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Ask HN: Why do I lose interest in every project after 6 months?
127 points by bdickason on May 22, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments
It's like clockwork.

I'll get HYPER-interested in something, to the point that I can't stop talking about it or thinking about it nonstop. I go through 'buildout' if it's a project, 'level up' if it's a game, or even went down the road of DJing and playing in a band.

Each time, after roughly 6 months, I burn out and end up moving on to something new with little desire to pursue my last project.

I'm extremely worried about this as I've been working passionately on a new startup idea with some friends and we're nearing the 2 month mark.

How can I stay enthusiastic?




To keep your "level up" analogy going...

The first few levels of a startup are EASY. You're GOOD at this stuff. Ideation, deploying prototypes, early design work, etc. You're GOOD at it. You blow through these levels like a pro and you get the emotional reward.

Then you hit the wall where you SUCK. It's working, but not as well as you've hoped. There are more questions than answers. The next level is a long ways away, so you don't get the "rush of success" for a long time. You're not even sure you can COMPLETE THIS LEVEL AT ALL.

So why not find a new game? Rinse, repeat.

The problem seems two-fold. You might have unrealistic ideas about what startups do. Second, founders fight through shit like this because their motivation is bigger than just getting the "level rush". What's your motivation?

There are all sorts of ways to "hack" yourself here.

1) VERY publicly declare that this project isn't a project-- it's your life.

2) Commit to your friends that you'll run a specific number of experiments (the ones necessary to prove out the model as worth pursuing).

Another thing to consider is to just embrace it. How many have you punted? My dad played bongos in a jazz band, drove a cab, sold veterinary drugs, did electrical work, etc., until he was about 35. He then went on to build companies and ended up in executive management for the last 10 years of his career. You may have to kiss a lot of toads to find your prince... And it MIGHT not be the right decision to force yourself into long toad makeout sessions if it doesn't feel right (okay, that's my best analogy ever).


clap that analogy was absolutely fantastic.

What I have found personally that keeps me going is knowing that other people appreciate the work I have done, so I release early and often in an attempt to get other people riled up as well and to also get them working on the project if at all possible. So number 2 is definitely a good point.


"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

Enthusiasm, like optimism, is a choice rather something that just happens to you. It requires a lot of forethought (what do I really care about?) and continual maintenance. You need to spend time discovering and remembering the fascinating parts of whatever you're doing, and the end-results you're shooting for.

I was stuck in an awful job stocking a supermarket, with no alternatives I could find. I realized I had a choice about how I approached it, I could either mope around all day or find something I liked about it. I discovered my OCD side really appreciated looking down a whole aisle and seeing every can perfectly stacked with the labels aligned. It still makes me smile thinking about it, and left me enthusiastic enough to stick with that job for years, get through college and move onto other goals.


This is the perfect answer the original post. I wish I could close the thread and promote this all the way to the top.

I suffer from this same issue as the original poster and tried agency world to cure it. Projects rarely last long enough to get sick of them. However what really works is just finding something that makes you happy in whatever you are doing.


Great advice. I still look back fondly on my days of cooking. There were very bad things about it, but working hard and doing a good job was not one of them. I saw people around me deciding that the job was beneath them and feeling miserable all day and decided I would _never_ be that way. Good work is it's own reward. Take pride in it.


I jokingly called it 'tass' (toddlers attention span syndrome), and I've had it since I was three.

Buying toys for me was according to my family the stuff of nightmares. I'd play with something for 3 minutes really excited, then see if it could be taken apart and if not toss it aside and never look at it again. And the ones that I could take apart suffered the same lot, only in bits and pieces.

It took me a long long time to outgrow that, I still have to be very careful when I am exposed to something new and shiny to stay away from screwdrivers.

In software projects I have much the same tendency, as long as it is challenging, new and I can learn it's ok. But woe the day the last bolt is screwed on to the carriage, that's when I'm in real danger to lose interest. Building is great, maintaining is not, so I try to build things in a way that they are as maintenance free as possible (which is good anyway).

If the money would be the motivating factor (or the 'desire to change the world' as some other commenter put it here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1369566), then it would be easy to keep going.

But for me the driving force is to learn, and it's hard to keep 'learning' the same stuff over and over again. So I try to frame my days and the things I have to do that are not exactly 'new' in terms of what I will learn from them, and if I can then I can usually do the job in a reasonable time.

If not, I have a tendency to make mountains out of molehills.


