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Ask HN: Is it 'normal' to struggle so hard with work?
802 points by throwawayqdhd on Feb 19, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 369 comments
This question might come across as dumb, especially for a 30 year old, but I come from a culture where this aspect of work was never emphasized and at this point, I don't know who to ask.

Basically, since as long as I can remember, I've had issues motivating myself to work and focusing on a single task.

I've used everything from rewards ("If I work for X hours, I'll play a video game") and punishment ("If I don't work for X hours, I'm a complete failure") to get myself to work.

I have to come up with elaborate new schemes to get myself to focus. I've tried awarding myself "points" for doing a task, turning my work into a virtual RPG. I've tried keeping elaborate spreadsheets of my work habits. I've tried the Seinfeld method of mapping out my "win" and "fail" days.

Essentially, I come up with a new tactic to motivate myself every couple of months. If I don't do so, I find myself struggling to meet my goals and distracted.

Part of the reason for this is perhaps the nature of my work. I'm a freelancer and have been one since I graduated from college. I make a decent enough earning because I've acquired a niche set of in-demand skills. But I struggle to meet deadlines and never have enough dedication to meet any of my long-term tasks (such as building an app or starting a business).

For years, I thought this was "normal". But I'm now starting to think that maybe I just don't have a regular case of procrastination.

Does anyone else feel this way? Is work such a complicated endeavor for you as well? Am I suffering from some form of undiagnosed ADHD?

I can relate a lot. I'm still burning through self-motivation hacks at 35, some of which are helping while most don't.

Eventually, the hack with by far the largest impact (which brought me to currently being cofounder and CTO of one of the more successful German startups) was realizing that while I simply suck at self-motivating, I never had a problem getting stuff done when working for others. I effortlessly produced two albums for other artists, while I still haven't finished my own single release after 20 years. I tried to build my own company three times and failed miserably.

Eventually, I "just" found the right teams and eventually cofounders with a great vision and lots of focus who constantly pull and motivate me to do the stuff I'm really good at (which is building teams, sharing knowledge and architecturing systems).

So I've just made my peace with the fact that I need someone else to get me started every day and just stopped fussing around it. My talents are somewhere else and I've got lots of creativity and intelligence to make up for my lack of structure.

Stop focusing on your weaknesses. KNOW your weaknesses, but don't beat yourself up for it. Also know your strengths (which is often times the other side of ADHD). Practice self-love every day. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Let me end with a quote of probably one of the greatest procrastinators out there:

> "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." — Douglas Adams

You're not alone. And it's gonna be fine.

Honestly I would second the idea of just joining a company as an FTE (full time employee). Find a place you really like, interview them at least as much as they interview you, and probably say "no" to 5-10 companies before signing on with one of them. Or maybe just join your favorite client full-time if there's one that would work.

Give it a shot for a year, you might like it. (source: have freelanced/founded, never thought I'd like working for others).

FTE stands for ‘full time equivalent’


It's frequently used to mean “Full Time Employee” (distinct from both a part timer and a contractor), probably originally by people who have overheard the HR speak and misunderstood what it is referring to, but the use seems to be established on its own at this point.

That's a shame because it's pretty useful to say e.g. you're in a 15 FTE company with about 20 colleagues.

This is a very encouraging testimony, thank you for your honesty. I am wondering: were you up-front with your cofounders about these issues when first coming together to start the business, or is it something that you just kind of brushed under the carpet and hoped that it would somehow work out (and it sounds like it did)? Or otherwise, were you aware of it enough at the time that you knew what to look for in your cofounders to bring out the best in you?

Great product by the way - via your profile I've just visited JustWatch for the first time and I'm glad to say it solves a RealProblem™ in my life. Consider yourself bookmarked!

Hey, of course this didn't come out of nowhere. After lots of failures on my own ambitions right after college, I eventually caved in (completely broke) and started a job in tech support to pay the bills. It was only then — where I got my problems and structure from an external source — that I started really excelling.

I eventually automated my job away, worked my way up through engineering into a Lead Architect position and started looking like a credible CTO position — meanwhile I had started doing therapy and coming to grips with accepting my real self.

So in the end, yes, I was pretty honest with my cofounders. Funny thing is that as long as someone else is setting the goalposts and calling the shots, I'm running super smooth, even in a lead role. I guess most people who don't know me a bit better wouldn't even notice I had these issues.

BTW this piece from Tim Ferriss helped me accept my own spiky personality a bit better a few years ago - as there's apparently lots of unexpected upvotes, maybe it might help others too :) https://tim.blog/2013/11/03/productivity-hacks/

Hey - just wanted to let you know that I really identify with the comments you made here today. I just read the blog you linked and I think it could help me a lot.

I struggle with excessive procrastination on a daily basis and seeing the stuff that generally gets posted on the topic of 'productivity' here and for example LinkedIn doesn't track with me at all since it tends to focus on doing massive amounts of work every single day with a 'just do it' mindset. All that does is stress me out, and I often feel like I'm not the right type of person to achieve things. Your view on the topic has given me some well needed positivity - thank you!

You're welcome.

I'll just leave this final piece of advice here, which I would say is the distilled essence of wisdom I've worked hard for in the last decade — whether it might reach you at the point you currently are or not:

It's not that when you have your procrastination issues covered, that you will finally be able to accept and trust yourself.

It is that when you finally accept and trust yourself, you will be able to have your procrastination issues covered.

It may sound cheesy and simple, but trust me that it's correct. Getting there is a whole different game, it took me 10 years for the first 80% and I fear the last 20% will take the rest of my life.

Very much the same. While I can do work myself, I get much more done with others. I'd get distracted or tired if I worked alone, but on a call with someone else I can go for hours, or often until they say they need a break. It helps.

My only motivation is others. I would not do well in a solo work environment. The main driver for me to even clean my house is for my son.

I agree that knowing yourself is important. It's no use forcing yourself to do things you clearly don't enjoy. However, I want to share a motivational hack with you.

I have a bad back. By far the best treatment I got is regular exercise. Later, because of vanity, and because I was always a skinny nerd, I started adding exercises that weren't exactly critical. Okay, I acquired "runner's knee", so it was initially squats. But there's no strict need for push-ups, cycling, pull-ups. I do those for vanity. I like the way I look compared to my peers, even much younger ones. I sweat like hell during some exercises, like when I do 5 sets of squats 3 times a week. But I manage to pull through.

...and... at some point I realized, if I have (or just developed) enough willpower to persist with these often exhausting exercises, why can't I apply the same persistence to practicing programming ? It turns out... I can. Working out HARD is difficult. So is programming. Working out taught me to not get discouraged doing things I know have merit. To keep trying, and use different approaches if the last one didn't work. There's a bit of overlap between working out and programming.

It helped that the other alternative I have is software testing. Reading through the ISTQB materials, and writing some tests I realized this stuff bores me almost to tears. Software testing is important and useful, yes. But it's also a lot of copy&paste work, boilerplates, and you're discouraged from using creative code. Do Repeat Yourself. I make many errors when using copy&paste in code, because monotony puts me to sleep. I forget to update some variable name. Some programming languages, like Rust, have compilers picky enough to reduce the need for software testing. And at the end of the day, you're looking for holes in someone else's work, and the skills you pick up can't be later used in a fun side project.

The bottom line: regular exercise can change your perspective. Realizing other alternatives are boring can change your perspective.

So here's a question - what if I am of this disposition but I have a lot of ideas? And I would not be satisfied with life unless I'm pursuing them? Is there a way to reach out to find people to be in charge of me to execute on my ideas? Does anybody want to do that? (These are not necessarily businesses)

Take this with a heavy grain of salt. It's an idea I've had -- even though I don't have motivation problems -- that I have yet to do. (I plan to within the next three months.)

Hire a part-time project manager.

A good project manager is immensely helpful in (1) teasing out and decoupling requirements, (2) producing a work-breakdown structure (WBS), (3) setting a schedule/timeline for execution, (4) assessing risks, and finally (5) controlling activity and adherence to the schedule.

These are all activities that suck to do alone. A project manager offers a useful organizer and controller. Basically, they represent a forcing function.

Just like personal trainers help unmotivated people stay in-shape, I think a personal part-time project manager would help you follow through on your projects.

I like this idea. Also as soon as you commit cash it's going to be easier to follow through. Make the sunk costs fallacy work in your favor!

it's called a wife where I live (/s), but like any good manager she'll take care of 100% your resources

> Is there a way to reach out to find people to be in charge of me to execute on my ideas?

If it were a business, these would probably be your customers, you usually reach out to them via sales. If instead these are ideas (software) that you want to explore, open-source is a great avenue. As you gain users, issues filed for new features or against bugs become your motivation. To gain users in OSS, you generally need to publicize through a blog or something.

> Does anybody want to do that?

Just find users, and they’ll do it organically.

This is partly why YC (and others) suggest being 2-3 cofounders in startups (the same idea should hold in hobbies as well): the social pressure to perform 'your end of the bargain' is enormous and can do wonders for motivation / productivity.

Sure, if you can pay a CEO salary.

That is literally the job of a CEO. He executes.

People argue that money is never as good a motivator as true passion is. I am not taking sides on that matter, it is just something to consider.

I don't normally think the default "he" as a singular gender-neutral pronoun is a big deal but in this case when describing the ideal of a CEO I would suggest that you use the singular "they" or "he/she" or risk giving the impression of promoting outdated gender roles

TBH I've been thinking long and hard about that issue since I still have lots of interesting plans, and for the next step in my career (which is probably still a few years away), I already decided I'll do what it takes to find someone who's aligned with me on that very topic and can fill the role for shares and cash.

I think it's a little weird but workable, I have at one time worked with someone who had a quite similar disposition (he was more of a product and sales guy) and he literally hired a managing director for his newly founded company so he could do the stuff he was best at — on the topic he chose himself, in the company he founded himself.

As per the above analogy, if you've surrounded yourself with people willing to work with you given the value you bring to the table, you may manage to recruit them for your own ventures. Some of the most prolific modern artists seem like giants that stand on their own but work with others constantly, which provides some not-insignificant level of inspiration. John Zorn comes to mind, pumping out about a half-dozen albums a year on his label.

You might like something like this:


Ooh, I hadn't known about that one! Here's a similar one whose founder I can vouch for: https://bossasaservice.life/

That is pretty interesting. Thank you.

Man, this is so recognisable. I've always had problems with self-motivation and discipline, and especially when working on my own projects. The first year I was self-employed, I had ambitious ideas about my own projects. I had a toddler at the time, and I had some great ideas for multi-lingual mobile games for toddlers (most are just in English). I started on one, but messed about so much (trying to learn Photoshop on my own, switching frameworks, reading about other stuff), while worrying about all the parts I wouldn't be able to do myself (graphics, music) that I never got anywhere.

Then I became a freelancer on other people's projects (mostly banks lately), and that's going fine and pays very well. But when I think about all the time I wasted not getting anything done on my own projects...

Best thing I did for my own project, was tutoring a friend who'd just switched from medical psychology research to programming. We worked on my hobby project together, and that at least got me going.

Working for others is so much easier than working for yourself. Fucking up my own ideas doesn't hurt anyone but me, but a paying client, that certainly helps motivation.

Have you ever tried medication? For me personally it's even worse when working for others. Even went to the therapist, but she said they don't prescribe stuff like Adderall (don't even have it), and solution is just therapy in form of talking, which had zero effect (she asked questions I asked myself when I was 15). Really curious about Adderall.

Went through Ritalin (normal & XR), amphetamine, SSRI and tricyclic antidepressants, but in hindsight none of those gave me much leverage... just left me with holes in my short term memory I'm still regularly annoyed by. YMMV of course, I'm not a doctor and results in this space vary wildly.

The really large improvements came from external structure and therapy. BTW I experienced pretty much the same as you did in the beginning, it was only the third therapist who asked the really uncomfortable questions and went in deep. The others were just a waste of time. The difference between good and bad therapists is several orders of magnitude and a personal connection matters. Don't give up and try to get recommendations.

Ritalin and amphetamine did not improve your focus/motivation? Not even the first couple of times you tried them?

Not OP. But when my doc said I have ADHD I gave it a try and it doesn't for me. I tried several dosages and settings but it does never improve my focus and especially not my motivation. If anything the wrong dosage made it just worse.

I still don't see the use for these pills out of last resort party add on.

I'm not a doctor, but if you do have ADHD, it's worth trying all the available medication -- amphetamines(adderall, dexedrine, desoxyn), methylphenidate in it's various release forms, strattera, or off label medicine -- modafinil, bupropion or even nicotine patches.

You might also have another condition like depression.

I've experimented with several chemicals (probably not legal where I live) and indeed not all provide both focus AND motivation.

Healthy work habits, enjoying the work that you do, having longer term goals and your work actually contributing to your longer term goals, having hobbies outside work and so on and on -- all these things can help.

Also make sure you lead a healthy lifestyle, you sleep properly, you do physical activity, check you vitamin Bs, hormone levels -- thyroid, testosterone.

You can also do a DNA test with 23andme/ancestry and then analyze the raw data with something like Promethease.

Adderall helps me with focus and motivation but it makes me feel absolutely not like myself. I've done various drugs throughout my life but the feeling I had on Adderall was honestly downright scary once I had wrapped up the programming tasks I set out to do on it.

Did you feel "zombied-out" -- completely emotionless, staring at a blank wall, like you have your foot on both the acceleration and the break pedal of a car; I felt that way when taking too large of a dosage of certain stimulants.

I certainly don't mind being an average 1x programmer, if I don't have to take drugs to better my performance.

I don't like coffee, nor alcohol, and I never put any smoke in my mouth. When my diet is OK and my body gets the required exercise, the mind works best.

