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Ask HN: How do you stay disciplined in the long run?
537 points by djangovm on Apr 29, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 171 comments
My typical cycle of execution is something like this

Find out something through HN/Reddit/Other medium --> Get motivated --> Get good knowledge about it through research --> See others succeed, get motivated a bit more --> Execute and get to, say, 25-50% of the journey --> Get bored --> Abandon --> be passive for couple of months --> repeat.

Be it creating new websites or new products (probably the reason I have not launched something as a personal project, despite having tried like 10-11 of them with varying degree of success), weight loss journey, running, meditation etc. I have tried breaking things into manageable chunks and then taking them one-by-one, or through methodologies like GTD, or by making others accountable (tough to find someone who takes personal interest in what I would do; also, I have strongly come to perceive myself as being driven by external accountabilities which makes me good at work at office but bad at executing personal projects).

I see folks who are disciplined, are ruthless executors, are self-motivated, and wonder, what could I improve or work towards to get things in a better shape. Any suggestions?

I'm convinced that almost nobody is good at the whole cycle of creating/maintaining something.

Some people are great at coming up with new ideas but quickly bore with the implementation. Some people can relentlessly improve on an existing thing but can't come up with the initial idea. Some people are great stewards of an established program but don't thrive in the chaos of rapid iteration.

I think instead of trying to mold yourself into something you're not naturally good at, you should try to figure out what you are naturally good at and build a team around it to support you.

I'm speaking in broad strokes of course, but reading your post, I think you are just not going to be a sole proprietor. You need a team member who can catch your early enthusiasm and then help see the project through to completion.

You need a finisher. Not every starter is a finisher, and not every finisher is a starter, and not every finisher is a good maintainer, either. They're different things.

I tend to agree, but there are major exceptions in open source software:

- Guido van Rossum wrote the first line of Python in 1989 or so (started)

- He released the first version on Useset pretty quickly ("finished" the MVP)

- He worked on himself for four years or so (maintaining, improving)

- Then other people started contributing for 25 years or so (leading)

So I would say he's able to do all 3 things, plus lead the team, which is even harder.

I think you can also say the same about Linus Torvalds, probably the leaders of similar projects like Ruby, Perl, Tcl, Richard Hipp of sqlite, etc. (without much of the leading part, since sqlite is relatively closed to contribution.)

One exception might be Stallman. Although Stallman's achievements are great, what I learned from reading his autobiography is that he started with existing pieces of code for GCC and Emacs.

In other words, he tries NOT to start from scratch. That's probably what enabled him to be productive enough to start so many projects simultaneously.

He also tends to be pretty good about handing over maintainership. That is, he is relatively good at recruitment to the cause.

Anyway, I guess this is why we hold such people in high regard! Because they're able to do things that most people cannot do -- that would normally take huge teams of people and/or entire companies.

And perhaps these are the exceptions that prove the rule, being that they are such remarkable cases.

He also is not a manager at Dropbox. He is the highest level IC there and has no desire to lead a team.

And then you got the SQLite guy who did everything for many years. A true outlier, though.

stop starting and start finishing

for normal people, yes it might be easier to have a part in something that's bigger than them.

But some really great projects had someone that owned it start to finish

I think Simon Wardley's concept of Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners matches nicely with what you're saying about different types of people: https://blog.gardeviance.org/2015/03/on-pioneers-settlers-to...

I've noticed the same three categories discussed in two "go west" novels -- Steinbeck's East of Eden (1952) and Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion (1962). It's interesting, and a bit jarring, to see the MBA translation of what, to me, existed as a literary aside.

> Not every starter is a finisher, and not every finisher is a starter, and not every finisher is a good maintainer, either. They're different things.

This is the most true thing I've read in a while. It takes a lot of thoughts I've been having lately and wraps them in a concise package. Thank you! This is gonna stick with me for a while.

I agree, that was a fantastic comment.

I love File>New'ing a project. A blank canvas inspires me and I can see the possibilities, but my coworker can't imagine anything yet is able to improve greatly on extant concepts. And yet another friend can do neither, but is great at being disciplined and pruning/maintaining a codebase.

> Not every starter is a finisher, and not every finisher is a starter, and not every finisher is a good maintainer, either. They're different things.

Seeing the number of responses in agreement is great, but then I think a bit and have a number of feelings about the fact that this needs to be pointed out. Isn't this obvious from basic psychology, management, sports, life experience, etc.?

It's unusual to find someone who has all elements in balance. They might seem in balance, but often you can't see how productive people really are in lots of cases. They may seem like they can churn out quality personal projects ad nauseum, but you don't know what's painful, what takes a disproportionate amount of time, what needed to redone, what drove anxiety, and many other things.

For the people who seem to have this balance, they may push through extreme toil, create undesirable consequences for others, etc. My advice would be to consider whether you should endeavour to be a "ruthless executor" because that might not be what you should do. Perhaps the OP should actually be spending time reading, taking photos, or some other activity to generate energy to drive forward projects that are truly important.

I'd say not everything worth starting is worth finishing. Perhaps the discovery of starting, doing a bit, is really what you want.

This is an interesting take, but I think you can take it too far. Kind of like if a kid gives up on math as soon as it becomes difficult and decides "I'm not good at math". Skills can be learned. Discipline can be developed. But yeah if you put in the effort to learn how to finish and are consistently miserable, maybe stop.

> I'm convinced that almost nobody is good at the whole cycle of creating/maintaining something.

Part of it is your character and personality. But your environment and your experience have a major weight.

Same applies for being a finisher.

In reality, it is not just being a starter and a finisher. A lot of other variables are involved. all sort of soft and hard skills will define your success and quality of your work. And you can arguably say almost nobody has all of them.

Super good post. Long ago I realized that I'm a starter and not a finisher, yet I often end up in SRE type roles that are all about finishing and I struggle to have any motivation to work on things that just quite frankly bore me to death.

Ideally, You need to team up with a finisher that keeps your focus on your work and perhaps since most of the finishers are introvert, you need a fact-based extrovert driver who is dominant to push you both forward.

Thanks for this gem. Many +1s for you but it's not easy to know what you are good at. Even you know then roadmap isn't clear.

This was something I really needed to see.... Thanks to both the OP as well as you Haul4ss.

Agreed. But how do you pass over a product once you created it and it's working ?

Upvote a million times!

Well said!


Follow through and don't use what people do on HN/Reddit/etc. as 100% truth. Allow yourself to take breaks, but just continue exploring and doing.

People are always trying to sell themselves and embellish what they do. Plus, in posts, you're only viewing a small window of their lives. You have no idea if they suffer the same problems and just happened to write about completing one thing, ignoring all the failures along the way because no one talks about failure.

In short, don't use other people as a yard stick, but focus on yourself and being happy with what you do.

I haven't released any product, personal project, or website, but I have worked hard at my company and have been happy with things I've done for it. Does it hinder my opportunities? Probably. Do I really care? Not really, because it isn't required of me to live a good life.

If you want some practical advice:

1. Stop going on HN and Reddit. If you spend a lot of time reading about what other people do, you won't do it. If HN and Reddit helps you progress, spend 30 minutes a day on it.

1a. Start small and simple and build from there. If things are getting too complicated, scale back. Always scale back. It reduces frustration and anxiety as well as builds confidence.

2. Set a schedule. Take you phone calendar and put a block of time to work on X and set a reminder. This primes your brain to have a plan and an expectation.

3. Schedule short time blocks, 30 minutes to an hour. You only have a limited amount of time in a day and trying to do something for long stretches of time will a) take away time to focus on other things you want to do b) will have a diminishing return effect.

4. Establish a routine. Set those blocks in 3 and do it on a schedule. Try and do that task in those time blocks for a couple weeks. The most important thing is the routine. You can increase those time blocks only when you're comfortable meeting that routine.

5. If you miss a day, DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT and just catch the next go around. Things come up in our lives that we don't expect and we either can't do it or don't want to. But don't make yourself feel like a failure if you do. The point is consistency.

6. Finally, TAKE THOSE SMALL VICTORIES! I know its difficult, you'll doubt yourself, but please... take them. When I wrote my first "Hello World" program, I took the time to realize how awesome it was and how simple it was! DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE MILLIONS THAT CAN DO IT TOO!

It will take a long time. But the beauty is, you'll get better at the above steps and be able to execute faster so it doesn't feel long anymore.

Zooming out, the big picture here is to create systems for yourself (whatever works for you) that make success more likely in moments when your motivation is low. For example, I pack my gym bag the night before and put it by my work laptop so I have zero friction in the morning. I know I don't have much motivation or willpower to do this in the morning, so I work around that and give myself zero excuses to not bring my workout gear.

Yes, planning and eliminating excuses 'ahead in time', is half the game won

> big picture here is to create systems for yourself (whatever works for you) that make success more likely in moments when your motivation is low.

> If HN ... helps you progress, spend 30 minutes a day on it.

Using the "past" feature [0] is a great time saver in this regard. Let people with more time do the real-time curation, and focus on the results of their efforts. The link is on the main menu between "threads" and "comments".

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/front

Is add one thing to this great advice, schedule downtime for yourself and make sure you stick to it. Willpower/discipline is a finite resource, make sure you don't burn out.

If you look at top athletes, none of them work at 100% all hours of the day. Mental stamina is just the same as physical, your body needs that recovery time and will get stronger because of it.

This so much, in real life, Im not very productive, but on my reddit account, Ive write so much advice youd think I was some 10x developer, when most of the time Im just sweetening things up.

At work, we have a bunch of accounts that troll on the alt right subreddits, and its a common joke that everyone secretly does the same thing at home.

^ Don't feed the trolls.

You don't. In the long run, you build a habit. Discipline is a short term solution to stick with something long enough to become a habit.

How do you "stay disciplined" to brush your teeth every day? Chances are you just do it without thinking much about it. You don't hem and haw and read a bunch of motivational memes to gather up the willpower to brush your teeth. It's just something you automatically do.

I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits for advice about how to build up habits. The main key is to start small. If you want to get in shape, you're not going to start out working out for 90 minutes every day. You start with 5 minutes or something so easy that you can't not do it. Then you keep doing it until it becomes automatic and build from there.

I also read atomic habits recently. I found it really helpful for these types of problems. As the author says, accomplishing things is brought by building good systems and forming automatic habits. Not by fighting urges off left and right.

I started going to the gym again after a few years off. It was really hard at 1st to simply keep my gym schedule. Now, I go to the gym no matter what because it's simply what I do.

