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Ask HN: What do you do when you suddenly feel like not working anymore?
59 points by budhajeewa 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments
1. It's Saturday morning.

2. You start coding in your side-project.

3. A couple of hours go by.

4. You feel like, "I'm tired. Let's do this tomorrow.".

5. You also would like to ship it ASAP too.

What do you do?


> 5. You also would like to ship it ASAP too.

Take that away from your mindset immediately! You can't do anything ASAP. I am a firm dis-believer of, "I can build it in a weekend".

Take a bit of paper and actually map out the project. Break it down into small pieces. Now start to work on the first piece, then take a break if needed. When you start again, work on the next.

Doing things this way, gives you multiple benefits:

1) allows your brain to focus on the task at hand. Otherwise it starts to focus on the entire project and thats when you short-circuit.

2) gives you a sense of accomplishment and you see your project go from start to finish.

3) allows you to easily come back to the project if you decide to take a long break from it.

It's also important that if you see things that you want to change. STOP! Take out another piece of paper and write down things for version 2. Now carry on with the work.

It's also worth mentioning, perhaps to keep some kind of journal with notes. So you can tell yourself things to investigate should you come across them in dealing with a problem.

Once you have finished and shipped version 1. You can then decide if you want to start again or wait until other things happen. Such as a community forming, you get stars on github, do a show HN. Whatever the ultimate goal is for the project.

Or you can decide to write another side project.

Ultimately, it's your time. Learn to use it well.

Btw, this is coming from someone who has built 40 side projects that easily could be their own SaaS start-ups thus far.

ASAP doesn't mean "immediately", it means "as soon as possible". What's "possible" depends on what's being done and expectations. Managing expectations is key.

> You can't do anything ASAP. I am a firm dis-believer of, "I can build it in a weekend".

I'm in that camp as well, so consider this an endorsement of your post. However, I do think you can ship in a weekend...but do you want to? I slapped together a quick web app for my own personal use a while ago, not knowing I would end up using it every day, and set myself up for some extremely painful refactors later on that were totally avoidable.

This is really great advice, I just started a project like this and there's a lot I need to go back and map-out. I feel better when I'm just coding, but I get that's part of the process, I just haven't seen anyone explaining it.

Really helpful thoughts.

Just to clarify, I didn't mean ship in a weekend, when I said ASAP. Just that I'd like to ship it sooner than later.

I specially liked the advice about not working on things you think you should change, and saving them for v2. That mindset will be really helpful avoiding over-engineering.

Great advice! Have found GitHub issues are a great way to take notes on coding projects. Can the setup Milestones for stuff your currently working on and further iterations!

The meticulousness of this process was awesome.

I do chores - it's a great tool for gauging how unwilling you are to code at the moment.

Yesterday my bathroom sink received some much needed care.

Also eventually you'll get so fed up with this that you'll gladly return to your side project.

Conversely guilting yourself into programming when you really don't want to is one way to abandon any after-hours work altogether.

This is one of my favorites, especially if the chore has been ignored for a while.

chores are my best thinking time! I can't recommend doing the chores for restoring intellectual productivity plus the very probable (if you're not living alone, but satisfaction either way) boost from doing good by your roommates.

I am certain that the benefits of doing chores for intellectual stimulation arise from the very familiar, routine like properties of most household chores.

Chop wood, carry water, as excellently pointed out below, is the most demonstrative chore I can think of right now: some task that's manual, involves a element of physical labor, and repetitive.

I began to notice my attention and motivation becoming more pronounced in cycles, when I began writing in languages that are heavily defined as boiler plate syntax and library based languages. Somehow the repetition, but with a small amount of variation in eg the cell of a array being addressed, dulled my personal flow of thought. Because I was spared from having to think beyond my immediate line's purpose, because all kinds of detail from memory management to types was sweetly abstracted away, I became more disengaged from the very process of thought involved in what I am writing. Even on the 3460 where

[edit, this wouldn't update on editing, I posted by accident before I was done]

...I needn't worry about anything much, I could inspect the stack and CLOS if i wanted. I learned professionally to chug out GUI work for PCs for the time very low level and hand tuned, but I feel like I'm still wrangling the small stuff with lots of the js framework interface I do now. It's more painstaking than it is seeking inspiration, and the feeling of immaturity I get, please don't take this to demean the code quality in terms of value, but I mean in the consistency and fluency of APIs, leads me to much faster "brain fade" during a coding stint, than if i was corralling a CLOS like system. Bottom line, I think this is all about the way you mentally engage with your program, and that huge productivity growth lurks somewhere in the real subject of my head scratching. I think our minds just need a fluency, like music, and I have to reread GEB sometime soon to reconnect with the feelings I have on the problem.