I tried all variations on the theme - different sleep patterns (getting up early at fixed time, waking naturally), diets (low carb, no processed food with excess sugar etc etc, workouts (running, working with weights), no coffee, just 1 cup of coffee, max 2-3 cups of coffee... sadly without significant effect. What I also notice that my lack of focus is not tied just to productivity - I can't even finish Lord of the Rings movie in one sitting, and I LOVE it.

I have worked 0 hours the last 3 days, but I did 90h/week stakes for 2 months continuously from December to January.

Have you ever been burned out? I wouldn't work 90 hours per week these days unless someone was paying me a really serious amount of money. For my current rates, I find it not unethical to work at a more relaxed pace, procrastinating, really maybe working for about 3 hours per day.

You might be unsure of the resulting reward from doing something. When I was an undergraduate, I've experienced poverty and hunger multiple times, which was proved to be (ironically) a great motivator. Unless off course I couldn't find a client to do a project for so I'd find myself in some serious depression instead.

I was (am?) a Matrix fan myself, but I wouldn't find it rewarding to rewatch the films or the anime again. I like re-reading the interpretations once in 2 or 3 years or so (<spoilers>I believe Neo is a program himself and Zion is also a simulation</spoilers>).

On the other hand, I binge-watched the two seasons of Stranger Things when the second one came out. Did I like it? Yes. Would I rewatch it, no. There's no reward in doing so.

I hate to give advice on the internet, as the variables that define each of us are haotic, but try to get along with yourself. Boredom might be a coping/survival mechanism of our bodies to not burn out (the reward must be greater than the energy/time you dedicated to a project).

You might find the following video interesting


Your therapist should be able to refer you to an MD for meds, if she thinks that would help.

Trouble is there are no amphetamines as meds in my backwards country.

Working with someone else who holds me accountable creates a bizarre amount of motivation for me. There is certainly something hard-wired in humanity about working in groups.

Gretchen Rubin has a podcast and books; she has a concept of personality types. I can't remember them all, but one is "Obliger", where you're more likely to meet outside expectations than your own. I've got a lot of that myself.

I think this idea is fantastic, and here's another reason: You have a giant grab-bag of motivational tricks to teach your mentees.

Dealing with this issue didn't result in the strength you wanted, but it sure as shit gave you some strengths anyway.

I have a music studio in central Germany. Wanna do a single together? ;-)

I'm in. Just add me on LinkedIn :)

Practice self love.. (very good to do, but ) it made me think, doesn’t this all have much to do with not being able to impress oneself anymore?

I’m just like you although I doubt as successful. This is very very good feedback for this person.

thx so much for writing this. what a helpful comment.

I'm familiar with this. There's no magic solution, sadly, but I'll share one thing that has helped me and may apply at least to some of your situations.

I realised a while ago that my main issue was with nebulous tasks -- that is, the more concrete, defined, and _meetable_ a task was, the less trouble I had with it. So I started to break down large tasks, which never got started much less finished, into smaller ones, in the same way you might break a scrum-poker 20-pointer into a bunch of 3s.

You want to go from this:

- I should really write [some great app idea]

To this:

- I'll make a list of technologies that I want to use

- I'll read the docs, like a book, for the ones that are new

- I'll write a single api endpoint

- I'll flesh out the api for the rest of a feature

- I'll MVP a UI for that one feature, without any concern for design

- etc.

In my case, a combination of the size of and amount of ambiguity in a task is inversely proportional to the ability I have to both get it underway and get it finished.

This approach is immensely helpful to me as well. Started practicing problem slicing after watching a lecture from Don Knuth. He started by writing down a problem and underlining it. He then solved small bits of it and worked through many examples that seemed almost trivial. Eventually, some amazing results began to emerge after the many trivial examples were worked through. Impressed on me the power of breaking a large problem down into small, simple parts and working through them one at a time. I think problem slicing is one of the only ways to actually solve some kinds of big problems.

Problem slicing is awesome. I suspect its effectiveness has to do with preventing overwhelm which makes starting easier, as well as providing more completion rewards, which provides an upward spiral of momentum.

Do you have a link or title to the video? I'm interested in watching it, but searching isn't turning up likely matches.

I didn't find the video, I'd be interested in seeing it too. But I did find this: https://www.cs.stanford.edu/~knuth/papers/cs1055.pdf It's a set of notes of a problem solving seminar that Knuth taught to grad students at Stanford in 1985. It looks interesting.

I'm also curious to see this. I think a lot of the really strong programmers I know do this instinctually where as I have to be more deliberate breaking things down. Perhaps some of it is that they are able more more naturally hold it in their minds than writing it out on a piece of paper like I do. Maybe they "learned how to learn" in that way better than I did when they were younger.

It was from a video where Don Knuth recreated one of his first lectures.


At one point around 20 or 30 minutes in, he says something like, “We’re going to start easy and slow and then work harder later on.” He exhaustively writes out a large number of different combinations of possible runtimes of an algorithm. It seems quite tedious, but eventually some cool results emerge related to Sterling Numbers :)

At first, I thought it was somewhat annoying that the lecture was methodically going through so many examples. Since then, I’ve realized that methodically going through small sub-problems patiently is often the way you eventually get to a giant leap.

Second this, please link, really want to see it! Also couldn't find it.

Problem Slicing is the key; Kent Beck wrote an article about "Master Programming" and I'd like to take his advice whenever I encounter a problem in programming, but also in real life (e.g. coordinating tasks in work or private life): https://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/4n3s7c/kent_be...

> Slicing. Take a big project, cut it into thin slices, and rearrange the slices to suit your context. I can always slice projects finer and I can always find new permutations of the slices that meet different needs.

What do you know about the author, Kent Beck?

Kent Beck is the father of TDD[1] and a well-known agile advocate

[1] — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/387190.Test_Driven_Devel...

Kent Beck is well-known and the creator of Extreme Programming: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_Beck

This is exactly what worked for me - thankfully I learnt it while doing my university dissertation and before I started my career.

You can't start the task "start a business", but you can start the task "determine the market size for x".

This approach has helped me significantly.

Another aspect that is also useful has been my experience of Pomodoro technique. At a job where we were practicing Pomodoro technique, I realized I don’t struggle with concentration anymore. The minimalistic explanation of the technique is to work on a task inside 45 minute intervals; then walk away from the computer for several minutes.

+1 for pomodoro technique.

I find one of the additional benefits it has is that it gives you a means of quantifying your day. Often I can't remember exactly what I've been working on but knowing that I've completed x amounts of intervals leaves me way more satisfied at the end of the day and makes me feel much more confident that I've been productive.

I find it can also reveal how long some things take to complete. Rather than thinking 'uhh I couldn't even complete that task today' it can often lead to 'wow, I worked on that task for x intervals and it still wasn't complete - I definitely underestimated that one!'

+1 for Pomodoro technique. Traditionally, it's 25m, but you can choose any length that works for you. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

I've been wondering, is there a todo / task tracking app that can somehow aggregate tasks across multiple applications?

Currently my tasks are spread across emails and email drafts, Github issues, iOS reminders, Slack, my head, etc. It's a lot of work to keep track of them all.

Maybe I should just carry around a paper notebook and make that the authoritative source of tasks.

Sounds like you need a process, rather than a tool. Personally, I jot down everything that gets mentioned to me on paper and, within 1-2 days, it will end up in the project management system (if it is something to be worked on). Once it's there, I strike it through in my notepad. So basically, 99% of my notepad is a scribble - only 1% that I need to think about remains un-struck.

That feels kinda familiar. My experience might or might not be helpful.

I read about Getting Things Done, and I worked to track everything in one place, but I find that task tracking in two places work best for me:

1. Something like Evernote or Simplenote, for capturing notes on any device that's handy: phone, tablet, computer, etc. Being able to search really easily is crucial, to avoid duplicate topics.

2. Something like Trello for easier prioritizing and categorization. Moving around the index card analogies is much easier than moving text.

Using email as an issue tracker is an anti-pattern. It means your work to prioritize can get casually jumbled, and for me, that flow can get interrupted more easily. Ditto for Slack.

I like paper notebooks - I used one at work so I wouldn't drop any of the tasks I was juggling - but they're less portable than my phone. Before that, I had a Hipster PDA (index cards and a paper clip - http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/03/introducing-the-hipster-... ) but I had lots of notes, and searching was awkward, meaning "just write it (again) before I forget it, sort it out later," meant there was curation involved, and that using 1. above was lower-friction and just overall better.

Paper notebooks are great since writing down tasks turns them into something real because of the haptic feedback from touching paper.

Note apps, task apps, etc. all can not handle to that considering the brain simply considers things with haptic feedback more memorable and actionable.

Strongly recommend


Use it well and it'll serve as both a todo list and your own personal instantly searchable, super fast knowledge base.

I pipe emails, GitHub, etc into a private Slack channel, and use starred slack messages as my inbox.

Hubstaff takes screenshots while you work and you can jot down notes when you feel like it.

I also find myself reviewing my Chrome history sometimes if I have no idea all the things I had been working on all day.

Designing productivity tools is one of my favorite procrastination activities ;)

Personally, I use Trello with the Planyway addon.

100% this. Break down the tasks into smaller and smaller chunks, use an app like Todoist to track it. So create a project for each major task, and have all the todo's inside that project. You'll feel achievement as you complete each small task, and within no time you'll find you have completed the project, AKA, one big task.

Any recommendations for something like this that's local-only or self-hosted? I've been on the lookout for such a thing for a while but they all seem to be SaaS web app type things.

I use index cards and a pen! I like to have something that is physically in front of me all the time. It works great.

Paper and pen or pencil or crayon or chalk on paper. Preferably with some color.

Our senses of touch, smell and sound are important and inspiring.

I just keep a text file around that I sync using NextCloud. From what I've seen self-hosted TODO list solutions are generally pretty bad. I tried OpenTasks[1] on Android using NextCloud's DAV backend, but the app doesn't support proper sub-tasks (subtasks are handled as Markdown text in task's notes). And there doesn't seem to be any good Desktop app that that I found that works well (or is cross-platform) either.

[1] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.dmfs.tasks...

Probably http://restya.com/board ? In some aspects like offline sync and list view, it is better than Trello

How would you compare Todoist to Trello? Would you recommend switching?

I think they serve orthogonal purposes (task-tracking vs Kanban project management). There is heavy overlap between them, and you can certainly use one over the other, but their original intent is clear.

What arbie said. Todoist is great for a Todo/task management software, and I use Trello more in a business environment to visually see an overview of current projects and track next steps.

+1 for Todoist.

It's awesome to structure tasks into more and more subtasks.

I still use paper :)

A specific version of this is just writing a single connected "skeleton" of app, stubbing out absolutely everything that isn't needed with 'if (input == this) return that; assert(false);' and just getting something from input to output. Then it's a lot easier to go and add more meat.

I'll second this and on top of that would advise you to try to get some more insights into your personal drivers / personality (I fell for Meyers-Briggs or MBTI, but have to be honested that personality science feels somewhat hand-wavy.). It might be that being a freelancer is not the best fit for you and perhaps being on a team or in a team-lead role would fit your personality better. For me external demands and a corporate environment where there is quite a lot of appetite for thinking outside the box gave me a lot more energy than my studies and first job(s).

Unfortunately, often I feel like the more mundane & straightforward tasks are the ones that I find the hardest to get started on. But i think this is still a great idea for tackling large, daunting tasks.

Yes - I basically use indented lists of tasks like this for everything. Indented because often times you realize you didn't quite break that down enough and need more steps underneath it for them to be approachable.

Lots of tools are great for this too, I've used Tomboy, OneNote and org-mode, all of which do this very well.

> There's no magic solution

In cases where it is medically necessary, there is: Adderall.


Get hired in some software corporation. You'll be amazed how easy the work is and how well it pays. The only motivation you'll need is to get up in the morning and haul you ass to the office.

After few months of what will feel like vacation to you, in the company of fresh smart people, you'll start to get bored, even despite doing more hobby programming in your free time then you done in a long time. But at this point your freelancing clients will direly need you. So you'll take some jobs for weekends and evenings, at way higher hourly rate then you used to have.

After a while of that let one of your freelancing clients hire you but not as freelancer but a full time remote employee paid not for hours of coding but rather for 8 hours each day, same way you were paid at corporation.

After working for two or 3 years like that your problems with motivating yourself will come back but till then hopefully you'll get enough money to take a long break and then get hired somewhere else or do something else entirely.

As a side note don't ever play MOBA games. You'll get hooked so bad you'll have very little time to do any personal development and will have trouble enjoying any other games you enjoyed previously.

>After a while of that let one of your freelancing clients hire you but not as freelancer but a full time remote employee paid not for hours of coding but rather for 8 hours each day, same way you were paid at corporation.

I'm here now, but find myself in a similar situation to OP and have been thinking about quitting. There's very little oversight and the business large enough that I have very little to do - and noone really cares if it does get done or not.

I moved to the countryside in another country and do a lot of mountain biking, running, walking, skiing, as work only takes around an hour a day. My friends all think it's crazy and that I'm in the luckiest situation I could possibly be in. I do feel my physical health has never been better, but mentally I find it really hard to do this.

> [...] I have very little to do - and noone really cares if it does get done or not.

That's the moment when you absolutely need to avoid playing MOBA games.

> My friends all think it's crazy and that I'm in the luckiest situation I could possibly be in. I do feel my physical health has never been better, but mentally I find it really hard to do this.

I was in the similar spot (but didn't act as smart as you did and let my health slip) and eventually quit. What I think is lacking in this setup is daily company of the smart people that understand and appreciate your work.

I think you might regain some happiness by joining some lively open source projects developers since you have time during your work hours. Maybe bit covertly because while people might not be interested in the work they pay you for they might get interested if they can see you working on something else in the time they bought.

