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Low Skills Cause Procrastination (chestergrant.posterous.com)
129 points by lionhearted on Dec 28, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

Strong disagree. I procrastinate out of boredom, not insecurity.

When I'm engaged, even if it's new territory, I'm on fire.

When I'm bored, it's painful to get through certain things, and it makes doing the dishes or laundry look appealing!

For most people, procrastination is a lack of will power to do that which we do not wish to do even though we know we must.

As an side, for just about all people, drugs like adderall and friends WILL help you be more productive, though it comes with its own consequences (lack of creativity in some, jitters, easily agitated, loss of apetite, etc.). And I do mean it would help just about anyone who took it, not just those diagnosed with ADD.

Counterpoint: Player psychology in every video game, ever. If an overwhelming amount of features are presented all at once, most players quit before reaching the "good parts." Cognitive overload. I have watched players literally squawk in distress because an otherwise simple game gave them too much, too quickly.

Hence design strategies now tend towards ultra-gradual tutorialization with areas of instant gratification. Designs relying primarily on player discipline to master the content or make optimal decisions(notetaking, mapping, manual arithmetic) have all but disappeared, leaving those mechanics that allow success to feel intuitive and perpetually within reach.

Once basic mastery appears, something else happens: Players start willingly doing boring, tedious things in an effort to carve out the "last bits" of improvement. Micromanagement, speed-runs, grinding, statistical analysis, etc. The key thing is that these aspects only appear towards the back-end of the game's skill progression, after players already have confidence in prior technique.

And as it happens, the same is true of most technical endeavors - building on the fundamentals is how you grasp more complex stuff.

For me, there's usually a long period of "book study" where I nibble around the edges before I go in and attack a learning problem head-on with lots of practice. This process, though it has some caveats, lets me work from preexisting relationships more easily and adds "insurance" that I can retrieve value from all practice time.

Agreed, but what you describe and what you say you do are not procrastinating.

One observation is that procrastinators are rarely delusional about what they (are not) doing. It's a genuine lack of willpower or a feeling of apathy. Neither of which are symptoms of low skill.

Note that he said: "low skill levels cause procrastination". Not: "low skill levels are the only cause of procrastination".

Avoidance is a well known coping mechanism. The author's reasoning is valid in that a person whose responsibility it is to solve problems, when facing a task that is beyond their skill level, will feel anxiety about delivering. In that scenario, avoidance is common. That is not to say that it is the only cause of procrastination.

I think one of the main causes of procrastination is not knowing what the next step is. So, in a sense he is correct. You say you're on fire, even if it's new territory, but I think you're still referring to domains that you have knowledge in general, e.g. picking up a new programming language. You have an idea of your next step.

This is true, tasks that require thinking in the abstract are more likely to induce procrastination: http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=1...

The author thinks that CSS and Javascript are boring because he doesn't know enough to get to the flow level. I disagree. CSS and Javascript are boring because they involve a lot of task-switching and trial and error. Stuff like, "Oh, this should be not be floating to the left" and "uh oh, the code dies in IE with no error message".

I don't think ignorance is the reason people have trouble writing Javascript. I think it's because writing Javascript for the web sucks. (I like node.js 1000x more than Javascript for the web. But it's the same programming language.)

It doesn't help that there isn't some 'central' place as a resource for Javascript (e.g. php-docs for php, python-docs for python, ruby-docs for ruby, etc). Where are the Javascript docs?

Mozilla developer center? https://developer.mozilla.org/en/JavaScript/Guide

They even changed their design. I'm surprised nobody talked about it.

I know about the MDN docs, but:

- No offline version of the documentation.

- No distinction between Firefox-only features. (as others have mentioned)

- No mention of Chrome/Safari/IE-only features.

Are the MDN docs really seen as the 'canonical' reference to JavaScript or are they just the most accessible reference?

The MDN is of course specific to Mozilla.

If you are interested in the official standards, please have a look at my other comment where I summarized them:


That is more like an introductory tutorial. The docs are here - https://developer.mozilla.org/en/JavaScript/Reference

The frequency at which MDN docs are linked in StackOverflow JavaScript answers shows that people are getting more familiar with them. PromoteJS took off recently and it has helped too.

The trouble with Mozilla's docs is that they are really bad about distinguishing between cross-browser compatible JavaScript and Mozilla's own implementation. For example, the reference you linked there includes the let-statement. The only disclaimer in Mozilla's docs is that it's part of "JavaScript 1.7," which would lead you to believe it's part of a recent language standard that modern browsers are likely to support. In fact, "JavaScript 1.X" where X > 5 is code for "Firefox-only."

> there isn't some 'central' place as a resource for Javascript

That isn't true. All important parts of what we call "Java Script" are well-defined at central, publicly accessible places.

