Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
I never finish anyth (greig.cc)
334 points by 3stripe on Jan 17, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 103 comments

I relate to this, too. Here's some stuff that I read recently that helped me a little:

"When you are young, beginning new projects is easy and finishing them is hard. As you grow older, beginnings get harder, but finishing gets easier. At least, that has been my experience. I think it is true of anyone of at least average intelligence, creativity and emotional resilience. The reason is simple.

When you are young, the possibilities ahead of you, and the time available to explore them, seem nearly infinite. When you try to start something, the energizing creative phase, (which comes with internal brain-chemistry rewards on a fast feedback-loop), gives way to exhausting detail-oriented work, maintenance work, and unsatisfying overhead work. You need to get through these to bank distant external rewards (money and such) that only come with completion. It is then that you are most vulnerable to the allure of exciting new beginnings. So you abandon things halfway. You bank the internal rewards of beginning, but not the external rewards of finishing.

But with age, this changes.

As you grow older, the history of a few completed projects and many abandoned ones in your past starts to loom oppressively in your memory. The early internal rewards of many beginnings are now a distant memory that offer no pleasure in the present. The external rewards of completed projects, which tend to continue to yield dividends (such as completed degrees, financial rewards) loom larger all around you: wealth, strong relationships and perhaps most importantly, an earned ability to see the world differently as the result of having been through many completions.

When a new opportunity opens up at 35, you evaluate it differently than you did at 25. You are able to estimate how long it will take, what the journey will feel like, what the early pleasure and distant pain will feel like, and what getting it done will feel like. You are able to react psychologically to the whole prospect in the form of a narrative that extends beyond the finish line, as a systematic leveling-up of your life. You see the transient pleasures of beginnings diminish to nothing in the far future and the enduring rewards of finishing as a steady source of dividends extending out beyond the horizon."

- http://www.tempobook.com/2014/01/13/when-finishing-is-easier...

When I compared people that take on big goals later in life with those who simply simulate them in their mind, then decide their projected end results are 'predictable and uninteresting', I saw something interesting.

Those who take on big goals are seen as naive and almost childlike, because the 'experienced' believe they already know the end results.

Those who don't take on big goals get to be in the audience and throw stones, but never really amount to anything other than gloating at a possible failure.

I think the experience works against you at a certain age. The projections are a lie, or possibly inaccurate at best. I've come to believe you don't know what will happen until you do it -- what your mind simulates is often only correct in the broadest sense, but way way off when it comes to the important details and compound ramifications.

In otherwords, keep taking on big goals and press on to finish them, while ignoring that pesky voice which thinks it already knows how this will all turn out. And ignore the people who do the same, their words are rarely helpful.

Your comment is very interesting. But let me argue against it.

May be when you are older, you can see the end result with more clarity, and decide that is not worth the effort and the sacrifices that you have to make.

Is it better becoming a millionaire when you are 30 or when you are 50? If you do it at 30, you will enjoy the fruits for 45 years. If you do it at 50, you will enjoy them for 25. (Assuming expectancy_of_life=75) Also if you sacrifice a number of years it is a larger sacrifice over the rest of your life.

I'd say a sufficiently large goal is well beyond that of only self-fulfillment or making a lot of money. It would be an attempt to change a field, advance a given topic in that field, or create a system which a group of people could benefit from.

You may, however, appreciate your millions more if they come to you at 50, even if you aren't wealthy for as many years. I think there's a quantity vs quality argument that could be made there.

I'm not saying that's necessarily the case, but perspective can be gained with age and experience and that can colour your view of the world and how much you appreciate what you really do have.

The first thing I'd say in response to your overall comment is that what other people think is a red herring. You'll never do anything interesting at any age if you decide to take on big challenges based on others opinions, and there are naysayers at every age. But also, the fact is that if someone says they're going to do some amazing huge thing I will be polite but I will probably not believe they can actually pull it off until they do so. This has nothing to do with my life experience, but just that talk is cheap and people like to dream. It's just a statistical fact that on average there's a lot more talk than execution, or perhaps a better way to look at it is that one ambitious idea might take 10 years of full-time dedication to execute successfully during which time who knows how many more lightbulbs would come on.

