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Ask HN: How do you stick to projects?
65 points by trms on Dec 21, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments
Posting here in case someone else is going through the same thing and could benefit from reading the comments.

I get passionate about a new language, framework, idea, project, or hobby for 1/2/3 months, then quit. Like clockwork.

For some concrete examples, I'm talking about things like: journaling, Arduino, web development, game dev, photography, writing fiction, tweeting, posting videos to YouTube, knowledge management, 'note-taking,' and more.

I used to think it was a question of burning out, so after a time I started limiting myself to 'x' hours a day. That did extend things slightly, but it wasn't a game changer.

I always seem to find an excuse as to why it's not worth continuing, right before actually accomplishing anything with the tool/skill in question. This applies to things both big, like getting into a whole new hobby, and small like trying some framework out.

As such, I spend many days feeling like the donkey in front of the stack of hay and the pail of water. I know that if I only stuck to one thing I would be much better off, but somehow, I don't.

This translates to my work as well, (at a startup) where my title is, quite literally, "generalist." I do stuff ranging from the software side all the way to marketing, sales, and everything in between. It's working for now but I get the feeling it's not viable for the long run.

I was wondering what the HN crowd thought about this, and if there is someone who managed to escape this trap. Thank you.

I think first of all, you need to understand what you want to get out of your project. It's okay to just explore a thing that seems cool, and if that is all that you want to get out of it, it's okay to abandon that exploration when you're full.

I've gone through a lot of hobbies and projects, and each and every one of them has left me more capable. This is fine. I've also embarked on bigger projects that have taken years.

If you are working for some particular goal, sometimes you need to push yourself a bit too. It isn't always glamorous, you won't always feel inspired; that stuff does wear thin as you get farther along. Sometimes it is a slog, and those days just showing up and going through the motions is plenty. Sometimes breaks can be good too, but they have a habit of becoming indefinite so it's dangerous territory.

> This translates to my work as well, (at a startup) where my title is, quite literally, "generalist." I do stuff ranging from the software side all the way to marketing, sales, and everything in between. It's working for now but I get the feeling it's not viable for the long run.

It is absolutely fine to be a generalist. Having insight into all these areas makes you extremely versatile, and allows you to look at problems in ways no specialist could. Especially at a startup, this is an amazing skillset.

First of all I love Marginalia, thanks for finishing _that_ project. :)

Project scope seems to be key. I often get into things with 'lofty' goals but I should be more realistic about what I want to get from them. That requires a bit of thinking and self-reflection which, I think, I might be skipping.

Acknowledging that not everything is glamorous is also another big part of it. When you just start something it's all new and shiny, but the bulk of the work is the unglamorous oiling of the gears and small improvements. I should internalize this fact.

> It is absolutely fine to be a generalist.

Thank you for stating that. It's rare (at least in my circles) to see generalists in startups so it's refreshing to see this.

> First of all I love Marginalia, thanks for finishing _that_ project. :)

> Project scope seems to be key. I often get into things with 'lofty' goals but I should be more realistic about what I want to get from them. That requires a bit of thinking and self-reflection which, I think, I might be skipping.

Dunno, I think lofty goals are fine, but you need a clear idea why you want to accomplish them.

Like if the reason you're learning some technology is because you want to learn it, and you find midway through that you don't want to learn it, then one of you must be wrong. Either you want to or you don't. It's fine to change your mind, you should be upfront about yourself about that. If it turns out you don't want to learn the thing, then you're wasting your time pushing yourself.

It's also good to have some clue how to get there.

When I built my search engine, I started by making a fairly simple prototype that consisted of a few components that each took a few weeks to get working. Having that made iterating on the design much easier. There's just no way I'd gotten where I am now if I didn't start where I did.

> Acknowledging that not everything is glamorous is also another big part of it. When you just start something it's all new and shiny, but the bulk of the work is the unglamorous oiling of the gears and small improvements. I should internalize this fact.

A lot of it may also be ensuring that you are doing the right things. I sometimes fall into the trap of just sort of tweaking things and not really making much of a difference.

I've found it helpful to get some distance away from a project and to just think about it for a while instead of forcing myself to work directly at it every day. I often come back with a huge amount of ideas that I no doubt would have never come up with if I was closer to the project.