I do think, however, that books like these should be re-read from time to time to reinforce/rekindle the habit building machine.

Read self-help books until they all start sounding the same

I'm not sure, based on your sentence structure, whether that was a "command" or your personal experience.

Regardless, sometimes, "self-help" books do come through on their promise. I found AH gave me good tools to build new habits by exposing me to the idea of designing my environment to push good habits. That's all.

I'd highly recommend reading Atomic Habits. One of the key concepts in the book regarding changing habits is developing or changing how you identify yourself. From your post, it appears you like starting things. More details from authors blog here:


For me, I started diligently tracking what new interests I develop. Before I picked up a new topic of research or area of interest, I would put it in a note and evaluate if this would take me closer or further from my overall goal. I stopped spending too much time on a new interest if it did not align with my overall goal. "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it." It is really important to be self-aware of this trend, and you have shown that you want to improve.

Good luck!

Well said

>How do you "stay disciplined"? You don't.

> In the long run, you build a habit. Discipline is a short term solution to stick with something long enough to become a habit.

>the book Atomic Habits

My mouth tastes horrendous if I don’t brush so that’s a reminder and motivator. It can be good to have the equivalent for other things. I find if I’ve promised something I’m more likely to finish because of the bad taste of breaking the promise. Even f the promisee doesn’t care too much.

I agree. I spend a lot of time trying to develop what I (internally) refer to as 'micro' habits. So, needless to say, thanks for the book rec! Sounds like just what I need.

I could agree more with your post! Also, Atomic Habits really is a great book!

This is tangentially related, but I think every person has a tolerance threshold that develops early for life standards.

Fitness and money are easiest examples. For some, being fat is disguisting and unimaginable, so they will do everything possible to stay thinner. For some that threshold is having an actual six pack, and once you lose it, you go into emergency "at whatever cost" mode.

That's def the case for me with below average college-educated income - when I was below it, I was in "how can I be such a failure" mode. But now that I am above it, I am not in panic mode, even though I consider myself a failure, it's "good enough" on some "subconscious" level, despite me constantly trying to change it. Whereas if someone was born rich, I think not being able to keep up with the previous standards of life could be the threshold.

So, there are three take-aways from this. Once you establish a new height, you realize how good it is to be there and that it's possible, so you can get back there far easier. The second is that it's very easy to get lazy once you are comfortable. At that point you can also "afford a life", and that starts eating away your time. Edit: The last one is what the poster below said - maybe realizing how important these thresholds are is a key to artificially creating them.

Other than that - I think "focus on one thing at a time and set a concrete time block for it x days a week" is the vest possible strategy.

A lot of folks call this setting standards. The standard you set for you self is X, your ego/will/desire/whatever you call it will not let you drop below your standard.

"For some that threshold is having an actual six pack, and once you lose it, you go into emergency "at whatever cost" mode." It is easy to say " i want a six pack." It's much harder to say "i want to eat a very strict diet, prioritize sleep and working out, avoid stress where possible and severely limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per week or less". But to say the former is to also say the latter IMO

Sure, I am not even considering that it might mean something other than the latter.

I have the same opinion too! I just rephrase it to myself as - "How desperate are you to do foo/bar?" (foo/bar can be getting rich, working out etc)

I could see your issue being that you are alone in these things. I don't know who said it but the quote "if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go with others" rings true. Finding other people to build things with, to work out with, to meditate with, is one of the most important factors.

When you read blog posts, its easy to feel that a person is doing all this by themselves, but I would bet that most of them have a solid network. This is why I think we are in this productivity porn era of computing, tech bootcamps/silicon valley are echo chambers for the stuff, and the people inside these ecosystems have it easy in the networking world.

So make some friends who are trying to do similar things. I'm in college and can say that I'm a failure at what I'm preaching, but it will help immensely if my understanding is correct.

On a recommendation of another HN user, I picked up the book Atomic Habits recently.

That book says it clearly: you don't rise to your motivations, you stoop to the level of your systems and processes. The book also taught me how the habits you create stem from the person you identify as. For example, a person who is "a runner" will run every morning. They'll do it without questioning they're a runner. They'll have self-doubt for sure, but different doubts, and they'll keep running.

Both those things rang true to me. I've always wanted to be a runner, but honestly I've never identified as one, so I don't consistently run.

I highly recommend the book, it's a great perspective. I don't think it'll ring true for everyone, but the perspective it offers is great for everyone.

Quoting one of my favourite authors, Stephen Covey: “Begin with the end in mind”.

Instead of forcing yourself to finish, better ask: why do you want to do this project? What’s in it for you? Money? Online portfolio? Better employability? How does your work align with your core principles and values? Are you making a tool for saving developer time? Protecting innocent lives? Earning personal profits? All are valid options as long as your core principles are in alignment with what it is what you set out to achieve. Through time, the connection between you as a person and the work you set out to achieve inevitably becomes blurry. However, if a solid foundation of values and principles was made during the inception of the project, you will find it easier to resync your thoughts and realign yourself with your goal after burnout, fatigue or setbacks. Conversely, If your foundation is not solid, you will find it easy to convince yourself that time and effort is better spent somewhere else.

Make a clear vision of where you are, where you want to get and how this project is the key to your success.

Yes. There are also some good comments at a previous related discussion at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18903886 .

I wrote some thoughts about finding direction in life (focused on learning for one's growth, and using that to serve others in some way), at http://lukecall.net (a lightly-loading web site). You can click on "Life Lessons" (4th bullet), then "Everyone needs a direction in life" (~ 6th bullet). It is in progress but I still hope it can be useful. Or the direct link is http://lukecall.net/e-9223372036854588981.html .Feedback welcome.

>Execute and get to, say, 25-50% of the journey --> Get bored --> Abandon

>I have strongly come to perceive myself as being driven by external accountabilities

These are classic ADHD symptoms, along with some of the other tells I've gotten from your description. The number one way to improve ADHD symptoms, by an enormous margin, is through stimulant therapy. If this kind of pattern happened a lot in childhood, and you have a history of other related issues (losing homework, procrastination until deadlines, high caffeine use), then I'd highly suggest scheduling a meeting with your mental health provider about this and getting a diagnosis.

And again, it's quite hard to overstate how effective stimulant therapy is for treating ADHD. It's the most effective mental health intervention. For me personally, it makes a night-and-day difference.

Are you concerned at all about becoming dependent on stimulant therapy and the long term effects that may have on your health?

I'm not an expert in Stimulant therapy, only familiar with some relatives "using" Adderall.

>Are you concerned at all about becoming dependent on stimulant therapy and the long term effects that may have on your health?

I've got personal empirical evidence that my alternatives are being dysfunctional enough that I cannot maintain professional employment or a long-term romantic relationship. Stimulant therapy definitely has tradeoffs, but what I get out of it is significant enough that I'm okay with the downsides.

From my experience, tolerance can be an issue indeed. But in the short to medium term, stimulant therapy can definitely help a lot. However, while ongoing stimulant therapy it is important to work on more durable solutions such as meditation, exercise, and diet. With this, I was able to slowly decrease my stimulant dose, and I now only use them when I really need them. Without them, I couldn't have gathered the focus I needed to sort my life out academically and professionally while developing long-term healthy habits that helped with my ADHD.

yes, the below are the classic ADHD symptoms

>If this kind of pattern happened a lot in childhood, and you have a history of other related issues (losing homework, procrastination until deadlines, high caffeine use)

> cannot maintain professional employment or a long-term romantic relationship

I just wanted to point out it's totally normal to go through waves of interest or motivation for various things in your life. Especially if these are things unrelated to your career or work you should consider becoming less outcome focused. You mention 25%-50% of the journey - how do you define the 100%?

For something like running I think it's common to get very interested and the interest to fade out over time. This might be before you can run a marathon or half marathon - does that mean it wasn't worth it to run while you did? You may also pick it up again down the line, maybe it takes you years to get to a goal rather than a few months. You can start and stop - don't feel bad about it.

I think our society has a high focus on the super achievers and the end result. However, if you're focusing on weight loss, running or meditation you're never going to be the best. The purposes of each of those activities is to enjoy them for what they are. If you're not enjoying them move onto the next thing and you can always come back later.

I used to get this advice a lot, and I need reminders sometimes. What I only recently figured out is what process means here. I thought it was generic "enjoy your life" stuff, but you really are going through a specific process.

These projects are the process of you growing, maturing, getting seasoned. It sounds like you aren't quite ready for your big break yet, which is fine, especially because you are doing exactly what you should do.

Congratulate yourself for any time you spend creating, you're learning tools and techniques and mental habits and what doesn't work. Soon, maybe tomorrow or maybe a decade from now, you'll start to develop a vision of what your life's work really is.

My advice is to keep following your ideas, doing active creation whenever you can, and most importantly seeking out good people and letting them help you.

Here's what has worked for me:

1. Think deeply about what's important to you in life. Constantly ask yourself if what you are doing is aligned with your values. If it isn't, figure out what changes you can make.

2. Understand that trying to make progress through sheer force of will only works in the short term. Your environment and the people around you shape your actions way more than you realize. Change your environment and you change the way you behave.

This is basically what I've learned as well by going to therapy and has dramatically improved my life as I've began to embrace what I'm excited about and say no to activities, people, and hobbies that don't align with my values.

Yes, that makes a big difference for me also. (I was tempted to post the same reply to two comments, but you can find the actual comment under the one that mentions "Covey".)

While a bit cheesy, I've always found this diagram to be pretty much correct: https://i.imgur.com/SvsJnyf.jpg

From my experience, finding something that you love doing and can get lost in for hours on end will be the most rewarding activity. Rewarding activities tend to stick longer -- I was good at fiddling with web pages and now it's what I do professionally.

The tough stuff is finding out what you're good at -- that requires a bunch of trial and error and (especially in IT) people tend to think themselves better than they truly are. This is why you should always seek out advice from more experienced people and stay humble. As in chess, the only way to get better is to play against a stronger opponent.

Best advice I was given for persevering at times of boredom/burn out/etc was to simply keep going at it. How much you get done is not as important as is just doing it. Not every workout or coding session has to be at John Carmack's level but it should never be skipped.

Lastly, what other fine folk here already said: don't go it alone! Every person needs a support system! Whether it's family, friends, colleagues, local bartender, or IRC pals is not important - just have somebody to talk to and perhaps get excited about the stuff you do.