But perhaps more to your point, what does my experience tell me about bold ambitions? Well, mostly I've learned that making big predictions is foolish. The older I get the more I discover how extremely subjective life is, and how dependent everything we know and take for granted is based on personal experience and perspective. I'm much less likely today at 35 to predict the outcome of a project than I would have at 25. My experience comes in at a smaller scale on more specific issues. Engineering choices for instance, I have a much finer tuned sense of where to balance hackery and YAGNI, or how to manage different kinds of business relationships. But I certainly am loathe to sit around making armchair prognostications about the medium to distant future. In short, experience does not make me think I know more, it makes me aware of how little I actually do know.

I've never actually changed my approach since 25. I don't have much interest in doing something I've done before, so everything I try is always new, which means I can't even begin to estimate what's involved in completing it. I just approach it with the attitude "Well, how hard can it be?"

There are two necessary factors to great feats: The foolhardiness to start, and the stubbornness to finish.

Hey, that's awesome! I've experienced this in my own life too, and I didn't realize why until you put it into words.

I focus a lot more now on projects that I know I can finish, and work aggressively to keep them in scope, as hard as that can be. (There's always shiny features you want to implement, but too many of those, and your side project collapses under its own weight, in my personal experience, anyway.)

visakanv: thank you for this. this was a comforting read and sat close to home. it leaves me optimistic.

killnine: i hope not to be the bearer of bad news but it seems you've been hellbanned for 2 years. only users with "showdead" can see your comments, and no one can vote on them or respond to them. unfortunate because voting up your comment would have prevented me from leaving my own. :)

I guess that in your life you have to leave some unfinished projects behind to be able to finish others.

I think you are right...sometimes the hardest thing is to say NO while running a start-up! The people who learn that trick are mighty successful!

The ideal is not starting the projects you won't finish... But I guess nobody gets there.

If I worried about "likelihood of not finishing a project" before I started a project, I would never start. First step is to start, if you get there then you can worry about finished or unfinished - either way you will likely have learned something or created something which is more than the worried non-starter can say.

Agreed. Starting projects which you won't finish just consumes resources and therefore prevents other projects from getting finished. I have been very aware about this. Being highly selective on projects which you even start is simply being smart.

I don't need to read anything else today.

You wanna know the saddest part of my day?

When I'm moving around my laptop, and pop into the "projects" folder and see what a graveyard it has become. Dozens of half baked projects that seemed brilliant at the time, that I either lost interest in, decided the concept was too difficult, or (and this is the worst one) let my self doubt convince me that it would never work. The really sad part is, every now and then I'll go back in and check out these projects and a lot of the code and design is actually pretty good. I ask myself, "Why did I think this sucked again?"

The best analogy I can make to this scenario is the self doubt that cripples many writers setting out to finish a book, screenplay, or novel. It's almost as if you tell yourself that the script sucks, to give you a reason not to finish it and move on to something cooler next week. As a writer, what's the best way to overcome this? Just FINISH the god damned first draft. Roll up your sleeves, commit an hour (or two or three) every day to working on this project, and slog through it until you type "FADE OUT" (or "The End") or (if you're coding) make that glorious commit to polish off your project.

No matter how much the project, script or book sucks, there are few feelings of satisfaction that match that.

The thing that helps me work through this is to be very aggressive about a small list of features for "version 1". Focus on getting version 1 online and working, and put all your shiny ideas on the TODO list for version 2. Once version 1 is out the door, the momentum of people using it will carry you forward.

I've learned the hard way that for me, by far the biggest risk in a side project is me losing interest before I have something up and working. So now I just keep that in mind as I'm planning and pruning features for the initial version. The risk isn't "what if I don't have feature X and people get mad?", it's "what if this gets too complex and messy to implement and I get bored and quit before finishing?"

I find that working even on version 1 stops me from doing the actual work, which is to find users and actually verify I am solving a useful problem.

Maybe it is good that we cannot finish all these projects, since they have no use anyway...

I find my side projects can be quite cyclical in nature. I'll have a better idea, or one that has more immediate unsolved problems, and maybe start thinking about that instead. But a week or two later, something will trigger the older idea back to the forefront of my memory, and I'll get excited about it again.

