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Ask HN: What do you do when you've lost motivation at work?
205 points by julianusti on May 3, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments
I'm woundering how do you approach this kind of feeling when you don't feel motivated at work.

I think that majority of people will solve it with finding a new job or maybe take a vacation. But, this is all about long term soltions. What I want to know, how to turn your motivation back right away, without changing a job or taking a vacation. Is it even possible?

Small persistent holistic steps in the direction you want your life to move.

If you want more money look at where you can save money (not eating out, buying generic products, etc.) and things you might be able to do on the side to earn more.

Or if you rather start applying for jobs and seeing what else is out there. You don't have to find a job today, just start looking.

If you want to have more energy find an exercise routine that works for you and start eating more vegetables and less sugar/bread. Take time to meditate or at least relax and clear your head. It's likely there's something buried in your head that is causing you to be demotivated.

If it's your perspective that needs tuning work on rewiring your brain. Stuff like replacing "this is hard" with "this will take time" or learning to be okay with being wrong/weak and asking for help when you need it.

If your work isn't fulfilling maybe talk with your co-workers or supervisor to see what can be done to make it better. If that's not realistic, maybe your job actually does suck and you need to go back to the first paragraph.

For me personally, I find setting aside time to untangle my brain helps the most. Sitting someplace and working on a posture or breathing exercise and really just putting some distance between me and my problems for a little while.

Usually after that my problems seem much smaller and more manageable.

OP: Why wouldn't you want to change a job or take a vacation? These need to always be on the table. You have _one_ life to live..

>If you want more money look at where you can save money (not eating out, buying generic products, etc.) and things you might be able to do on the side to earn more.

Oh dear god, the guy is depressed and now he has to stop buying his daily coffee too? And possibly a second job!?? You're an engineer, not a tollbooth operator. You're in one of the few fields that's actually growing and still pays worth a shit.

On the money front, take several queues from Ramit Sethi. Level up, do a cool side project with the latest React/Vue/Node and learn a bit about selling yourself.

Most engineers, even if they're really good, decide to take the humble, quiet route and demand a "fair pay". It's bullshit, it's a cop out, and if you're just 10% confident, you can increase your next jobs's salary with the money the other introverted engineers left on the table for you.

Maybe. I don't know OP or his situation. Others had already mentioned taking a vacation so that seemed redundant.

I mentioned that first because it's easy to fall into a lifestyle trap and think the only way to cope is to get a job that makes more. The formula for money is income minus expenses, so you always have two variables you can play with.

It also makes a nice mental segue for people into the topic of getting a new job, a topic which people can be adverse to. It creates a choice that seemingly wasn't there before.

FWIW I wouldn't be so quick to turn your nose up at side gigs.

I have a friend who picked up an old vinyl decal cutter and now makes a significant amount of his income by selling custom decal stickers for cars and windows and such to local businesses.

Similarly my neighbor does lawn aerating in the spring and sprinkler blowouts in the fall and considers it a refreshing break from his work as a PM.

I think you're viewing this suggestion in too negative a light. At times when I've been uninspired by my job, I've definitely found it meaningful to try to optimize my life on other fronts. Sometimes you can't just up and leave because there's a cost to switching as well.

Thanks a lot @YCode, I really like what you've said and it make sense to me.

The money wasn't prior number 1 for me, so probably it's not about the money.

What is really matters for me are people that surrounding me every day when I come to office.

Recently, we've been merged with another team. We where doing a great job before, a team spirit was so great that we where able to deliver better than others.

I literully was waking up with a huge smile on my face, because I knew that today we gonna do some awesome shit (no matter if it is bug fixing or performance improvements or new features).

Now, we have super huge team tons of projects and instead of goals that we are desire to achieve we have tasks that we have to close.

Now, I waking up with a sad face, because I know that today I'm going to "close the next issue", instead of "work on chalanging problem" that makes everyone in a team to feel proud of that.

Well, try to remind yourself that it's not permanent. Sometimes you work on things that bore you to tears, other times you work on things that are much more stimulating. There will be challenging problems to work on again in the future, I guarantee it. I would suggest unplugging from work/digital life and take part in other things that interest you that don't involve screens. Taking breaks to do other things in life will revitalize your mind and you will find motivation again. Also, you will discover that you aren't solely defined by your work.

Your not gonna be able to deal with what the current situation has pivoted to and more than likely your collegues from the OG Group feel the same, I would approach management and if they arent willing to address the issue then get out of there. Your skills are in demand and in this industry you need to siwtch jobs every 2 years anyways if you want to increase your salary significantly.

I feel like I am in a very similar situation. Was lucky to work in a tight, high energy environment with real risk and spirited people for a couple of years. Now the growth is out of control and I don't know half the people in there. Employees are fighting for positions and roles under clueless management and it has become a soulles dull hell hole in a short year. The positive thing here is realizing what matters most to me. I don't care about money that much, and I'm not so sure it even matters to me what I do for a living as long as I experience that drive again. Thank you for posting the original post

I think you should see closing a ticket as a challenge and work torward closing as many tickets as you can . Think of it like a game .

Crystal clear situation.

Close the next issue ... in life ... and change jobs. Explain to the management why you're doing it first.

I find this advice to be right on the spot. However, feeling demotivated at work usually spreads to another areas, and it's hard to be motivated on something else for a long period of time.

In order to fix that I think the advice of "discipline" as mentioned in another comment below, is key.