I also struggle with this. The best advice I've found is a 9 years old blog post by Derek Yu [1]: "Treat finishing things as a skill rather than a step in the process".

We all have different skills, we can be good at programming or at graphic design or at music composition or at communication. Having these skills give you advantage, but you have to remember that at some point you didn't have those skill, those were cultivated. If you treat finishing things as a skill that has to be cultivated, where you suck at first, but with enough practice you get better and better, then you get into a mindset that will allow you to be more and more disciplined. So start small, take smaller projects, as small as possible. Make sure you finish them, slowly increase the difficulty level, you will get there.

[1] https://makegames.tumblr.com/post/1136623767/finishing-a-gam...

It's mostly subconscious/unconscious.

This is why some people make it look easy - the ones who you describe as "folks who are disciplined, are ruthless executors, are self-motivated".

It's not actually that hard for them, they're mostly just doing what comes naturally to them.

It may be they were able to develop these tendencies at a young age, or maybe it's inherited traits from their parents.

This is the dark secret behind the self-help industry; it usually doesn't work. At least not just by reading a book or attending a seminar or following a methodology.

Those programs will describe techniques that supposedly work for other highly successful people, but what they don't tell you is that those other people don't really need to follow any program, and the "discipline" they show is actually not the kind of discipline you're punishing yourself with; for the people who make it look easy, it just flows naturally, as their subconscious mind is just attuned that way.

Here's the thing: you can change your subconscious mind. There are specific techniques that enable you to do it. But they require consistent work over a long period of time, and a lot of patience with yourself along the way.

The main goal of such a program is to figure out just what it is you really want to do with your life - what objective is going to give you purpose and meaning and motivation, then to gradually remove the emotional/cognitive barriers that prevent you from working towards it with energy and focus.

One of the better known subconscious healing programs is NLP, but I have no idea if it's the best; I haven't really done it. I've done other things that are less well-known, and after more than 7 years of steady work, the results have been profound for me.

Search around for "subconscious healing" or "subconscious emotional clearing" and see what you can find.

Choose a program that feels good to you; ideally talk to people who have done it and ask about their results. Of course you shouldn't do something if the people running it or recommending it seem kooky or exploitative, and the field is a minefield in that regard.

But if you search thoroughly you'll find there are programs and techniques offered by really down-to-earth, decent people, and a solid number of authentic success stories to point to.

Good luck!

One of the things that gets me is analysis paralysis. When I first started programming (albeit not professionally) most people didn't have the internet, me included. So I had to just write code and figure things out. For a very long time it's how I did things. Now, with blogs, SO, github, etc. I fall into the trap of, "well, I need to do X, so let's see how others have done it." instead of just trusting myself and doing it. I don't know when it started getting worse, but I hate it and I hate myself for allowing it to get bad.

Fighting this is a constant battle. One thing that helps is a deadline. Another is a pomodoro timer. I really wish I could unplug my internet cable for a while each day, but people would freak if I were not easily accessible.

>I really wish I could unplug my internet cable for a while each day, but people would freak if I were not easily accessible.

I had the luxury of living without internet for about two months last year. It was very influential. I would save up a list of things I needed to use the internet for, and do it on public wifi on the weekends. The rest of the week I was offline. Naturally this lead to more productive and proactive browsing (like saving documentation for offline viewing (or simply learning to navigate offline docs), locally storing wiki articles/blog posts/potentially relevant youtube videos, and using RSS feeds for efficient browsing on limited time).

Now that I have internet again, I've re-implemented some of those methods, like limiting my use of web browsers, especially full blown graphical ones like Firefox. For example, instead of surfing youtube, I use a script that takes my search and downloads the first x videos returned (or just download whole playlist with youtube-dl). I try to use $browser for less than an hour per day, and have found that postponing launching Firefox until later in the day (but not too late) helps - so those little scripts help a lot by not being potential "cans-o-worms". At some point, I go through my list of internet-todos I've gathered during the day, realize most of them were just stupid time sinks anyway, and then search or address the ones that survived. I've also kept the "proactive browsing" habit, and storing a lot of stuff locally (even whole websites).

Of course, for more urgent tasks, like things that could a quick solution /now/, I don't hesitate to launch $browser, but I try not to deviate from completing said urgent task and closing the browser as soon as it's done - no tangential searching allowed.

I guess one way to sum up the workflow I'm trying to achieve is a "power users" approach to the NoSurf[0] philosophy.

[0]: https://nosurf.org/

Another thing which helps is doing a project in a language or framework which you're not yet as familiar with - hard to get in analysis paralysis when you don't even know how to start the analysis. The thing is if you're choosing a language or technology which is extremely appropriate to the task, for example learning a grammar builder IDE to tackle a parsing problem, you'll hopefully still produce a "good" (or especially, "good enough") solution despite your beginner status. And then maybe when you come back to the domain you had analysis paralysis in you might have a better perspective.

I hear you because I fight the same uphill battle every day as you. Still haven't found a proper solution for it.

My discipline comes from a lifetime of sports and has carried over to my work life (even though I now do martial arts as a hobbyist instead of competing as a college athlete); many of these can be read as workout / health points but are actually applicable across your life.

It starts from the long-term goal: if you want to be extraordinary, you need to do things differently than the ordinary. People are going to give you a hard time about some of the changes you're making, so you need to be ready to ignore them and accept the fact that if you want to have a different level of discipline than others you need to do things differently.

Discipline is compound interest in your life - you are doing the little things the right way every day, and all those pennies are eventually going to add up into millions. This applies to food, working out, pushing on projects, learning new skills etc.

The best advice is to make it easy for yourself - pick a FEW, SIMPLE, things that you can control and start from there. Stop eating the same snack or having a glass of wine after work. Start waking up at 6 am. Then evolve to going to the gym from there. Build habits.

You also need to accept that you're not perfect, and no man is an island. This part was the hardest for me - I built up walls around myself (thinking that I needed to keep my habits exactly as they were since they had gotten me this far) and thus cut off opportunities and other people. Eventually I was able to be a bit more chilled out while still keeping the discipline in the right areas. I found that 7 habits of highly successful people really helped me; I also recommend "Wooden on Leadership" and "The Score Takes Care of Itself" as examples of champions putting this bottoms-up approach into practice over years and reaping the rewards.

There is no shortcut. There is nothing fancy. Control what you can control, don't worry about the rest of it, and trust in the process. Feel free to message me if I can be helpful

Thanks. Your comment is really thought-provoking.

I recently found this quote pretty good:

"“I had started to make an email program before in, probably, 1996,” he explains. “I had this idea I wanted to build web-based email. I worked on it for a couple of weeks and then got bored. One of the lessons I learned from that was just in terms of my own psychology, that it was important that I always have a working product. The first thing I do on day one is build something useful, then just keep improving it.”"

- Paul Buchheit on creating gmail


Using HN isn't bad. Just use a stopwatch and timer on your phone.

The human brain wasn't meant to do deep work (like programming) for hours and hours.

So what I do is set a stopwatch on my phone. if it's been 30-45 min and my mind is wandering, I spend 5-10 minutes on HN, Reddit, etc then go back to work.

(The stopwatch is because if you're nearly done with something an alarm can zap you out of it, whereas it's not jarring to get interrupted from browsing /r/aww. Plus you can use the "lap" function to monitor both the length of a sprint + total working time for the day)

I have found can accomplish much more deep work this way than if I wait until I feel I couldn't write one single more line of code.

I also maintain a list of "projects" - things I'd find fun to do. I break the projects into steps, and estimate how long they'd take.

So when I have downtime or free time, I can pull up a project and work a bit, note my progress. This helps with not feeling like I'm flailing around from one thing to the next without finishing anything.

All of these moving parts come together to create a flow that allows me to work on side projects to expand my knowledge without feeling stressed or burdened.

As a general impression, it sounds like you might be putting too much stock in external validation instead of looking within, and then losing interest when society or your peers neglect to keep it coming your way. To answer your question, here is my specific methodology for long term personal projects.

1) Do some work on it every day if possible so as not to lose my train of thought. Even if it's only a tiny amount of progress, it all adds up. Expect it to feel like a chore some of the time.

2) Don't let myself start a new project until I've brought the current one to a satisfactory conclusion (by some definition). For you that could mean a minimum viable product, or if you've gone off the idea, then it could mean documenting your efforts to an adequate standard for someone else theoretically to continue it.

3) For something like exercise or personal fitness, I choose a routine calibrated far enough below the ceiling of my endurance that it feels easy most days but on the worst day out of a month I'm glad it isn't any tougher. Then notch it up monthly by the smallest possible increment.


By default, say no!

Say: oh wow, I'm motivated by this thing on HN. How exciting! Let me make a note about what I think is cool about this, take a while to reflect on whether it's worth kicking other things out of my life to do, then decide if I will.

I've started doing that in the last year or so. I stopped renewing about a dozen domains that had half-finished apps behind them, and decided I wouldn't do anything for a while. Then I kept saying no to more startup ideas.

The one thing I kept doing was this songwriting course. I more-or-less finished it, and found myself writing a song a week. Then I started trying to arrange and produce full songs with lyrics, which I'd done either half of (producing, and writing) separately. That took a while. Now I finished one of those!

It just kept coming back, every time I tried to say it wasn't important. If the thing you want to do isn't like that, then go do something nice for yourself instead, like seeing friends, or buying a record.

Pick a smaller project, something you can finish in a few days or weeks.

For years I was thinking of creating video tutorials to teach CSS. I would sell these videos online, either as a subscription model or as a downloadable package. I spent months creating design templates that I would teach how to code. I also looked into screen recording software. I bought a microphone stand. I did some tests. But in the end, I hadn't written any content. I had only worked on the side aspects.

So one day I decided to just make the smallest project I could think of: a small ebook to teach CSS. The result was this: https://jgthms.com/css-in-44-minutes-ebook

I managed to write and launch it within a few months because the scope was way smaller, which allowed me to be more focused on the task because I could see the end of it.

As of now, I’m actually writing my second ebook, focused on advanced CSS techniques and concepts. It will have a lot more content, because I’ve learned how to launch something. The only difference is the amount of time I’ll have to spend writing. But in the end you realise that most projects scale linearly. You just need to learn how to finish a project before building bigger ones.

Same happened with Bulma: https://bulma.io

The initial idea was actually way bigger. But in the end, I launched it with the basic features I had in mind. It’s now grown a lot.