I've been through this and in my case it turned out to be clinical ADHD.

Unfortunately my diagnosis came at the very late age (40+) because whole life I thought it is just me being lazy and unfocused and seeking medical help / medication is the wrong answer to such problems - only to discover now that some of our brains are actually wired differently and it's not that we are being weak or unfocused but it's actually the wiring in our brain making us behave this way and you can freaking see this on an MRI too.

If you can't get an evaluation at least try to read this book called driven to distraction. One other book which I also read again and again is 'Finish' by Jon acuff. Has many useful tips which anyone can use.

Same here. I would add if you experience what the OP does combined with looking around the house every day and seeing piles of unfolded washing and dirty dishes waiting for you that fill you with existential dread every time you look at them while you quietly ignore them and go back to whatever it is you're excited about at the moment then seek an evaluation.

Second this.

Also, earlier this year, a newer version of Driven to Distraction was published, ADHD 2.0, written by the very same authors and featuring a lot promising new strategies backed by recent research. Definitely a recommended read.

reading Finish by Acuff RN(was recommended in an earlier post-https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29170578). Absolutely recommended. Also starting to realize I have ADHD(surprise- son was diagnosed with ASD when he was 5 :-)). Will move to Driven to distraction when I finish finish this weekend.

I have now gotten both books and I will read them. I appreciate the recommendations.

I definitely agree getting an evaluation can't hurt, and the sooner the better. It could save me years of blaming myself for just the way my brain is wired. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me.

When I read your question, I thought you were writing about me. I have the same tendencies and I think it may be related to the "progress curve". Early when you are learning or trying something, it's very interesting because everything is new and the learning opportunities are everywhere. Progress is rapid and there are few difficult barriers in the early going. When the thing you are doing no longer scratches that "learning immediacy" itch and continued progress takes longer duration of focus, the new shiny loses its luster and you move on to the next thing. Some people seem to just have the discipline and focus to keep plugging away. I'm not sure if that is learned, genetic, or can be arrived at through the use of some sort of system, but I don't have it, and I think it is the thing you seek. Let me know if you find it!

Glad to know I'm not the only one on this boat. Hopefully we'll touch land soon.

I think you may have answered your own question, at least in part:

> I always seem to find an excuse as to why it's not worth continuing, *right before actually accomplishing anything* [emphasis mine]

Certainly "diminishing returns" and "the skill of consistency" are real issues, but is it also possible there's something psychological going on here, like a fear of success?

This is something I've struggled with for all of my adult life – not with success per se, but with the way succeeding at something defines who/what you are. For instance, way back when I was a freshman in college, I poured myself into a big assignment with singular focus, and created something that got a lot of attention and notoriety. Important people took notice, I won some awards, and everyone started asking what I was working on next. It felt great and I did start another big project, but quickly found myself crushed under all these perceived expectations... And although I finished it, the result was underwhelming. I sort of dropped off everyone's radar at that point, and I'm not sure I've ever really recovered.

Like other commenters have said, you could have written your post verbatim about me. I get into things with an initial boost of motivation that often borders on obsession, go deep down the rabbit hole, cobble together some sort of proof of concept, and then suddenly lose interest, as you described, right at the point where I could actually produce something.

So how do we get past this? Figuring that out may be my life's work. But speaking of life, one of the best tips that has helped me is, "If you want to figure out what to do with your life, work backward from your death". Which is to say, think about what your obituary will say, how you want to impact people, what your legacy will be. Then think about what you need to learn/build/accomplish to get there, and work your way, step by step, back to now.

It's not a perfect system by any means, but it does help keep me "on track" when I feel like tossing something aside because I suddenly lose motivation. I tell myself, This is how I get to point B, which goes to C, to D, to E. And the fact that I want "point E" is very unlikely to change.

The other tip I'll leave you with is: Trust your past self. You from [some time ago] decided [activity] was worth doing. So it probably is! It may not feel like that now, but trust that Past You made the right call about things, even if they may not have known the full scope of what they were getting into. I often struggle to put in another hour/day on some project I don't really want to do anymore, because the alternative looks so enticing: Start something new! Dick around on Reddit! Watch someone else do the thing on YouTube! Etc. So I remind myself that, for me 1) life isn't about relaxing; it's about doing stuff, and 2) when I do relax, I enjoy it so much more if I feel like I've "earned" it.