However, one needs to know that the standardized part of Java Script is called ECMAScript, whose current version (5th edition) is available at:


One also needs to know that the DOM API is not specified by ECMA but by the W3C:


The DOM standard consists of 3 parts, all of which provide an appendix for ECMAScript:




One might ask why all those JavaScript tutorials don't link to the standard, and why so many of them don't even mention the correct technical term "ECMAScript". No offense intended, but I guess they simply don't know any better. Although they ought to know.

For those who don't like to read technical standards, there are also nice secondary resources like the Mozilla Developer Network:


Also if you are looking for quirks documentation


Don't you find it exciting that you can sculpt something visual that ANYONE can see, just by typing code? After a long time, it still gives me a bit of that 'wow' feeling.

It's the browser idiosyncrasies which suck...

I respect your reasoning but I have to disagree. As a programmer when I am stressed or worried then I am working on the issue non stop until it's solved.

When something is easy you aren't stressed thus you aren't going to work on it immediately. When the issue becomes something stressful, because of time, that's when you begin working on it.

Therefore I'd have to say that we are pushed to work hard when we are stressed whether it's having low skills or having very little time.

I'd say when you are able to finish your project in a short amount of time, that shows you have a high level of skill, but if you have low skills and start it immediately and give the same results that shows a high level of skill in the form of determination.

People react to challenges in different ways. I think the approach taken does depend on skill level as well as personality, motivation and the ability to execute one's will.

Sometimes it is better to slow down and procrastinate rather than to hammer out something that just barely works. The creative part of the brain keeps working even if you're NOT actively thinking about the problem at hand.

"I am working on the issue non stop until it's solved"

If it is a genuinely difficult problem I've found that the most productive approach for me is to ensure I have all the facts in my head and then go and do something else completely unrelated. Usually some kind of solution will present itself at 3am or while I'm having a shower....

Of course, this approach doesn't work with all problems but it certainly beats hitting your head off a brick wall.

It depends on the kind of problem. Your system works great for a concept problem; but for a detailing problem, especially a tedious one, you just have to keep hammering.

I would make a chart and break it down by task / procrastination time. Then work backwards to find patterns. I find your generalization suspect.

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (Masterminds Series) (Paperback) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I agree with this. I'm still quite new to development (around 2 years since i began learning) and sometimes It's way easier to read another book or article or whatever than actually do the job because I don't have the experience to execute the task at hand so I "prepare" - whether productive or not. It's a habit I'm trying to break and reading this helps knowing i'm not the only one.

Maybe procrastination is just another word for planning for a programer.

Was talking with some friends about conferences and preparing a talk. One fried says that JavaOne requires slides in advance, forcing you to get them done by a fixed deadline. "Without that deadline you just procrastinate."

My other friend replied, "You say that like it's a bad thing."

Procrastination gets a bad rap. I think of it as "late-binding for ideas". Like late-binding in software there's some overhead and it's not always the best choice, but demonizing it is bullshit Protestant work ethic run amok.

I think real procrastination richly deserves the rap it gets.

If you've ever found yourself frantically slaving away at priority # 10392 while priority # 1 goes all to hell, and you're miserable because you know exactly what you're avoiding (and what it's costing you), you'll have some idea of why procrastination has an evil reputation.

I think your point is more that "be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all" is absolute crap advice. I'm absolutely agreed with you on that. There are also tasks that should be delayed, because they may change or even prove unnecessary if you put them off.

Procrastination, though... chronic procrastination (and a whole slew of psychological defenses that grew around the basic action paralysis) has pretty much destroyed my father's life, work, relationships, etc.. I've had my own issues, though I do a lot better now than in the past.

Being bored is certainly a big reason for procrastination, when you know exactly what needs to be done and it's just a matter of putting keystrokes to the keyboard I tend not to be terribly motivated (a trick for these cases is to trick yourself by having an interesting podcast or video on in the background)

Another big reason however I've found is being in a state of "overwhelm", when you have a too large array of problems and tasks it can easily led to procrastination since the problem seems insurmountable. The only recipe for this I've found is to concentrate on a small aspect of the problem/solution and start there, then start on the next and so on

It seems to me that procrastination is possible in just about any quadrant of the map except the top right. Relaxation can cause procrastination, albeit a more pleasant procrastination than apathy or worry. If anything, I'd argue that relaxation causes worse procrastination because of the "I've got everything under control" feeling it gives you.

What if your skill at learning new things is high?

I sometimes think I'm using a specific skill, when I'm really using skills of learning that specific skill.

Once I've accepted the reality of my situation, the learning is enjoyable... even to the point of "relaxation/control/flow".

Trouble is in a startup you always try new things you are not skilled at.

This is the most depressing thing to read while procrastinating.

I love the diagram. Z

The thing i find interesting about the diagram is that it feel like the center point should be some sort of balance point, but in fact it is just medium skill with medium challenge lacking a descriptive word.

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