Shameless plug - I work on https://everyday.app (simple and beautiful habit tracker for the web/ios/android) and seeing the colourful board filled with 2 years of data is hugely motivating to keep me going and stay on track with the SAME goals.

For example: https://app.everyday.app/2/5 :)

Having a list somewhere like an app or a little notebook is hugely helpful in keeping you accountable every single day. I use a different app but I'll check out everyday.app :)

Definitely, the sole fact of reading every day what I want to do every single day already makes a huge difference!

Awesome, feel free to shoot me any feedback! ;)

>> --> Execute and get to, say, 25-50% of the journey

I think your problem is right over here.

I don't think you get to 25% let alone 50% of the journey. You are probably just over-estimating how much you have accomplished.

My guess is that you have probably completed less than 5% of the said journey.

There is more than just getting a first MVP bootstrapped. Getting the product polished is a big one. Marketing and content writing. Listening to users and discussions. Accounting and planning, etc... The journey is really harsh and long.

My advice is to not get over-excited. That's usually a sign that you have not thought it well enough. If you get over-excited a lot, it really loses its meaning. And it is useless unless you can get it everyday and on every step of the project (not just the cool hacking).

So don't get excited. Just decide on what you want to do and start doing it. Any idea is a good idea, because it is the journey that will shape the product; not the first trials.

You need a purpose and a routine. Why do you want to be successful ? What's your definition of success ? Is it something you really want / or is it pushed by friends / social media / internal representation of success ?

> See others succeed, get motivated a bit more

It sounds very dumb but focus on the journey, not on the destination. I got fit when I started to enjoy going to the gym (took 1+ year). I didn't like sport and I had a mental image of what a gym guy was, I couldn't identify to that image. Now I'm 5 years in, go bouldering, running and at the gym every single week, it doesn't feel like success and I still don't identify as a fit/gym guy.

Once it's part of your daily/weekly routine you don't need motivation, you do these things because you're hard wired to. It takes years, but one day you'll wake up and think "damn, I'm fit / good a guitar / glad I sticked to my business idea for the last 5 years / &c."

Also keep in mind that success isn't a fixed point, it's an endless ladder, each step being your next definition of success. You can be successful at many things but if you don't take the time to reflect on them you'll feel like a constant failure.

> I see folks who are disciplined, are ruthless executors, are self-motivated

Do you know them personally or do you trust the internet's success stories ? People like to romanticise their achievements with fancy origin stories, struggles, &c.

A few resources:



I was going through similar experiences. Last year I decided to see what would happen if I made some kind of music for 365 consecutive days with no prior experiences.

I wrote about the experiment on Twitter, "What I learned making some kind of music for 365 consecutive days": https://twitter.com/internetVin/status/1019033516028280832

Hope it's useful in some way.

I'm doing the same thing now with code. I am currently on Day 119. I've been calling these kinds of projects, High Frequency Output projects: https://internetvin.com/hfo/

Doing the best I can.

Your music is very good for putting out a new song every day, of what I've listened to so far. Even Day 1 you were doing things that sound more musical than what I usually came up with in the past, and I've used my music as the soundtrack of my video games before (not that they were great, but just okay enough that I went ahead and used them).

How much time did you usually spend on these daily songs? Did you do any research into new techniques in between that, or was everything you learned all through experimentation?

Probably my best attempt at a music loop I ended up using in one of my games: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqe0hS7AvOE

I haven't made any new music in awhile. I always enjoyed it, even though I wasn't that amazing at it. I should get back into it a bit.

As for HFO, I always thought that was something I needed to do more of, and programming seemed a bit anathemic to that idea. Sure you can make small scripts, but making anything that seemed "worth it" to me always took a lot more effort, like 40 hours at least, and that was for a simple game. But take something like webcomics or baking or something, and you can make a distinct item and get it out there in front of an audience on an almost daily basis, and you could refine your skills and build a name for yourself a lot easier than putting out a game 2 or three times a year, which is what I used to do (and now a lot less often than that). Maybe my mindset is just wrong. I definitely have a lot more distractions in my daily life (impatient and demanding dogs, and relationship and social responsibilities) than I did ten years ago.

My opinion is that the first 25% is the most fun, the only reason to do the rest is if its how you make money, or get other rewards such as recognition or praise from users (assuming you like that).

My side projects always die soon after figuring out what I want and how to do it. My job I'm doing the messy stuff I'd prefer not to do.

The word "passion" is charged these days, but as someone who has successfully completed a number of long journeys (opensource projects, sale of company, 15 years of cardio, etc.), I think that has been the key to my success. In other words, you have to love what you are doing and then your interests will dwindle less.

Even with love, it can be difficult to remain focused. A trick I do when I run is to constantly recalibrate my goals as I am going. If I am having a hard time a few miles in, I tell myself to get to the next quarter and then the next until it's a half. Eventually it's a mile and I start again if I need to or expand scope. I will apply this same technique to life and have found it can be very useful.

If you've tried all of those, consider the process of abstaining from something or extreme focusing for a set period of time, say drinking alcohol or performing a 1 min plank every day for 30 days. I will do these exercises and the feeling I get from them is similar to the dragging feeling at the final 25% of a project. It conditions you to push through it because at the end of the day, it's only 30 days.

And I guess as a catch-all, if you really want to see it through, make that your goal––To complete one single project from start to finish, no matter what.

Not a complete solution, but I’ll throw in some tips:

1. Don’t show anyone. For me, this saps my interest by providing premature reward for my hard work. Keep it secret except from people helping you directly on the heavy lifting.

2. Will is a muscle. Strengthen it by doing other things religiously. For example, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Go to the gym 3 times per week. Etc.

3. Read “War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. This book will teach you how to use resistance instead of succumb to it.

I can offer some pointers that have worked for me:

- Do what you like and what you can tie into an overall larger meaning. I made goals that sounded great on paper, but when confronted with factual reality couldn't be prioritized. So now I set goals to deal with some aspect of myself I want to change (e.g. tackle impostor syndrome, fear of becoming lazy/fat, etc.). Then when I feel like I want to give up, I just ask myself whether it's worth it, because I performed a cost/benefit analysis at the time I started and it was worth it then. Usually it is worth it to push through.

- Build an environment that helps you stay on track. I cancelled my home internet when I realized I watched too much YouTube. Now if I want to watch YouTube at home, I have to download videos via youtube-dl and watch them offline. When I want to walk for a while, I leave my wallet and metro card at home.

- Forgive yourself. It's okay to make mistakes, or slip a day or two. Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up. In fact, IMHO we don't learn to fail enough and so we don't actually know our true limitations and don't learn to push our true boundaries.

The vast majority of people don't even try at all, you're way ahead of the average person.

Everything you have done so far, even if you quit half way, has taught you something. You've picked up new technical skills, you've learned about your physical and emotional health, and you know more about your strengths and weaknesses that you did before.

I don't think enough people self reflect. If you gave up, try to think about why. Did you quit when you got bored? Or when it got too hard? Did life get in the way? If you can start to recognize patterns, then it makes it easier to spot those same behaviors/situations earlier next time, and maybe you can make the necessary changes to push through.

Lots of people are quick to label themselves or their actions as failures; but you/they are not not. Even if you abandoned the project or gave up the health kick, if you came out it with ANY sort of knowledge that you didn't have before then you have improved yourself and should consider the effort worth while.

Really, figure out what your goals are, and work towards them, slowly. Don't try to make huge changes over night; it can take many small, incremental positive changes to get where you want to be.

Why do you want to launch a project? Is the goal self employment, or do you just like tinkering and building things? Both are totally acceptable! Figure out what motivates you!

Also, I highly recommend trying to connect with people with similar goals. This is a fantastic way to meet new people, and having people there to encourage you when you're feeling down or like giving up can make a huge difference. If they have similar goals, they've most likely felt like you do at some point, and can provide the support and encouragement needed to persevere.

It's painful. It's supposed to be painful. Anyone that successfully launched kept working through the pain.

Think of non-coders that taught themselves to code and launched webapps just by googling and facing the pain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6reLWfFNer0

I also struggle with this, but I think the most important breakthrough I had was that my workflow is ultimately cyclical and practice-driven, and not project-driven.

That is, I may allocate parts of my free time to "doing programming" but the precise nature of it is not that relevant. Some programming is easy and valuable, other programming is dreadfully difficult and fixes a minor bug. I do not know which I will encounter when I "do programming" but I treat it as a course of exercise and try to make something happen during that block of time.

Likewise the act of creating shouldn't wear you down. The personal project is the place where you have the best chance of growing and getting out of your comfort zone, and achieving this growth may mean countering the impulse to immediately chase a project idea with a business plan.

A business is also a kind of machinery - a machinery made of people, their roles and relationships and usage of time and space. It means having two projects, not one, and presuming to allocate your time to "the business" and reap the tangible rewards of it. But in doing that you can kill your motivation since the two projects in combination will quickly start engaging skills you don't have and possibly aren't ready to learn.

When you get to that point, and your attitude to the work becomes "someone needs to pay me to do this," you may want to stop, because then you're engaging with the problem space at the same level as anyone else chasing after money. Good work can be done by mercenaries, but that doesn't mean you're able to "just turn it on" and work on the business because of a hypothetical prospect. You have to have some ability to keep faith in it if you want to last through the "despair" periods, and that limits what you can work on solo. Two or three people working on it can keep their momentum and power through a considerably higher degree of misery - hence your statement about having an easier time at the office.

And that brings me back to the "cycles of practice" idea. It's not that you will never succeed solo, it's that you need to develop a better understanding of yourself and what keeps you in for the long run. The idea may be a good one, but you also need to be the person who can execute on the idea. It's worth continuing your education when and where you can find it - take classes you didn't consider and read books you never thought about - to try to scout out your territory better.

For me, one of my biggest hurdles was self direction. Trying to commit to hitting the gym twice a week always floundered even though I was following a relatively well defined course (Starting strength). I go to martial arts classes now and have zero mental overhead besides reviewing what I learned in class. Not great for building up muscle (these types of classes are usually more cardio based vs resistance training) but better than doing nothing.

Same with my language learning. I've always done better with the structure of classes compared to self study. Now I just schedule weekly 1:1 sessions with online tutors and only worry about doing the homework. I then try to practice what I'm learning organically when I run into potential practice situations.

I also find the less free time I have overall to commit to things, the more productive I become, compared to having more free time to execute - I'll otherwise waste a bunch of time on fluff.