I have so many goals on so many topics that I can't work on all of them every day. However, I started with one (exercise), and worked to be disciplined on that one, dedicating 1 1/2 hours, 6 days a week. I also added meditation (I practice buddhism) for 1/2 hour every day, where I clear my mind and focus on all of my goals.

After consolidating exercise and meditation, and feeling that it was already part of my routine, I added a second goal (studying). All of this while having a 9 to 5 day job, remember. I leveraged on apps for reminders, and habit trackers so I try not to "break the chain".

I went from being quite unmotivated, to being motivated on different areas, and that pushed me to find ways to be motivated at work.

Discipline goes a long way.

What were the reminder and habit tracking apps you used?

I would recommend "Productive habits" for iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/productive-habits-daily-goal...

It's very clean and flexible.

thx, on it!

I'm using Habit Bull, for Android. For reminders, Google Calendar works for me

Cutting expenses != making more more. If you want more money, you find jobs that are closer to the money. in tech that usually means working at a super well funded tech startup.

I might be in a unique situation to handle this (smallish company, fairly independent), but I just tend to bullshit my way through a work week when this happens.

I will talk big and vague in meetings about what I've accomplished. I'll talk about why what I'm building turned out to be more complicated than thought originally, and will take more time than allotted. If necessary will build interfaces that look like I'm doing the work when in fact I'm not.

Keep in mind, I don't do this maliciously to "steal" from the company. I do this because I have a certain amount of creative energy, and sometimes the well just runs dry. I can't think about complicated things (much of my job is architecting systems) and I have trouble focusing. Instead of pushing myself to burn out further, I understand it as part of a boom/bust cycle and take a break at work. Sometimes this lasts up to a week (even more in a few cases).

Then one day during the bust, I'll get the wind back in my sails and start up again.

This happens once every few months, although sometimes it can be triggered by a larger project. Sometimes I'll allot a week for something, not do anything on it, and then complete it all a day before it's due. When I say "not do anything" I mean I'm not actually coding, however I think my subconscious is mulling the problem over and I'll have an "AHA!" moment when needed.

Really, it helps to get good at bullshitting and buying yourself time. Practice, practice, practice. Once again, not maliciously, but for your own well-being. Pad your days out when giving estimates to people.

Hope that helps/is applicable to your situation.

I wouldn't post anything on HN that I wouldn't want my boss to see, and frankly if I was your boss I wouldn't be that happy that:

"I just tend to bullshit my way through a work week.."

"..build interfaces that look like I'm doing the work when in fact I'm not."

"Sometimes I'll allot a week for something, not do anything on it, and then complete it all a day before it's due"

"it helps to get good at bullshitting"

Honestly, you don't sound professional. To me it's one thing to say, hey I'm burned out and I need to take a half day today. Or hey, I'm burned out, what if I worked on developer tooling for a few days to recharge my batteries.

But lying during meetings and distorting what you are working on are fireable offences, and even if you feel comfortable being that shameless and unethical on your own accord, why the heck would you give advice to someone else to do the same?

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I'm bewildered by this post.

I specifically said it's not malicious, it's in reaction to my level of creativity. It's how I operate.

> Honestly, you don't sound professional. > if you feel comfortable being that shameless and unethical

If you can work at 100% capacity at your job all the the time, great for you. If not, then you are either completely honest with your employers about it ("I didn't get anything done this week because I'm burned out") or you do the exact same things and are taking some sort of moral high ground in your post to feel superior.

It's fine if you don't agree with me giving honest advice, but keep the moral judgements to yourself when they are most likely based in hypocrisy.

EDIT: Also, just want to reiterate: this happens once in a while. I'm not doing this every day. Maybe you should re-read my post?

I don't see anything wrong in what you said.

I would go further, and I see our work culture as what is wrong. Very few vacation days and having to work too much. Having to work for healthcare (if you're in the US). I would wish we took a step back, and actually thought what we would really want instead of having to work all the time.

As I said in my comments, it's not about not being at 100% capacity all of the time. No-one is, but there are honest ways to communicate that.

What's crazy to me is strategically lying to your employers IN ADVANCE, to set yourself up to not do any work. Especially given that you are posting it under your name.

Oh, perhaps I wasn't clear. When I say I allot a week for something (5 days), that task, working at a normal pace, would probably take 3-4 days. I'm not asking for a week when it takes a day. I'm asking for 1.5x how much I think it will take to pad. Normal practice.

However sometimes, I am just not able to work on that project for a few days, and end up doing it all in one day/night after having a few days to thinking about it. For me, a good chunk of the job is thinking about it. The coding just kind of flows after that. The problem is that the thinking gets delayed =]

Employers never IN ADVANCE plan to lie to employees, right? If you ask your boss a question, you ALWAYS get a truthful answer.

Life isn't black and white. What if they're a 55 year old in tech? I could imagine someone being scared shitless of saying they're "burnt out"

I think the difference here is that you see recharging as "not doing work" while the person you are responding to sees it as part of a natural work cycle.

I don't think it's moral judgment. The GP reads more like advice.

You're wrong. Being called "unprofessional" and shamelessly "unethical" are moral judgements.

Yes, there was some advice sprinkled in: ("Don't say this out loud"). Frankly though, my employers are quite happy with me. I do incredible work, and often beat my deadlines to deliver systems that are above and beyond the scope of what was originally intended.

I just have some off periods sometimes, and I have no trouble giving an honest account of my experience to someone who also shares the same problem and needs advice.