Interesting. I really like the point about building things to be maintenance free. Good call.

The motivating factor for me is more in the 'change the world' idea, and I think that learning is definitely a key motivator for me. If I'm not learning, and I'm just "executing" what I've learned, I get stuck.

Can you give an example of how you've made things (preferably software!) maintenance-free?


I try to keep an eye out for a pattern: that I'm doing the same thing twice.

As soon as that happens I stop and I analyze the problem, if I can automate it completely I'll do it, if I can only automate a part of it I'll do that and then try to find a way to either get rid of the remainder completely, offload it to my users in some guise or other and failing that I'll pay someone some money to do it for me.

Concrete examples are for instance the system administration tasks involved in keeping 20 servers up and running without additional staff, scanning email in my inbox for recurring questions (people not reading the FAQ), which get handled by an auto-responder pointing them to the relevant page with a friendly, personalized letter and so on.

Support is inevitable, I put myself forward to handle the 'problem' cases because those tend to drive development, but if I can get away from boring work I'll do it.

Someone joked that I'd rather spend a day at automating something that costs maybe 5 minutes to do by hand, and in a way that's very true but it's gotten to a point now where I can run a huge website pretty much by myself with occasional help from a few users with 'elevated' status.


As one of my previous colleagues put it : "I'm a lazy developer. I will write a tool for anything that I must do manually more than once."

I think the hard part is to decide that it's better to spend several hours automating a 5 minutes manual task.

I'm often faced with repetitive tasks and I realize that it's wrong to do them, but it's not easy to say : "Ok, let's put my important work aside and automate this."


Another risk is that progress as measured to the size of the project is not linear, but asymptotically approaches '0'.

Real progress is still being made, but it is much less visible later in a project than in the beginning.

So those of us that are motivated by being able to measure their progress on a day-by-day basis have a hard time to stay motivated later on in a projects life-cycle.


Yes! Automating your repetitive tasks can be a new non-repetitive task that keeps you interested - this is fantastic advice for those of us with medium attention spans.

Good one!


These are great examples :) I feel like if you blogged or shared these fixes somewhere, others would find them useful!


I think that 'change the world' is too big for reliable motivation. Try finding smaller, more immediate goals that you can better identify with for particular projects. That should help you keep your interest up.


I've always had this problem but a few months ago I borrowed a poster from my dad (career Marine, epitome of focused, determined and successful) and it's helped me keep my focus. It gets me out the door to run (I've never worked out before), it helps me pick up the statistics books I have (course I failed in college) and and it reminds me to do my best at work everyday. It's quickly becoming my mantra and maybe it will help you but you might also find it to be extremely trite so take this for what it is.

CONSISTENCY By George H. Allen (Only NFL coach to never have a losing season)

Consistency is the truest measure of performance. Almost anyone can have a great day, or even a good year, but true success is the ability to perform day in and day out, year after year, under all kinds of conditions. Inconsistency will win some of the time; consistency will win most of the time.

Consistency requires concentration, determination, and repetition.

To be at your best all the time, you must: Take nothing for granted. If you aren’t “up” every day, some thing, or someone, will knock you down. Take pride in what you do. The things you do well are the things you enjoy doing. Take setbacks in stride. Don’t brood over reverses; learn from them. Take calculated chances. To win something, you must risk something. Take work home. To get ahead, plan ahead. Take the extra lap. Condition yourself for the long run. The tested can always take it. Don’t take “no” for an answer. You can do what you believe you can do.

PS…Celebrate after the victory!


Find a customer whose hair is on fire. They won't let you lose interest until you solve their problem.

The problem is that your projects are things you're interested in and you're obviously too easy on yourself. Do something for someone else. The meaning you'll be making together will keep you interested until you finish, no matter how long it takes.


I definitely have those customers and although I am 100% CSR oriented to start, I end up snubbing them a few months in because they become so pushy.


I end up snubbing them a few months in because they become so pushy.

You may not want to hear this, but you just answered your own original question: you lose interest because you don't care.

I can't imagine "snubbing" anyone, much less my own customer. And I know lots of people that would give almost anything for a customer. You may not realize it now, but the "pushy" customers are the best ones, especially when you're first starting out.

Go pursue some other passion. Leave the start-ups for those of us who really care about the people we service.


Bullshit. Some customers are not worth having. Learning who is not your customer is important.

Examples:

• You offer a self-service product and someone comes along and wants extensive hand-holding for the self-service price.