Maybe you can get some friends that way, that will appreciate your work and skill.

It was a cliff note but certain forms of media can do great harm to certain personality types. FPS games in particular kind of numb me with all the input and I can easily get lost for hours by the constant engagement. I kind of solved it by having my laptop be a dual boot with windows/macos, but even then its constantly tempting.

>As a side note don't ever play MOBA games. You'll get hooked so bad you'll have very little time to do any personal development and will have trouble enjoying any other games you enjoyed previously.

5000+ hours of DOTA2, started playing DOTA in 2005, played lots of HON and LOL too, confirmed.

I was able to quit for 6 months, which was the longest I'd ever stopped playing, but relapsed recently. I don't even enjoy playing that much anymore. It's just really addictive.

I migrated to pubg from hon. RIP HON :(

I miss Nomad and Aluna and Predator even though Predator is basically Huskar. I also heard Fortnight recently overtook PUBG.. and they're not even in China yet.

Wise advice OP.

Started D1 in 2007, have way over 10k HoN games. I feel you brother/sister. Recently it seems that Frostburn managed to almost completely kill the game, I think 2018 might be the year. Still watch some hontour on Twitch and catch up with old buddies </3. It's like some sort of closure seeing that I'm not the only one the game had such an effect.

You are my hero.

MOBA? Museum of Bad Art? http://www.museumofbadart.org/index.php :-)

I have felt the same way. Some things that helped me:

1. Do the “Productivity” sessions in the Headspace app. I was really skeptical about guided meditation, but have found them very useful in maintaining focus. It teaches you to be aware when your mind wanders and helps you bring focus back to the task at hand. https://www.headspace.com/

2. Force yourself to break big tasks down into tiny chunks. When things seem overwhelming, it's easy to put them off.

3. Consider using an app that divides your working day into chunks that you can work on in 30-minute intervals. I use http://focuslist.co/ to set my agenda for the day early on, then work through the list.

4. Read “Deep Work” and “So Good They Can't Ignore You” by Cal Newport.

5. Reduce social media. I dropped Facebook and removed all twitter apps from my phone. This is a good guide: http://humanetech.com/take-control/

6. Exercise for 20 minutes every morning. I bought a speed rope from http://rpmtraining.com/ and now skip every morning while listening to podcasts / audiobooks.

7. Consider getting a full-time job, or a contract with one company for 20-30 hours a week. Having co-workers to compare yourself with and managers to be answerable to is a natural motivator.

> 1. Do the “Productivity” sessions in the Headspace app.

If you haven't done so already - do the "Motivation" pack too - it literally teaches you how to summon motivation which is phenomenal.

+1 for jump roping. Besides daily exercise, you can pull out the rope and get back into a good mental state whenever it feels impossible to focus. If you're not looking to drop $35–75, here's a very affordable rope that'll do the trick: https://www.officedepot.com/a/products/836084/Champion-Sport...

Never heard of headspace until now. Just heard the basics, it's a very cool site. Thanks for sharing.

I don't know exactly what your "success" or "failure" looks like to you, but I will say that working in an unstructured environment (which is what you normally do when freelancing) is super hard. I'm willing to bet that if you were to get a 9-5 job you'd discover that you're actually outperforming most other people -- because the 8 years of experience you have pushing yourself.

Being "self-driven" is both a talent and a skill. Some people are naturally good at it, but everybody can get better with practice. It sounds like you have been working hard at it! I spent 5 years teaching ESL at a high school and in that time read many, many papers on motivation. One of the things I discovered is that it's still really an open question how it works. I can tell you from my own experience, though, that circumstances can change your motivations completely. That probably sounds obvious, but it works in subtle ways. Working in an office, not working in an office, having a partner (both social and work versions), etc, etc, can change things dramatically. It's not just about finding a technique to concentrate.

What I will say is that freelancing is playing on hard mode, so it doesn't surprise me that you find it hard. That may or may not have any relevance to your ultimate questions, unfortunately. If I were to bet, making your job easier will make you more successful at this point in time (though you may want to dial it up again at a later point).

Not saying OP, but some people chaff under leadership and need that "out" of freelancing to feel like they can walk away without concerns for loyalty. Sometimes it's because the leaders are inept, and sometimes it's because people just don't like being controlled.

The Wachowskis spent 3 movies telling us about how there are layers of control no matter where you look. Perhaps OP is struggling because he may have been avoiding control by freelancing, only to find that he's being controlled in other ways.

I don't want to sound judgmental at all. It's possible that this could simply be a matter of perspective and once he finds out how to live within the abstract boundaries of freelancing controls, he'll be more able to take on the rigidity of authoritarian control found in office life.

Do you have any more information or links on this interpretation of the matrix?

Unfortunately not anymore. It's been many years.

It's not so much an interpretation as just one aspect of the entire story. Go back to the first film when Morpheus says the Matrix is just a form of "control", and then laser focus on that word for the rest of the trilogy.

There are many aspects of the story, and while it's great to sit back and take it all in at once, it's also good to give it a watch through with a specific concept in mind.

I suppose in that way it's similar to what people find in their various bibles. Reading the same stories again and again, yet finding new perspectives and on them.

This. I know many scientists who've been claiming that their SO was the reason for their success. I know I've personally started working a lot more since I've been caught.

I'm in my mid 30s and I think I'm in the middle of the pack as far as productivity/focus/procrastination go. From that perspective and from your own description of yourself, I would put you below average, and much more importantly - your performance is making you unhappy.

I think this calls for a self-diagnostic. I would definitely see a therapist and maybe a doctor to make sure there aren't any subtle undiagnosed issues holding you back. This could be mild depression, ADHD, or heck sleep apnea. Or maybe you're completely in the wrong field for yourself and a counselor could help to quickly suss that out. Or maybe you're a wild perfectionist and don't even know it. There's a million possible explanations that could be completely invisible to you but accessible to a trained 3rd party.

If you were in your early 20s I'd say... muddle through, no one starts off awesome. But by your 30s I think it's reasonable to expect more and appropriate to get proactive about getting to the bottom of this.

I had a long period of time where I couldn't get motivated to do anything after a business partner screwed me out of millions of dollars from an acquisition. I would try and try, but I just couldn't get started on things, or I would start and never finish. I later learned that after this incident, I was suffering from "learned helplessness" [1]. This is a phenomenon where after experiencing a trauma that you were powerless to stop, the brain generalizes that powerlessness and applies it even to situations where you do have control. Essentially, you no longer believe that your efforts can yield positive outcomes, and you stop trying.

Learned helplessness is believed to be a major driver in depression and obviously is a source of issues with motivation. It's a really interesting and treatable condition. If anyone reading this believes this may be an issue for you, you should look into a therapist that is experienced with CBT, as this can be an effective treatment for learned helplessness.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness

Whoa, thank you so much for sharing this. I never heard of this concept before, it's an unknown unknown for me. This explains a lot of my personality.

Sometimes it's also a bad self-diagnosis, we tend to forget that a few months ago we were the most productive. People have ups and downs.

I think you are right about the mild depression. In my own post further up, I suggested Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a possible solution (possible to do as self-study and self-practice)

> possible to do as self-study and self-practice

Do you have any tips on getting started? A blog/website, what to look for?

Rhena Branch,‎ Rob Willson: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies


Ignore the stupid series title, it's a great book.

You mention playing video games as a rewards and I immediately wonder: how much of your problem is the fact that video games made you get used to fast and easy rewards? How much did you desensitize your innate reward system by video games? I'm probably going to get down voted for this remark but I encourage every gamer feeling the urge to down vote to take a critical look at themselves before doing so, be honest, my interest in this is also honest. In the digital world nowadays many things are optimized for fast rewards, real life is not.

Gamers often tell me "it's just for relaxation" but often I feel that the time invested by them in games makes it more like a lifestyle.

That said, a tip would be: What do you like about work? What are the things that do motivate you? Try to make a list and try the make the items on said list as big a part of your day and tasks as possible.

I would say most video games do not have fast/easy rewards. There may be numerous small wins scattered throughout the completion of most games, but I would argue it's not much different from the distribution of small wins you could find at work (completing a small function, finding/fixing a bug, getting a large subtask done, etc). Most video games are decently challenging on a whole, and requires some persistence.

I would argue browsing reddit/HN/facebook/checking email/notifications are loaded with a ton more fast/easy rewards that give instant gratification than most video games.

That second paragraph is exactly what he is talking about. Your first paragraph is more of a semantic argument.

I'm a huge gamer, my twin brother is not. When we both try to make a 'game' out of cleaning the house, I think it is easier for him. My bar for being entertained is just much much higher than his, because I get super high quality entertainment from video games.

I want to finish the dishes so I can get back to killing all the orcs in Mordor. He wants to finish the dishes so he can go meditate... The result is he does the dishes a bit better than I do. (Although I often complete the same task more quickly)

I definitely still prefer my choice to his, I am aware that my decisions changing the reward centers of my brain. Mowing the lawn will never be a fun game to me, because I have actual fun games to play.

I would argue it's not so much the rewards, but rather the feeling of progression towards a reward. I used to have a terrible problem where I would just waste entire weekends playing a Civilization game, not because I was being rewarded, but because I could tell I was progressing towards some form of in-game victory. As soon as I felt like this wasn't the case the game just lost it's zeal.

It's still a reward, but with more subtlety.

Ironically enough I'm actually a game developer myself and have used insights such as these to create a web app that turns business development and customer validation into a game. Seems to be working, albeit by my own admission it's a tad strange.

I think it's not just a gaming problem. The social networking fastfoods and TV is also about short instant busts of reward.

I am one of the very few people in my circle who doesn't game. I always wondered about these things myself.

Especially the instant reward expectations seem to grow a lot with abusive gaming behaviour.

Things to try:

- get more sleep

- time off to recharge / re-motivate

- meditation / yoga / exercise

- try to stop using stimulants (includes caffeine/nicotine/sugar) or try using different stimulants (eg. arecoline)

- absolutely do not smoke marijuana, it is known to make many people lazy and demotivated

- control your environment (quiet, no phone, phone off, offline)

- clean your environment (zero clutter)

- change your environment (fresh space)

- remove all distractions (visual, audio, etc.)

- try different times of day (eg. sleep early, wake then work early AM before sunrise)

absolutely do not smoke marijuana, it is known to make many people lazy and demotivated

This is the stereotype. Sure, some folks get lazy, but same for lots of drugs, including alcohol. How many potheads have you known? I've been one at different times, probably qualify, and would rather work with a pothead who is stoned all the time than a drunk. Lazy isn't due to marijuana, but rather the person smoking and to an extent, their reaction and tolerance level.

With me is the opposite. I don't clean house more or lesse, for instance, when I'm stoned constantly, but I don't mind doing it as much. I eat less. I enjoy my work more. I start enjoying going for actual walks. Now, if you are getting so stoned that you can't walk, that's gonna be an issue. But for me, at least, it isn't what you say. It might be worth trying occasionally. It might be worth cutting down. And if you just do it on weekends occasionally or smoking in the evenings after things are done, it probably isn't going to make little difference.

I am slightly more forgetful. But only slightly. I've sat here and learned stuff, like a langauge (not fluent, but can do simple jobs and speak lightly about politics with it). Not that big of a deal.

I agree with everything bug

> - absolutely do not smoke marijuana, it is known to make many people lazy and demotivated

This is largely a myth whereas I can easily find citations and scientific research to back every other advice. Smoking a lot of marijuana is bad because it messes with your pleasure cycle but overall motivation is hardly effected (citations provided upon request - please do ask or look at pubmed yourself).


> - try different times of day (eg. sleep early, wake then work early AM before sunrise)

Messing with your circadian clock is dangerous (as in cardiovascular desease dangerous) and I would not recommend anyone to do this. The other advice (like sleep more) is important.

> - meditation / yoga / exercise

This a million times, meditation and exercise are great at motivating you.

> - absolutely do not smoke marijuana, it is known to make many people lazy and demotivated

This irked me too. I think it's because it's basically medical advise.

I don't want to tell people that they can't comment on the use of chemicals etc but the way they effect people varies considerably and unless you're a doctor with experience in prescribing marajuana then your advise is... hard to trust I guess.

This is regardless of popular opinion. Lots of people can be wrong at the same time.

Stick to personal anecdotes? E.g. I used to take marajuana and I found that it blurred my thoughts and made it hard for me to be motivated so to for me, stopping taking marajuana allowed me to focus a lot more.

Managing distractions, clearing, and changing your environment are particularly effective for me. I was reminded of the following study skills lecture, some of which is applicable when trying to get going and keep going in a work context.

Marty Lobdell - Study Less Study Smart ~60 min. Study environment commentary from 10:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlU-zDU6aQ0

I think this can be a result of spreading yourself too thin. I was in a similar situation myself when I was trying to do too much by myself and had insane ambitions for myself.

The question to ask yourself is Are you trying to accomplish the task of 5 people by yourself?

Because if you are then any amount of work you do, you will never feel satisfied (because let's face it nobody can do the work of 5 people and ace it all.. you are bound to dislike some aspect of it, procrastinate and then blame yourself for not doing enough). So I advise you to first create a list of the expectations you have for yourself and then imagine assigning it to a friend. What would be your take on it.. Do you think he should be able to handle it easily or do you think you're asking too much from him?

Lastly, you really need to get rid of this thinking "If I don't work for X hours, I'm a complete failure". This is classic "Labeling" or "All or nothing thinking" (things you can learn in CBT) and if you keep thinking like this it can cause depression (which also makes a person unmotivated).