Nobody's forcing you to work on, or finish, a specific project. But if you are always starting new ones and never finishing anything, you have to identify why you don't care about something that seemed like a good idea when you first had it. Did you disprove some of the assumptions? Too lazy to knuckle down and code? Too scared of marketing it and putting your name to it? Not enough time? Prefer sketching wireframes? I've learnt a fair bit about myself from introspection here, especially when I consider the projects I do finish. Often, something I really want to just exist, right now, and without much of the baggage that's around the MVP-prove-iterate-market-blog-build cycle.

Look at my github and know that I have more repositories on other services and thrice as many on my hard-drive that are unfinished, incomplete duds. I recently reached a milestone: I went from an idea for a book to a self-published, printed title in 3 months. I went to a festival that was mostly focused on comics and video games and sold six copies of my book. It was awesome. Here's the rub: I'm not finished yet.

You're never finished until you stop what you're doing. A writer may "finish" a book but ei has to start another or they've "finished" writing. However for every book they finish how many incomplete, half-baked ideas do you think they've run through? Is every idea they have golden and worth pouring months and years of effort into? No.

Some ideas deserve to die.

But once you've found that one worth pursuing there's nothing to do but roll up your sleeves and put in the time. You will vacillate between euphoria and despair. You may come to regret ever starting and hate yourself. But if it means anything you will force yourself to press on through those darkest moments. And before you know it you'll be done... and ready for the next project. Creativity isn't the rush you feel when you have a good idea and dream about conquering the world: it's process and discipline. It's writing 1500, 2000 words a day no matter what.

I find it helps to have someone to nudge you onward. An editor, a mentor... someone you can discuss the project with who has an objective opinion. They will help you in that moment when you're thinking of giving up.

It was the same for me for several ideas/projects that i started with.

Then i realised what was the reason makes me not touching the project after a while...

The first steps are always known and can be done by almost everyone.

- Buy the domain

- Construct the idea

- Even, start coding the project

And here comes the reasons why you slowly starting not to touch the project anymore;

- You realise that you are not sure how to deploy this on production.

- You realise that you will need a business model and you are just a developer/designer and have no idea about those.

- Then comes the tax issues, and realisation that you need a company.

- You don't know how to licence your idea/project

I can list some more but these are just enough to make you feel that you need to find some people to help you which is not free but expensive unless you have friends that are expert in those areas.

Yep, you give up the project...

> - You realise that you are not sure how to deploy this on production.

My advice for this is don't worry about it. Just hand install on a cheap shared web hosting place and manually copy stuff across to get it up and running.

When that gets too annoying, start automating. When your home grown automation scripts get long and unwieldy, look into Capistrano or Puppet (or Chef, or Ansible). The important thing is: make it work first, then make it beautiful.

> - You realise that you will need a business model and you are just a developer/designer and have no idea about those.

I feel you there! :-) Having an idea and trying to think of how to get someone to pay for it is daunting to me. I feel like a blank canvas and I have no idea where to start.

> - Then comes the tax issues, and realisation that you need a company.

Again, don't worry about it. If you make so much money that it matters—well, that is a good problem to have. You can always incorporate (or whatever) later. And if you're pulling in a lot of money you can afford a lawyer to just handle it all for you.

- You don't know how to licence your idea/project

If you're making a web site or a app store app (binary distribution) then again, it doesn't really matter. If it becomes so wildly popular that people start abusing it somehow, and in quantities that matter—again, that's a nice problem to have (compared to no one using your site or app).

If you're releasing source, then pick MIT, BSD, or GPL (just choose randomly if you have no opinion). If the one you picked turns out to have side effects that you didn't foresee, then feel free to change it–it's your code after all, so you can do what you want (though if you get a whole bunch of external contributors, it gets hairier).

One thing I've found that really really helps—get a partner. Having another person around (and not necessarily physically) is a great way to help keep you from getting distracted. This is why companies get stuff done—there's always someone around working and you can't just slack off without losing face to everyone around you. It's really hard to sit around and read reddit all day when the 3 people in the room with you are all working hard…

Except the first one, thanks a lot for looking at the bright side of things and the advises! but..

How can i not worry about deployment?

What happens after people trusting and starts using my 'lets say' web app and after 2 weeks i get my database hacked? Companies have TechOps department just for deploying the applications correctly. I am not trying to argue but trying to explain how i think of this :)

Maybe i am being little bit too much paranoid... Should i just set Apache/Passenger with some basic configuration and wish that everything is safe enough ?