Anyway best of luck, friend. At least you've already learned you're far from alone on this!

Thank you saruken, your comment really hits close to home. I'm glad to know that, at least, I'm not the only one living this problem.

I especially liked the part about trusting your old self, I think you managed to vocalize something I've been thinking for a while but that I could never form into words. I need to trust my old self, and trust that they chose that project for a reason. Now that I look back at it, whenever I find an excuse to stop the project, it's because I grow mistrustful of my old self.

Thank you again and best of luck to you as well!

>Certainly "diminishing returns" and "the skill of consistency" are real issues, but is it also possible there's something psychological going on here, like a fear of success?

> This is something I've struggled with for all of my adult life – not with success per se, but with the way succeeding at something defines who/what you are.

This is very true, success often means change and we're not always comfortable with change.

I mean I feel like it depends on what you're looking to get out of the project?

If you're looking to up your skills in a new language or just "try" the new activity, then it makes sense that you would quit a few months later: you've acquired what you wanted.

If you wanted to keep going and pursue that activity for longer, I think it's a matter of not making the activity conditional on it "satisfying" you because as someone mentioned in another comment, you'll lose that initial dopamine hit once the activity becomes familiar (or boring): so the solution imo is to actively decide that whether you enjoy it or not, you will do X. And that's just a matter of learning to commit to something.

I used to be all over the place and chase new ideas over existing projects all the time, but it wasn't until I made a decision that OK I'm going to stick with this no matter what (at least for a period of time) that I started finding success. Now I think consistency is 80% of success.

Another thing I find useful to keep going is to find a way to keep getting small "wins" every now and then in the journey: the small wins make you feel like the past time invested was worth it and make my brain eager to continue as it anticipates the next one.

Decoupling the 'satisfaction' from the project itself is something I need to learn. I need to be able to stick to things even beyond 'the horizon,' after they stopped providing the dopamine hit. This is the main hurdle. Thank you for your comment, I'll keep it to heart.

Because your brain rewards novelty with dopamine, simple as that. Once it leaves the exciting 'new project' stage it just becomes work. That's when you have to override your lizard brain and do it even without the dopamine hit.

If you figure out how to do that, let me know. I wish I knew.

What works for me is setting a schedule and having milestones. I follow a plan for a period of time or until I create a concrete deliverable. Then I decide to work more on the project or pause to peruse something else.

I found constantly deciding what to do was too exhausting.

Maintaining coherency of the project's core ideas is my key. I was introduced to this through a philosophy of truth course. If the ideas avoid contradiction and are of genuinely new ground, pursuing the project is a matter of executing until either the project fulfills the concept or some unexpected barrier was discovered. In doing this you have to set testable benchmarks for what makes it "done" and "successful". List them all out. Sometimes you learn your principles through your benchmarks, other times the reverse. The project is often better motivated by a study goal ("I learn this") rather than a utility goal ("I earn this").

If contradictions slip in, then scope becomes unlimited. Most businesses will eventually end up in a contradictory position - and this sets a definite limit on their lifespan. But you can avoid this fate in a side project by removing some of the assumed requirements of business and allowing it to be an obscure toy or a money-loser, instead setting other benchmarks for success.

I had never thought of it that way. Project coherency looks like a great metric/mission to keep in mind as I go about a project. Am I doing this to learn, or am I dong this to do X? Thank you.

My wife and I work on software projects. They become fairly advanced because she codes and I PM / test. Every time she implements a new feature or fixes a bug, I'm happy because the bus is moving forward, and she's happy because she's made me happy. I also update her on happy user stories, and make it obvious they make me happy because once again, it makes her happy. Anyway, that's just one way. I'm sure there's others.

(ETA I'm a woman, I realized this could read badly otherwise :)

Another time, I wrote a novel, and she read each chapter when I was done. I realized that if I didn't finish the novel, I would leave her hanging, and I didn't want to do that, so I finished it, even when I got 'mired in the middle'.

I guess my point is, try to involve someone you care about to hold you accountable, make a commitment to them to finish it.

This is good advice from experience, and not just in software. If I have an audience I'm much more likely to stick to something, whether it's a side project or just going to the gym.