Reading it again, yes, you are right.

What exactly is the problem with someone padding their estimates knowing there is a risk of being stuck creatively? When it happens, the estimates stand, when it doesn't, work is done faster than expected. If the parent is unfortunate enough to have to report their progress constantly, what are they supposed to do instead of bullshitting? To me that seems like a problem with their organization. What's important in terms of professionalism beyond getting work done in the time estimated?

I find it bewildering that anyone would consider a completely understandable, honest testimony shameful and unethical.

I'm quite happy the parent shared this as a lot of developers feel quite a bit of pressure when slumps happen, thinking that it's abnormal when it's really quite common (and really for any type of creative work).

What's bewildering to me is that you don't sound bewildered: you sound offended. You sound like something is at stake for you in his behaviour. Which is fine, it's ok to admit that. I am personally offended by your post, for example. Your standard of "professionalism" seems too high, and in any case, as someone who believes our society is based on the exploitation of workers, I think "professionalism" is a corrupt standard in any case, and to call his position "shameless and unethical" is the height of misplaced self-righteousness.

Thanks, you touched on an important point for me.

Workers are expected to have 110% output all the time, and nowadays to even work on nights and weekends. Arguing for pure ethics on the worker side of things while ignoring the unrealistic expectations from the employer side seems almost delusional.

That said, I love my employers, love my job, and I know they love me and the work I do. I'm also a non-trivial shareholder in my company. I am incentivized to do well. But everything is a transaction, including the information we share with each other, and learning to optimize this transaction so it benefits both my overall work process and the results I give my employers is a fine line that I've learned to walk over 12 years in the professional world.

I know how to optimize my output without airing every little detail of my inner workings to the rest of the team.

I agree with this sentiment. Do you have any references regarding this exploitation, especially in regards to knowledge workers?

Now that many of us aren't involved in the process of food and energy production, it seems that we have a good opportunity to live more and work less.

> Do you have any references regarding this exploitation, especially in regards to knowledge workers?

Unfortunately, no, although I'm sure it would be easy enough to dig up some articles. My knowledge of the anecdotal, based on conversations with people. That said, I've had the same conversation with many people! People are working harder for less. I've even heard of people who get passed up for promotions if they use any of their vacation time. As an aside, I've said in other parts of this conversation tree but I'll say it again: I love my employers and my job, so these statements don't reflect on them.

> it seems that we have a good opportunity to live more and work less.

This one also hits home to me, especially with the upcoming automation boom. We need to think of wealth redistribution channels that take a higher-level view than just "let the market decide." How will anyone have jobs if there is nothing left to do? Does all the wealth just funnel to those who own the automated systems?

UBI comes to mind. Many people really seem to hate it (labeling it as socialism even though it has nothing to do with workers' ownership of production) and write it off immediately as unfairly taxing the rich to give the poor a free ride. People really seem to defend the rich a lot in America, even though 100 years of a commoner's salary is pocket change to the people who would be hit hardest by a UBI. The term "temporarily embarrassed millionaire" couldn't be more true.

Or maybe there's another wealth distribution mechanism that could solve the problem too, but I'm not aware of any.

EDIT: just realized your response was to the parent comment, not me. Oh well, the points still stand =]

Right, as a boss I would love for my employees to work themselves to death to please me. God forbid they take a break once every couple of months.

Because please be real, your suggestion is absurd. Somebody is burned out so they should work on developer tooling for a few days? When somebody is burned out doing more work is not going to help.

Again, I said there is nothing wrong with taking a break. To me working on developer tooling is taking a break. Maybe to you it isn't, so going to someone's desk for a chat would work for you, or going to play ping-pong in the lounge.

My one and only point is that lying to your employer, to set yourself up so that you can somehow get through your low-points, means you are either in the wrong job or in the wrong profession. Be a professional and do your honest best, that's all.

That would be great if employers actually let you take a break. Instead what will happen is exactly what you would probably try, which is to get the person to do some other kind of work.

I am happy for you that working on developer tooling is a break for you, but for some people this is never going to be the case. Some people might only be able to work 150/250 possible work days in a year sustainably. I think this advice is aimed at those individuals.

At the end of the day you have to watch out for yourself. If you work yourself to suicide the company is never going feel sympathy for you. This is a business transaction, and part of business is crafting a message that resonates with counter-parties. Companies themselves do this all the time, and it is perfectly standard.

> going to someone's desk for a chat would work for you, or going to play ping-pong in the lounge.

These are not suggestions that come from a person who knows what creative burnout is. It's becoming clear to me that you've never actually had a good, hard two week burnout with deadlines hanging over your head and bosses breathing down your neck. Good for you, I can tell you it sucks.

> means you are either in the wrong job or in the wrong profession. Be a professional and do your honest best, that's all.

I am a professional. I've been through acquisitions and I've been through corporate cubicle jobs. I've founded several companies...some have failed, some have sold. I've seen a lot and learned a lot along the way, and I know how to handle a lot of different situations beyond the simple, petty mantra of "honesty is good." There are times to be honest, and there are times to hold your cards close. The world can be a harsh place, and relying on nothing but honesty and hard work to get you through it is completely naive. Other than the work you promise your employers in your contract, you owe them, honesty included, absolutely nothing. This is how they view you: a set of terms. The minute you no longer make sense, they will push you out like a popped zit. Part of being a professional means projecting an image that makes you look indispensable. Are you the person who gets their shit done, or are you the person always whining about burnout?

