i’m using anonymous functions!).  when you need to refactor to give users a benefit (we can’t do this until we have some better caching in place).  

Productivity p0rn procrastination.  kinda like what you are reading right now. go fix the biggest problem for your customers, right now. make something they will want to email you about and say “OMG THANKS!”

30 minute post.