It doesn't necessarily have to mean shipping something and getting actual users, just having someone that you arrange to regularly show your stuff to is a huge help. If I skip out on going to the gym, or break a regular show-and-tell on something I'm tinkering with, a friend will give me a gentle ribbing which gradually begins to escalate.

Thank you for sharing your experience. I do live with my partner as well, but we never 'seriously' tried something like this, where we keep each other accountable. This looks like it might help. Whenever I start something new, I should make it so that others know it so that I'm accontable. Thank you!

Are you doing these things because you're genuinely interested, or because you think that you should be interested in them?

It's really easy to see what other people are doing and think that it's interesting (because they tend to gloss over the boring bits), but once you get into the weeds of learning about it, realize that you really don't care that much.

Your comment hits a nerve. I've been wondering about how to distinguish between something I am genuinely interested in, and something I think I should be interested in. I feel sometimes things get lost in a fog and I can't tell them apart.

Perhaps the real question is not so much how I can stick to things, but what I am _actually_ interested in. Thank you.

I have three side projects now. One of them (active) keeps expanding and it might be fair to call it a program instead of a project. It has had a large aspect of discovery; often when I try to invent a new feature I go on a long detour that involves discovering the nature of the system, once that has been unveiled the actual invention and creation seems almost trivial.

Project #2 has an early prototype but there is no energy going into it because #1 is in a state of ferment.

#1 and #2 are prerequisites for the social bit of #3 which is frankly a moonshot.

Really I don’t add new projects often and I rarely let a project be motivated by ‘learn a new language’, ‘learn a new framework.’ Often those are just black holes. Go learn LISP or Haskell and you will either fail to learn it and still think the grass is greener over there or if you really do learn it you realize that ‘a monad like is like a burrito’ is the definition of insanity and there is a good reason why people dream of LISP and Haskell and really write C, COBOL, ColdFusion, JavaScript, whatever.

Sometimes my projects force me to learn a new tech and then I do it. I am looking forward to WebGL.

You make a good point. It's more effective to learn something for a 'real' project, rather than to learn it as a random exploration. At least there's a goal, something to aim towards.

I'll take that to heart. Best of luck for your side projects.

Being a "generalist" is great and will pay off in the long run but only if you want to do stuff independently (entrepreneur, youtuber etc). If you want to move up the career ladder, I suggest you "specialise" first for quite some time and then get back to being a "generalist".

I guess Feynman says it better.

"Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all." - Richard Feynman

Thank you for the tip, really appreciate it. I do think in the long run, the best way to use my "generalist" powers would be to do something where I am forced to know a bit of everything like entrepreneurship or content creation. That's likely where I need to turn to.

First, maybe don't judge yourself too harshly. Sometimes it's OK to go through phases and then get over things. But, I think it's also worth working up your ability to stick to something. When I look back at my own history, I see some patterns. When I stick with things, I usually have routine, community, and a healthy balance in the rest of my life

I definitely agree that I need to work up my ability to stick to things, that 'routine' is something I'm looking for.

A part of me knows that I would get there if only I stuck to something, but another part fights hard to move on to the next 'greener' thing. Likely, like you said, I need to judge myself more kindly. Thank you! I suppose I should look at 'sticking to things' as a skill that can be learned, and one I should get better at.

I've been working on a project for 3 years straight. The hardest part of continuing the project is that 90% of the project gets done in the first year, then the 10% takes so much time it's very discouraging.

For me, it's the feeling of accomplishment and pride that keeps me going. Regardless of the projects success, I'm proud that I've worked on something for so long and seeing it improve everyday is satisfying. There's nothing really else out there that gives me the feeling. If you ignore the success of the project (whether that's monetization or popularity.) and focus on the fun and beauty of improving something every day, it lets you go pretty far and long.

At the end of the day, you always have that project that you worked on and improved on every day. You can look back at it, show it to people, etc, and it almost seems bigger than you.

This circles back to being kinder to oneself and to enjoy the process. I am probably just being too harsh on myself and not actually having fun/enjoying the projects themselves. I'm obsessing over some 'goal' when the real goal should be to enjoy building something and seeing it grow, regardless of outcome. Thank you!

I try to have smaller projects that I can finish over a weekend in between my larger ones.

For example my Bluetooth Midi Pi project took about a few days to finish, was posted here and was well received.