• You offer an SMB product and an enterprise comes along and wants enterprise level customization and support at the SMB price.

Less obvious:

• You offer an SMB product and think you can make an enterprise sale. You get distracted from your core audience and overextended.

There are different types of "pushy" customers, some who are simply adamant about their needs and will teach you about your own offering and some who are simply hard-nosed. In the prior case, if your product hasn't been validated in the market it may mean that you're just wrong in your assumptions and need to adjust, but if it has been it may be an indicator that you've stepped too far away from your target market.


Your examples are prospects, not customers.

You're right, some prospects should not be converted into customers. But existing customers should be treated with respect and not abandoned. Their "pushiness" is a symptom of a larger problem which needs to be identified and solved one way or the other.

Not quite sure where the "bullshit" came from.


My most pushy customers are my best customers, they really care about the product and want to improve it themselves, the 'outlet' I give them is they can mail me directly and I'll always take them serious. If something is not feasible I tell them why.


In non-enterprise sales often there is no prospect before someone becomes a customer – i.e. they just sign up. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that's the case in most web startups. As such there's often an (ideally small) segment of paying customers that are outside of the market you can service well with your offering and if they become pushy (i.e. begin making requests / demands that pull you away from your target market) it would be better if they were not a customer than for the company to lose focus trying to make them happy.


The haughtiness is really unhelpful in gaining insight from a dilemma that many people encounter to various degrees. He's mentioned that this issue is applicable to his endeavors in general, not just startups. People can be involved in business and startups for various reasons, not just a personal sense of ideological purity.


haughtiness is really unhelpful

Sorry if it seemed like that; it certainly wasn't my intention. OP asked a question and then provided some clear data: any attitude toward your customers is your problem, not theirs.

People can be involved in business and startups for various reasons, not just a personal sense of ideological purity.

I believe that caring for your customers is necessary but not sufficient for any business. I also believe that if one doesn't believe that, then they shouldn't be in business. Period. No "ideological purity" here, just basic functionality.

How long will you try to teach you child to walk before you give up? Ask that to any parent, and they'll look at you like you're from Jupiter. Then they'll give the obvious answer, "I will never give up until my child walks!"

I feel the same way about helping my customers solve their problems. And if OP felt that way, his 6 month attention span problem would just disappear. That's all.


I'm in agreement with you about customers after reading the astute distinction you mentioned to Wheels (prospects vs. converted customers). Once you've curated a stable base of good customers you absolutely must tend to them and that relationship can be very enlightening.

My only issue with your reply to OP was that it seemed unnecessarily sharp in tone ("Go pursue some other passion. Leave the start-ups for those of us who really care") and addressed an effect ("snubbing customers") of his problem rather than trying to untangle the source of the problem itself (being addicted to inertia but lacking grit).


I didn't read even the slightest snub in edw's remarks. I also can't imagine snubbing someone with whom I have any sort of relationship. And when I hear "pushy customer," I hear cash register noises.


Sure, let me rephrase, because you're righ. I do care.

I definitely set unrealistic expectations for my customers, as identified below. In the past I've been bad about overpromising and then spreading our dev resources thin, which definitely contributes to this feeling that customers are pushy (because they don't get what we've promised).

This is something I've gotten better at recently, but still remains a major pain point: Keeping customers happy with the CURRENT featureset rather than promising new things.

I would say it's one of my greatest weaknesses.


Awesome, you've identified one of your biggest weaknesses. Also, you've gotten better at it recently.

It seems to me like you need some time to work on that. For me, learning to say "no" and establishing my authority to clients regarding the direction of a project was HARD. It took me at least 2 years from the first time I noticed to get to a point that I could run a project pretty damn smoothly.

Also, I suggest you take some time off. Like, a day or two just hiking / playing around / having sex / whatever. Just go outside and so something away from computers and away from your customer's emails. Then come back with an objective mission of taking care of shit in a prioritized way.

Thats my last advice : write down what needs to be accomplished and check it off. Do it each week or monthly at first and eventually you'll be banging them out daily and feeling stoked.

Good luck!


Thanks Wolf. This is honestly my favorite post of the entire thread. Your advice is on point and speaks from personal experience :) Appreciate it!

I'm taking a few days off this weekend during the holiday. Hoping for the best :D


    because they become so pushy
Can you give some more details about this?

Is it possible you're not managing expectations, and then that's killing your motivation?


Good call. See right above this.