Chop wood, carry water.

In other words, keep on keeping on. "A couple of hours" of focused work is actually fairly productive, more productive than most people get. It's like writing: do a little bit every day, pretty much no matter what, and it'll get done by accident.

My advice is identical to this.

However, it’s worth noting that you should expect to not want to do things sometimes. Often pushing past the first part is the key.

Set. Minimum amount to accomplish. Nothing ambitious but something you can easily do. (2 hours if you don’t have kids. 45 min if you do)

If you find yourself not wanting to do it week after week then you might consider changing your role. Partner with a CTO, raise money, write about it etc.

You don’t have to do what you love, but you should avoid what you hate.

I'd amend this--you cannot always avoid what you hate. You can try, but life often gets in the way (as do the dirty dishes).

1) Assess I'm feeling any one of HALT - Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.

If I'm feeling hungry, I'll make myself a healthy meal. Tired? Take a 20 minute nap, then do some jumping jacks and listen to up-tempo music. Lonely? Call it quits for the day and go find social interaction. Angry? Either I need to re-examine my expectations for myself, Take a step back and get a better understanding of my tools, or stop using selenium and switch to https://www.cypress.io/


> You also would like to ship it ASAP too.

Things take time. Either cut the scope of the project or work on accepting that things take time.

I agree with HLT, but your anger evaluation is too simple.

There are so many different things that can lead to anger. Many different causes which might have nothing to do with your expectation. Often it also happens that the first thing that comes to your mind that you think is making you angry is not the real reason. Builtup frustration and stress can lead to being angry at anything at anytime.

As you can see, always reexamining your expectations might not work.

True. Anger is a more complex emotion than it seems

I'd argue it's more complex than most others--it can be a "stand-alone" emotion, or an amalgamation of several others.

> HALT - Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

Wow, that's a neat mnemonic! I had never thought about it much before, but those four categories definitely account for the vast majority of non-productivity for me. Did you get this from somewhere, like a book or something?

I don't know where OP got it, but it's a very common acronym among the addicted (alcoholics in particular).

Oh interesting! I'd honestly never heard of it, but it seems a useful way to analyze situations like this. Thanks for the info!

I got it from Terry Crews

If it’s a side project, just stop and wait for when you feel like working again. For me, forcing myself to work on something that isn’t putting food on the table just builds resentment.

> For me, forcing myself to work on something that isn’t putting food on the table just builds resentment.

I know this feeling. A lot of people burn out quickly on Github when their shiny new toy fails to make money at every turn. Even with clear and adequate payment channels used (Patreon / Paypal / Gumroad), the feeling of financial failure (can be) enough to kill a project.

Write documentation. I know that sounds the same as "keep working on it", but it's surprising how often going through updating/fixing docs gets me unstuck. And if it doesn't, at least I've done something productive.

If the docs are fine, there are usually other things to improve or experiment with (file organization, build process, tests, editor plugins...etc).

hypothesis: Writing docs for your project helps because it leads you to clarify concepts in your mind and thereby reduces the cognitive cost of working with those concepts and thereby makes future work less hard.

Exercise. Bike, blade, or run. I go and rollerblade the Embarcedero.

You get some sun, you tire yourself out in a different way, your eyes get to focus more than two feet in front of you. There are people around but you don’t have to be social if you don’t want - moving at a different speed means you can still think on your mental problem.

Finally, you work up an appetite that sitting at a computer just doesn’t give you, and you can reward yourself with some nice noms that you feel you’ve earned and will give you the energy to return to code work.

Edit: I forgot to mention podcasts or audiobooks. If you want some external input for your mental stimulation you can do that at the same time!

>5. You also would like to ship it ASAP too.

I suspect number 5 is a stress factor. I believe stress can cause fatigue and/or procrastination.

Try to accept the situation. Take your time and enjoy the task.

I push myself when I don't want to do it. But also limit myself to the allocated time when motivation is aplenty. Especially the latter.

btw John Cleese is an amazing inspiration on how to be (consistently) creative https://genius.com/John-cleese-lecture-on-creativity-annotat...

Wow, what a great and unexpected talk by John Cleese. Thanks for that.