Just do it. Inevitably you run into a boring feature that you aren't jazzed about implementing. Do it. Or you finish the project and never launch it. Do it. Or it's just taking you way longer than you thought (not a weekend project afterall, eh?). Do it.

You won't always be motivated. But you'll get over a boring hurdle and find out there's something behind it that is exciting.

7 years strong on my current startup, through plenty of lows (and eventual highs). I'm not the best developer, but something can be said for my follow-through — and it's nothing special — just the recognition that some things will suck and I do them anyway.


It sounds like you don't have skin in the game -- by which I mean you've a job. It's a completely different mindset when your having a roof over your head in 6 months depends on you validating your market or compiling enough data to raise a seed round. (Don't take that to mean you should quit your just. I'm merely pointing out that this can be a huge motivator.)

It also sounds like you're not chatting enough with your would-be clients. Instead of building first all while wondering if you'll get market traction and eventually losing interest, find the would-be customers first (if only as a pre-launch page to build a list) and then build what they want. It's a lot harder to walk away from a project when there's a mob of hungry buyers at the door who was promised you'd deliver in 3 months.

I would say your process is backwards. Don't follow tech. Follow problems. Get involved in a problem you care about. Only research tech as a means to solve problems.

Staying motivated for personal projects is different than my day job.

Counter-intuitively, I stick with them more when I am less fired up about them. Passion fades, but a habit of spending a few hours a week on something doesn't burn you out, and you make small improvements over time, resulting in a product. I spent years on one side project, coding it in a weekend, then being very patient as it grew, adding features when asked (and they made sense), never in a rush. Eventually it made some money, and eventually I sold it, but it was a long, slow, small weekly effort for about 5 years.

Well... It reads like you are talking about side projects? The big question is: Are you happy with what you are doing when you are doing it? Do you expect yourself to produce sth. at the end of this cycle? Or are you putting yourself under pressure, because "others succeed, and so I have, too"?

Sometimes, it helps to free your mind and your thoughts just by doing something completely unrelated to your daily routine (read: daily job). If you are at the 25-50% stage, personally I don't think there is something bad at just dropping it, and look for new challenges. At the end, it's your free time, and it's completely yours to decide what you are doing with it.

Maybe, at some point in time, there will be "this one thing" which you will stick to, because it makes your heart feel happy in the long term. And if not, that's totally fine, as long as you had fun on the journey. Just don't put the "I have to do finish it!" pressure on you - as you already noticed, you don't work like that.

Oth, if you are unhappy: Think about smaller scale projects. Obviously, you cannot stay focused for a long time. So, you might want to pick smaller projects. Don't talk yourself little. Find something you can finish in, let's say, two months or something. A project that better suits a smaller attention span.

For my martial arts and meditation practice, I:

1. Established a daily routine which I do without fail

2. I used and still use a timer app that includes a streak calendar

3. I established the "normal" practice length, a stretch goal, and a "token effort"

Once the routine and habit is established, it was easier to keep it going. The "token effort" is the trivial amount of time one practices just to keep the effort going. The stretch goal is there to acknowledge you did more than expected, but also to regulate not going overboard one day to the point where you do not want to continue for the next.

There are some psychological nuances into this.

All the research, what I am going to do, etc. feeds into the practice. The practice itself changes over time.

I have been doing this seven years now, starting with sitting meditation all the way through rebooting my martial arts training involving rebuilding every aspect of how I move my body.

My initial practice all those years ago was a 5 minute practice, 10 minute stretch goal, and a 1 minute token practice. Funny thing about the token practice is that 1 min seemed even ridiculous to me, but on those days where it got hard to get started, 1 min was still just easy enough (so I thought) to try. Sometimes, 1 min passes and I find myself going on for the next minute.

There was at one point, I was doing around 1 - 3 hours of practice every day, until life changed again and I did not have as much time for that anymore.

The trick is in being able to pick things back up after (long) breaks. Forcing yourself to keep doing something when you don't enjoy it anymore isn't sustainable and when life gets in the way there's nothing you can do, so trying to consistently keep working on any big project for a long time is just a pipe dream. The important things are, in my opinion:

- Try to do something each day, no matter how much. Really even 5 minutes is fine. - Learn to get back to projects even after a hiatus of several months or even years. Progress is seldomly erased and unless you're retirement-aged it's very unlikely that you'll run out of time in your life. - Accept that over the long term we all operate at maybe 10% of maximum efficiency, and that's if you're a productive person. If you feel as if something should realistically take three months, expect it to be finished a year or two later. (coincidentally, this is also usually the solution to the "this would be simple to build and useful, why has nobody built it yet?" problem)

In the end it's a marathon, not a sprint. A little bit every now and then will eventually get you there and you're realistically very unlikely to run out of time.

As a couple of others have said, it depends some on what sort of project you're talking about - how to approach a hobby vs. a habit you want to develop vs. a project for work seem like they're pretty different.

This week, I'll be releasing an internal project beyond a small beta group that I've been working on since 2017. Here are some of the things that I've found helpful in keeping disciplined in advancing the project:

1. Acknowledge it's going to take time. Unrealistic expectations can frustrate. I knew going in that to get the project to where it is today would take over a year, so when things took longer than I wanted it wasn't so bad.

2. Getting feedback from others. Is this feature I made useful? Is this game I made fun? Does anyone like this story I wrote? This feedback on a project can help fail fast on a project not worth doing. Also, remembering the positive feedback on early states can help stay motivated. I keep all feedback on the project since I first came up with the idea in a giant Org-mode file, and I periodically re-read through it (or at least parts of it).

3. Mixing it up. Even the most exciting projects can turn monotonous. Periodically work on a different facet of the project so that your work seems "new" again, even though you're advancing the same cause.

4. Remembering that it's hard for (pretty much) everyone. All the authors I've ever heard about writing books has said that writing a book was way harder then they imagined. That's because writing books is hard. The same is true for writing programs, launching a product, or finishing any other project like that. It's just hard.

I'm on and off again on my project, Vidcap. What keeps me going is that I actually use the product that I build. I see the issues with it and then get fed up that it's not fixed.

What I end up doing is just simply opening the editor, write down some notes on what I like to be done, and just work on it. Once you start, your body takes over. Its just getting to that point that's the problem.

Same thing with music for me. I want to have a stage show next year, but I need to learn the guitar to make it happen. I bought a portable guitar and bring it with me most places (since its getting nice out). Whenever I think of that stage show, I bring out the guitar and start working on it. What would be 5 mins of playing almost always turns to 30+ mins.

So, what I would say is do 2 things -

1. Think about the project that you want to work on. Just simply being aware that the time you spend playing games or watching TV you could be working on something. Heck, I have the TV on while coding and guitar practice.

2. Do something about it. Say to yourself "Let me do this for 15 mins". Those minutes usually double and triple.


When I really need the pep talk and motivation, I listen to those motivational channels on Youtube. My favorite one is of Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about how he became who he was. It definitely wasn't hard work. You don't need to listen to him. You can find plenty of those types of videos in your field. Whatever it takes to get that jolt of energy.



In my experience you have to have a constant stream of motivation flowing throughout your journey be it in form of revenue generated, excitement from milestones reached or whatever else it might be you have to find what drives you and make sure you get constant dose of it. What I think a lot of people believe mistakenly is that the rewards must be huge, but the way motivation works can just be based on small rewards as long as there are many of them and not too far in between.

Other examples of reward can be publicity you receive about your product, growing prestige you gain among your peers on a regular basis, number of growing users and their dependence on your product, etc.

What must never stop is 100% focus on the market you are in it’s ok to deviate from the original product, but never ok to change the field/vertical you are in, that’s what demotivates, you are no longer moving forward in one direction but changing direction and not making much progress in one particular direction so you might as well start something completely new, thus “feel bored”, ...

I have been doing the same cycle over the past few years. In 2019 I decided to not start anything new, only finish what I've started. So far I finished 1 thing (an article, got 1k claps on Medium, feels good), and started a new one with a friend :) I'll probably only have time to finish one more thing this year, but it's ok, at least I'll have something to show.

I am not a disciplined, ruthless executor but I do know a couple things:

1.) Stop reading productivity porn. If you must pick a productivity approach, pick something low friction that doesn't have you jumping through meaningless hoops. (Some hoops are good, like the one in #2).

2.) Do daily/weekly reviews. Even monthly, if that's all you can manage. Every week, developer your situation report: what do you have on your plate, what's coming up that you must concern yourself with? Can anything be delegated?

My review process involves processing "inboxes" at my home/work desks. But it also occurs during my morning runs where I plot and plan my next steps and how I will get through difficult situations.

You probably don't need to read more productivity books, you just need to use the knowledge you already know to develop a sort of standard operating procedure. If you _are_ going to consume productivity porn, make small iterations to your current SOPs, don't make large sweeping changes. That only serves to undermine the whole point.

Side note, but I used to do "daily" and "long-term". Daily is great, "long term" was generally useless. "Weekly" was the best to stay motivated and actually see if "the plan" is yielding at least some results or is complete garbage. "Monthly" was too long.

How do you focus on planning while running? My mind always goes totally blank except for awareness of body and surroundings.

I would like to add my 2 cents here :

1. If you want to do something but not able to do anything about it, maybe its not something you "want" to do. It's like swimming against the tide, it'll always be hard. So, instead find something you "want" to do. For ex: deep down you might enjoy painting, but looking at an article on how some programmer made millions by selling his startup, you might be tempted to try your hand at coding. But no matter how much you motivate yourself, your mind will continue to resist when the implementation phase comes, as, deep down, that's not what you are interested in.

2. When you start a project, don't spend too much of time on planning/research. Any project you start, try to finish atleast the most important parts of it while your initial enthusiasm lasts. If you spend most of your initial enthusiasm on planning/research and other stuff, you'll have little energy left for implementation. Start and course correct along the way.

There are books out there on things like this. "Wishcraft" immediately comes to mind. I can't think of a title, but I have also read books on the creative process.

You might try reading up on Twice Exceptional issues. People who are 2e* often need some nudge to get them going, then stall out after a bit. Figuring out the trick to get them over the hump can really help make their lives work a lot better.

You also might try analyzing exactly where you stall out and why. Is there a common factor?

I have health issues. I sometimes just don't have the energy and I get frustrated when I'm "not accomplishing anything." Eventually, I will have energy again.