I'm guessing you mean http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1370622. Votes move comments around, so unfortunately we can't rely on "above" or "below" being meaningful over time.


Sorry, you are correct, I meant http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1370622


While there may come a point at which you have to say "no" to a customer, I would go to almost any length to not snub them. Why be rude or lose your temper if someone is that passionate about your product/service? It's a professional relationship after all...


I agree completely. My word choice was poor. By 'Snub' I mean that I felt negative feelings (did not act on them) towards a customer.

This is explained by my above post, which indicates that I set lofty goals which were not met (both by my fault and management inside of said company) and customers got pushy as the days progressed to weeks to months.

Again, I am nice to them and try to support them the whole time, but when pieces aren't delivered, they get angry.


I have this same problem often - maybe not even six months. I have several techniques that seem to work to combat this well

1. When you do have the enthusiasm for the project try to do the "dull" or "chore" work first. That way the fun and exciting bit will keep you going for longer - they lose their motivational benefits once they are done after all.

2. Make sure you can come back to the project and work on it later - this way taking a two week break won't be fatal, and it is necessary to take breaks to refresh your enthusiasm for the project and avoid burnout. Some of this is design, some is management and some of it is attitude.

3. Make promises to other people. I find it so much easier to finish something that I told someone I would finish for them, than something I want to make for myself. Be careful not to promise too much though...

4. Learn how to force yourself to do work. I find when I start doing even a small piece of work on a project, a good proportion of the time the rest of the project will "draw me in" and I end up doing more than I intended.

Hope it helps. :)


Agreed, this is great advice. I tend to not do #1 because of my non-linear approach to problem solving.. which basically means I try to solve whatever I see as the biggest problem rather than the 'easiest' or 'most boring.' I'll try this one next week :)

On #2, I've definitely seen this happen for me but it's usually more like 2-3 months later. I wonder how I'd feel after a true two week break ala a vacation with no internet. I bet that would be phenomenal.


Thanks for this, jheriko. Lots of real-world wisdom in this comment. 1. "Don't eat dessert first." 2. Interruptible persistence. Hemingway stopped writing for the day in the middle of a sentence. 3. Promise but don't over promise. 4. Nibble at the project.


Could it be a fear of success? Or of stretching outside of your comfort zone? Or of the long stretch of hard work after the bloom is off the rose?

You're better informed about your psyche than I am, but I suggest pacing yourself, staying grounded to the other things in life which matter to you in addition to this startup, and carrying it through to completion.


I don't know if it's fear of success, but I think the stretch of hard work is a good one. Perhaps it's also a result of an unrealistic roadmap?

i.e. I want A, B, and C to happen in X amount of time (hoping i can use that description w/ all the nerds here) and we're barely scratching the surface of A.

I think that accepting that it take 6 months to get anything decent STARTED is a good place to start :)


I want A, B, and C to happen in X amount of time

Perhaps this is your problem. If A, B, and C haven't happened by X, then what? I'd examine my reaction there if I were you. If you're doing something purely as a means to an end, and the end doesn't happen when you expected it to, then you're in trouble. I've found two things make a big difference here.

1. Do something that isn't just a stepping-stone to a desired goal, but which you also enjoy doing for its own sake. It's ok if there are extrinsic goals too, as long as they don't dominate.

2. Multiply your time frame by an order of magnitude. That is, accept that it may take 5 years to do anything worthwhile. It doesn't have to, of course, but psychologically the point is fundamental. If you're not ok with it, I'd try to find out why, since the answer to your question is probably in the vicinity.


Maybe both?

How about breaking your large A, B, and C tasks down into much smaller ones (something I definitely need to do)? Then you can just work off your lists and check, check, check without a lot of mental thrashing about.

This would also help with setting a more realistic schedule.


There are many possibilities:

* After a few months, the hardest parts of the problem have been solved. Since your skill level exceeds the challenge, boredom results. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

* Perhaps you are not motivated by the actual task, but by the sense of mastery. Once you've mastered a challenge, you are satisfied because you've learned something about yourself: I can do that! The project still requires work to be done, but you're interested in pursuing some other new challenge that validates your sense of self-mastery.

* If you're cycling, perhaps you have a touch of bipolar.

* Perhaps "How can I stay enthusiastic?" is the wrong question. Maybe "How can I persevere when my enthusiasm inevitably wanes?" Expecting to always be enthusiastic is unrealistic.


The last is definitely the case. It's just a question of persevering.