You are normal. Over the years I have learned that the internet makes us all distracted and that it's a problem many of my peers are wrestling with today. I was in a meeting just this week where our new product line manager started joking about how easy it was in a moment of distraction to open a news site with the intention of just spending a minute there and end up losing half an hour of productivity. I told him I had to watch myself or a moment of distraction to check twitter while an app compiled would lose me half an hour in the endless scroll. Everyone else in the meeting was nodding their heads, and we all had a good laugh about it.

The important thing is that you are aware of it and you are fighting it. The best thing you can do is simply keep fighting it. I had seen many people on HN recommend the Pomodoro Technique, where you work in 20 minute sprints with five minute breaks. I got an app to keep a timer on my phone and it makes focusing much easier, especially when I know I only need to focus for 20 minutes. At the end of the day I can see how many sprints I accomplished and feel better about myself.

Other things I find help me is to have points in the day where I unplug completely. When I get home from work, I leave my cellphone on a stand by the door and only check it once or twice for support calls so I can focus on my kids. Complimenting this is mindfulness meditation, where I practice thinking about nothing while I jog in the morning. Having dedicated time where I just focus on focusing without all the other noise really helps me focus in the busier points of my day.

Like I said, the most important thing is that you are aware of it and fighting it. There are slow weeks at work where I lapse back into the endless scroll, but I see it happening and can make a conscious effort to course-correct. Remember that you are normal, keep trying things to find what works, and share what you find with all the other distracted people who also don't know how normal they are.

>Over the years I have learned that the internet makes us all distracted

I'm old enough to have worked before there was an Internet (well...I remember when we first got a Usenet feed via 9.6k dialup, early in my career).

Based on my recollection of those days, I'm not sure it's all the Internet. There were other distractions prior to that. But definitely the Internet made the frequency and magnitude of the problem worse.

Some of my best work has been done on plane flights (before they had Internet).

Thank you for this comment. I remember being a procrastinator and distracted without the internet in college. I share your ability to focus on planes. I find coffee shops help my focus as well.

Yes the university library was an endless source of distraction for me. Never reading books relating to my actual fields of study. Interesting times though..

I fought this draining battle for about 15 years of a relatively typical IT career, from desktop support, to junior dev, too dev and all-hats, to application support, to QA (less stressful), to finally getting out of the game for the most part. Rarely did work not stress me out, aside from when I was starting out in desktop support roles, and maybe when I was trying out QA.

I knew people that seemed to be made for it. They may not have liked it, but they managed to power through day after day of drudgery like it was nothing. They were productive, accomplished their workload, and did it consistently over and over. Sometimes I envied them and wished I could be like them. But in the end, I just am not.

One of the biggest problems for me was that I rarely felt like I was working on anything worthwhile. It was either advertising to sell stuff, or tools to help people sell and ship stuff more efficiently, or number-crunching to track money, or various forms of CRUD to keep track of the cogs, and so on.

And even when the work was interesting, it was still largely driven by deadlines and plans and getting X done in Y time units. Put these here frameworks together, work out most of the kinks, and ship, ship, ship! This was also kind of soul-crushing for me, because I like to get things "right", even if it means prototype after prototype that's discarded after a month or two of learning.

In the end, I opted to minimalize my life and switch largely to supporting myself through barter and scavenging. Now much more of my time is under my control to do with as I please, and I try to make the most of it. For me, that means much more yoga and movement, and coding irregularly—when I am struck. I also feel much healthier, because I can sleep as much as I want and on whatever schedule I want.

I can relate to this and AFAIK there's no magic/quick solution.

Even if you find some job/project that motivates you a lot, that motivation won't last forever and eventually the lack of focus/procrastination will come back.

I work a full time as a remote software developer, and what helped me in recent years was to focus on developing self-discipline, which is what pushes you forward in the long term. And yes, self-discipline can be seen as a trainable skill.

I started by forcing myself to wake early and take a cold bath every week day. I've found that this habit helps me develop a work routine in the first morning hours. Even without having great productivity, I've found this greatly reduces the bad feeling you get from procrastination.

Almost a year ago, I started forcing myself to do something I used hate (but healthy, especially for someone that sits for most of the day): going to the gym and lifting weights 3 times a week. As the time passed, this became an habit which has an amazing impact on my work productivity. This may be because I'm following a program where I constantly try to increase the weights, giving a feeling of progress I don't usually get from daily work (Currently lifting about 4x weight more than when I started). It might not work for you, but this is what I'm doing, in case you are interested: https://stronglifts.com/

Cold shower after waking up early sounds like a great way to start the morning and improve discipline. I think I'll attempt starting this plus adding a short run after the shower. I'm sure I'll be able to conquer the day easier after breaking through that early resistance. I agree that my self-discipline trainable and improving it is the best solution in the long run. There are a lot of things that I need to do but don't want to do, getting that discipline muscle strong will help me do those things and improve my life in many ways.

Self-discipline will help you acquire good habits and drop bad ones, but it also helps to track progress with an app. I use habithub for this.

I second most of this advice. I take cold showers and I exercise frequently. Both do wonders for my ability to focus. Also, see a psychiatrist if you think you have adhd.

It's normal to struggle this way with work you don't love sufficiently, which (unless you're lucky) tends to include the work you do for money. Companies have techniques to motivate employees. E.g. your boss or peers will be upset if you don't do something, and happy with you if you do. As a freelancer you don't have that, so the struggle is more visible to you.

Some people can sometimes find types of work that they love so much that this doesn't happen. I have often managed to.

If you are over 18 years old and your motivation to do a job well is the threat of being yelled at, then you have some growing up to do. Equally so if keeping some guy happy is positively motivating for you.

I've always suffered from ADD at school, my grades were really bad. I understood everything the teacher was saying but when it came to exams it was a different story. I couldn't study, and I failed them miserably. The worst part was that 20 years ago I didn't know about ADD nor did my parents, so the problem went unnoticed and there was no one but myself to blame. I never managed to finish reading a story for example.

I was never hyper and could always focus on coding and was always self motivated.

Even though I could focus on programming tasks, I realized at some point that I never finished a side project and always jumped from one side project to another.

At 30 (I am 34 now), ADD hit me hard and I lost my ability to focus when coding.

I decided to visit the dr about this issue and was prescribed adderral at first but I didn't like it as it made me feel euphoric for couple hours and ended up on vyvanse (30 mg) few months later.

Vyvanse changed my life. And that might me an understatement. The amount of knowledge I was able to attain after getting on vyvanse is probably more than everything I've learnt. I am now able to complete my projects, read plenty of research papers and absorb what's being said and code for 8 hours straight without an issue. I am considered one of the top engineers at my job (and previous ones) and I attribute a significant part of my knowledge to vyvanse.

My working memory improved significantly and I can focus and finish the most mundane tasks.

I've read that many people that has ADD or signs of it get hit hard by 30 or so.

I highly recommend visiting the dr and see which adhd med works best for you.

What can help:

- visualize yourself as a homeless in your late 40s, abandoned by your wife and kids, no longer recognized/avoided by your friends, destitute, in bad health. It's a likely outcome if you don't learn how to finish things, work on your own projects and make it. Think about it as your default future state you want to avoid

- remove distractions while you are working on something. If distractions are your inner ones, contemplate on them for a few minutes and then decide to stick with a task for 2 continuous hours.

- put away those sugary foods that wreak havoc on your focus; look up how cancer in obese people looks like and replace their exterior with you; contemplate about how to avoid such a fate

- when you are stuck for multiple days, don't keep sitting on the chair; take a walk to a forest, talk to completely different people to allow your brain stop overloading the same "circuitry"

- force yourself to have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every single day; experiment by going to sleep before 10pm and waking up around 6am

- build resilience by doing something you hate for an hour a day. It could be sports, it could be talking to/helping some annoying person, taking a 5 minute cold shower, take a morning run for 30 minutes or doing any useful things you hate to do; simply define the lowest point of the day - "it can't be worse than that" and move off to better things

- ignore your past failures, only learn from them. Don't occupy yourself with the past whether it was glorious or awful; you only own the present and shape the future

> visualize yourself as a homeless in your late 40s, abandoned by your wife and kids, no longer recognized/avoided by your friends, destitute, in bad health.

However true this might be, I think this is bad advice for someone with OP'S mental architecture. That sort of thinking only reinforces anxiety (the unhelpful kind, not the fire-under-butt kind), loss of locus of control, and imposter syndrome feelings.

Otherwise good advice.

I kind of do have a similar mental architecture as OP, though a few years younger.

This sentence doesnt make me feel anxious or any of the other feelings you mentioned. It makes me go "Yeah sure, as if that will happen". If the threat is not immediate or in the near future, its very easy to just push it aside

Working out of fear of losing everything will make you miserable and can actually block you from getting things done. I would try to find positive outlooks not negative ones. Reward, not punishment.

Your other points however are very helpful.

Maybe in the beginning. I've gotten the impression that OP is already beyond this stage where positive reinforcement was necessary and did the first steps, struggling with the subsequent ones.

If you studied (natural) reinforcement learning, negative reward seems to be working as well, even in case if all you get are negative rewards (which some researchers/philosophers actually consider as accurate description of life). Even historically, religions used it profoundly, e.g. by default you end up in hell and you have to do much better (up to the point of becoming a hero) to escape - easy coasting won't do it. It's quite fascinating to think this tells us what motivation approaches work on humans as they persisted through evolutionary selection to this day and how one can use them to improve one's condition.

A few years ago, I could have wrote what you wrote, but at age 31, I feel almost as productive as I’ll ever want to be.

So what changed? I simply don’t think about it anymore. Coming up with rewards schemas is thinking about it — it’s your mind taking something simple and making it more complex. It’s also an implicit acceptance that you’ll postpone enjoyment of work and use your reward to compensate for that postponement.

Any schema is thinking about it. Any hack is thinking about it. Any todo list is thinking about it. Strategic plans…thinking about it. Any time you think of the outcome of your work before actually doing it. Todo lists will naturally write themselves when they’re needed. Strategic reflection will happen when curiosity or aimlessness arise. That’s there natural habitat. The mind weaponizes them for procrastination far beyond their intended purpose.

I'll post the rest in a comment, but your post inspired me to write this post:



There is no mental trick here; maybe it’s a pre-mental trick. It’s not even a habit. Habits are mental. There is a deep power in the moment that originates before the mind arises. Slip into these depths before the mind muddies the water. Feel it wriggle in protest. Let it wriggle; let it pout. You don’t need him anyway no matter how much he proclaims you do.

Just get up when you want to get up. Sit down when you want to sit down. Work on a project when you’re feeling restless and want to work. Work on a project when you’re passionate. Work on it when you’re bored. Don’t wait for a preconditioned moment. Your body will naturally ebb and flow between work and play. It has an ancient understanding of this rhythm, trust it.

You’ll be surprised how many moments in a day you want to sit down and create something. You’ll easily get in several hours. It’s like making tea. It doesn’t require thought. It’s just a series of simple motions. Stop planning, stop hacking, stop thinking.

Don’t believe the mind when it pretends to be your friend. It comes up with all sorts of ways to fix procrastination, but every solution is by definition not the work itself. Just work! And play! And work again!

You want to see what it looks like in action?

You’re looking at it! I read his comment and replied just a few minutes ago. I enjoyed the process, so I expanded on my comments. A few minutes later and here we are. No tears; no blood; just joy. And now some tea.

I'd suggest taking a look around you and maybe ask that question to people you know in person. I know this feeling myself, especially when starting out with work after college. Always beating myself up over how I don't have any side-projects, if I'm going to cut it at work and basically why I'm not on the same level as Linus Torvalds, or some other genius programmer already.

I think the truth is that I was heavily influenced by e.g. sites like HN, where it's always touted as the ultimate virtues to have these side-gigs and basically be working all the time. When I looked around though I realized that this is just not the reality for the overwhelming majority of people. Most people are happy just working their 8 hours and then _do something else_

So, my advice would be to 'stop trying so hard'

this is the best comment so far.

Haha, thanks. I was a bit surprised how the 'ADHD'-hypothesis took off (many comments responding to it), as opposed to, you know, just not wanting to program all day.

"Smart Guy Productivity Pitfalls" (http://bookofhook.blogspot.com/2013/03/smart-guy-productivit...) were useful to me and techniques related to "no zero days" and just getting started (with a single sentence, slide, line of code) are virtually the only things that consistently work for me. These techniques are nicely summarized in "Micro-Progress and the Magic of Just Getting Started" https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/smarter-living/micro-p....

Anything causing guilt turned out to be counterproductive, vide my answer to "How to stop feeling guilty about unfinished work?": https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/17988/how-to-st....

I love that first blog post: "Productivity Deficit: Your Attitude Writing Checks Your Work Ethic Can't Cash"

Wish that guy continued writing...

I used to be lazy. For me there was no tactic that solved the problem, but instead a realization that hit me one day. Why was I not more successful? Nobody's going to hand me success on a silver platter. Nobody's going to make me rich. Nobody's going to do a damn thing for me. If I want those things, I realized I just had to work hard and do it myself.

It sounds like a trivial realization, but when it hits you juuust right it's life-changing. I think rather than tactics and strategies you need to spend some time in self-reflection and think about those things. Ever since then I've been able to self-motivate and work hard, even when I don't want to. (I guess you shouldn't call it motivation but rather discipline.)

FWIW I do think it's a "regular case" of procrastination. Even a regular case of procrastination can have devastating effects on your ambition, and procrastination is not easy to fight.

Depending on your personality type, you also may do well to make more commitments, not less. If you know you have to work on another project this weekend then you'll have to get the first project out of the way this week.

I'm going through this exact thing currently, too. I sometimes struggle to follow even the most basic of instructions, I have to really, really focus very hard to follow someone explaining something to me because my mind starts to wander half way through the explanation. I have to have things explained to me two or three times, and I can feel very dumb at times because of it.