I'm fairly convinced at this point that you don't know what the hell you're talking about. That's fine, but maybe it's a good time to stop talking.

Come back to me in 10 years and tell me how far your complete honesty with your employers has gotten you. You'll be able to. I sign my name to my statements.

> My one and only point is that lying to your employer, to set yourself up so that you can somehow get through your low-points, means you are either in the wrong job or in the wrong profession.

Not everybody is still young in this field. Some of us have learned some "tactics" on how to handle with other humans. When I was younger and more inexperienced, I also thought that pure honesty would be rewarded with pure honesty from the other side. As long as you do things with the best of intentions, I guess some sensitivity to human conditions is a better long term approach..

I'm not really disagreeing with you, it's just that things are not so simple as you put them. If it's for you, great, but for the other 90%, it's not..

I think switching the context is a good way to go.

As I said in one of the above comments, I was working on tooling for the week, and I was feeling good about it (I was motivated).

So, when you are in a rut, and don't feel productive at work, you take the day off as unpaid leave?

Or are you always equally productive, every day that you're at work?

Not any less professional than the boss expecting you to work unpaid overtime, so unless he's on an hourly (or time-based) contract, I don't see a single thing wrong here. Two sides of the same coin.

Focus on results, not how much or how hard someone works. Also, don't you think maybe the system is wrong to expect a creative task to be constantly worked on?

Taking half a day is a joke. Working on developer tooling sounds like a joke too. Your mentality doesn't seem like a good fit for a creative task.

The responses attacking your point here seem to be operating under the assumption that the manager, and the OP's peers, don't recognize when someone is obfuscating their effort and/or results. People notice.

"Bullshitting" is defined as "be misleading or deceptive" and the cost of this is borne not only by "management" (who presumably is in this constant mode of misleading or deceiving you), but by your peers who are dependent on you, or who are waiting for you to deliver.

As someone who gets burned out from time to time, I totally get it. It's tempting. I don't know the best general solution, especially if you're in an environment of distrust (rather than what superplussed assumes). But maybe explore some other paths? If you're in a job where in order to function, you have to deceive your management AND your peers, maybe you'd be happier in a different situation or company or role. To the OP: are you trapped in your situation? (It may very well be that you are, for instance, due to market conditions or visa situation, which sheds some light on why you're opting for deception.)

Perhaps people notice, perhaps not. But if they do notice, they most likely understand the pressure and the situation and relate to it. I know I've covered for others when they aren't jamming out project after project.

Also, not trapped in any way. I love my job and my employers. But sometimes stuck between a rock and a hard place...there are hard deadlines to meet, and high pressure to meet them, and working on developer tooling or just coming out and saying "I'm burned out, not going to work this week lol" won't fly.

I'm interested to hear how you would handle a high-pressure situation where people are expecting you to pull through and you just. can't. deliver. for 7 straight days with nobody else there who can step in and do your job. Your answer is to "explore other paths." Do you have suggestions? (I am truly asking, not trying to back you into a corner).

The easy answers of "find a lower pressure job!" are bullshit, and anyone who suggests that knows it. It's a morally superior brush-off to a difficult problem.

What do you do/say to stay ethically "correct" while not jeopardizing your image/position and simultaneously gaining the understanding of your peers and those who are driving you to complete your tasks?

"half a day"

I wonder if you could share your burn out experience?

Especially because the poster has their full contact info under their profile.

With a post like that, hopefully it's fake!

There's a pretty good exploration of these periods of boom and bust in software development productivity from Joel Spolsky: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2002/01/06/fire-and-motion/

I read it years ago and it really helped me disconnect the feeling of personal failing from those days/weeks of being a professional software developer where things just don't click.

Thanks, I'll check this out. I always just sort of noticed it and recognized it as something that happens. Never really dove in to why.

on it. thx.

IMO this attitude (ie. deception) is not okay. Whatever the frequency of it, it sounds dishonest. Besides I think you're overlooking the impact it has on your peers: it is very likely someone with similar skillset will see right through the padded estimates and/or can tell the difference between bogus and actual work. Some may have trouble keeping their heads down once they've figured this out. When uninspired I think it's best to openly admit it and fallback to more menial tasks while you wait for the energy to comes back than to engage in this kind of behavior. Personally I wouldn't put up with it for very long, for fear of seeing it spread to other team members.

Is it going to be encouraging to other team members to be honest in the weekly meeting and tell everyone 'oh I didn't feel in the zone this week so I haven't done any of my tasks'? Aren't they going to think, well I never take a week to have a rest, maybe I should start doing that?

I can't see the boss being fine with this more honest way of handling it either.

It's not natural to love or even like your work. Trying to force yourself to do so is perilous. Being burnt out is not a failure. The only fix is to draw back from work in some way. That could be a vacation, it could be not trying so hard at work, it could be finding a new job, it could be finding a new living situation. Combining any of those with new interests, or rekindling old ones, might do the trick. Constantly trying to pep yourself up is not a good idea, you will eventually face catastrophic burnout.

The only other option is self-medication. That is only advisable if you truly have no other options but to keep your head to the grindstone, and you will have to deal with the inevitable fallout of self-medication, which ain't pretty. So only turn to that as a last resort, like if you're compelled (by legal or financial obligations) to continue, where the consequences of stopping outweigh the major drawbacks of self-medication.