Same thing happens to me. After about a month it takes discipline to just continue. You start doubting the idea, thinking its stupid or wont work (mostly subconciously) and thats what makes you lose interest. My advice would be to keep searching out things that will make you believe (subconciously) that what you are doing WILL work. I do research, read up, make plans, etc.

If you find that this does'nt work. Maybe your brain is telling you something.......


I definitely agree with you on the 'doubt' issue. Reading up on things, talking to customers, and other things like this tend to work for a short week or so, but really I've never find something to truly revitalize me on an idea.

The brain could be telling me something, but I would argue that many of the ideas were 'great' and nothing is going to be successful if you only see it through to 6 months :\


I'm exactly the same way and it's been irritating me since I can remember. I think the issue for me is being so convinced initially that the idea I'm executing is my ticket to billionaire-dom, that by the time a product is built and the real work is required, finding customers, reality sets in that maybe your idea isn't as amazing as you once thought, lowering my level enthusiasm and making me less willing to really put in the effort to see if the idea has a chance.

I don't know how to fix it, but what has helped is waiting some time after I've come up with an idea to let whatever get-rich giddy emotions subside, allowing me to arrive at more realistic projections of how far an idea can be taken (with proper research of course). And like edw519 says, find a customer that is really interested in your idea. Having that validation from an already-acquired customer will probably give you the motivation to continue since your idea has been validated by someone other than you.


It sounds like you are stopping at the first 90 percent.

"It is a cliché in our business that the first 90 percent of the work is easy, the second 90 percent wears you down, and the last 90 percent - the attention to detail - makes a good product."

— The Graphing Calculator Story http://www.pacifict.com/Story/


Try doing two things at the same time. Let one be the one you are hyper-excited about, but that is not going to make money. Let the other be the "work" that you carefully plan through and slowly work through. You can change the other project every 6 months, but let the main thing just be slowly worked through.


I'm normally a big fan of your comments maxklein, but I would advise to exercise a bit if caution with this one.

I suffer from the same problem (haven't found a solution yet), and I've done the 'get started on something else', but I find that I get more and more sucked into the new thing, and the old thing slides.

If it can be organized ala Google 20% time, and make sure that the overarching goals don't get in the way, then I'd say it may work, but I don't think it is for everybody.


Obviously, it does not work for everyone. For me it works, because the second project is like a "hobby". Hobbies help.


It works better if you refuse to let yourself work on your enthusiastic project until you have X amount done on the boring one, that is use it as a reward for making some kind of progress on the boring one.


This is perfectly normal (or, at least, common). Okay, I have no idea if it's either of those things, but I know I get a very similar thing.

A few good ways to keep motivated are:

1. Know why you are doing this. If you have a clear goal in mind, you can motivate yourself towards that goal when the project itself is not motivating/stimulating/interesting (e.g. you've done the fun bits of the coding, and now have to do the non-fun parts that make it work nicely).

2. Have a clear roadmap, with milestones that are achievable every few months (or some other finite period - I think we all have different 'milestone horizons' within which the milestone is motivating). It's hard to motivate yourself with an endless project. It's easier if you know you are working towards a certain feature, a certain number of clients, a certain musical piece played well.

3. Do something else. The initial rush phase is great, and you can get a lot done in that time, but for the long haul you need to give yourself space from certain things. Make sure you're not doing the same thing all day, or spending all your free time doing it.


The clear roadmap is something I've never been good at and perhaps this is a root cause.

For example, as a 'product manager' I have tons of big dreams for my product. Generally, it takes 2-3 months to get any solid prototype out there. Add on another 2-3 months of buildout to go from prototype to something people use and... by the time anything I've built in the past has reached 50k+ users, we're at least 6 months out and only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the features that I want.


The big dreams for your product are understandable. But a roadmap won't help, it will just make you waste time on planning a future that you can't possibly plan.

There's another way.

Think of this exciting vision first. Then, instead of making a roadmap and starting years of coding to finally arrive at this vision (which will never happen, likely), start cutting away stuff from your vision. Cut away non-crucial stuff, but keep that 1 or 2 features that are exciting. Search for what makes this really exciting. You don't need picture uploads. You don't need 90% of the features.

Now build this core product. The core value. The exciting experience. And resist the urge to add stuff to it, instead cut more stuff out, even stuff you've already built, and keep improving this core thing.


Peter, I'm doing exactly this right now :) And it's damn fun.