Discipline is doing the thing you should be doing, even when you don't feel like doing it. It's also sometimes called perseverance. Discipline is a skill you can develop.

I've started two successful companies (one bootstrapped, one VC backed) and they both took an enormous amount of discipline and perseverance. I'm now on my third and it's pretty much the same, but many things are easier this time around.

So, what do I do when I don't feel like working anymore? I keep working. :-)

what you're about to read is anecdotal, subjective, and comes from personal experience. Take what resonates with you.

Sometimes it is what it is, just accept it and do something else.

From my experience, the factors below highly impact this behavior:

1. Is the project too big to chew on? 2. Are your tasks very well defined and the finish line is clear? 3. Is the expected outcome for fun or you're hoping to make it big when it's done? 4. Is the project solving a problem you care about dearly or a general problem you're trying to solve to make a business out of it? 5. The project is very motivating, everything is going well but you're unaware that you're working on a very uninteresting task that's part of the project and you're chewing on it slowly as a result.

When you sit on the chair and you feel it's kicking you off to get up instead of sucking you in then probably there's a conflict of interest between what you think you should work on and what your brain is interested in working on.

Do consider the possibility that you're probably assigning yourself a boring project or a project that deep down you don't care about or it's too big and overwhelming.

As we gain more experience and pile up failures, it becomes more challenging to get on a project. From my experience, the best projects I worked on are ones that have no monetary value nor related to launching some sort of a business and I am working on them just because they have challenging and very interesting problems for my taste, or they solve a problem I face.

Go run a quick 5K. Or 3K. Or brisk walk around the block. Get the blood pumping.

Make a to do list of the tasks you are attempting to achieve today. Do one thing only today. When it is all too overwhelming, break it down into tiny self-evident steps. Micromanage your brain.

Not too much coffee.

>> Not too much coffee

Or more coffee/caffeine if you have add/adhd. If you can drink a pot of coffee before bed and then go right to sleep, then caffeine might do the opposite to your brain chemistry and level you out. Talk to your doctor, as that you might need something more than caffeine to function. Think of your brain in the aspect of a cpu, where as some cpu’s natural clock speed is a little slower than the average, some are faster and easily distracted. So you might need to adjust something to not burn out a days energy to fast, and feel like the poster does.

Running releases different chemical compounds that affect the brain, so does smoking, eating, drinking caffeine, etc... you could be deficient on vitamins and it could be diet.

Everyone is different, and it will take trial and error until you find a working balance. Which means talking to your doctor about how you are feeling and, also taking the time to self-reflect on how you are actually feeling every day to gauge what’s working and what’s not.

I have exactly this with coffee.

I would even say that it makes me sleepy sometimes, and certainly never interfere with sleep or sleep patterns.

The kind or volume of coffee did not matter (some coffees I like, style other not but the lack of impact is the same).

Interestingly my brother is the same with coffee

Yeah coffee and sleep is the closest thing to artificial love in my experience.

Do something analog. Find something to do that is not with a computer until you get tired of that. Then build a balance chart, draw a circle, draw lines to quarter it, then lines between those. You should see a what looks like a wagon wheel. Each spoke is an aspect of your life. Label each spoke with the 8 important things in your life. This will show you the importance of keeping the spokes “8 things in balance. One spoke could be your job, another your side project, another your family, a hobby, social/friends, downtime, etc... the wheel represents you, giving to much time to a single spoke makes the wheel lopsided and it won’t turn. So as you devote your time to things, imagine which of the 8 is suffering and not getting your time. Try to devote equal time to each.

This is the best way I have found to get things done, and not get burned out/ or saying things like “my give a damn is busted.” It also gives you 7 other things to do when you feel like you do now. Then after you do one of the others see how you feel, go back to the one you didn’t feel like doing or do one of the other things until you feel like it.

What's the point of doing something you do for fun if you force yourself to do it? To me that is a contradiction and which is why I don't do side projects anymore since I started doing coding for full time.

1. Set a Pomodoro timer (25 minutes).

2. Tell myself "just work on the project/problem for just five more minutes."

3. * Work and allow no interruptions *

4. Pomodoro timer rings.

5. "Wow. I didn't notice time passing."

Almost always, the satisfaction of surpassing the 5 minute goal is enough encouragement to continue for a good long while.

Personally, this works as well (if not better than) changing my work venue.

Go for a long walk, until I'm so hu angry I could eat anything I pass that smells good. I stop and pick something out I want to eat and eat it. Then go lay outside in the shade and let my mind wander about how amazing and strange the universe is, and how thankful I am that I am experiencing life.

