Procrastination in Software DevelopmentJune 1, 2023
There's a common misconception that procrastination is equal to laziness.
When we say that someone is procrastinating, we usually think of a person doing nothing productive, however, procrastination isn't about doing nothing, it's more about engaging in "comfort zone" tasks while avoiding more challenging tasks. Which could be complex features that need to be implemented or difficult bugs that need solving.
One way we procrastinate is by obsessing over tiny details. As software developers, we pride ourselves on writing clean, efficient, and maintainable code. However, there's a fine line between necessary refactoring and perfectionism. Continuously revisiting and refactoring code or over-optimizing before the actual functionality is complete can lead to major productivity drains, pushing key deliverables to the back burner.
There's an inherent value in refactoring code, but if it's serving as a distraction from more pressing or difficult tasks, it's a form of procrastination. As the saying goes, "perfect is the enemy of good", and in this context, it's also the friend of procrastination.
The Perfect Stack
One more subtle form of procrastination can happen when developers or teams spend a crazy amount of time and energy deciding on the "perfect" tech stack for a project.
While it's important to select appropriate technologies that align with the project's requirements and team's skillset, the pursuit of the perfect stack can become an endless rabbit hole. The tech industry is always evolving, with new languages, frameworks, and tools appearing constantly. Falling into the trap of continuously exploring these new options, without committing to a decision, can significantly stall progress.
Shiny New Objects
Another disguise of procrastination in software development is what we call the "shiny new object syndrome."
This can happen when developers spend time replacing an existing, already working library or tool with a new one, hoping it will solve all the problems. The shiny new object often comes with promises — more efficient performance, cleaner code, or simpler interfaces, to name a few.
While these new tools and libraries can indeed offer significant advantages, they are not a silver bullet. They can't always replace the need for a thorough cleanup and improvement of the existing codebase. The time and effort invested in learning the new library, integrating it into the existing code, and potentially dealing with unforeseen issues or limitations could often be better spent on improving the quality of the existing code and architecture.
In this sense, the attraction to the shiny new object serves as a form of procrastination, a distraction from the hard but necessary work of improving the codebase. Recognizing this tendency is an important step towards more productive habits in software development.
In software development, procrastination doesn't necessarily mean inactivity. It's more subtle, and that's why it's more dangerous. It masks itself under the guise of 'productive tasks' which are often just ways to postpone challenging tasks. Recognizing these forms of procrastination is the first step towards overcoming them.
By creating an environment where difficult tasks are approached head-on, we can reduce procrastination and ensure a more effective software development process.