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Procrastination, considered.

Last week I blogged about a new project for aiding in the hunt for test pollution, Scrubber. This is a personal side project that I began recently. It’s in the very early stages, like many of my other pet projects. It’s something I’ve worked on entirely alone, though I’d also love to collaborate with others and/or pair on it.

I was going to blog this week about the latest improvements I’d made to the code, and how it was going to improve the end-user’s experience despite being a mere refactor and a minor user interface tweak. I got bored after writing the first few paragraphs, and instead got distracted by the code, refactoring and tweaking it more than was necessary. A couple of hours in, I’d totally gold-plated the code in a way that I might have deemed unacceptable whilst on client time. This made me a little angry with myself: why was I procrastinating from blogging, and was I a bad developer who’d lost the ability to work alone?

Something we’re encouraged to do at Pivotal Labs is reflect on our behavior. Thinking about my boredom and procrastination a little, I realized there was something more interesting going on. The process went a bit like this:

  1. Start blogging about the new features. Paste the visual output of the program into the blog post. Realize that the output didn’t meet the requirement of improving the user experience.
  2. Start to implement the missing parts of the feature. Spend hours enjoying the freedom to refactor, delete and re-implement with no time limit, far more than when pairing on client time.

When we pair, we have a safety net to catch us when we get distracted by neat language features or elegant implementation tricks. Our partner will often remind us that we’ve spent, say, two hours making no discernible feature changes and no improvement to maintainability of the code. When soloing, however, especially on pet projects, we are free to choose a goal for the activity. Sometimes we decide to perform code katas, but other times we don’t consciously choose a goal: the goal could become apparent during the activity itself.

So it seemed that I’d accidentally found validation in what I was doing, and a potentially more interesting blog post at the same time. I’d managed to get some programming exercise in instead of banging out a not-quite-earth-shattering new feature. Specifically, I:

  1. Thought like a user until it became obvious that changes were still needed. Switched to developer mode by accident.
  2. Allowed myself to try out several approaches to the Presenter pattern, applying them to a trivial example that would not need a presenter in ‘real world’ programming.
  3. Used the Introduce Null Object refactor in a situation that didn’t call for it. Yet, it felt good and might even prove useful for the project later.
  4. Practiced several coding techniques that might become useful in the work environment.
  5. Temporarily inverted my work-based insecurities about performance and timeliness, providing stress relief as an unexpected benefit of my brain switching itself off from the task at hand.

Reflection is a useful technique for improving well-being. Your mileage may vary. If you’d have preferred to read about the changes made to Scrubber this week, you can read the commit history!

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