I find struggle to have productive meetings, because I'm bored to the point of physical discomfort at times. I went to the doctors about it and they referred me for relaxation therapy (?!). So I'm struggling to know what to do about it currently. I was tested for ADHD as a child, but they concluded that I was just poorly behaved.

It seems to be a pretty common issue with engineers, I've came across loads who have similar issues.

I actually posted something similar to your post in the funfunfunction forum recently: https://www.funfunforum.com/t/attention-and-focus-issues/389...

I guess it completely comes down to the individual. For me personally, having deadlines with someone depending on what I'm delivering does help to get myself rolling with work I find boring. Of course, I've also noticed that I can do that for only a short time and if I don't get some interesting work to regain my motivation, I'll end up getting depressed.

Right now, I've structured my client work in a way that allows me to switch between things every week. That way I can do a boring thing for a week, then do something interesting, and then back to the boring. If there's no interesting paid projects, I just work on things I can find enjoyment in - learning new things, working on things I enjoy and dropping them as soon as the "fun" goes away.

For personal projects I avoid breaking them down into smaller steps. With smaller steps I can see the mountain of work ahead of me (most of which isn't that fun) and the motivation to work on it goes away, even if there's still plenty of enjoyment to be derived for said project. That's also one of the reasons why I rarely release anything personal I work on - the fact that once its out there and I would need to maintain it, kills the fun.

I also try to limit my working hours to a certain range; the only reason why to work outside of those hours is if I've been slacking off previously and need to catch up to hit a deadline or if the project is so much fun it's already as relaxing as anything else I could be doing to wind down after work.

Getting 8 hours of sleep is also very important for me. Any less for an extended period and I'm beginning to inch towards a depressed state of mind. Any more than 8 hours and my procrastination goes up.

But yeah, finding out what works for you is always difficult, and I think it also changes with time.

Firstly if you think you may have ADHD go and see a doctor for a diagnosis. It's a very common condition and there are a set of well understood and effective treatments.

Second, if you struggle to motivate yourself, maybe reassess what you are working towards. Perhaps the problem is not with you, but rather with what you're trying to make yourself do. There is an almost infinite range of activites available to you, try some new stuff, and then keep trying new stuff until something sticks.

When you really find your passion you won't need to play tricks on yourself to get stuff done, you'll just do it because it's fun and rewarding.

Here's an interesting resource for helping you find out what you are passionate about. Starts by thinking about what is the biggest problem in the world you want to address, then find a career where you can contribute to it (which can also be "earn a lot of money, then donate to charities addressing problem X").


In my late 20s I saw a dramatic improvement in my ability to ship products I wanted to build, through aggressive simplification and feature stripping. It made all the difference.

There were other smaller ingredients, such as just getting better over time thanks to experience. Mostly though, radical simplification was the biggest improvement. I found that I would begin a new personal project, feature bloat would start right from the initial design documents, then I'd drown in the effort necessary to build it all. As I burned time, working away at attempting to finish the bloated monster, I'd gradually lose the motivation necessary to get to the finish line of a launch. So I ended up building an immense amount of stuff that I never shipped. Half or more of my personal projects would end up that way.

I believe the approach of radical simplification has the added benefit of producing superior products for the end user, as well. These days I practically enjoy it when I find feature bloat that I can throw out the window. It becomes: how much bullshit can I do away with, which accelerates my core goal to get to launch; I can get closer to the finish line, while doing less work, and that simply feels great on most any serious project.

You have to be ruthless about removing unnecessary complexity (most complexity will prove to be unnecessary, and worse, harmful). So many things in life are going to be commonly working against you in trying to build something, there's a very high value in not adding to that.

You have ADHD. Make an appointment with a qualified psychiatrist to see if you meet the requirements for diagnosis and medical treatment.

You are not alone. Your struggle is the result of a medical condition, and not your fault. ADHD can destroy lives. Don't let it ruin yours.

Source: I'm 35 and struggled with very similar things my entire life. It nearly destroyed my marriage and my career. I received a diagnosis 6 months ago and have been taking prescribed stimulants (Vyvanse) ever since. It was a life-changing experience. My only regret is that I did not seek help earlier, having for so long blamed myself rather than my neurochemistry, which only made me stressed and depressed without providing a solution.

I'd recommend talking to your doctor about Adderall.

I have the exact same kind of issues focusing and basically have all my life. Sometime in college I talked to my doctor about it and it's single-handedly one of the best decisions I've made. With it, I can multi-task and stay focused on even tedious tasks. I'd say I'm easily 4x as productive, which has helped my career tremendously.

Seriously--I don't want to come across as a shill, but it's like a night and day difference in ability to stay focused. Insurance covers it, and diagnosis consists of your doctor asking you a few questions about exactly the kind of thing you're describing here.

I second this. Struggled with exact same thing. The idea of having ADHD had never occurred to me until I found myself rapidly approaching 30, struggling to complete college coursework, my 3rd go at higher education. I wanted so badly to succeed but just couldn't cross the threshold and do what needed to be done. It wasn't until I googled something like 'Why can't I get work done?' that I came to the realization I may have ADHD (which was later confirmed with a proper diagnosis).

Medication was not a silver-bullet, but medication + the kinds of routines you've developed (habit tracking etc) was. Also check out r/adhd on reddit. Super helpful people in that sub, and tons of anecdotes from people struggling with the same issues.

Yeah, and resolve your issues with life like this. You are a human being, with a very complex psyche, on top of it, you are to unaware to be aware of most of it. So, the thing that drives you, is a program written into you, maybe you should change something in your life, than just take a pill and transform into a robot. Maybe you enjoy, drawing, making art, being closer to your children, doing something in nature, meditation, and so on. Maybe, you adderall it all away, for the money.

Do you feel the same way about people using inhalers to treat Asthma?

There's no basis for believing I am fundamentally "the way I should be" struggling to focus on tasks, or that I should be at a disadvantage relative to my peers simply because they were born with more efficient brain chemistry.

What I enjoy is building things, and Adderall helps me do that. Neither myself nor society is made better by my spending days scrolling through HN or Reddit instead of building the things I want to build, or doing things I want to do.

If you believe you are brain chemistry induced, sure. But maybe it's the other way around. And this is what "the-searching-in-life" could be about, or not?

I honestly don't know how far I am from "normal," but why do you believe there is a kind of implied sacredness even in the "normal" human condition?

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accepted all humans have trouble concentrating to the same degree, why is struggling with that a desirable goal? A lot of us get wisdom teeth, too. Am I missing out on important parts of the human experience by having them removed?

> I honestly don't know how far I am from "normal," but why do you believe there is a kind of implied sacredness even in the "normal" human condition? This is actually a very important question. You could even argue further and say, is a schizophrenic person healthy from 'their' viewpoint or should we measure it with the ordinary man as a standard and declare him ill.

I definitely can see that a unconscious behaviour can be seen as an illness, and then it's something that should be treated. But altering your perception of the world, into a more narrowed state, can lead to losing the ability to correct your course in life. The same way an alcoholic or drug addict, is able to enjoy himself in his drugged state but lives in hell in every other. But society can see in these examples an ill person. In case of you, going to a doctor, giving him the responsibility to tell you to be ill, accepting it and living in this state, nobody sees as something that's not good for you. Nobody means in this case, neither you. Suffering can lead the way out of things. Out of harmful relationships, jobs, addictions. If you suffer in your normal state, it doesn't have to be your chemistry but the mindstate you were in. Why would meditation work so good, because it alters your mindstate, and instead narrowing it down it opens it up.

Adderall is an illegal drug in many countries. Be careful.

That’s why the recommendation was to see a doctor (and ideally a psychiatrist not a general practitioner). There are many legally prescribed medications to treat ADHD and most jurisdictions allow at least one of them.


I'm in the US, and it's just a controlled substance here.

What long-term goals do you have for yourself, really? Do you have any? And if you say you do, do they actually motivate you?

Building an app or starting your own business sound like typical HN crowd goals, but do they actually apply to you?

It seems to me that you right now struggle with seeing the effects of your work, and how they relate to whatever long-term goal you may have. Because there seems to be a disconnect there, you do not feel motivated. But this will not change until you: (a) have a clear long-term goal that you actually care about, and (b) figure out how to work on tasks that help achieve the goal.

Why are you doing whatever it is you are doing?

It's normal unless you are not able to consistently overcome it to achieve your goals. Basically, like any disorder, its not technically a disorder until it prevents you from living your life.

I was diagnosed with ADHD at about 12years old. I refused treatment all through high school until I was 30 when I realized I had gotten nowhere in life. I had substance abuse problems and a criminal record.

I'm back in college now. I have hobbies, goals, and no desire to turn back. My anxiety is gone as well as the impulse to self medicate. I've gone through several state mandated drug/alcohol/anger management classes over the years, so the cognitive behavior mechanisms were there, but when I finally told a doctor my story, and how I felt, I got treatment and it changed my life.

You can't diagnose yourself and trying to is unhealthy. It manifests doubt and can make things worse by compounding negative emotion.

If you're just being lazy, grow up. But if you are unable to will yourself to do/focus on the things you want/need to do, if you feel you are "suffering," even a little bit, ask for help.

You are important. Don't waste time guessing.

I've often felt the same way. So much so that I even did some testing a few years back to see if I might have undiagnosed attention deficit issues (turns out I don't).

The worst byproduct of this is that it brings some shame with it. I've never had jobs that demanded all that much of me - I worked some intense hours when freelancing, but for the most part I've had very flexible jobs with good work environments. My wife works insane hours as a tax accountant, and although it makes her miserable a lot of the time, she always seems to be able to power through her 10-14 hour days during busy season. I feel myself mentally checking out after just 4-6 hours some days. It's embarrassing that I don't seem to have the same work ethic as her (and many others).

I've tried productivity tools (pomodoro-ish stuff mainly), but they never seem to quite fit in with the kind of work I'm doing or with the work environment at my job. I'm looking forward to reading through this thread to see if there are any recommendations I can take from here.

I always thought I was ADHD, then I started a business, turns out I just like to do things my way and lead not follow. I've struggled to "focus" my whole life I'm a jack of all trades and master of none.

When you find the right thing you'll know. I would do what I do now for free or if I was worth 100 Million because I love the game.

And what is it that you do?

I’d also like to know.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but what you described is very similar to what I went through for most of my life.

It felt like there would be periods where I would be so adverse to any kind of work, and look for any possible reason to push it off or do nothing, and spend the rest of the day on Reddit or HN.

Eventually I started seeing a psychiatrist, and he diagnosed me as manic depressive, with possibly a case of ADD.

He prescribed me a combination of Lamictal and Wellbutrin (the latter of which is also prescribed occasionally for ADD), and I can honestly say that it has changed my life.

I used to think that I was just lazy, and maybe I was, but I am certainly not anymore. My job has been a lot easier to do, I don't look for excuses to spend all day on Reddit, and my life has simply been better.

I suffer the same as you, but at a younger age.

I have also been wondering if I suffer from ADHD too. Even at university I really struggled to sit there and do one thing for an extended period. I stopped going to lectures because I couldn't handle sitting in the lecture theater for an hour, I could never do homework either.

The only work that I've ever really managed to focus on and stick at for hours is physical work, like construction work or hospitality.

Like others have suggested, exercise does seem to mitigate my problem somewhat. I've found that going to the gym at lunch really helps. Don't just go solo to the gym though, or you'll just procrastinate at the gym, you need to join a group class.

That sounds like ADHD. You should see a psychiatrist.

> Am I suffering from some form of undiagnosed ADHD?

It's worth looking into this. I know people who found a diagnosis extremely helpful - even those who chose not to avail themselves of the medications available. There's several online questionnaires that would give you an idea of the kind of questions you'd be asked if you went for a consultation. Some of the traits are quiet distinct and you'll have an immediate sense of familiarity. If you find yourself saying "Gosh, I thought that was just me" then it's probably a sign. :).

Feel free to msg me and I can pass on a bit more info.

As someone who suffers from ADD... This. I got formally diagnosed and medication has been nothing short of a miracle worker.

based on this comment I took a questionaire. 9/11 points. Called my psychiatrist (which I shortly got for a burnout, but that is fine now). His reaction was something along the lines of "yeah, doesnt sound wrong"

Thanks a lot. You may have changed my life

Checking out the r/adhd subreddit was like staring into a mirror

Last year, I moved from a large faceless corporation to a startup. For the twist in this story, at the startup I got exactly the way you feel. I had no motivation. Everything was easy, everyone was amazing, the benefits were great, but I was just so bored.

After 7 months, I went back to the large corp. I really enjoy what I do here and I'm now in a new role that I enjoy even more.

I guess my point is: you're bored. You don't care about your work because you don't care about it. Go find work you care about, something that excites you.

It's interesting to read this because my experience was completely the opposite: the startup days were really exciting, especially when we were designing and creating things from scratch using the best of our intelligence/intuition. A couple of years later I moved back to the corporate world of large international IT companies. I felt bored to do things that were forethought, designed and/or implemented by other people. I freaked out to see gaps in processes, inefficiencies in general and could not fix them because it was not my job to do it.

I just read a book about ADHD, and what you describe is exactly what the book says work can feel like for someone on the ADHD spectra. (the book is a Swedish one, called "Fördel ADHD" by Hansen)

Read up on ADHD, and learn good "tactics" to cope with work, such as regular workouts (increases dopamine and makes you able to focus for longer periods), short term goals (just 2 hours into the future perhaps), varying your tasks and work setting often, etc. Something I have found very helpful is the Pomodoro technique.

This is basically medical advise too right?

I would encourage reading about potential afflictions but I would strongly suggest getting a second (beyond your own) opinion from a medical professional.