This is why it's so important to achieve a low cost of living and some savings, as it expands your options when you face serious burnout (i.e. you can quit your job without having another one lined up, or take a much lower paying job, etc.).

Totally agree with this, and it's nice to see fellow tech folks understand that it's better to be honest with oneself with regards to interest and burnout, and to think of the bigger picture (your life, or your family). The cognitive dissonance encouraged by the 'I love my work' type of ethos is dangerous and counter-productive.

I like my work, and I like tech, but if I loved it, I wouldn't need to be paid to do it. Cut off my funding for it, and I'll probably continue to do it, but at a totally different path and pace as to what I get paid to do.

There's no need to love what you do, or try to get people to commit out loud to doing so.

> I like my work, and I like tech, but if I loved it, I wouldn't need to be paid to do it. Cut off my funding for it, and I'll probably continue to do it, but at a totally different path and pace as to what I get paid to do.

Amen, I've often joked I'd program 40hrs a week if basic income was a reality I'd just work on open source/projects that benefited people directly instead.

I don't love what I'm working on (or even like it) but I love programming and so on balance I get to do something I love for money - not a bad deal most of the time.

I've done the minimum wage thing (did it for 8-9 years in my late teens-mid twenties) and the other side of the coin is pretty horrible.

> It's not natural to love or even like your work.

This makes no sense to me.

It's "natural" to feel how you feel about your work, whether positive or negative (or oscillating). There's nothing un-natural about loving/liking your work either, which makes statements like this meaningless and unhelpful.

You're quoting out of context and distorting what I said. I didn't say that it is unnatural to like your work. I said that liking your work is not the state of nature, counter to the prevalent message that you should always enjoy what you do, or else you're doing the wrong work. Or, as Dad would put it, "that's why it's called work," or as others have said, "that's why they pay you to do it."

I'm quoting precisely what you said, and providing a counter-statement, namely, people may or may not love/like their work.

> It's not natural to love or even like your work

While this may be common or anadoctal and not everyone can be so lucky. But I legitimately enjoy, like, and even sometimes love my job and work. Major parts of it I'd likely be doing as a side hobby for free and even after a days work I toy with the idea of doing a similar side personal project similar to my work.

This might not be true every day for me but more days than not.

Though I do fully acknowledge these types of jobs are extremely rare and it's unlikely most won't ever find. But they do exist for some.

Agree with most of this, but would like to add that you don't need to "self" medicate; if there's an underlying diagnosable mental health concern (depression, anxiety), proper medical treatment might do a world of good.

I've used one or more of the following for a quick fix:

o Force 8h+ of sleep (or at least lying flat) for a 1-2 weeks, if not permanently.

o Force daily exercise mix for 1-2 weeks, if not permanently. Each day: either short and intense OR long and slow. I avoid short and intense on consecutive days.

o Really good teeth and gum care to enhance QOL and sleep.

o Fasting (water only) while at work.

o Active vacation: 2-4 days at a resort/camp where you can simplify your day to "move or eat" for all waking hours, and sleep in a decent bed for 8+h. Might want to go "screen free" as well.

Good luck!

I just did 5 days at a resort with no working of any kind. Didn't even check email. Came back, went to the office for a day and now feel as terrible as I did before leaving.

5 days always worked for me before. Is there such a thing as permanent burn out?

Unfortunately, I've seen some people get burnout that really sticks. Some found success with a much longer break (3 weeks - 6 months). I've also heard that certain types of talk therapy can unravel the burnout drivers, so one can address them "on the fly," without interrupting work too much. Finally, something else may be going on, so you may want to check in with your personal doctor or a psychiatrist. For example, a hidden vitamin deficiency can do all sorts of wacky things to quality of life.

I can confirm, a couple months long break always does wonders for me. That's why I prefer to be a contractor, as such breaks are not compatible with full-time employment.

I sure do miss contractor life right now.

Thanks for the advice! I'm due for an annual physical this month and will be sure to discuss.

At least there is hope that this may not be permanent

Mens sana in corpore sano: a healthy mind in a healthy body

thanks for a good advise!

I've discovered the hard way that there's good reason for some doctors to call food, sleep, and exercise, "The Big Three," with respect to quality of life.

Which is almost impossible when you are geek or even worse - software entrepreneur aka. startup founder. I feel like we lost something very important in our lives when the computer has been invented.

Couldn't disagree more. Under those circumstances it's critical to maintain the big three. Even if you're working 16-hr days having reasonably healthy food, doing some form of exercise between pomodoros, and resting is doable.

I'd argue it's the most important thing you can do in order to sustain that level of effort for any amount of time. You can't take care of anything else if you don't take care of yourself, physically and mentally.

I think it's especially doable as a programmer. You only get ~5 productive hours a day, so why not take a long lunch break and do some exercise in between?

1.) Usually when I'm not feeling motivated it's because I'm hitting a wall. The pomodoro technique helps me with this a lot personally-- it forces me to take breaks and recharge my creative batteries, but it also equally forces me to sit still and keep attacking that wall during the scheduled study time.

2.) Recently even pomodoro was not helping me. I think I had a project that had poorly written specs, and was also complicated to boot. It was very hard and I struggled a lot for several weeks. I tried writing down a visual map, trying to get a better mental model of it but had trouble grasping it still. I could feel my ability to focus and be motivated starting to go down over the weeks as I got more frustrated with the project not moving forward well. I felt dumb. What worked for me is going home and programming something I cared about instead for a half day on the weekend. I also did some tutorials that I could definitely succeed at. I feel like it rejuvenated my ability to focus and got rid of my frustration, I was finally getting things accomplished again and learning new things, which is a big motivator for me when programming. I like the "achievement" of completing things and I had not been getting that for weeks. I came back to work feeling like less of an impatient idiot and finished the project rather quickly from there.