Don't try to overcome your weaknesses; that is the way of madness and frustration. But I'll give you a piece of advice: great strengths are great weaknesses and vice versa.

Therefore, rather than trying to be someone you're not, learn to harness your strengths and avoid your weaknesses.

Personally, I'm the same way. I'm a good project starter, but not a good finisher. Once I've gotten a project started, I'm ready to move on to something else. Guess what though? There are plenty of people out there who are great finishers, but can't start a project to save their life. Thus, they'd be my perfect partner.

That's what you have to do: harness your strengths, but realize that you're a human being. Rather than trying to be perfect, find someone whose skills complement yours. Then you'll be unstoppable.


Good call here. I actually considered finding a job where I would just 'start' projects and hand them off :P So far that doesn't exist.


Sure they do. It's called R&D.


It's the common creative's problem of: what you can imagine vs. what you can produce (aka "moving the goalposts").

When you first imagine a solution, of course it's great and inspiring and you want to dive in. But after time it becomes "work." Worse, your imagination can see more to add to the project - to make it even better! Meanwhile, the longer you work on one project your imagination starts to think up solutions to unrelated topics... and those are now better because they're fresh.

The simplest cure - recognizing this is a natural paradox for the creative process. This will reduce the massive downer to comes from not chasing every dream and at the same time provide long lasting satisfaction through respecting the few you picked and stuck with.


I really do feel your pain, as I have been through similar mental struggles before (and still do occasionally). One remedy I've found is to release a MVP or show your work to others, as it helps to reaffirm what you are doing isn't a complete waste of time. Launch early if you can and once people start using your it or you start making money, it's much easier to keep pushing forward. This one is more of a reminder to myself than anyone else but your product doesn't have to be absolutely perfect before you launch. Quality control is important but striving for perfection can be an impossibly long journey that can quickly lead to burn out.


I completely agree with this. I tend to be bored by projects when I don't release the stuff I'm working on soon enough.

Knowing that your product/service is relevant, because you got early feedback, is the biggest motivation factor which helps you not to lose interest in the long run.


What do you mean "burn out"? Does this actually mean that you get to tedious parts and stop working on it, even though it's worth finishing? Or is it not worth finishing but you feel some obligation to 'finish' for its own sake?

The real question to ask yourself is whether reward_of_finishing * probability_of_reward > costs_of_finishing. If not, you're better off taking the lessons you've learned and moving on to the next project and cutting your losses. The important thing is to not lose sight of the actual goals/rewards that you want, and asking yourself whether your actions are putting you on an effective path toward them.


By 'Burn Out' I mean literally stop thinking about it subconsciously. This can even be something that I _WANT_ to continue doing, but just don't feel any motivation.

A good example: I worked with a small team on a web project for a company I worked for. We sprinted sprinted to get it out there and it grew very rapidly. Nearly 500k uniques in 3 months.

For some reason, even though I was working on it every day until launch (roughly 6 months time) and VERY adamant about fixing things for the first 2 weeks or so, I eventually just stopped browsing the site, stopped reading users' posts, and stopped responding to e-mail from them.

I found something new and I ran with it.


I think having other people to work with is your best leverage. With a group commitment you're working to support your team instead of a less tangible goal (it works for gangs, political parties and the military).


Success is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, not all times are going to be interesting, you may lose motivation, get tired or bored, have setbacks, and want to give up, but it is only when you keep going on, that you complete the race.

A clear idea of goals and self-discipline are what separate the extra-ordinary people from the rest.

But since you're working on a startup, sometimes it's important to know when to give up rather than pursue an unsuccessful idea. But I'm sure enough people have talked about this.


This is so true. We're going through this same problem right now [http://techneur.com for the interested]. We get unmotivated and get confused thinking that we are following the wrong path. When what we need to do is to just follow our small goal, which is to bootstrap. This is far harder than I ever imagined, and this is my third time around! First two were failures.


I was having the same issue for a while.

Here's how I resolved it :

Stop working 18hrs a day on project (even if it's a startup), find other hobbies, meet people enjoy your life but be very productive in your 6-8hrs dayjob.

The thing when you're too much involve in a project is that any deception, even something taht looks ridiculous will lead you to a lost of interest and motivation.

Take a breath, take your time. A project need to mature in your head it's not a rush, it's a marathon (I know it's already have been told thousand of times).


I'm pretty much suffering from the same myself. I started to think that success stories of other people are probably doing more harm than good and I'll now stop reading when it looks as a success story. I need to write a success story about me first.