Pathological distractivity (like ADHD) is not the same as long-term erosion of motivation and sense of purpose by not being a good fit for either your workplace, or type of job. You would probably benefit from a professional psychotherapist to determine which specifically is plaguing you.

Remote freelancer here. I've had this problem for forever as well - many days I will stare at whatever project I'm working on all day without getting anything done, and maybe the next day the same will happen, and by the third day I will start avoiding communication with the team. Sometimes a week will go by where I've sat down to try to work as if it was full time but only clock a quarter of that. After a few months of that kind of torture, I'm dying for the customer to dismiss me and try again from scratch...only it's the same thing over again. It's no wonder I haven't built a solid network of clients, and I'm genuinelly surprised when I get anyone to call me again. I know I would probably perform better in a regular job environment - I know I've done in the past. But at the same time, I have both a very hard time accepting the idea of spending 40-50 hours in an office, and huge difficulty convincing those jobs of taking me. Development for me was supposed to be a way to get home the bread and support my artistic career, but it's working out to be very poor at bread winning for me, and I find it just as hard to work on my art this way. I'm considering quitting it completely and do menial jobs that don't fry my brain so I can really push my real passions.

Do your goals actually make sense to you? Why have you set these goals? I'd start asking these fundamental questions, because it may be that you simply aren't engaged in your career path. Do you actually enjoy your work? Do you think you'd enjoy starting a business? Or are you just trying to get paid?

If you don't have the passion for the actual work, and you don't care that much about the money, then you'll never feel that motivation you talk about. And that's OK! You can force yourself to get there by playing games and tricking yourself, but is that worth it? Maybe working a solid 20-30 hours as a freelancer who makes enough to get by while pursuing other interests isn't so bad. If so, embrace it! Don't beat yourself up over failing to meet some arbitrary goals.

Maybe there's something entirely different you'd rather be doing. You're young enough that you can still find your passion if it lies elsewhere. Have you ever been driven to complete anything? Is there anything you just can't get enough of doing? Think about it. Maybe it pays less, but maybe that doesn't matter, because if you enjoy it, if it gives you a sense of accomplishment, maybe that's worth more than making extra money.

I used to struggle a lot when it came to getting things done that I actually wanted to do wrt personal projects, and sometimes work projects. I had a big issue tackling projects I wanted to finish because I would get discouraged or distracted by something and then lose focus. Usually I would bounce from project to project whenever I ran into a hangup and then by the time I came back to it I had forgotten what I had done and what I wanted to do, so I was usually surrounded by rotting projects if there was no screaming deadline pushing me to deliver.

It's probably really obvious to other people but the main change I made in the last year and a half has been consistently writing my ideas down as 'tasks' in a project management software, divided into projects. Now everything is in one place, out of my head, and I can see for each project what I have actually done, what I have not, and categorise things. Having concrete tasks that I can check off as I do them or amend as I rethink my ideas increases the satisfaction and focus I have while working on a project because I can see what I have been planning and how far I've come instead of getting bummed out by a weird edge case or slightly wrong initial architecture.

Have you considered trying therapy? Working with a professional who understands how psychology works can be incredibly helpful problems like this. They can help you build personalised strategies that take into account how you think, rather than generic suggestions.

Especially your mentions of punishing yourself and tracking “fail” days sound very unhealthy to me (not a professional), and perhaps working on what’s causing you to think in those terms could be beneficial.

I have always had the exact same problem, sort of dealt with it by doing crazy sprints of work, but recently had a revelation. And I'm in my late 30s.

Try the free course "Learning How To Learn" by Barbara Oakley on Coursera.

It teaches you how to deal with this in the procrastination section. Roughly speaking, it teaches you how to recognize and effectively counter bad habit as well as change your mind set to focus on the process, not the product. For me the process/product bit was the big revelation.

Also, it sort of teaches you that your zombie mode can be used for good, I realized that by trying to have an incredibly flexible life and not have a set routine, I was actually working against one of my best "allies", habits for simple stuff are good, the mind likes routines as it can switch off. Use it to your advantage.

It's not a magic bullet, some days still go wrong, yesterday for example I played a game all day. But the odd thing is, techniques like the podomoro technique have now started working for me with this change in mindset.

I would go through the whole course start to end, it's short and really good. I've picked up several other new ideas and habits from it that are really working for me.

EDIT: Also, I second the therapy too, that's also helped.

Many, many good responses here. And I muchly second meditation and exercise. I also needed to get out the house every day when I worked from home (the gym was good, but you don't talk to enough people). WeWork has been excellent because it gives me a place to be every day, and people to talk to.

As for distractions like video games, try making them irritating enough that it's more effort to do it than keep focused on your task. Unplug the console, put it in the box and put it at the top of the cupboard. Unplug all the cables from your TV. Let yourself play console, but go through the effort of setting it up and packing it away each time. Before long you'll only play it when you really want to - those ten minute "one game" sessions that become 2 hours don't happen anymore.

Last year I moved into a new place and my housemate and I didn't bother getting a TV. I missed TV for about 2 weeks. Been over a year now and not having something to just 'sit' in front of has been a game changer for _doing_ other things. Same deal. I cut out all the casual watching.

All of us struggle - particularly when working for yourself. Don't beat yourself up, it really doesn't help.

It could be ADHD, but believe it or not I'd explore whether it's an addiction issue. I think there should be more discussion and analysis of the relationship between addiction and chronic procrastination.

What else are you doing with your time? You made a couple of references to video games as a reward system... do you spend a lot of time playing games instead of working? Are there related addictive-ish behaviors like watching porn or engaging on Internet forums for hours a day?

Addiction isn't just about substance abuse. It’s about certain brain systems creating instant gratification feedback loops. Chronic procrastinators who don't abuse substances might be missing out on a whole body of literature and research about how this aspect of our brain works.

Another thing to consider is whether freelancing, your only career, is something you’ve chosen to enable yourself to pursue addictive behaviors.

I’ve just read a book on this called The Biology of Desire, the thesis of which is addiction is not a “disease”. More of a dysfunctional inter operation of brain systems in response to anxiety and trauma. It has several stories of how people recovered and reconfigured their minds.

I discovered that I'm only really useful before about 1pm, so I get up early and take advantage of that time as much as possible. After that, I handle emails, scheduling meetings, the stuff that doesn't require thinking too much.

Sometimes I get a second wind and want to do intense thinking later in the evening, but usually I ignore it to avoid burnout.

I fought it for a long time, but it's just how I'm wired.

I think very few in the Western culture will encourage that, but if it's your nature, don't fight it too much, you don't have to be the hero that ships app number 1000000021 in the app store. Get or keep a comfy '9 to 5' corporate job, get a gym membership and enjoy life the way you enjoy it and not the way is trendy in 2018. Humans are not built to be systematic.

What helped me here are two things:

1. The book getting things done by david allen. He just very explains to you how organizing works or how it often fails and what to do about it. Basically a smart person guide to keeping organized

2. Realizing that it wasn't motivation i was lacking cause that is fleeting and temporary but discipline. Not motivated? Fuck it, do it anyway. Motivated? Good, keep doing it.

> 2. Realizing that it wasn't motivation i was lacking cause that is fleeting and temporary but discipline. Not motivated? Fuck it, do it anyway. Motivated? Good, keep doing it.

I would say that realising all the push for motivation is generally misguided. Discipline isn't easy but it sets the frame of mind to just get on with whatever needs to be done.

this is the perfect recipe for a burnout.

A thing to keep in mind is that work (at least as it is commonly practised) is not "normal". It's a thing we have accepted as normal, and if you want to be successful (by the common definitions) then, sure, you need to find some strategies achieve some focus and the ability to bring things to completion. There are plenty of good strategies throughout this thread; exercise and meditation are probably the most important.

But you shouldn't feel like a failure or consider yourself aberrant in some way. You're not built for the way we live now. If you're concerned about ADHD, find a doctor. I know plenty of people who have become much more satisfied with their existence after working through that, figuring out ways to adjust their behaviours.

In the end, you need to balance the utility of coping with the expectations of the modern world (and your own requirements for a comfortable life) against an understanding that the way we live now is messed up.

For me personally there is a huge gap in "working for others" and "working for myself", with freelance work falling in the latter category. I do well in an office environment where I have influence in setting my own tasks, but having others rely on me finishing my things and meeting deadlines. Of course it helps that I find my work interesting.

When working on my own projects in my free time, motivation comes in bursts - I can have two evenings where I can hardly keep myself from working, and entire weeks where I cannot seem to get started or do anything constructive - my mind wanders off and I start procrastinating instead. I am fortunate enough that it does not matter financially to me what I complete in my spare time, but it is clear that waiting for motivation to hit me is not a viable strategy (for anyone).

First off, I find that starting is the hardest part. Once I sit in front of the code, opened and have written the first words, I can keep going for at least a couple of hours. So make sure you always start a task, even if it means dragging yourself in front of the computer.

Second, find a way to motivate yourself. For me, it is communicating clearly what my deadlines are to the people depending on it - this means I commit myself to finishing it publicly. At the same time, make sure you do not say "This project will finish in 3 weeks", but break it into chunks - "In two days, I'll have a prototype of the admin module, where you can test. Friday I expect to have all the functionality working, implementing your feedback along the way. Wednesday next week we'll have a meeting to discuss changes to module Y", etc.

There's no silver bullet, and I certainly do not envy this part of being a freelance developer, but it is possible. And remember, everyone struggles with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co_DNpTMKXk

First up, I'm not qualified to solve your problem, but if you think you have ADHD, get it checked by a professional. I managed to convince myself that I had diabetes.... I apparently do not.

But honestly, maybe you just need to do something different. Find a small shop that needs a developer, pick something that your grossly overqualified for.

Yes, mid 30s, I struggle as well. I'm much better at small discrete tasks than I am at larger projects, where I often work for a few minutes, then back up and think about the scope of the whole project, get discouraged, get distracted, etc. I've been very successful in life but the past 6 months I've been working hard to tweak a lot of the things I don't like about myself.

Currently seeing a CBT specialist which is helping. What I like about CBT is that it gives you discrete tools to address issues rather than spending 6 months trying to get into your entire childhood and background and stuff.

Lots of great suggestions here.. unfortunately the answer is you just have to fix it yourself. But you can fix it with help; it takes the desire to do something about it, and some experimentation, and it sounds like you're ready. Best of luck.

How does CBT apply to task focus and work completion? All the literature I've seen is for dealing with emotional issues (important, but not applicable to tasks IMO).

I'm asking because I am interested in effective solutions, not to be an internet contrarian.

I'm interested in an answer to this as well.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if the avoidance of work is ultimately an emotional issue.

Usually under the headers of perfectionism and anxiety. All or nothing thinking, negative thoughts, etc. Lots of people apparently hate the term 'perfectionism' but it fits quite well as the term is used in the field.

Just a quick search but this link probably gives as decent insight into it as any:


I'd recommend reading The Procrastination Equation. It sets out a simple model of how your brain makes these choices, and makes it clear what all the levers are to help you "game" your brain. It explains why shorter productivity cycles are so powerful, for example. It also sets out that there's a lot of variability in how sensitive individuals are to changes in the parameters - this is just a fact of life: you - and I! - may be more predisposed to it than most other people, so we have to work harder to battle it.

One very interesting parameter is how valuable - to your mind - the outputs of your labour are to you. It's of course not an easy parameter to change, but it's good thinking about it. Is your procrastination telling you something about your work?

At the end of your shower, switch the water to cold. Listen to your thoughts as you prepare to move the water to cold. Your brain is probably slinging lies about "you'll die", "this will suck", "it won't be worth it", etc. Pay attention to these lies, because it's the same stuff you think when you're working.

Eventually your thoughts will lessen, "this again", "we've already gotten good at this, you can stop now", etc. It's a great microcosm of learning opportunities.

It's also great for health.

"No discipline feels pleasant at the time, but it yields a harvest of righteousness" -- I have to say this pretty much every day to move myself in the positive direction.

Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has a lot of interesting things to say about this:

Why it's so Hard to Sit Down and Study/Work


How to Always Achieve Your Goals - No Matter What


Sort Yourself Out


Clean Your Room


I've got ADD and as a software engineer, yes I struggle with this everyday when I am not medicated. And unfortunately I self medicate with various drugs like research chemicals, prescription medications, and even methamphetamine. I would NOT recommend any of those - being a speed addict has been a personal hell for me over the last few years but it's been extremely effective with keeping me on task and engaged at the expense of my health (high blood pressure, insomnia, stimulant psychosis, etc.)

I would look into maybe finding something that is more stimulating as a career. I think this is what I'll end up doing; I really can't be a tweaker for the rest of my life.

Find a therapist. Maybe talk to your GP or primary care doc. In technical terms, take a look at your requirements. Are they obtuse? well defined? Is the customer asking too much and you know that but didn't tell them? These long term tasks (building an app etc).. those require insight. You might self-sabatoge because you know the insight is not there. But the one way out of that is to do this: your code/app/software may not be a global solution and make you rich but a stepping stone along the way to making it so. That's it. Simple. Do the work, practice. For those interviewing.. Do you the algorithms, leet code. Just do it.

Are you one of the "theorist" NT personality types? It's very common for such intuitive thinkers to get into these kind of traps. Day-to-day task management and productivity (especially detail work) become significant stressors. The best answer I've found is rebalancing in favor of thinking-as-job and doing more consulting, planning, teaching, and less making or doing. Then the making or doing can develop on its own in e.g. hobby time.

It's just another mental model or lens through which to view the human system, but I find it useful. Last I checked the majority of HN were intuitive theory-types. Good luck.

I suspect the issue isn't that rare, but clinical explanations are worth considering. Look at a wider range of that menu too. What used to be known as Asperger's syndrome (now "high-functioning autism spectrum disorder" or something like that) can have these sorts of issues as a facet, and is also of particular interest to our demographic.