Turn lemons into lemonade.

Data + Process = Results

Data is your current job.

Process is what you do with that data.

Most people will want to change the Data; that is, change job, change career, take vacation, etc.

Sounds like you're asking how to change Results without changing the Data, right?

Simple. Keep the Data the same but change the only other available variable: the Process...

Keep going to work. Keep doing the job. But change how you think about it: "How can I use this current situation as an investment toward my future?"

Consider multiple solutions to every work assignment, their way and a better way. You can still implement their way while learning a better way you can implement on the side or later.

Consider every assignment an "instance". Come up with a "class" of solutions for that instance. Instead of writing one solution, write a "mini-framework" that would solve this problem AND many similar problems. Again, you don't have to implement your elegant solution now, but once it's in your brain, it's yours forever.

Find time to talk to your users! Find out what they hate that's not being addressed (and there's probably plenty). Then work on that stuff on the side. Do it at work now and become a hero or don't do it at work now and become your own hero at another time or place.

Always be thinking, "How can I use this project to better myself?" Get creative. You may surprise yourself with the possibilities.

Most programmers struggle finding ideas. You have the opposite problem. You're surrounded by problems desperately needing solutions but not getting them. They're just not on your radar because you're so unhappy being unmotivated in your environment. Focus on the unassigned possibilities while you're in the muck. You may not realize it now, but where you're already at is the best place to find them.

Excellent post!

I hated my last job, was thoroughly miserable and finally realized that I had ended up in a state of "learned helplessness." Your approach would have helped me tremendously.

Thankfully, I've had some time for growth and introspection since leaving that company.

That's a great advice! Thank you @edw519

The thing that I've found that motivates me the most long term is to work on problems that I think are important to work on. Working on challenging problems is great, and motivating for a while (few years), but ultimately I need to work on something that I think makes a difference in the world. Also something where I think that my skills can uniquely make a difference to the problem, but that by itself is not sufficient.

I'll still get frustrated and demotivated at times, but I will come back to it with a feeling that I am at least trying to work on something important and challenging even when things don't go right or they get particularly hard.

As an example, I spent a few years working on ASIC design for high def video encoding and decoding (HD-DVD and Blu-Ray). Super interesting and challenging. Wow I don't care about it's impact on the world though.

I feel the same. Unfortunately i spent the first 2 years of my PhD learning this about myself. Still searching for the right problem.

Lack of motivation for me typically comes when I have too many things to do (and generally they are the kinds of things I don't enjoy doing). The only solution I've found is "focus on one". Sounds simple, but often it's very hard to get the clarity of mind to look at all the e-mails in my inbox or tasks on my task-list and say, "That one.". But if I do this, then I only work on that one item until it is FINISHED. The simple act of actually completing something tends to increase my level of engagement and motivation. Then I go eat a cookie.

As someone with an insatiable appetite for learning/being challenged, no kids, no serious relationship, and no equity in anything, I will walk almost immediately (with notice/finish the project/etc. of course) if I don't feel properly challenged. That said I don't feel like I'm a great person to give long term advice other than this..

I operate this way, because when I've stayed at places where my motivation began to wane, invariably, it then began swiftly descend, and then plummet incomprehensibly. The worst part was never going in to the office I had come to feel less than nothing about, it was bringing the lack of motivation home, because it inevitably followed me into my personal life, and stripped me of the desire to do the things I love.

That's where I draw the line.

Everyone is different of course. I'm sure you have good reasons for staying, and I sincerely wish you best figuring it out as someone who has been shackled very firmly with some golden-handcuffs to roles that ultimately offered me nothing more than big checks, and a sense of futility.

Talk to your manager about it. There's always a lot of options for dealing with this kind of problem, but when you are unmotivated and maybe feeling down, these options aren't apparent, which makes the situation seem hopeless.

- take a break from day to day development to do some strategic research: for example, a new technology that could be helpful to the company, etc.

- switch teams, or take on a different role within your team

- be on the lookout for anything, even something very small, that does motivate you; and figure out how to do more of that. you can't control what motivates you, but you can recognize when it is (and isn't) happening, and adjust.

Some things that have worked for me personally in the past:

- Going through a book like SICP, 7 languages in 7 weeks, etc.

- Organizing a hackday for my department.

- Since I am motivated by making things more efficient, taking a week to focus on better test automation and feeling the reward of making my colleagues' lives a bit better.

I've ellaborate a little on the root couse of my problem in the first comment.

Ragrdig what you've said. >Since I am motivated by making things more efficient, taking >a week to focus on better test automation and feeling the >reward of making my colleagues' lives a bit better.

That's what I exactly did last week for example. I've been building a tool for performance testing and automation and I was feeling good. Now, I'm done with this and I have to get back to my daily routines, which not making me happy. Moreover, one of my good teammate is leaving and that's just makes everything even more worse :)

I've noticed that burnout tends to occur when I've been doing long stretches of "just get it done" work. While that type of work is great for your employer, it can be very unfulfilling for the employee.

Programming is a craft, and one that you can find meaning and fulfillment in. Mastering your craft is an exciting and motivating endeavor if you can take the time to do it well. But if you are forced to write "just get it done" code all day it will suck the energy from your soul.