What would you work on even for free? I stay enthusiastic by working on the one thing I'm most passionate about in my whole life.

Look back through life and build your startup around what excites you the most, and you'll have better luck sticking with it.


The only thing that's kept me coming back is 'user interface' design or just working with a designer on a really tough web problem. This is why I've focused on another web startup that falls into this area, as it definitely takes all of the 'favorite' pieces I have. We built a super quick prototype, fell into a lull for a month or two, and are now iterating and improving it. Unfortunately the iterations are taking longer than I had hoped, but it's still moving forward.

The problem I'm running into on this one is having 3-4 GREAT ideas to improve the software, but being stuck waiting for idea #1 from last month to be implemented. This may be a big piece of my motivation issue. Figuring out how to release things faster is key for me at the moment, I've even turned to coding to try to speed it up.


Was idea #1 really that good if you can't even motivate yourself to implement it?

Implement 1 idea. Then figure out why it doesn't work. Then change it.

As for all your other ideas, if they're better than idea #1, move on, if not, stick with #1.


To clarify, I'm definitely motivated to implement it. I just want it to move faster ;) I'm not really a developer so every time I start coding I feel like a swimmer who thrashes in the water and moves about 3 feet while the other guys are gliding :)


How young are you? I blew through probably 15 projects in 4 different spaces and by the time I was a sophomore in college I had only completed 2. One was a c++ game, the other was a web site I ran for worms Armageddon.

Why did I get bored and quit? I had tackled the most challenging problems of the project (the ones that initially got me excited) and what was left was the non challenging stuff. Maybe you are similar, you enjoy and require steep learning curves and challenges. Maybe one day that challenge will become completing a project

you will make an excellent contractor or entrepreneur. If it's challenge you seek, you will find it


I'm currently 28. I cruised through college because of the lack of 'real world' application and have been working for startups in NYC for the past three years.

I definitely am ambitious when it comes to challenges. Solving them does make me happy, but I am seriously feeling at the moment like my ideal job would be to sit in a room, have a bunch of budding entrepreneurs (or experienced businessmen) come to me with their problems, and spending an hour solving them!


I have a similar behavior with personal projects, and I don't really have any advise as to how to stay enthusiastic. But what I'm trying to do now is route around it, construct project so that they can continue even if I temporarily lose interest in the them. Which is basically making projects with other people. So even if I lose interest in the main goal of the project, I still have interest in helping my friends, who are continuing with it. You could say I'm trying to form my projects in such a way that the completion of it doesn't completely rely on my own enthusiasm.


For me, it's that I simply lose momentum as the project drags on. To build up momentum if it's a software project, for example, release it to the public, get feedback, bring some other collaborators in.


I have this every 1 month, still haven't found a solution for it. But I'm suspecting making a comphrehensive todo list with checkable items and a progress bar would push me through the end.


That, grasshopper, is something you have to figure out for yourself.


There is something condescending about your comment but I can't put my finger on it.


Sorry, I don't mean it that way. It was a quick way of saying that you have to discover what drives you. Reading about how others do it may give you some insight, but you are not going to find 'the answer' on HN or anywhere else. Threads like this remind me of self-help books - you can spend all of your time reading about others, or you can start trying different things for yourself and see what works.


I think it was the 'grasshopper' that did it, it's funny in one way but it makes it seem like you're talking down to someone. He asked a very valid question and there is tons of really good advice in this thread, indeed, it may not be 'the answer' but it can help and 'you need to find it out for yourself' makes it seem as though that advice is worth nothing.

Self-help books have limited use they are too general, but the situation between HN'ers in the same profession as the OP is so comparable that it is possible that some concrete tips will in fact materialize.

Even I learned a lot from the answers in this thread and I really hope that such questions keep coming. No such thing as a stupid question.


I agree, there are tons of good suggestions here and although I'm sure I'll face this situation countless times again, the most positive thing that I've realized from posting here is that lots of other people have this same problem :)


I have a job that lets me be this way. The development style is rapid application development. We spend 6-9 months on a certain module for a larger software suite, and once it is released we may enhance it, but usually we move on to building the next module. Its all part of the same overarching project but the needs of each specific module differ significantly.

The places you will find this kind of project are in emerging markets. The market doesn't know what it wants yet and you can help shape it.


Conciously replicate the feelings you had when you started.