From my personal experience programming (for my own pleasure) has three phases just like any other addiction.

1) Expectations phase where I love opening my laptop, touching the keyboard etc. and I have some sketchy ideas what to do.

2) Extatic phase - where I am working for 16-18 hours solving problems I didn't expected I would be able to solve and writing a code that I later keep re-reading just to appreciate it's dense beauty.

3) Diminishing returns phase where I am still trying to get some kicks from it but it isn't coming anymore.

If you are in a phase 3 then it is clearly a time to stop, get sleep, do yoga, meditate, go for a run or get on a bike. Don't look at a laptop for a few days.

Time away from the keyboard makes you more effective at the keyboard.

Take a break, let your brain breathe. Do some other tasks, hobbies or chores and you'll find yourself thinking about code soon enough.

It'd Saturday. I'll be doing stuff I enjoy, not working.

Some of us actually enjoy coding and love spending our free time on side projects. 'Work' is coding someone else's crap.

Sleep. Just finshed a long week. Slept from 9pm until 8am. When work is done: sleep. Eat. Exercise. Chores. Then "fun", if there is enough time sunday night.

That sounds so very sad - there is far more to life than work.

His health will be improving, sufficient sleep 8hrs+ and excessive. Very good in my mind. Sounds like a solid monk mode approach.

Work gets busy sometimes. We all go through periods of heavier work scheduals. Things will slow down in a couple months.

Know why. To push myself i need to know why. Without it, i get distracted too easy. I’ve now returned back to the tried and tested way of writing down (in a personal wiki) my long term goals and how I plan to get there. And a personal notebook (updated every 1-2 days) shows me my near term tasks. I go thru the wiki frequently, cleaning up and rearranging things. This keeps my long term visions in check and gives me purpose and motivation to complete my tasks.

I go and do something non-tech. Shoot some hoops with my kids, groceries shopping, chores. Anything but tech. I find that it gives my brain a rest.

45 yr old developer here, been at this for a long time...

While it can be tempting to just push through, that can be dangerous. Sometimes that "meh" feeling is a symptom of burnout. Did you have a long week? Lots of hours? Put out some fires? Decompressing now will be better than fully burning out in a few months with some shoddily coded side project to show for it.

That said, it's also possible that you need to "chop wood, carry water" as mentioned by another poster, but if you do that, take a moment to look at your side project from another level. Are you slogging because of some architectural debt, or because you're just poking at the problem to see what works? Personally, I get bogged down when I haven't thought through the problem at a higher level. Sometimes I'll just write a series of steps to get from where I am, to where I need to be, and identify the thing I am dreading doing.

TL;DR: Sometimes you need a break, sometimes you need to step back and take a 10k foot view of what's bugging you, and sometimes you just need to push through. It depends ;)

Start with shipping from day one. Before any coding. If it's a web app create a new hello world project push it to a git repo. Get a cheap server from a hosting company deploy your hello world app to it. Point a real domain to it and install an ssl cert on it. Now you have an actual app running on the open web. From then on you can iterate by completing one endpoint/controller action at a time and immediately pushing that live and getting user feedback on it. Then on to the next one. One additional point is that you can get a generic domain name which will allow you to endlessly pivot your app without having to setup a new domain and hosting if you change your idea. This implies that you always have just one side project that will change over time and never work on multiple side projects.

If you're asking on ways to combat the urge to stop, I'd create a Trello board, and split it into the smallest pieces possible. Even if you have to stop, perhaps you can work on a 10-minute piece. Typically, those small wins keep me going.

If you feel like that constantly and it doesn't matter which side-project it is, you should consider that you may be going through a burnout. Only a long time away from the offending activities might restore your energy to do them again.

I tell myself: "Holy crap, look at how much money you're being paid. Do you remember the labor jobs you used to have?"

Then I think about some nice things I'd like to buy. This is usually enough to get me going.

No solution here but I have been struggling with this for a couple of weeks now (5ish) but just in general, not only for side projects.

Thus I am quite interested in this thread myself :)

It’s Saturday morning, I would do something I enjoy then see how I feel. No point feeling guilty about a side project get outdoors and enjoy life

You need at least half day break from focused pursuits. After that channel energy into other focused pursuit

- playing guitar, piano etc

- studying math, EE, physics

- learn foreign language

- sports, yoga

I think it’s probably important to figure out WHY #4 happens. If this is something you’re passionate about, or something that you need to pay the bills soon, I would think that your motivation or excitement level wouldn’t wane so quickly.