But I think you would also do well to consider what you do have easy access to motivation for and if there is a mismatch between your work and your values about how you want to live.

Hope you'll find satisfying answers.

I know how you feel. Some times I can be doing good, and be getting shit done. Then bam from right field something distracts me and wow where did those 2 hours go. Recently I been taking a more Buddhist style to the problem. Removing the unwanted distractions like uninstalling video games, staying away from youtube, and limiting my time on other unproductive distractions. Rewards and negative feedback only works if someone else is handing out the reward or punishment. That is why working for others causes people to work. If you want motivation you have to either find something other then money to push you, or every time you start to procrastinate you have to fight. Every morning I wake up look in the mirror and scream "FUCK IT" to remind myself life is short, time goes by fast, and I need to get shit done. Add positive habits in your life and you be surprise how much it helps. The other thing I say every day to myself is ESSR "Eat Shit Sleep Repeat" reminder I don't want to be one of those people that goes through life just surviving. Their is no simple way to gain motivation it is either something that comes naturally like people that love to workout vs people that have to drag themselves to the gym. Or you have to fight for it every day you have to go without reward, without joy, without pleasure, and get whatever you have to done. Best of luck.

> I've used everything from rewards ("If I work for X hours, I'll play a video game") and punishment ("If I don't work for X hours, I'm a complete failure") to get myself to work.

Programming is a creative pursuit. It's not something you can do on autopilot. [1] You have to think and solve problems and honestly and typically for those who love it's very rewarding. If it's not rewarding enough for you then perhaps it's not the career for you. [2] Full time at least.

[1] For example you might hate and have no interest in being a store clerk or a toll taker or cut lawns but those are by and large 'autopilot' jobs that is you can do them with nominal pain and just get by. They don't require creative energy. Things that require creative energy are difficult to do long term full time unless you love to do them.

[2] The other aspect of this to consider is how much time you spend doing programming. Perhaps it's rewarding but not as a full time job. I enjoy doing programming but then again I don't do it full time. I don't know if I would be able to do it full time in fact I think I wouldn't. Ditto for commenting on HN. I can do it here and there but I would be frozen and it would be distasteful if I had to do it 40 hours a week or even 20 hours a week. Or if I was forced to do so instead of being (as I suspect all of us are) self motivated. Note how many people don't leave comments because either they can't (are to busy) or it's not rewarding to them.

Rands is one of my favorite writers on development.

http://randsinrepose.com/archives/a-hard-thing-is-done-by-fi... this article is pretty good when it comes to forgiving yourself for procrastination in terms of starting something.

In terms of finishing, for me that is a question of self-image. I am someone who completes things. I build my reputation on delivering things on time and with attention to detail throughout the project. Others know they can rely on me to do that, so they will not try to micromanage me or look over my shoulder, because they can rely on me delivering the way I always do. That image is important to me, so I will go to great lengths to keep it.

People think I am good at attention to detail (even though I have no natural propensity for it at all, outside an obsessive need to understand how things work) and they rely on me to be that person in the business environment, so I have an unwritten social contract to fulfill, and keeping that is important to me, even if the actual task I need to do to keep it is not very engaging.

That's all there's to it. Start, and finish what you started. I don't tie any kind of rewards or punishment to the process. I'll procrastinate a bit before I start, but that is part of figuring out what the thing you're starting is, and I will finish (on or before time) because others are relying on me to finish.

Are you a procrastinator, unable to start anything which is more than a tiny bit of work ?

These two posts made a lot of sense for me:



It could certainly be ADHD-PI/ADD, as it is very underdiagnosed, especially amongs people with (otherwise) above average cognitive abilities, more so if they are men. It can be very debilitating.

There is a sort of very non-scientific test you can use to gauge the probability of ADD/ADHD, in my experience, quite reliably.

— Would you agree that being really bored is better described as somehow painful, in an almost physical sense, than anything else you can come up with to describe it?

If yes, it's my experience, and that of a few others as me with ADD/ADHD that the only other people that tend to consider it at least -possible- that one can actually experience something closely related to pain when bored, is those that either are already diagnosed, or will be in a few years. Haven't been wrong once, yet.

Apparently it's so hard to understand for most people, that it's very common that even doctors and nurses working with ADD/ADHD have a hard time to undertake the concept, many appear tp outright reject it. As if anything but pain could stop you from applying yourself, even to the things you love, or loved yesterday.

I can elaborate a lot more, leave a comment if you're interested, and I'll TRY to get back to you tomorrow. But as you are probably aware, there is a significant risk I've forgotten all about it tomorrow.

Best of luck!

My only real motivation is coffee. It makes me just the right amount of autistic to pay close attention to tedious details and actually care about getting it right and finishing the task. Without coffee I could care less and wouldn't e able to hold down a tech job, I'm sure. I wish it were not so, it has many negative side effects for me: anxiety, grumpiness, difficulty sleeping well. If you find a good motivator that isn't a drug, you will be way ahead.

In my case, it helps to stick to habits. Habits that are device, cloths and location specific.

The biggest one is probably my computer at home. It only exists for gaming. When I'm inside my gaming room to enjoy a gaming session, nothing else gets close to me and I forget about everything as soon I step into this room.

Another thing is, that I have cloths to relax, to go out and to go to work. As soon I change into my plain white shirt with collar, my brain probably switches to work mode.

The third is similar to the first habit. Going to work and being there is also a 'swtich' and I can concentrate.

I was a freelancer too and I had a hard time to work at home. My computer was always just a room away and just going in there for a 'short' gaming session was too easy.

So basically this is my advice: Go and buy a different computer than the one for gaming, shower in the morning and change into your business attire. Leave the house and go somewhere boring and quiet. The last part is the hardest since everything gets interesting depending on how much you have to overcome your habit. Your brain tries to fill your enjoyable habits with new enjoyable habits, instead of the 'boring' work. This is probably why so many smoke - it creates a enjoyable habit of doing 'nothing', which is better than working.

I hope this helps a bit. :-)

Test your self for vitamin D and B12 deficiency. Also try avoiding gluten and dairy products. I support and agree with most other comments here as well, but fix the diet first!

It feels like you’re haven’t discovered something that you would wholeheartedly embrace as a “success“, that you would experience as a genuine pleasure. What is the ultimate game you want to play? Do you like animals? Cuddling a pet gives you a warm fuzzy feeling? That might be the feeling that you should look for when defining that „success“ in work. And once you know what it is motivation will come to you as a lucky dog or a cat asking to be petted.

Yes, I do feel this way. So much so in fact that I could convince myself that I sleep-typed this, except for the fact that I'm in my mid-thirties. All the way down to gamifying my productivity, racking up points and "indulgences" which I use on junk food, video games, etc. I wish I had an answer, and am keeping an eye out on these replies as well.

That said, all external indicators seem fine. Whenever I bring the issue up to colleagues, superiors, or significant other, they assure me that I work plenty hard. I'm doing "okay" in my line of work, on track for a passable career in research. But I am all too aware of how much time I waste and how much better I could be doing. This troubles me because I know my work makes a difference in the grand scheme of things.

It's possible that we only have so many creative/intense work hours in the day and it's a lot fewer than we realize. In my case, I probably average around 3 hours of solid work per day, highly irregular (most days probably 1-2 with some hard spikes).

Shortly before finishing grad school, I did go see a therapist. He said something like "You might have a mild case of ADD, but you seem to be making it work so far (was finishing up a PhD). I could prescribe you medication, but I wouldn't want to mess with what seems to be working for you." To start with, he recommended the book "The Mindfulness Prescription for ADHD" and the Mindspace app. These were nice, but in my mind they are just thrown into the bin of "things that worked for a little while". Now that I live elsewhere, I've been considering seeing someone again.

I'm starting to just chalk this up to the human condition. Maybe I'm wrong about intelligence and my more successful peers (whom I've seen as equals in innate ability) might actually be brighter, not just more disciplined workers.

I'm looking for "the" magic answer, not because it would be easy, but because I don't want to sink more effort into just another method that may or may not work in the end. In a way, I'm getting demoralized on the subject of self-improvement.

For what it's worth, several years ago during an "enhanced" experience, I had the following realization, which might have some truth to it. Paying so much attention to self-improvement, month after month, year after year, trains your brain to think you're a loser. The constant thoughts of "I'm too lazy, how do I get better" eventually get internalized. This is probably unhealthy and might even be counter-productive.

Best wishes, fellow traveller.


I want you to tell you a litte story about my self and my struggles. We should be about the same age. A year ago, I was going strong, working my job, having side projects and getting things done. I was doing a lot of sports and was on the level of a marathon runner. Then I had an injury. Due to the lack of sport, I fell into depression. I was unable to concentrate on a single thing for even five minutes and had no motivation whatsoever. I have had then set goals for myself and after I failed to accomplish them, I beat myself up. Rinse and repeat. Now, about 9 Months later, I am still in the recovering process. Like you I tried pretty much every productivity hack out there. From pomodoro to bullet journaling, habit forming and so on. What I want to say: There is no quick fix. It takes time.

So I regularly try to niche down on the cause. Is it a motivation, concentration or multitasking problem? Then I try to fix the cause with experimenting with different tools and strategies. At different stages in your journey, you will have different bottlenecks, asking for different strategies.

At the beginning the things that worked for me, were building up from my principles and core beliefs (Minimalism, Freedom, Simplicity). Then I started dreamlining with a monthly timeframe. But it is important, that the goals are measurable and attainable. Then I broke them down, to weekly and daily tasks. I also have daily todo lists, which I still fail way too often. Currently the biggest benefit brings singletasking and mindfulness. I noticed, that I am not really aware of my body, thoughts and surroundings. So currently I am borrowing a lot fom Zen Buddhism. According to the saying: "When you walk, just walk. When you sleep, just sleep." I really try to be present. This helps me to focus and concentrate on a single task at hand. But it takes training. This won't happen over night. This sounds like a straight path. It wasn't! I experimented and failed a lot. I threw away what didn't work, and used what worked for me.

Links that helped a lot: https://alexvermeer.com/8760hours/ https://zenhabits.net/ https://tim.blog/lifestyle-costing/

Yes, it is very normal in an unstructured life, many very smart graduate students at the top universities struggle with it. It is the curse of freedom. People don't realize a regular 9-5 job gives them routine, social commitments and a visible positive feedback on a good job done in a timely manner, and a negative feedback otherwise (both positive and negative social feedback are stronger than self-awarded rewards and punishments).

I always felt this way about schoolwork, and never about professional work. You mention that you're a freelancer - do you have a home office? I found that the context switch of physically being in the building and at my desk made work the most natural and effortless thing in the world, while I struggle with "work from home" days. Is there a way you can create this kind of "work mode" context switch for yourself?

I used to do alot of self-motivation hacks, but ultimately threw everything out the door because they were unsustainable and tiring. I eventually noticed that if I was helping people, I didn't need any kind of motivation. I do things because I care. Perhaps you could try the same approach?

In the first summer that I couldn't get a coding internship (in college), I taught my friend who didn't have a coding background how to code. I taught my girlfriend at the time how to code. I started a meetup group and taught everyone I could. As they got better, I started to learn new things to teach. When I took on contract projects, I talked it over with my trusted friends and we solve the projects together. They were getting better through the projects I take up and my projects became a little more fun to work on.

Now, fast forward a few years, many of the people I taught are now senior software engineers. I still meet up with them a few times a week to talk about new coding patterns, discuss work projects, and help each other get better.

For me, the mindset shift I needed to do was to start thinking about how I can help others around me and make sure I'm helping them effectively.

I feel very similar. It has actually always been like that for me. I hardly ever did (=finished) any homework in school and university, but I was spending most of my free time sitting at my desk b/c I had to do homework.

Now I'm perfectly aware I'm procrastinating while I'm doing so, but I just feel like I must [find out xy / read the current news about xy / read that interesting article I saw / review and close the hundreds of open browser tabs / have some social interaction w/ someone / finish unrelated task xy (e. g. housework) / eat sth / watch porn] at that very moment and couldn't even properly concentrate otherwise.

As many others pointed out being overwhelmed by either huge or lots of tasks causes this quite often and splitting up tasks and prioritizing can help in those situations. Nevertheless this pattern sometimes even makes me procrastinate 2 minute tasks for days w/o doing anything useful during that time even if that one task (and/or others dependent on it) is/are the only one(s) I have to do (so to tackle it there neither is anything to split up nor to prioritize.

I can relate. I've probably tried the vast majority of the motivation 'hacks' recommended by the other posters in this thread with varying amounts of success and failure.

The #1 thing I think that anyone in this situation, or any self-improvement challenging situation, should do is to understand themselves fully - what makes you tick, what do you like, dislike, etc.? Beware: this is not a 5-minute task; we could be talking years here. Once you feel like you have a handle on it, or along the way, try out different approaches. (As much as I love the word 'hack', I really shouldn't call them that because you could very well be using it indefinitely.)

--- For me personally, one thing that I've never truly tried is a commitment contract. I've long known about services like Beeminder and StickK, but I never actually fully tried one (where you commit with real money). That changed recently when I discovered a framework for classifying people called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin.

Folks like us mostly fall into the category of "Obligers", people who meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves. And one way to beat that is to create parameters (like a commitment contract) that force you into action.

I recently (~6 weeks ago) created a goal on Beeminder and after falling off the wagon tout-de-suite and having to pay up ($5 initially), I haven't derailed since (my current penalty is $10). I know, not an earth-shattering amount of money, for some reason it's keeping me honest.

It's probably too early to tell if this is going to work long-term, but even this feels longer than I've stuck with other methods. I encourage you to check out Rubin's blog posts, interviews [1, 2] and/or podcasts. There's even a book and a quiz, but I learned enough from a single interview to get started.