My upcoming game, Project Haze has been in some development for about 18 months or so. I'll often take long breaks with it, my goals are vastly different since it's a commercial project.

Instead of pushing it to GitHub and sharing it, I have to get it on Itch or Steam, etc. If possible I'd love to take time off to focus on shipping the first version. Before this game I also shipped a small mobile game.

My best tip would be to start very small. Make the smallest possible project you can this weekend. You can always expand upon it later.

Starting small seems to be really helpful as far as I've been able to see in the comments. I will keep that to heart, and I'll commit to making a super small project this very weekend. Thank you, and best of luck for your upcoming game!

> I'm talking about things like: journaling, Arduino, web development, game dev, photography, writing fiction, tweeting, posting videos to YouTube, knowledge management, 'note-taking,' and more.

One issue I see is that none of the project examples you listed have a real end. They are continuous and can never be finished. "Create an online 4-player version of battle-city" is a project. "Game dev" is not a project.

Then the things like journaling, knowledge management, and note taking are big tells. To me these seem upside down. The natural thing to do is to have a defined project and take notes and journal and gather knowledge when you encounter road-blocks while executing the project. Otherwise these activities are fruitless on their own.

I think you might benefit from reading this series of short articles: https://mindingourway.com/guilt/ (note that you have to read them in order).

Thank you, I appreciate your view. What you said about my "projects" makes perfect sense. My projects are likely not focused enough, and some are definitely upside down. I am currently going through the articles you have sent. Thanks again!

I would recommend sharing your project with others. When people start using something you make and give you feedback, that is the most motivating thing ever.

Getting my first sale on a side project gave me new energy. Eventually more and more people started giving me feedback and I kept going. Even people who were rude gave me energy because that means they care enough that something is bothering them.

> I always seem to find an excuse as to why it's not worth continuing, right before actually accomplishing anything with the tool/skill in question. ... As such, I spend many days feeling like the donkey in front of the stack of hay and the pail of water.

I can really relate to that. It's necessary to choose something that is not too far out of the comfort zone. Like choosing something novel is good but the majority of the libraries/tools should not be new. That's key to be able to both start and continue a long time. I'd make sure the first proof-of-concept can be done within a month, afterwards I'd either stop the project or continue. Otherwise it's just too frustrating.

Afterwards you can still build stuff on top. If the problem is open ended but has a reachable first plateau that provides a basic use case this can be a nice "rabbit hole project" that you can spend an infinite amount of time on if that's what you're looking for.

There definitely seems to be a sweet spot where projects are challenging enough to be engaging yet familiar enough that you don't get frustrated. Finding that window looks to be key.

It's also a great idea to put a deadline for yourself, say, having a small MVP working within a month, and then that's that. Having something 'accomplished' in that timeframe could be neat, as in, it would likely spur me to keep developing it once I see it working. Thank you.

Nowadays I begin every project defining the most important tasks to build an MVP, and sort them starting the the most difficult. Cool ideas that won't make it into the MVP go to another list. Then move back some of these tasks into the main MVP list for the next iteration.

Hi, I'm a bit confused - you describe getting into new interests, but also 'projects'. It seems you love getting into new things, but also have an idea that you should produce something in the field before moving on. And feeling guilty for becoming interested in something else?! Makes no sense to me.

I've spent my life frequently getting into new things, all kinds of things. I've never thought of it as a bad thing. What I do regret is not making good records for the first 25+ years of that! Of the things I was learning, books/people/inspirations etc in the various fields. I have old notebooks filled with stuff, but they're a big mess of many topics, impossible to use again really. I started making LaTeX books about 5 years ago, starting with one for each year, then chapters separating to form new books once they got big enough. e.g. there's PDF books on maths, image processing/graphics, programming languages, my programs, a programming language I created, my writing etc. So now I have lovely, well-organised records, and next time I'm into a particular thing—I can only be into 1 or 2 things at a time!— it's there waiting for me to take up again. I love that feeling of returning to a field after a long time and getting a lot further than I'd gotten before!