Your seemingly unlimited drive is not something providential, it is something you can 'conjure' up, by consciously shaping your every thoughts:

Try and go a day focused only on the most awesome outcome of your goals. Actually imagine and feel that outcome as if it already happened. Do this constantly and before you know it, you will suddenly have the same 'Hyper-interest' and motivation you had in the early beginnings.

Cheers, Edo van Royen


Thanks Edo, I will try this. I completely understand and agree with the idea that I can 'conjure' or manifest this feeling in myself. I just need to figure out how to channel it :)

I'll give the 'awesome outcome' of the goals a shot.


Learn to have the discipline to work on things you don't have enthusiasm for. It will make you less dependent on your passion to build stuff in the longer term.


You don't have to (if you don't want). Take advantage of your natural inclination and create new things every 6 months. Find a way to make the "6 month plan" work, whether that involves selling a nascent business each time or if they can become passive income streams. I see little need to fight against your innate personality traits if you can get away with it, rather, you should be taking full advantage of them.


For me its based on progress; if a project is going well and I am constantly being presented with new challenges it does not get boring. If that is not the case then (e.g.: not growing and no progress) then i quit. Quitting is not always a bad thing. I highly recommend a book called "The dip". It may help you understand when its time to call it quits on a particular project.


I have a strong feeling you are giving things up at the moment when you feel you 'get it'. I guess the best advice will be to follow what Kathy said in her blog: http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/0...


I get the same problem. The burn out problem is mostly due to the fact that you 100% immerse yourself towards that issue.

One solution is not keep a balance between 3 different projects and allocate time to each if necessary.

By splitting your free time between the 3, you diffuse the burn out. That said if 2 of them feel right and one annoys you, move on.


there are lots of great comments on this thread, so i won't attempt to re-iterate them ... the one word i would add is:

grit

anecdotally, one trait that all successful people i know possess is 'grit', which i define informally as the ability to buckle down and 'power through' seemingly tough/tedious/un-interesting portions of your work.


Sorry if this has been mentioned, but I haven't had the chance or time to read all the comments but...It sounds like you are quitting when you hit The Dip

http://www.amazon.com/Dip-Little-Book-Teaches-Stick/dp/15918...


Have you ever been tested for ADHD? Hyper-focusing on one project to the detriment of other important commitments and being quickly discouraged after hitting the initial roadblocks are two of the signs. Do you consider yourself a daydreamer? Impulsive? Disorganized?


You find something you're passionate about but ensure that people are counting on you to succeed. Once people depend on your success (family, cofounders, investors, etc) and/or your reputation is on the line, it can do a lot to keep you driving forward.


have a look at this article by jason fried 37 signals

Getting Real: Release something today http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/getting_real_release_some...


Thanks Rama, I've read all of Jason's books and thoroughly enjoy them. My day job is in a 'rapid deployment' environment where we push out projects pretty regularly. We're also doing this on my startup but it is less 'rapid' because of the limited amount of time we all have.


Having a hyper interest for 6 months is a feature not a bug. I see it as strength. In a span of 6 months you can contribute more and then later find some one who is excited about it, transfer it and move on.


don't quit on something until you've seen it through, and if you do decide to quit on it, try to get some value out of it if you know someone that can take some of your old stuff to 100% completion and still own some of it, whatever that is.

This applies to a product, not so much a WoW account.


Funny you mention that, my last 'project' that I got passionate about was returning to WoW (I played about 5 years ago) and it followed this same 6 month pattern.


Read 'The Dip' by Seth Godin. Describes it exactly.


are these projects related?


Nope, completely unrelated. Could be a work thing (website) or a new startup (website or otherwise) or a musical venture, etc.

A few things I'm noticing I don't do after reading the responses in this thread and thinking alot are: 1) Setting reasonable goals to start 2) Communicate my goals clearly w/ the others involved 3) Don't spend every waking moment thinking about it


Buy, read, and use "I Could Do Anything I Want... If I Just Knew What It Was" by Barbara Sher. Don't let its goofy self-help look deter you, because the design is horrible and the back cover is retarded but the book is quality, no-nonsense all the way through it. And because it describes you and your problem to a T. It will help you uncover the core issue of why you keep abandoning things.

It's more complex than "it just gets hard," trust me.

After that, read The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz. Take notes. Think hard about it. Figure out if you're even working on something you love so much you want it to exist, whether you want to feel satisfied or feel engaged, and how you're misusing stress or rewards to keep yourself going.




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