I start files on things on interested in them so I can come back to it and pick back up where I left off. Some things still get abandoned, but other things do get returned to, so it has helped me be somewhat more productive.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twice_exceptional

>I see folks who are disciplined, are ruthless executors, are self-motivated

The key clause which you forgot to add is; SOME OF THE TIME!

Nobody is disciplined 100% throughout their career/lives; it is psychologically impossible. If anybody claims so, then it is a sham and they are BS'ing.

It seems like you are seeking "external validation" too much. You are also just hitting the normal "learner's block" when you are not making any progress due to a) having mastered the simple stuff and are now faced with complicated parts b) having understood the interesting/core ideas but are now faced with the reqd. drudgery to be done to bring the project to conclusion.

The number one thing i have found that helps me maintain discipline when i need it, is to have self-confidence and NOT seek "external validation". You only focus on building/improving a little bit over yesterday's "you" towards a goal. Nobody knows nor is vested in you as yourself. By comparing only with your past self a lot of distractions fall away and you can focus on "your" goal. Focus only on the Primary core and disregard the Ancillaries until the core is done. Complicating unnecessarily (i.e. too many degrees of freedom) is a sure way to lose motivation. Pare away all secondary and unnecessary factors. Nurture "intrinsic motivation" (i want to do it) always and minimize need for "extrinsic motivation" (carrot or stick).

Here is a quote to keep in mind: "Drops of water, if they fall continuously, can bore through iron and stone".

You may also find the following two books helpful;

1) "Why we do what we do: Understanding Self-Motivation" by Edward Deci.

2) "Flow: The psychology of optimal Experience" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

You talk about "self-motivated" folks. How important is the "self-" part to you? I recently watched an interview with the Mathematician Terence Tao (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_Tao) who is known (among a lot of other things) for being very productive while working on different areas of mathematics. From his answers it is getting clear, that he is very much influenced and motivated by other people. The thing that drives him, is when someone comes to him with a difficult question and he is able to help. Maybe try to connect and collaborate with other people from early on. The sense of being useful is known to be a good motivator.

Accountability really can't be understated. I attribute a lot of my success professionally to having a family to support (I consider this to be passive accountability). Some things I have a passion for (music, the outdoors, grilling, etc.) and I have no problem keeping up with those things.

The few things that have really been snares for me in life, I've only been able to make progress with through intentionally building accountable relationships. It takes a lot of faith and trust to let someone into your private thoughts at times, but that for me has made those relationships all the more important to me.

So I guess the answer is "you can't". Everyone needs help. Those who don't seem to or claim not to are probably people you don't want to copy.

Discipline helps us to achieve certain goals according to a specific and highly effective plan.

For me:

- You should determine the long-term goal to achieve.

- Determine the benefits of achieving this goal and what you can lose (time, money, energy, comfortable, ...) when you achieve your goals (good mental preparation).

- Plan short-term goals and it is important to make small plans to complete (that's the biggest motivational way).

- Consider and evaluate the plan regularly.

- Follow the plan to create a habit, this process is difficult, if you change yourself, you must overcome it.

- Finally, you can share what you have accomplished with friends, colleagues, or through blogs. Since then get comments to improve the plan and create energy for yourself.

My cycle: goal -> value achieved -> motivation -> plan -> habits -> share.

ps: Small simple things will create great happiness.

I've been enjoying a strategy based on something Jack Dorsey mentioned.

Keep a list of tasks, goals, or projects that you actively want to spend time on. They can be short tasks, or never ending/ongoing goals.

Every morning make two lists. One list of items you want to work on that day for some amount of time, and more importantly a list of items you will not do that day.

Knowing that I made a commitment to not work on some of those ongoing projects allows me to have less anxiety about projects I've neglected. It's a mental note that they are still on my general list, but not something to think about today. It also helps me stay focused and not get distracted with other projects or waste too much time context switching.

This is something I can relate to as well. Something that helps me is by creating small wins. Don't just have the overall completion of your project - Define some milestones to your MVP. This helped me go farther after I lost momentum. It gives you sense of achievement that you can use to move forward gradually. Another point made in the comments below has to do with partnership. This is great but it can be quite tough to get partners on board without having an MVP or something (except you're already influential) - chicken and egg situation. But when you have an MVP, you stand better chance of getting people interested and that could serve as further motivation to move forward...

I believe the key finishing something is successful use of goals, and the key to successful use of goals is habits. If you can set an effective goal, and figure out how to frame it as a set of habits, you can accomplish it by adopting those habits.

I am in no means to speak as a serial unfinisher, but I'm more comfortable with myself and found this helpful:

I took this when Dr. Fogg started developing this: https://www.tinyhabits.com/ after finishing The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Key takeaways for me:

- Habits replace other habits: sitting at desk --> take a break in fresh nature air - I can anchor other habits on keystone habits: taichi --> plant based diet - If I don't follow through, maybe it was not worth it originally (stop doing and start being): erlang, haskell <insert language here> --> enjoy the lang you build stuff with

A big change for me took place when I started thinking longer term. Do i want to get in shape in the next 1 month or 12 months? thinking in terms of 12 months or whatever is appropriate and just surrendering to the process helped a great deal.

Lot of great stuff on here. However, here is the thing that worked for me since I was in the same boat as you: after finally releasing a project into the world and calling it "done", I felt SO much better than when I jumped from project to project every 1-2 months. Finishing a project is a different sort of "high" that I want to get again and again. My advice would be to pick something small so you can finish it and have that experience.

I now have two out of work successes I can point to, and more importantly I now feel guilty wasting time on side projects that aren't a part of my third release I'm working towards!

As many others here have recommended, read Atomic Habits for a good idea of how to go from goal-oriented action to process-oriented action.

> I have strongly come to perceive myself as being driven by external accountabilities which makes me good at work at office but bad at executing personal projects.

I'd also recommend reading The Four Tendencies by Gretchin Rubin, which is an interesting framework for how different people respond to both internal and external expectations. Based on your own personal observation, you'd fall into the most populous category: obliger, i.e., good with external expectations but not internal ones.

Find people who are also pursuing long term discipline, that like to talk about it and who celebrate your own pursuit thereof. Works best if you're tied into a non-emotional relationship with them like at work.

> I see folks who are disciplined, are ruthless executors, are self-motivated,[...]

On websites like hackernews, you'll only hear about successful projects most of the time - they might have been preceded by multiple Failures" but these won't be mentioned or presented, the concept of "survivorship bias" might be applicable here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias

I came across a guy on IndieHackers who called this "Maker Paralysis, which is like the equivalent of writer's block for makers".

He put himself on something he called "Ship Therapy" - "committing to ship at least one new product every two weeks, while writing about the process and progress once a week".

Really interesting and seemed to work for him: https://othmane.io/posts/ship_challenge

I found myself in the cycle that you described up there for about 2 years almost a year ago especially with side projects. A couple of things I took away from that period:

1/ Being truthful w/ yourself on whether you are building something for yourself or building it because you are insecure and feel like you're falling behind people in the community (ie I'm building this because 3 of my friends are startup founders and I want to be one too because I'm just as good as them). If it's the latter, usually your willpower will fleet. I fell for this trap in my last project.

2/ Being truthful on what skills you have and can utilize for whatever you want to build. For my last project, I was working on a website and had no prior web skills besides HTML and basic JS. I took it on myself to learn React, Redux and the whole shebang. By the time my willpower fleeted, I had learned a lot but was maybe 50% through a project and I lost interest.

3/ Dividing your project up into small chunks. Take a subset of those chunks, throw it into your product and alpha/beta test it with friends and family. If you have nothing to show for your work after n months of work, it's very easy to give up.

4/ Constantly show people and get feedback. If you show people what you're working on and they give you insight, it'll energize you to build and continue down the journey. Otherwise, you'll feel like all your effort is wasted away towards a dream that seems more and more unreachable as time progresses

In closing, I do think some people are more disciplined and motivated than others but everyone falls into the same traps. But I'm sure the folks you site as more disciplined and self-motivated have fallen to these problems; just earlier in their lives.

TLDR: Understand your motivations, make sure what you're building makes you happy and tell folks about what you're building to get energized.

Formerly, I couldn't finish any of my side projects or fitness goals. I deduced that I needed to learn how to finish things. So I reset my goals to be things I could finish well without much probability of encountering big demotivators. By ruthlessly reducing the scope of each project, I was able to learn the craft of finishing. Knowing how to finish, I became able to complete projects that would have left my former self spent and defeated. Finishing gives its own rewards.

You need to figure out why you and your project only get to 25-50% completion. Address the issues on your side and pick projects you're more likely to finish. The biggest motivator is doing something you like. The biggest "demotivation" nowadays is being young and used to constant rewards for doing tiny tasks (or nothing at all)- of course you'll find hard work with no reward over a long time horizon impossible to do.

A manager is not the only person that can provide you accountability.

What about users/clients, or partners/co-founders?

If you try to ship a super simple prototype very quickly and get a few users, you would feel accountable to them, and that would give you the motivation to keep building until you make a great service.

Alternatively, you could team up with someone. Have a chat every day to share your progress, get some new ideas together, and stay excited about the project.

Maybe you never wanted to do (insert your project here) it hard enough?

Also, having no superfficial friends, absolute no gaming/tv policy and constantly reminding yourself that you are wasting your time on this planet by not being productive, helps me a lot.

Force yourself to get bored by not gaming, surfing the web, watching tv, listening to music. Force your mind to accept that working on your goal is better than sitting quietly and staring at a wall.

How long have you lived like this?

The point is not to rely on discipline for too long. Automate, automate, automate! Here is a short analogy: https://www.reddit.com/r/DecidingToBeBetter/comments/bg5g10/...

One of the ways to get your self moving can be to identifying/finding similar ppl which share comment interest with you and run your idea/project with them. That way you will be pushing each other and getting further way more then if try to it all the way by yourself. I'm firm believer that in the end if you want to get things out, you need to find the fight enthusiasts and share your idea with them :)

Take someone along with you to help you (and join them on their projects to reciprocate).

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

My goal is simple: Make a platform called "Nocode", which helps non-programmers to control their application. No vendor lock-in anymore.

More generally, try to avoid "hype", instead, make yourself a goal which is good enough to save you and others from pain of code debts.

I hate code. It's the worst thing a person could do (though people do it forcely or for passion).

Is there some kind of website where you can find people who share your interests? I work full time as a developer but do electronics, PCB/industrial design on the side. I wouldn't mind having a partner in crime for this, especially if he/she does not suffer from the same shyness as me in terms of asking people for favours and opportunities.