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/gretchen-rubin-the-four-tende... [2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2017/09/12/gretchen...

Thanks for the awesome Beeminder plug! Anxious to hear if it continues to work for months and years.

There's a great discussion of Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies in the Beeminder forum: http://forum.beeminder.com/t/which-habit-tendency-are-you/16...

(Apparently I too am an Obliger.)

Short answer: yes, it is normal

Long answer: I have seen both sides, for most part of my school life I was an incredible procrastinator. It's incredible when I imagine that I passed school. ;) (In fact a friend of me was amazed by that.) And yes, with studies I struggled like you. Of course it wasn't possible anymore to do a minimal program. I don't really know how I survived studies but I obviously did. (Oh god, remembering the mornings where it took me 3-4 hours to get up, hitting snooze a bizillion times...)

At some point thought things changed. I was working a student job where I was programming and I was incredibly motivated, getting money for something fun. Actually it stopped being fun after some months but I was still much over average motivated for 1-2 years.

When finishing studies I started builing a startup with friends and I worked the first time a day super long, went to bed at 11 am in the morning when we shipped our web app the first time. The startup wasn't particularly successful so after half a year of quite some work we "ghosted" it.

But then I realized something really weird for the first time: it's possible to put in a tremendious amount of work into something and it might still not pay off. Worst off all, even my final study grade suffered slightly from this because my co-founders put a lot of pressure on me.

So afterwards I realized: never ever again am I working (insane) overhours for a prolonged time.

I strongly believe that there is something in us that protects us, less magical than it sounds, evolution. When we work too much we burned out.

In the years after I eventually co-founded another company and was really close to totally burning out. (Although I limited my overhours, the work-life balance was terrible and when I worked it was ~90-95% "efficency" - my whole private life was built around this startup.) I think this 2nd hard lesson totally showed me that it isn't worth it.

Nowadays I do my best to find a good balance in work. Of course it's a personal life choice. The more effort/work you put in, the higher the probability you gain but also the higher the probability that something bad happens.

So yes, obviously there are life hacks etc, go for them if you want to "solve your problem". Or maybe think for yourself and imagine what's best for you.

I've done some thinking on this over the years. I'm not convinced it is "ADHD" per se, based on reading the symptom list and observing family members who do clearly have the symptoms. Of course it is always tricky to self-diagnose.

For me it is more akin to an addiction mechanism : consider someone who is overweight because they eat too much and exercise too little. This situation is crystal clear to everyone, including the person themselves. Yet, almost nobody improves their weight situation just because they "realize" that they should be eating less and exercising more (two things that from a practical perspective are pretty easy to do). We don't say that they lack focus to stop eating -- we think of their behavior more in terms of an addiction.

So what's going on? Obviously it's complicated but on some level the person's brain has decided that eating is actually what it would prefer to do vs not eating, even though it "knows" this isn't going to achieve the desired outcome.

Similarly with "getting st done" I suspect. Although your brain knows that it should be cutting code or writing blog articles, it actually prefers to read HN and research the security measures used in triggering mechanisms for the primary stages in thermonuclear weapons.

That being the case it sounds like you are already taking all the typical countermeasures : don't have food in the fridge; count food points; try to keep the long term goal in mind..

One other thing I'd say in the context of freelancing and remote work is that you may be unfairly judging yourself, or rather comparing yourself to a mythical perfect version of yourself, due to the lack of available other people with which to compare your achievements.

I think motivation is one of the most fundamental parts of human existence. I think it should be studied so much more.

Often we talk about it at such a high level. But in the end everything boils down to the second-by-second internal monologue, and all the context and life experience surrounding this monologue.

Beneath this is the raw emotions that we feel and cannot explain. Its like when you're looking at a stack trace and it stops at an internal call into a private api.

I'd love to know more about the inner workings of people's internal monologues. Are there consistent patterns of thoughts that can lead people into the state of flow? How does the mind wandering into a day dream contribute to our motivation? Perhaps ignorance is bliss, and seeing behind the curtain spoils the show. Are we driven by our delusions of grandeur?

Can we trick ourselves into exaggerating the importance of what we are working on regardless of how we may feel about it after its finished?

Does contemplating your own motivation (regularly asking yourself why you are doing something) disrupt your actual motivation (uncertainty principle).

Yes, but mostly for different reasons (see below). I think the web has shortened people's attention spans, and there's the now constant distraction of social media. The other problem is that much work nowadays isn't really necessary, and many people doing it realize this, though maybe not consciously. It's very difficult to keep motivated if you don't see the point of what you're doing.

As for myself, I'm still developing my programming language (http://web.onetel.com/~hibou/fmj/FMJ.html), but as recent work has involved a major refactoring of the type system, with some bug fixes along the way, there's been very little visible progress (hence, no updates to the tutorials section of my web site) and a few things that worked before are still broken. Lack of visible progress can be somewhat demotivating.

Working continuously for several years on the same project doesn't help either. Sometimes you need a change.

My work/research is completely unpaid, so there's no financial incentive to continue. If I were to stop working on it completely, hardly anyone would even notice, and I wouldn't be any worse off financially.

As I'm working alone on this, and no one's done anything remotely similar, there's nowhere to go to for help when I'm stuck.

Online comments on it have been mostly negative.

What keeps me going is that there isn't anything important about the language that I would want to change. The language feels like "the right thing", however hard it might be to explain that to aficionados of imperative textual languages. If nobody else wanted it, I would still use it myself.

There was an interesting article that surfaced a week or two ago about the learning/attention span bit: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/i-have-forgotten-how...

Not everyone is suited to the freelance requirements for self-management. Consider being part of a team or recruiting a business partner.

Finding meaning in freelance work is a tough proposition. Perhaps it feels like a struggle because you're actively looking for struggle. It's easy to tell ourselves positive results can only come from struggle—that's far from true.

It sounds like you're good at what you do. Double your prices each project. Cut the number of projects you do 75%. Over-deliver. Hustle by improving your operation/system, not chasing a single variable (work input).

This work system will allow you to spend less time laboring and more time working on yourself:

1. Sleep, diet, exercise, reflect.

Here's a comment I recently wrote about this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16150664

2. Visit a good doctor and get blood tests.

A few years ago I started having trouble focusing for more than 2-3 hours at a time. It turned out I have an under-active thyroid (Hashimoto's Thyroiditis) which causes my memory to become foggy, focus limited, and tempter short when my adrenal glands are under stress. This is fixed with some blood tests and the right medication. I would have never discovered this without finding a good quality doctor. I paid out of pocket to have access for a 45 minute session—worth every penny. Now I only have occasional flareups.


You're not broken—you're human. There are simple fixes for almost everything you describe that feels difficult. Take a step back (maybe literally, via vacation or a week off) and analyze how you can simplify your life and disconnect from this struggle = reward mindset.

Something to ponder: money, love, or fame as the end goal are dangerous, but as a byproduct of earnest effort and a life well lived can be uplifting.

I was there too. Oh my gosh, how hard it was for me to push myself to do any work on time.

For me, the solution was to change job. I didn't want to work on a thing that I haven't believe in. It was just uninteresting. Now I can say I work in awesome place, on wonderful project where I learn interesting new stuff every day and feel that I become a better dev every day.

>Am I suffering from some form of undiagnosed ADHD?

You can very easily resolve this question by talking to a doctor, or two. If you are curious, don’t just sit and wait and keep “wasting your life away” in the indecision of whether or not to get checked. The lack of decisiveness to even get check may itself be a symptom of ADHD.

One obviously cannot understate the value and importance of having a healthy life, regular sleep, good exercise, good diet and hygiene and all the like, but for some people it’s a little harder to get things in order than just that. Also you don’t need to consider getting medical help as a terminal situation; perhaps you may just use meds long enough to retain your brain with what it means to be productive and do meaningful work.

No solution is one size fits all, and you need to find what works best for you, but if you have questions or doubts about whether or not you may have an attention disorder, the best way to discern with any real certainty is to ask a professional.

I find the following helps:

- Changing my routine seems to kick off my ability to focus

- I have a sit-stand desk. Using it standing seems to help my focus, but changing between sitting and standing can bump my motivation.

- For clients starting and stopping a timer helps me focus.

- For clients and my own projects I use Pivotal Tracker to order tasks. It helps me break stuff down into smaller parts and to keep track of what I'm doing and helps me to avoid wondering what to do. I use it even though clients have their own project management solutions, I only use it for what I'm doing.

- I've never found rewards/punishments to be particularly effective.

- Unfortunately (because I'm from the North of England) I find that the better the weather the more motivation I have for just about everything.

edit I forgot to mention, fasting helps me focus too, even for long periods. Could just be the change of routine.

What I will say is that I've not cured what sounds very much like what you suffer from, just generated ways of dealing with it, more or less.

>This question might come across as dumb, especially for a 30 year old, but I come from a culture where this aspect of work was never emphasized and at this point, I don't know who to ask.

Off topic, Could anyone point to a place where you could ask for advice of life? It seems once we are in the 30s, there are more questions then answers then when i was in 20s.

I used to feel that way, but I finally came to terms with the fact that my work-life was a mess, and I was basically lying to myself.

I was working (and struggling, hard, in the way you describe) on a project I was telling myself would become a startup, and even though I felt I was being realistic about the limitations, in retrospect even that was insanely optimistic. I was burning myself out.

Once I had this epiphany - triggered by going to Startup Weekend and having a ton of fun (and no motivational problems!) working on a project, I pulled the plug and eventually got a fairly regular job in a fairly normal company (in an excellent team, though).

The epiphany and pulling the plug had a huge effect. It didn't fix everything overnight, but I did get into a habit of introspection, especially when I'm facing tasks that I struggle to get motivated for. They're still hard, but I am generally able to organise things around them in such a way that they don't get me down.

You're not suffering from ADHD. You're using a motivational skill! It's a very valuable skill to have! Boring work can be made interesting, life changing even. This requires vigilance, as you've noticed. Motivation is ongoing, requiring you to revisit the feelings and rationale that gave you that productive burst.

There are probably no simple solutions. But just in case, you havent already done this, just use a simple time logging tool and work in discrete sessions(20-40 minutes). (Eternity time logger is one good app, there are others). Dont worry about being precise (in terms of minutes high or low, or exact kind of task, over analysis isnt good). Instead aim for consistent use.

This allows you to work a certain number of rounds a day(instead of nebulous amount of productive time) and clarifies what is exactly happening instead on relying on internal psychological indicators of having done something or not.

Also, specifically for the ADHD part, the problem with wavering attention is that when one comes back, 'loading' the context again takes a lot of work. So write a note at the end of each session on what's done or maintain a simple task text file(again, it is easy to over organize here, so keep things as simple as possible).

> Essentially, I come up with a new tactic to motivate myself every couple of months. If I don't do so, I find myself struggling to meet my goals and distracted.

How often do you think about your goals? How important are they to you?

I was in your shoes for a long time, and the way I got past it was to think consciously about the end-result on a regular basis.

Do you want to skate by on your niche skills and watch as other harder workers get the bigger/better contracts from your contacts in the future?

Do you want to passively step through the motions of life and regret not trying to start that business when you're 60?

Do you want to look back and wish you had learned & built more instead of drinking beer and playing COD?

At the end of the day, you are 100% responsible for your own decisions and path in life. You aren't going to be able to artificially motivate yourself forever (as you are discovering). You have to find something that truly motivates you.

If you’re still here looking at replies feel free to contact me. And or watch/listen to this video https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YSfCdBBqNXY

Wish you'd left some way to contact you.

Now that I'm at a computer I can say more but you're certainly not uncommon and there is lots of help that you can have. Cognitive behavior therapy shows great results in adult adhd/add patients. The video I linked talks about children but you'll likely feel yourself nodding along thinking of you.

Money quote for me was something like the ADHD child has zero self motivation. All motivation comes from the outside world. Which is why kids can play video games for hours because there is instant feedback. But when you finish a problem on your homework nothing happens.

And that there is a extremely poor short short term memory problem.

Tons of stuff.

You might be interested in this feature about adults with ADHD: https://www.buzzfeed.com/kellyoakes/these-adults-have-adhd-b...

You should like typical ADHD to me. I had the same issues and now am doing great with major changes to my lifestyle!

Maybe you should be doing something else with your life? Maybe you were supposed to be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a builder? I mean, life is so short, why punish yourself? I hate this culture of 'hacks' and all this rubbish to force yourself into doing things maybe you shouldn't be doing.

It is normal. Make sure you have all of these. Autonomy, Purpose and Mastery.


The only advice I can give (I'm 29) is that my work life gets easier AND more productive when I think about it in terms of my path to the top of the mountain. So, pick a spot that you feel represents a point of accomplishment that you'd be happy to die having done (big goal, tombstone style stuff). Then as you approach your work, ask yourself "is this a stepping stone on my way to the mountain?" If it is, you'll find some reward in doing the work, as you feel like you have invested in yourself and your long term goals. If it is not, then you can measure that sense of frustration and now understand why you feel frustrated. And if you feel that frustration on a daily basis, it's probably time to get a new job.

I have felt this way for my whole life since my very childhood (when working meant doing homework). In my case this is ADHD. Ask your doctor about this. As for me (disclaimer: don't try this without consulting to a doctor, also note neither piracetam nor sunifiram are FDA-approved, anyway sunifiram should never be taken in doses higher than I do - it would do much bad and no good) I have found out empirically (I have tried many different things, adderall helped too but far not this great) that a combination of ¼ of a xanax pill once a day + a combination of 1200mg of piracetam, 4mg of sunifiram, 500mg of l-tyrosine and a strong multivitamin complex pill 2-3 times a day solves the problem by making me happy, concentrated and productive.

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