Also I could never think it's a waste learning something about a field, even if you never return. I've found lately can talk to almost anyone I meet for hours about what interests them or about their job, because I've been into so many things that nothing is unrelated or that distant from my interests. And you notice similarities and connections between different areas. Blah blah. In short, I can't see this as a bad thing at all, don't know why you're beating yourself up. Enjoy!

p.s. Maybe try cognitive behavioral therapy? (e.g. Albert Ellis' book New Guide to Rational Living) and look at what you are saying to yourself, what are your beliefs, that make you feel bad about this—sounds like guilt or shame or something—and change them. I've found changing beliefs like that, thought-habits, isn't very hard, and is fun. And of course magically transforms your life for the better. Good luck.

Hi Adam, thank you for your comment. Comments like yours are exactly the reason why I chose to talk about this in a public forum, so that I could get an external point of view.

Sometimes going on a while without talking about things to people can get you in an internal feedback loop where you lose touch with reality. Your point of view is refreshing to see -- it just so happens I love messing around with LaTeX, and I did think of that, just never made it happen. I will. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of benefit these little 'self-books' will bring. Thank you!

Ok great :-) I'd love to see what you produce!

I wish I knew, too.

Every project I've ever done usually involves some sort of major technical hurdle I need to figure out. Once I do, I get that dopamine rush of achieving some sort of technical feat, and then promptly lose interest in fleshing out the project.

For example, I wanted to make a online PC clone of the arcade game Killer Queen (This was before KQ Black came out on PC and Switch), but that meant I needed to figure out how to maintain client/server synchronization while preventing cheating and accounting for latency. Once I figured it out, the next major step was basically fleshing out the game mechanics, as all my tech demo would do is allow people to move around the map and jump. I quickly went "nah, that's too much work" and haven't touched it.

It might be a matter of deciding how far you want to go with something.

If you want to try something just to see if you like it then it doesn't matter if you drop it any time. However, if you choose to commit to something then you must follow through and that requires discipline.

Thank you. It does appear that motivation gets you going in the short term, but it's discipline that gets you going in the long term. I need to seriously cultivate an appreciation and a skill for discipline, so that I can keep going even when the initial rush wears out.

Diminishing expectations and diminishing commitments are a major issue in our lives, not the minor problem like it seems. I suspect that we all have that problem.

Every day I read my mission statement. Among other things it reminds me that "I repeatedly reject diminishing expectations and diminishing commitments, and that I will frequently refresh my positive expectations and commitments."

Then I read a list of my current projects noting progress, what my next step is, and why this is important. I don't always do this well, but this is what I strive to do.

I also think that you have unrealistic expectations. You seem to be trying too much. I know I have that problem. It hurts like ** to give up on things I would like to do, but I can't do them all.

I agree, this is a major issue. The inability to stick with things is shaping my entire life and career.

Having a personal mission statement sounds interesting, and I'm glad to see it's been working out for you.

> It hurts like * to give up on things I would like to do, but I can't do them all.

Exactly. It's a sort of FOMO, there's definitely an element of that too.

I have the same problem too, I feel like maybe you drop out because you already got what you got from them or maybe you don't really feel like working on the project, you just think that you should.

I still feel pretty bad about this and have a lot of guilt by not pursuing my projects, however I recently finished reading "Refuse To Choose" by Barbara Sher and it was a game changer, I still feel bad about it but I see now a different perspective and it has given me hope and made me realize that perhaps I'm not as broken as I thought I was.

The book also has a bunch of tools to help you pursue your goals even if you tend to rotate interests, that's another thing to like about it: not only is relatable but it's also very actionable.

Thank you for the book recommendation, appreciated. I'll check it out. Welcome to HN! :)

In short, register the domain name.

My method of escaping this problem is to develop things iteratively and have a minimum viable product in mind. I'm going to release something that's 80% there very quickly, and its success, if there is any, will spur me on to do the last 20%.

That sounds intuitively right. Have an MVP you can completely wrap your head around and just work towards that. Then, build on top. Most projects end up in the bin because I was too ambitious, I should start much smaller then iterate on top. Thank you.

Getting hyped about the new thing and then quickly forgetting about it is a common trait among people I know with ADHD. Not saying that's the cause just that there's a correlation, you do with that as you please.

I almost always stick to my projects because they're almost always motivated by a need rather than a fad. The need is resolved when project concludes.

I use proven and stable tools that I'm proficient in like C++/Java (depending on project needs) that allow me to focus on "getting it done" rather than learning the shiny new thing that'll be superseded soon.