Anthony Bourdain has a lovely quote on this topic:

"I understand there's a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy"

The real trick for me is to remove things in my life that are temptations to fail, and to realize that I am always a fallable person.

Try talking to potential clients before you start building the product. Client confirmation is the best motive by far. The reason we abandon projects is because at some point reality hits us in the face and we realize that the product might flop. If you know beforehand that there is demand for it you have all the reasoning you need to keep going.

Have multiple projects of different aspect of your life and cycle through them as you get bored (take a break from being burn out or boredom).

You'll eventually get back to the previous project that you were bored.

I think the trick is to have only one project in each aspect of your life.

Aspect of your life can be broken down in to many an example is "The Four Burners Theory".

I am reminded myself when someone asks me why I don’t finish reading one book 1st, then moving onto the next one? It’s because I can’t concentrate on one book at a time. Just like I can’t concentrate on one television show at a time. At any given moment, I have about six or seven books that I’m reading. I pick the one that fancies my mood.

I found writing goals the most effective driver. Write daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and also long-term vision.

Teamwork is also a good solution. But first, you have to find out what you are missing, then try to find someone that can fill that gap for you.

And then you need all other basic things that you already know to keep you better focused and energized.

It's not about staying disciplined, so more as picking appropriately-sized projects.

I tend to be over-ambitious, and never fully finish large projects. The only ones I'm able to finish are ones that last between 3 weeks - 1.5 months. Any longer and I usually fizzle out with no energy or motivation left.

Here: --> Get bored -->

What exactly happens here?

You say bored, do you loose interest in the subject? Or are the next tasks perceived as too boring? What exactly becomes boring? Or maybe it doesn't become boring, but something else becomes more interesting? Or does it feel boring because you run out of energy?

I wouldn't call myself a ruthless executor, but I do tend to ship more projects than not. The last startup I co-founded was acquired about 5 years ago, and my current startup is doing well so far. This is a long post, but it hopefully ties together by the end.

One thing I've noticed though is that it's hard to actually categorize people as ruthless executors and as being completely self-motivated without knowing the actual details of their situation. While it's true that some are better at it than others in relative sense, I also think it's true that a significant amount is affected by situation and occurrence.

What I mean is that, it's often easier to maintain motivation when people are using a product, giving it praise, when it's growing and/or making money, and a host of other things. You may see someone you think intrinsically has a lot of self-motivation, but maybe they're just better at recognizing and fueling themselves from small victories, and they know how to get those victories, small or large. This can work the other way too though, as sometimes these victories are complete luck and happen as unintended consequences from the things you do or people you know.

It's easy to look at two people who started two different projects two years ago; one has grown their team to 10 people and making a lot of waves, the other gave up on the project 6 months ago; and think the former is a ruthless executor and the latter is not. But maybe the former person had no more traction than the latter 6 months in, but they met someone at an event who connected them with their first paying-customer-to-be, then they met with them and got a lot of valuable feedback which motivated them to release an MVP especially for that customer, which then garnered two more customers, which motivated them to spend some time marketing, which led to more customers and so on. Maybe the former person would have given up after 8 months if none of this had happened. And yet the latter person didn't get any of this and yet still persevered and remained motivated for 18 months absent these external motivators. You could argue the latter person is more self-motivated than the former.

I guess the thing I'm getting at here is, there's a difference between being motivated and being self-motivated. Self-motivation is necessary to persevere through the times with not external motivators. But in the long-run, which is what you're asking about, it's not enough. You need external motivators, too. This is where co-founders can help. This is also where customers can help. Both of those are difficult to come by, and require knowing and meeting people, not just building things.

That said, there are a few things I've noticed that really help with self-motivation in the time that you need motivation, and here is a list that may be particularly appropriate at the "25-50% of the journey" mark. Again, these won't get you all the way there, but they may get you far enough to the next external motivation milestone to make a difference:

1. Get a graphic designer to create an actual, polished design for your interfaces and/or landing page. It's amazing to me, how much I and my team, as engineers, are motivated by how polished and "official" something looks. It can be a renewed wind in the sails.

2. Create documentation for it. This can be as simple as a README or as involved as a launch-ready landing page. Even just opening a new Google Doc to start writing is a big step forward, and you'll need it eventually anyway.

3. Once you've got some screenshots or the semblance of a README, post it on a local startup channel or message board. It might not yet be ready for prime time launch of Product Hunt or Hacker News, but I find local communities to be much more supportive of works in progress, and valuable sources of feedback early on.

4. Take a scheduled break from it. Having a separate hobby that has nothing to do with software can be helpful, whether it's sports, crafts, music, or whatever.

There are probably others, but this might be enough to get started. That's actually a great segue into another technique that helps me. Often times when I'm lacking in motivation to get something done, I find myself thinking of how far I am from the goalpost, and since I don't have a clear vision of how to get there, I stop working on it until the vision comes to me. This makes it hard to get back to it though, as the complete vision may never come until I make more progress... sometimes the vision doesn't come until I'm already there, at which point the vision is only clear in hindsight.

To counter this, I've started distinguishing between things that are only valuable when complete versus things that are valuable even when only partially completed. If part of it is useful, then go ahead and do that part.

The above list, for example, may be useful even though I only listed the first four things I could think of. I almost didn't write this post, because I don't have time to refine my thoughts or complete the list. But it's just a post on a forum, so anyone is free to read my long, unrefined post with an incomplete list, or skip it. So, I might as well post it in case it helps anyone. If enough people find it helpful, maybe I'll come back some day and use this as an initial outline to create a more complete list with a more refined message.

Anyway, I hope this helps. I'm not sure if it answers your question exactly, but these are some of the things I think about when considering my own ebb and flow with motivation.

You have compassion with yourself when you are inevitably less disciplined. You notice that you need to improve again and you do so without judging yourself.

It also helps to work with or associate yourself with people who exhibit the habits you want in your own behavior.

Don’t rely on motivation, it is fleeting. Develop and rely on habits and routines.

Read a book that has changed my life: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Just do it and thank me later.

Given that you're referring to a recently released book, you might consider adding a sentence or two as to why it's a good read. Otherwise it might come off as a spam post. Which I'm sure it's not, as I'm on the author's email list and he does post really helpful stuff.

I have been experiencing this set of problems in one form or another for the entirety of my adult life. I can think of ideas all day and have no problem getting them started but inevitably always reach the same conclusion, an abandonment of both the spirit and implementation. Something I heard recently from Jordan Peterson on this subject has really got me thinking more discriminatorily about my efforts. "If you want something, what does it mean to want it? And what it means is to sacrifice whatever is necessary to get it, because otherwise you don't want it. You don't want it unless you are willing to sacrifice for it. And if you don't want it, you're not going to get it, because you are scattered." It's a simple truism that is easy to forget, but Peterson is reminding us that anything worth pursuing will require a necessary sacrifice of time and energy. Getting to the heart of what is worth that sacrifice could be key to finding success in your endeavors. Godspeed.

There are so many books dedicated to this topic. I’ve liked The War of Art and Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.

I think you have the right answer - discipline as opposed to motivation. Now you need to develop it.

I set realistic personal goals so that even if whatever project fails (and they usually fail for me), I've picked up a new skill or refined an existing one. And hopefully I had fun doing it

You may find The Creative Types test quite useful. https://mycreativetype.com/about/

For what?

What are you trying to accomplish? Sounds like you have a pretty productive hobby already? Tinkering is very worth while even if you don't 100% complete what you set out to do.

Find something external to hold you accountable ---

This can be a co-worker/collaborator, an investor, an employer (or client), a dwindling bank account, a competition deadline, etc...

I'm good for a few months, then I slip. Then I need to find a new method of keeping myself disciplined like maybe a new place to study or a new exercise routine.

Get to the feedback stage. Once you get something good enough to provide value or positive feedback, you get an external factor to motivate a new iteration.

It's about gaining enough momentum. Which is function of how much impact you want to create and the inertia of the system you want to disrupt.

You succeed. The positive reinforcement drives the motivation. There is no method to stay motivated without succeeding.

at 25%-50% you hit the "resent horizon" at this point you need to refactor - because let's face it - the code has started to smell and debugging becomes REALLY annoying. Refactoring is a totally different mindset, akin to gardening, but if you learn to like refactoring you'll always finish

You may not be looking for discipline but persistence. One doesn't necessarily depend on the other.

I've had the same struggle forever, but I finally feel like I've found a pattern that works for me: Find enjoyment in the daily struggle.

For exercise: I've found riding a bicycle to work to be my least hated form of exercise. I force myself to start every Monday riding to work. If I don't ride on Monday, the rest of the week is shot. When I do ride, I try to make it as enjoyable as possible. If I'm feeling unmotivated, I'll glide to work without breathing heavy at all. I just have to lower the bar so much that I'll at least do it. Often, I get motivated half way to work and pedal harder anyway.

For side projects: I've been tying this in with other habits. I get up at 5 every morning and drink coffee, read for a bit, and make at least 1 small contribution to a side project. Maybe it's a meaningless refactor or fixing a typo. At least I see the green activity in Github and continue building a habit of at least looking at and thinking about the projects I'm working on. The end result is that some weeks are vastly productive while others hardly mean anything.

What I've noticed is that motivation and productivity are a cycle and when I enjoy my daily habits enough (with no particular outcome in mind), I stick with things long enough to see compounding results.


Focusing on outcomes makes you aware of how you're not meeting them -> Demotivation

Building daily habits with vague goals and enjoying the ride -> Compounding results and satisfaction in hindsight

Being around more disciplined, always active (dynamic) people is the best way.

You are stuck, find an arbinger coach, they can help you get unstuck.

Worked for me :)

learn about the structure of and how to build habits

being disciplined in the long run IS discipline. if it's only short lived you don't have discipline. just saying...

its very simple and very hard

simple you just do it, make a schedule and stick to it, on the hard days just be a robot and follow the schedule

fear, sense of panic and doom

I wrote an essay about this topic a couple months ago that you might find applicable https://www.amplenote.com/blog/what_makes_long_term_personal...

The essay describes exactly half of the what has helped me, which is to create processes that make it a little bit easier to procrastinate on long-term goals and then pick them up again later. But the other half, which sounds especially applicable to your situation, is to pick a goal that will continue to be worth pursuing. This is much harder than most people expect.