If you are in a job where you simply cannot take the extra time to write elegant, interesting, well designed code... Then it may be worth looking for a new job. Find a company where the deadline isn't yesterday, and where you can foster a pattern of writing excellent code, and improving your craft.

@julianusti, I asked a similar question almost 3 years ago; it wasn't directly about motivation at work but motivation and inspiration in general:

Ask HN: What are your sources of inspiration and motivation?

> https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8409926

I think it is very helpful to write down your thoughts and feelings to make tangible the ideas in your head that you are consciously aware of or being subconsciously influenced by. This also may "free up" your thoughts once they are "excised" and transferred to text. If you can write down the negatives, the positives, then work on framing or using a different perspective on the scenario, you may find a new way to approach your work.

I haven't had motivation to work... ever? I work only because I have to. I work as little as possible. The last 13+ years of my life seem to show this plan is a pretty good one.

Say hi to Bill Lumbergh when you see him, if you feel like it ;).

You're asking for a quick fix without knowing what the problem is. Lack of motivation is normally a sign of some other problem. If the problem is that you just don't like the work any more, maybe the only fix is not just a new job but a career change. If the problem is the project/manager/team then it might be possible to move to another team in the same company. If the problem is that you haven't taken any significant vacation in 5 years...

Step 1: Pay your bills, look at your retirement account, your mortgage, etc. Step 2: Figure out why you're working in the first place - if it's to put food on the table and pay your bills, then there's your motivation.

If you decide that you're working in order to fill a hole in your should and get a sense of satisfaction and contentment, find it outside of work (family, church, volunteering, etc).

I think it is critical to figure out if this is a short term feeling (tired, burnt out, etc.) or you are just not interested in what you are doing anymore. I think being honest with yourself and not rushing the decision will help -- say, take a month and ask yourself each morning "do I look forward to going to work today?".

Depending on that answer the recommendations will likely be very different.

Motivation isn't the key factor: motivation comes and goes. It's a natural part of being human--we won't always want to do what needs doing.

Discipline gets you doing what needs to be done. Discipline is more directly addressable.

The brain's ability to be "Disciplined" varies widely based on genetics. IT careers seem to attract those with executive function disorders more than most fields.

I wonder if IT careers can cause an executive function disorder.

My intuition is yes, sometimes.

"We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us" -Father John Culkin

Depends on your definition of "discipline" in context.

Anybody can work on their "discipline muscles"; it'll be easier for some than others.

Can you elaborate on the second sentence? Any source?

I try to make the job interesting by looking at each project or task in a few different ways:

1) Can I find some way to automate it by building some interesting abstraction to the problem?

2) Can I use some new tool or technology to increase my skill set? This might even be a non-technical skill in some cases.

3) Can I write a blog about the problem and how I approached it and how I solved the problem. Doing this will help to market my skill set or help me make connections with other interesting people.

Five lines of code. First thing, sit down and add five lines of code. It frequently gets you in the zone and you write a lot more. And even if not, you finish the day (or go into your status update) having accomplished something, which is better than continual zero progress.

Do you have secure job where you can take it easy for a while? Its a great change to work 9-5 just for the money and find other things in life to enjoy. Perhaps its spending time with family & friends, perhaps learning a hobby, maybe some physical exercise.

Think about the people you meet and if you really envy the career path or life path someone else has taken. Maybe you should follow that track?

Are you demotivated because you're burned out or because you're just not interested in the actual work you've been doing? If it's burn out, you need to take more breaks and a vacation. If you're unhappy with the kind of work you've been doing, it's time to look for a new job or find aspects of your job you can be satisfied with.

Right now I'm reading all over the questions/articles I can found related to this question. But I can't find a similar problem or solution to mine. So I would like to comment mine here.

In my case, I really like my job. All my teammates are great people, and I like working with them. Everything seams nicely. But my problem is that I don't work hard enough, (It's not that I'm actually working hard but want to push myself more, I would be very happy if that was the case), I really don't.

Do you have any suggestions?

I had a bit of a lull after 6 or 7 years. The I got a job building an entire system from scratch, learning Django (that not only gave me a big boost in productivity after Perl and CGI, but encouraged me to become a better coder). I realize now that working on new projects keeps me a lot more motivated than keeping someone else's crappy code running. Something that only requires a small team or one developer will make you feel like its your baby,rather than a small cog in a large wheel.

Avoid enterprisey software as working with that can be soul destroying (Salesforce and Marketing cloud integrations have been the most demotivating things I have worked on in a long time).

(Having said that, I think its time for me to learn something new myself as I have been using the same tech for 6 years now - Django is still great, but I need the same sort of thing for other areas of development).

I've learned not to ignore these signals (lack of motivation) but take them in stride. So I usually wiggle a little to put things in perspective and see if there's room for incremental change. If everything else fails, I don't hesitate to make drastic changes to my environment. This takes some intuition and guts. At one time or another, I've been a classics PhD student, a civil engineer, and software developer. So it helps being reflexive, opening yourself up and exposing yourself to life's forces beyond what bears on you at present, and sometimes putting yourself in a situation where there's no way but to try something new. If you're stuck in a local equilibrium, one way out may be to put some life's forces to bear on it.

Drink more coffee.

Seriously, coffee is the universal motivator. Anything that can't be fixed with coffee will have to be addressed at the source. Why aren't you feeling motivated?