Again, I wouldn't worry too much about getting hacked. Don't use bad or obvious passwords on your db or ssh account. Besides I would say much of the hacking surface is going to be in your site's code, if it's in any way dynamic.

You'll probably make mistakes. The biggest actual devops advice I can give is backup. Everything. Often enough so that if you lose everything since your last backup you can live with it. And again, it doesn't even have to be automated. Run mysqldump by hand and save the results away somewhere. Rsync your home directory away. If you have a dedicated server, rsync /etc, too.

Having a backup is the solution to almost any catastrophic event in the devops world. Disk crash? Get a new disk, restore from backup, continue on. Hacked? Figure out how, fix security hole in code (or wherever), wipe server, change passwords, restore from backup, continue. I'm sure there are more.

Having done devops work, most of the hard part is getting it to all run smoothly and automatically (big web sites have many many servers and slave dbs, and deploying to them all becomes complicated). But as a single person working on a small project, that's not the most important thing to optimize for, in my opinion. It's more important to get it done.

>- You realise that you are not sure how to deploy this on production.

>- You realise that you are not sure how to deploy this on production.

>- You realise that you will need a business model and you are just a developer/designer and have no idea about those.

>- Then comes the tax issues, and realisation that you need a company.

>- You don't know how to licence your idea/project

As someone who isn't a very good designer/developer this seems like the easiest part to figure out. Coding the project is the single greatest struggle for me as I just don't have the experience/expertise but it's something I enjoy doing and want to do.

Why not just work on it as a hobby project, for pure fun? Publish it as an open source thing, even.

Hobby projects are always fine by me. I start, i finish it.

The problem i have is always with "The great idea I have".

As someone that wears far too many hats to the point of daily paralysis, these don't sound too intimdating... until I need to figure out what to do first. This is what iterative anything / MVP / lean startup thinking is for and also determines what I think the biggest difference between effective and ineffective people are - prioritization during execution.

- Deploying? I do integrations and devops-like stuff at work, and online discussions tend to overblow this topic given this probably matters among the least. The "correct" way is the fastest that will get the job done now so you can keep your momentum going. Until you go full hog hot-deploying to keep your uptime high, expect to destroy everything eventually, who cares if it's sloppy if it went into the trash? Just git receive hooks are good enough for toy projects like O(n^3) algorithms are probably fine for starting some random webapp.

-Business models are in abundant supply out given the number of times "ideas people" that "just need someone to make an app/site of it" have approached me. Unless you're undertaking significant costs or are on the edge of financial ruin, you shouldn't worry though given starting a tech company is the cheapest it's ever been and only getting cheaper (per Mark Cuban). However, you may want to do some quick market research so you don't waste too much time building something that nobody wants - your time is actually going up in cost at a rate faster than Moore's Law gives you savings! On the other hand, don't be like me and think that focus groups and all the stuff that big companies do for thousands typically for a waste of money applies for you. It seems common sense but we all do dumb things in hindsight and it can be hard to step outside your box. People with good prioritization skills do less dumb things wrt execution, that much I can assure you.

- Taxes are pretty simple for tiny companies in the US (this IS still a cheap place to run a business comparatively), you can probably hire an accountant to do it for a couple hundred bucks without paying a lawyer for even more. Everyone gets moved to Delaware or something later, just get that done hastily to check it off. It's the FUNDING that will make your head spin, taxes are trivial in comparison. Beyond that it's all good problems to have from everything I've read.

For me, I honestly think the hardest part is coming up with a coding project that keeps me motivated long enough without encountering some real hard blocks that just can't scale even though I know they're stupid easy for others. I get a small aneurysm having to deal with frontend design decisions & execution as a systems & backend stack guy primarily. Font choices, picking color palettes for an audience, ... am I making a business or planning my wedding again?

I've only shipped maybe a couple personal projects for the public to see though, so perhaps I'm full of crap and I wasted everyone's time. But if anything, I know how my own habits lead to ineffective output even with what seems like a lot of effort, so I think by telling people the opposite of what I do, it would give better results for others than saying what I actually do.

Just some encouragement here for you good people...

You have to do the work. There is no one else that can do it for you. It is entirely up to you; actually, it has only ever been you, because it is you that rolls out of bed early to bring it. No one is going to do that for you. If you want to do it, then you will figure out a way to make it happen.