My projects also tend to be deliberately smaller in scope, and I actively reject project ideas that are too big because that's when they tend to fizzle out.

I have definitely considered ADHD, and while correlation != causation, the correlation is of note nonetheless.

> I almost always stick to my projects because they're almost always motivated by a need rather than a fad.

When looking back at my life I now see this pattern as well. The things you end up sticking to are the ones you 'need.' This is something worth taking a look at. Perhaps I should put myself in a position where I would 'need' to complete something, which then would spur me to get ore things done.

And definitely agree on keeping things small and on using the tools you know. These things sound 'obvious' but the temptation to use the latest fad is very strong. Thank you!

My wife and I have ADHD, and your description sounds exactly like our lives. Dive incredibly deep into a new thing because it's new and exciting, immerse yourself for a while, and then be completely unable, even if you really want to, to go back to it.

I've had more than a few projects which I did because I thought they would be interesting, but never did anything with; I learned XPath for parsing out character data from the FFXIV Lodestone: https://na.finalfantasyxiv.com/lodestone/character/1569460/

Wrote a giant Python class to handle it all, parsed out all the data you could want, even to the point of almost being late for a social event because I wanted to finish the part I was doing (because I knew I'd completely forget). Then saved it and completely forgot about it for eight years until today.

In my case, I try to look at learning a little about a lot as one of my best resources; I can process information really quickly and learn a lot, build proof of concepts, etc., and while I might never "finish" a project in an absolute sense, if my goal is to learn just enough to be useful (use it in another project, help someone else with a problem, give advice, etc.) then it's a win.

Maybe it's just time to reframe your idea of "success" with regards to processes.

Your comment hits incredibly close to home.

At this point, at least in my career, the ability to learn new things is my ability and 'selling' point. While I do understand this has great benefits and that there's few people like this, one can't help but wonder what being a specialist would bring. I should perhaps be less harsh on myself and reframe what I've done so far as being 'succesful'... with processes. Thank you!

There are lots of people who can specialize though; being the person who can bridge specializations (or determine what specialization even applies) is incredibly valuable. It's hard to reconcile that with our society's typical examples of success, but it's still valuable!

Think of them as prototypes that lead you to new findings (hobbies, more interesting projects, relationships, a job). They serve their purpose and hopefully you walk out a more educated person as if you just listened to a Zappa solo.

Thank you. :)

I commit to doing at least one commit to my project every day, and make it a point to not skip a day.

It can be a one-line change to a text file, but I have to do it.

This is how I do it - consistency is key.

Every day just need to work on my project for 10 minutes. If I can only manage 10 minutes, then that's fine...

The same goes for exercise, or anything you need to get done.

Committing to a daily/weekly absolute minimum looks really helpful. Back in June I committed to writing a blog post a week and somehow, I managed to stick with it even though sometimes the posts ended up being written in a rush two hours before publication.

I should be taking advantage of this system more. Thank you.

I find that the smaller the minimum commitment, the more likely I am to stick to it. It's much easier to convince myself to do a 5-minute task than a longer one.

Once that's done, I may gain some momentum and keep working, or I may not, but it's up to me, and the knowledge that I can always step back helps a lot.

My trick tip is to not sweat it when I want to put something down for awhile. No guilt, just relaxation, or working on something else for a bit. Inevitably I get a hankering for working on the project that I paused, and I pick it back up.

Not sure how to encourage the return of that hankering feeling, unfortunately, but I think the "no guilt" habit has been life-changing.

Guilt definitely plays a part. Whenever I'm not 'working' on the next great thing, I do feel like I should. I should just take it easy for a while and really re-evaluate what I want to do and what I don't. Thank you!

I think two books would help. The Dip and Atomic Habit.

The Dip will outline this idea of keeping at it as things don’t really pickup right away.

Atomic Habit gives some great ideas on structuring things to make them habits. Setting your environment up to make it easier to get started etc.

Thank you for the recommendations, I have now gotten the books you recommended and I will be going through them.

The No Free Lunch theorem tells us no search algorithm is optimal over all possible problem-spaces. Without prior knowledge about what may be found and what will be needed, no one can say whether deep-dive in one place or shallow-jump into many places is optimal. And optimal according to whose metric?