Coffee causes me anxiety and wreck my sleep cycle. Some people are way too sensitive to it. Not a good solution for everyone.

Yeah, dropping caffeine from my diet was a huge benefit for me.

Not immediately, mind you. Those first couple of weeks were rough.


hold on, let me brew one ;)

Changing the color scheme of your text editor might be enough of a change to your job.

Going on a weekend trip might be enough of a vacation.

I use the "change color scheme" trick and it does work.

Why is taking a vacation not a long-term solution? That is exactly what vacations are for... to give yourself a break, let yourself step away from your job, forget about it for a while, come back refreshed and pick it back up without being as burned out.

You only have a problem when that does not work. In that case, you need to ask yourself what is really bothering you about the job, and talk to your employer about fixing it. Often, open communications about what is wrong will work, problems can be fixed, and things will improve. And if not, maybe you do need a new job.

But finding a new job or taking a vacation is a common answer because it sometimes is the correct answer. I'm not saying it should be the first answer. But don't try so hard to avoid those answers that you make yourself miserable, either.

I don't wait for motivation in general, just cultivate discipline based on the thought that I will be dead in 0 to 50*365 days and there are many things that I can do to help everybody around. Often it requires mind-numbing work but that's what the life is on this planet.

man, it's super valid point ;)

Your resilience towards work issues goes hand in hand with your personal situation. Just saying that if you would be in a super happy place personally, this stuff might get to you less.

> I think that majority of people will solve it with finding a new job or maybe take a vacation. But, this is all about long term solutions.

Oh, wait, you're saying that a new job or going on vacation is a "long term solution" ?? No, sorry, that's really a short term solution.

You're asking for even SHORTER TERM solutions? Get drunk.

Long term but pithy answer: Love and Exercise. Make serious time for taking care of your body and connecting with others in your life. You'll feel better. Seriously.

thx, I really appritiate your advice!

yeah, drugs. Fastest solution to all problems.

But my actual solution is basically putting my mindset in a zero position (i don't even work for this company) and imagine what I would love to do right now. Then figure out if this company can provide this activity. In my case what I want to do are startups and learning about the different aspects of a company so while I'm a developer i actually go out and sell our product. at least try to. or do some marketing. or team mangement.

I leave work. I browse HN. I read news. I walk around the campus. It's tough to lost motivation at work. I have been recommended to look for a new job.

yeah man, that's the thing, that leaving the work is the easiest solution. It's like your survival instincts are talking to you, to go in a way where you don't have to fight.

I feel If I leave the job I'll just follow my survival instincts and not solve the real problem.

Take a look at all my bills. They motivate me to earn, at least, enough.

Then take a look at things I'd like to have: bigger house, better car, funny gadgets. Then I know that I must work if I want to have it.

Finally, take a look at the grass from all around the globe. Places I'd like to visit, to live, places where I would have the same job and earn much less. Then I know if I'm in the right place or not.

Find a way to take a mental break in some form. If not a vacation then embrace a new hobby. Find something unrelated to work that is different and enjoyable, and do it often enough to find enjoyment and relaxation in it.

You also might just be burned out, or bored. In which case a vacation, switching things up, or even a job or lifestyle change may be in order.

I simple stop working... and take as much as possible good time to enjoy the World :) And after, I start (continue) my work again... I hope it will be helpful for you too. http://www.vuchkov.biz

You watch this course:


Then re-evaluate your life.

thx bro, I'll.

your use of the contraction like this broke me. i had to read it 4 times before it "worked".

I am feeling this hard right now and have been struggling with motivation for several years. Thank you for posing the question, I hope HN has some insights.

My pleasure @chapium, I hope on it too ;)

I have some experience with this, but don't want to air grievances in public. Happy to chat privately. Email in profile.

I'll thx a lot.

I'd look into changing jobs within the company.

Read HN.

> What I want to know, how to turn your motivation back right away, without changing a job or taking a vacation.

Sometimes vacations are very demotivating. If the work situation is bad, it is nice to get away for a week, but then after a week you're right back in it again, and it can seem worse than before, in contrast to your pleasant vacation.

More caffeine!

Jokes aside (or was it a joke at all?), you need a goal. Implementing a good feature and improving the software, reaching a position, earn money for a greater good, etc. Something that injects passion into your daily life.

You want the short term solution? Go out binge drinking on Saturday, suffer through Sunday, and then go back to work Monday thankful that you have a way to fix your bank balance.


No one does anything. They take no action. They complain about their jobs to those who will listen, and slog on unhappily. They talk about quitting but never do.

quitting is the easiest way to go, I'm trying to solve it in a different way. Which way you ask? I still don't have an answer, that's why asking here.

I'm not criticizing you nor anyone who does this. It's just a statement about what everyone does. Complaining is cathartic, not a bad thing.

Quitting is the hardest thing to do. You are not physically capable of quitting. It takes either a catastrophic event or large amounts of unhappy time to force someone to quit. People don't wake up one day and decide to quit their jobs. Facing a job search, less income, explaining to new places why you left, dealing with people when quitting, figuring out health insurance, explaining to your family, social pressure to have a job, and more, all huge problems that prevent anyone from just upping and quitting.

You aren't going to solve it, just like most other people working in tech eventually stop caring about trying to solve it. Do you think people working for garbagy startups care about that product or their jobs? In an ideal world we could all get perfect job satisfaction, but there's no way to guarantee that or optimize for that, even if you like the company.

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