A few years ago I started a "goal of the month" list with some friends. In January, we picked 12 goals we'd pursue during the year. For the first few months, it was gravy -- everyone completed their goal and had a satisfying summary ("I did this, I learned this") they shared with the group afterwards. But, around the 6th month, the failures began. Between the 9-12th months, our cumulative success rate was lower than 50%. It was mystifying, because everyone had purported to spend hours of time carefully choosing their 12 goals in January.

In my case, I tried to pick easy goals for month 9-12. For November, I picked the goal "bowl a 200" because what could be more fun or easy than going bowling (though I've never bowled above 150, so there was a hill to climb). Still, by the time 11 months passed, there had developed 100 things that were more interesting to me than bowling a 200. I willed myself to go bowling one time that month, and scored 125. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

We tweaked the rules for the list the following year so you set 12 months worth of goals, but you could substitute a goal if your original choice was no longer interesting. Again, by the 9th month, everybody was substituting like crazy. The goals list experience taught me that my friends and I are woefully bad at choosing goals that will still be interesting to us 6+ months in the future.

Fast forward to today, and I've been working on Linux touchpad drivers for about two years now (e.g., https://bill.harding.blog/2019/03/25/linux-touchpad-like-a-m...). My "success" on this project has been made possible because I have a good system to allow myself to procrastinate, and because every time I use my Linux laptop, I continue to hate how the touchpad works. I am forced to face that unpleasantness over and over again, with no escape. So in this case, there is a goal that has remained important to me because it involves a part of my life that remains constant, and remains frustrating.

Which is to say, if you can find a problem that is going to continue to eat away at you for years, I think you're barking up the right tree. If your goal is one of whimsy or interest, your best bet is to scope your solution so it can be completed in 6 months or less, because chances are your human interest will be somewhere else past that point.

dont be emotionally attached to your projects

Create habits.

Motivation is shit, discipline is the only thing that matters in this life.

"discipline, sooner or later, will overcome intelligence"

In my country (and actually, in many of western countries), kids are not congratulated because their hard work, but because they are "smart" or "intelligent". I grow up being congratulated all the time because "my intelligence", I made no effort at all to study, and manage to pass all my high school years with the least possible effort.

When I was 18, I started Physics in the University, to find out it was too boring for me, and moved to Computer Science where the more "hands on" approach motivated me a lot.

But it was not enough. Even though I loved to program and I was spending 12+ hours daily only programming, Computer Science is also about mathematics, physics, statistics, etc. Subjects that I love but they were too complicated to approve only "because I am intelligent". I was simply not able to sit and start studying. Beers, girls, parties and videogames were my absolute priorities, so I ended up being kicked out from the university.

My parents were not able to pay for my university, so I was working while studying to pay my bills, and that become my main excuse: "it is too hard to work and study at the same time" (but still, I was spending 30+ hours weekly playing call of duty).

For the next years, I continue working in a restaurant, and after a while I got a job in a Technical Support Call center for a known computer peripheral brand. I learnt a lot about life during those years, but most importantly, it become very clear in my mind that I needed to go back to university and get a CS degree.

So the first thing I did was to start accepting that the previous failure was my fault, and only my fault, this is what helped me to find out the root cause of the problems: I did not have discipline.

After reading many books about the topic. I started to develop a sense of discipline that is not a constant fight against myself, but more like a need to do things in a certain way.

So I went back to University, and found a job at a very young start up: Salary wasn't too high, people were great, and they were creating really fun things. I started not even programming but doing a little of everything here and there, and after some years I became the most important software developer in the company. During these last 4 - 5 years, I've been improving rapidly because the university (still do not have the degree). But I know for sure that I am on the right track. The key points about discipline that I've learnt so far:

- There is not a magic bullet. Discipline is something you need to forge step by step, it takes time and does not stay there magically, you need to keep working on it every day.

- Start with small habits, one at the time. For example: Ensure you make the bed every morning before leaving, leave the house keys always in the same place, wash the dishes before going bed. But remember to force you to do it WITHOUT EXCEPTIONS (and this is extremely important). after 3 - 4 weeks your brain will automatize the task and you will start feeling bad if you don't do it.

- Do not try to change your life overnight. That will bring frustration and your mind will enter in a negative loop, making it more difficult the next time you try.

- Keep learning good new habits, eventually your mind will enter in a POSITIVE feedback loop, where as soon as you want to do something that requires discipline your mind will be willing to do it because the long term pleasure you will feel after you complete it.

And remember: "No one climbs a mountain and regrets it".

PS: English is not my first language, so sorry for any mistakes.

For the periods I've been able to maintain productivity it's important to block out out distractions.

Also you have to be realistic that no one's perfect and it's more about taking your mind and focus to the gym like you might your body to train it for new habits.

Discipline is the master skill that requires maintaining a practice of doing what's needed to the point you don't think about it anymore.. Even when things are going smoothly.

One formula to experiment with:

0) Start a personal codex where you write down everything (categorized to your life) that you've learned and want to remember, when you forget. Integrating habits is the goal. I use Evernote and update because I sometimes forget what works well for me when I fall off the train to remind me what's important, and why. If you can do it daily, great. The document is on the homepage of my phone and goes straight into the note.

1) Disable all notifications on all devices. Block websites like reddit, news in host files and limit HN to a mobile device. Use rescuetime if you have to. Instead of chasing the next hit of dopamine in novelty or distraction online, seek it in audio or ebooks that aligns with your goals that you can apply.

2) Think about not being a consumer with time and instead a be creator. If you're not creating or growing, it's probably passive.

3) Learn to maintain a calendar, and set 1 new appointment per week with yourself for a new habit. It's ok to schedule checking your email once an hour.. Then making it once every two hours. Store your habits in your codex. In 1 year, you can have up to 52 new scheduled routines and habits that are.. Discipline. Read the book focal point by Brian Tracy to generate a well rounded list. Check out habits by Nir Eyal to learn more about how your brain can be guided.

3) READING: Do not read any topic that is not immediately something you should be doing unless a scheduled research time. If you buy a Kindle (dedicated device can help brain to focus better), it can fill the reddit void with much higher quality. If you are tight for reading or don't know where to start, try out blinkist.

4) QUIET: Embrace using Airplane mode when you're focusing. Keep your home screen to only essential apps and all content consumption on a 2nd screen, you'll notice you use it less the more swipes or clicks away it is. Not much is important that it can't wait a few hours, FOMO is entirely a perception. Also, mediation is a thing for focus and discipline.

5) Social is designed to break your focus and discipline to work for them for free. If you're a social media user, move all your social media to a dedicated old device. An old phone, or iPad. It will be out of your hair and you can use it when you need and put it away. Don't use the apps, and use the websites instead on a separate browser only for social.

6) Get your stuff organized and keep it that way. Embrace GTD. Read getting things done and use an app like 2do to capture your random thoughts to let you focus more over time.

7) With new found focus and time, discipline is a daily practice like bathing or eating.

Discipline of focus and experimenting (try things, keep what's good and drop what's bad) is what will help build a personal practice.

If your practice involves deferring and mindlessly flowing interpretations of others that is what you will become.

Studying swimming is not the same as learning to swim.

i blocked reddit.

This...is my life. Not necessarily finding stuff on HN and pursuing them, but just projects in general.

Here's how I deal with that:

I don't start a project for a while, I think about how I'm going to implement it in pretty good detail in my head.

Then, I move on to a project I've already started, or a new idea.

After a few days/weeks/months, I'll cycle back, order parts if it's hardware, or scaffold out an application, or start writing the big picture idea of a podcast. (I've been remodeling my house, and writing a podcast for 2 years, work still continues, but I bounce between them.)

Once I have the parts/materials/scaffolding, I bounce between projects usually dedicating days to weeks on them, until I get bored or frustrated.

I've been doing this since I was a kid. I've started two businesses, written a few Android apps, I've remodeled half my house (so far, windows, drywall, and insulation are happening next week) in the past 2 years.

There are 3 projects I've been toying in my head with for a few years that I've been struggling to figure out how to start. Fully automated made to order vitamins, a backpack that has the features I want, and a "life logging" app that doesn't suck. I'd be very happy if someone else made those, I don't care about the money from them, they are things I want to exist in the world.

The made to order vitamins, costly and risky to start. The backpack I've attempted and broke the shit out of a sewing machine. The life logging app Ive started like 3 times, first on Android, then on Django, now I'm leaning towards serverless with react native...but the scaffolding for what I want is complicated enough where it's overwhelming to think about if I'm implementing it right for scaling and expandability.

Either way, the point is, I cycle through projects, making sure I leave them in a state where I know what needs to be done next. Having 2-3 outside of work projects and 2-3 work projects keeps me busy and just disorderly enough where I don't get bored and if I get frustrated, I can just switch what I'm working on.

The key is, the projects have to be different enough where it doesn't feel like you are going back to the same grind. Programming, construction, design, and podcasting are very different from one another. I'm not an expert in anything really, but I can run a software team, look at the big picture, find pitfalls, and I'm always down to get my hands dirty.

Another trick I've used that hasn't worked as well as I'd hope but does work to some extent is, tell others what you are working on, ask them their opinion, and tell them to get on your ass about it. Some friends do this well, most don't, it's not their responsibility to get on your ass, that's your job...but if you have it in the back of your mind that someone might ask about project X, you'd better have updates.

TLDR: multi-tasking at a larger scale.

Find someone who cares. When you work on something, but no one is behind you saying how wonderful or useful or needed your project is, it's easy to lose interest yourself. I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Behind every great man is a great woman", and that woman probably gave him support and encouragement to carry on.

I had been learning how to build web sites for a long time for my wife's business but she never seemed to care, even when I complained about it, so it never got done. But when my son started up his business and called me a couple times a week with questions showing interest and need, it got up quickly to rave reviews from everyone involved and it was a feeling of immense satisfaction.

Some people have that inner drive to accomplish something when it's something they are interested in enough and just want it for themselves. They can get things done by that alone. I love doing web sites and other projects but, if I'm doing it only for myself, it's likely to be half-assed if I finish it at all.

Honestly most of my life I didn't complete my side projects. They were more about learning and if they were gonna "take off" they'd show it and that's when you finish. If you're trying to be a completionist just cuz then you're gonna burn out.

According to me, discipline is the key to every success. To remain in discipline means you have to do every work in a disciplined manner. Make it a habit rather than just follow the disciplined manners for a few days.

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