I've done a fair share of both. I think the perception accomplishment was just around the next turn (but you stopped too early) is often an illusion. Refer back to No Free Lunch; a general ability to know "how far" you are from a solution in problem-space you don't know would be a good start on the universally optimal search algorithm (which we agreed doesn't exist).

For a specific example, I've slaved away at game dev (in my free time not professionally) for more than two decades - and never released a game. I did an unreasonably deep dive developing some "technologies" which in the end turned out to be net negative contributors to my overall project.

It turns out there are ideas which you can sink years into only to exhaustively prove they don't work. There are others which appeared to work only because corporations threw many man-years at the task.


I think the amount of time and effort you put into each project over time has a compounding effect. That is, the person who stops before finding a solution doesn't know whether they stopped 15 minutes away from figuring it out or a lifetime away. As a result, they may be less inclined to believe they could solve the next one and put less effort there, and so on.

The person who puts in just a bit more effort (read: stubbornness) initially may find a serendipitous payoff and be more inclined to believe they have special luck or skill to solve the next problem. (Throughout this comment I've been using the word 'solution' to stand for both actual problem solving and the unspecified 'accomplishment' of the original post, as for the purposes of describing this as a search-optimization problem it's the same.)

A real-world example:

In college I built a single board computer on my own as a fun project. For a display I bought a portable DVD player (back when 7 inch LCDs were difficult to come by cheaply by other means) to harvest the screen from it, but the screen driver board from the cheap electronic device died shortly after the conversion.

If I had money or lab resources I might have just replaced the screen. Having already spent money I didn't have to buy this screen in the first place, and feeling deeply offended by the idea that a thing could just "break" and there's nothing to be done, I started troubleshooting in the dark.

I decoded part numbers and looked up chip datasheets. I noticed there was no power getting to the +5V pins of some chips, and had the audacious idea: what would happen if I force-fed power into the line? So I directly connected +5V power and got... nothing.

Long story short, I wasn't successful until I deduced the existence of and tracked down ALL of the tiny, individual switchmode power supply circuits randomly distributed across the board and soldered tiny wires to inject the missing voltage. In all I had to supply +3.3V, +5V, +12V, -12V, and 300VAC the latter of which I hacked in using a standalone CFL driver sold for PC case modding.

At no point did I ever identify a missing "turn power on" signal, a hierarchy of dependency between the power supply voltages, or any other eureka moment or root cause. The darn thing was just dead and stayed "mostly dead" almost up until I found and connected the last missing voltage. That is to say: I worked on this miserable thing every night for a week or two with little indication I was making progress (and not just silently frying more chips) until one night it all worked.

That's what I mean by my theory about how persistence can separate people into can/can't: at any point before that if I would have stopped I would have thought I couldn't get it to work.

To answer your question how can you tilt your own balance more towards persisting with projects: I can't give you a magic bullet. But I think it's instructive to describe how I feel when I'm being like that:

I'm pissed off! It stopped being fun ages ago. I'm probably slightly dehydrated because I forgot to drink water hours ago. It's cold and I'm up past midnight, and someone is probably mad at me for not going to bed, and I don't care.

I don't think that's necessarily a great way to be all the time. But I just wanted to make clear the kind of motivation for continuing something after the newness has worn off is maybe a different source. Instead of asking how to get more of the initial kind of motivation, perhaps you should look for what it is that will fill in the second part of the bridge for you.

Nice write up !

>how persistence can separate people into can/can't

Yep. This is the main catalyst for "success". Reminds me of the following quote by Calvin Coolidge;

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

>the kind of motivation for continuing something after the newness has worn off is maybe a different source

Quite right! I believe this source is mainly the "wish to improve (on some self determined scale) and progress day by day". Popular culture knows it as "Kaizen" or "Continuous Improvement" (all cultures have their own term for this).

That's exactly it -- if you stick to some stuff, at least there is a chance, however small, that you'll accomplish or finish something. If you don't, that chance is reduced to 0.

The initial rush gives tons of dopamine, I need to find a way to persist even after the dopamine has worn off. Continuing a project has its own benefits and points of pleasure, I just need to start gaining an appreciation for those benefits and start getting pleasure from sticking to things. Thank you for the comment, I loved your story and appreciate you sharing it with me.

Strumming my pain with his fingers Singing my life with his words...

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