After those couple hours, if you stop working on it, what do you do? Do you take a break and get back at it? Or do you follow through on waiting til tomorrow?

I usually return to it an hour or two later.

I think that sounds like a pretty good "work" to "work break" ratio. 2 hours on, 2 hours off, and then maybe 2 on again? As long as you're feeling like you're flowing for the time that you're actually working, getting 2 solid hours of uninterrupted work in, followed by a couple more later in the day, is probably more productive than many devs!

Keep working on open source to court attention, avoid becoming homeless. Keep working after becoming homeless and most friends have left. Now considering crimes to get shelter via jail... felony would help employment via protected status. Unsure if I’m joking, as those are our society’s chosen incentivized paths.

On a Saturday? Come on. Point 5 can wait till Monday (yes, it can). I'd go outside and enjoy the sun.

A side project is usually something you work on outside of business hours. So weekend work isn't something that can wait until Monday, because Monday is back to real work.

I write code that generates music, controls external gear.


Once I accomplish something that sounds good to me, I put it on and go back to my side project ;)

Use the pomodoro technique, it is ideal for this type so situation. It helps you get into the flow. Having a list of focused things you need to complete before you apply this technique is also a requirement.

I never feel like working. Work sucks. It's summer. Go to the beach.

Anyone have a good book/article for the exact topic?, What's on my mind is deepwork by cal newport

I'm working on my thesis but have a hard time to keep the motivation high

Do sports. Dig up the garden and get into raising your own vegetables. Gardening is the spice of life.

I just stop and do it tomorrow.

I come here

Me too!

Play guitar to backing tracks on youtube. Plan my next workout.

Start yet another side project

Pat yourself on the back for working a couple of hours then go online and write comments about lazy homeless people looking for handouts.

Please don't do this here.

Edit: it looks like you've been using HN primarily for political battle. That's not what this site is for, and we ban accounts that do that (as described in https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html). Can you please not do that?

Explanations of how we approach this can be found at https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20primarily%20test&sor... if anyone wants to read them.

Don't forget to upvote any thoughts and prayers threads. Slacktivism at its finest.

But seriously although I hate to delve too deeply into stereotypes the fact of the matter is many people like me on HN and elsewhere may be somewhat introverted by nature. And yet to answer the original poster's question I find volunteering or otherwise doing something to get me out of my shell invigorating when taken in small doses.

This is something I never would have discovered on my own: my wife's crowbaring me out of my comfort zone is the only reason I know.

But even volunteering aside there are many things you can do that (stereotype again, sorry) satisfy our predilection to learn new things and if not solve problems then learn how others solve problems. For instance two of my favorite things I've done were taking Citizen's Fire Academy and Citizen's Police Academy put on by the City of Houston. I don't want to be a firefighter or policeman. But getting to see the behind-the-scenes view into their world was fascinating. And when else will you get to go up in a ladder truck, ride in a police helicopter or put on bunker gear and watch as flames roar by a few inches over your head?

They actually present what they do in great amount of detail and are happy to take questions and even demonstrate their equipment and techniques. For a nerd like me it's damn entertaining.

It made me better appreciate what those people do for a living and and very thankful for the opportunities IT afforded me. It's a little more concrete for me that I'm very unlikely to be set on fire or shot while learning how to integrate CEPH and Kubenetes.

Tl;Dr: If you're bored or unmotivated with a side project do something completely different and outside your comfort zone to get perspective.

No objections to this! As a very introverted person myself and clearly not against posting comments on the Internet, my intentions here are merely to inspire consideration of challenges in overcoming prejudice.

I love the HN community but I doubt the HN community loves me back. I really struggle with the libertarian Darwinism so popular here. This thread concerns what it might call a weakness but I would call a necessary element in beauty.

It’s like ‘negative space’ in motivation. If we were always inspired, we might not be any different than drones. To lack a sense of purpose or connection with a task is useful to society. It makes a space for connection. When we engage with new things, it can improve our society. But it can also do the opposite; particularly when resources don’t allow for new engagements. Such is the case for homeless people!

Humor is not always funny, and I know my kidding here is not entertaining. I just hope for a better world for my children and I believe in the people of HN to make that possible. I just fear them missing the opportunities to do so in the name of pride and self-justification.

This post gives me hope. And your comment as well, although I know it was meant as a lesson. And to be certain, it was that too.

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