Like some of you, I have a family. That makes things a bit challenging at times, and you will likely have to work even harder to find the time, to make the space, so that you can bring it. And, I will add, those that are parents, this is a great example to set for your children. You want to be, "The Daddy that brings it." You want to be, "The Mommy that brings it." Because, you want to instill in them that they can, too. It's a valuable life-lesson. In turn, it is psychologically healthy for you as well, to know that you are a parent that is firing on all cylinders. In addition, it is incredibly gratifying when your child sees your work. "Wow... that's the new game that you're working on! Let me try!" It will fuel you like a Saturn V launching to the moon.

You may look at your project and think, "I'm never going to make it. I'll never finish." Please, I urge you to set these thoughts aside and push through. Think about the analogy of building a wall. A wall is built one brick at a time. Watch a mason build a wall one day. You will observe that he or she lays one brick at a time.

This is how you have to view your project. Sure, it would be amazing to have an entire day, every day to devote to your project. However, the reality is that most of us simply do not have that luxury. So, strive to think of it as a mason: lay one brick at a time, and eventually the wall will be built. Every character that you type into Xcode, Visual Studio, etc. turns into a keyword, a variable name, etc... that subsequently turns into a line. Those lines build up, day by day, and before you know it, you have a program, and you look back and think, "Wow, why did I ever think I could not finish?"

Also, let go of "Internet Time." That is to say, we all read HN and see these impressive "Show HN" posts, and submitted stories about the Next Big Thing... and it seems like things are happening so fast, and we think, "Why even try?" Well, the reality is nothing is happening fast. It is an illusion. Most all of these stories have an incredible amount of time and work behind them, so let go of that illusion, get started, and stay focused.

"There's only this moment and the next moment. Every one of those moments is a test that you get to take one time and only one time." [1]

Strive to drive through each moment. Make it count.

You have to fight. This is paramount. I will say it again... you have to fight! What I mean here is fighting by engaging your Will. Engage your will to get up, to get moving. Engage your will to eat right, to exercise and go to bed on time so that you have the energy to get up and bring it.

What you are going through is what we are all going through; that is to say, we are all grinding, whether it be in a start-up business, or washing the dishes by day as we bootstrap a start-up at night; we are all struggling, fighting to drive our dreams into existence. We are all struggling in some way, whether it be through failure, health issues, personal issues, family issues, etc. No one is immune from the grip of suffering through his or her struggles.

You are not alone.

Embrace the grind. Vince Lombardi said it best:

"And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who, in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather... a lack of will."

You have to use the will to fight those thoughts that say, "I'm getting older. I'm failing. I'm not motivated. I can't finish."

The clock is ticking for all of us... fight! You never know where your work will take you. Do not forget that, you have to dream it first in your mind before you can see it in your life. And to see it in your life, you must work. You may not be able to see things clearly now, but you never know what doors could open for you that you did not even know existed.

Ang Lee, the Taiwanese film director and screenwriter that directed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Life of Pi, discusses his struggles to break into film. I urge you to read it:


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBLV6RG4TwY

Personally I think realizing you need to engage your will and discipline yourself into working hard when you don't want to is the easy part. The really really hard part is actually doing it. How do you find will where there is none? How do you motivate yourself when you feel unmotivated about everything? When you feel stuck in the rat race, stuck in the routine of monotony? How can I restore the drive and motivation in myself that I never remember having in the first place? Is it even possible?

These are the things I am struggling with and they make fighting it a non-starter.

I once read something that Tim Ferriss had said in response to a similar question. I'm heavily paraphrasing, but he was basically asked how he had so much more discipline than most others.

He responded by saying that he doesn't have more discipline - he just creates environments that decrease his opportunities to fail (ie. get distracted) and increase his likelihood to succeed (ie. finish the work).

The idea is to not trust yourself and not give yourself the opportunity to fail. A concrete example of how I've personally put this to great use in my life is how I made it a habit to go to the gym:

When I was in college, I wanted to go to the gym regularly. Unfortunately I found that when I was in my dorm room and needed to get ready for the gym, I lacked the motivation to get out of a comfortable situation. What I began doing was taking my gym clothes to class and going straight to the gym after class. This required significantly less motivation on my part because I was already walking around campus, sometimes even passing the gym by on the way back to my dorm. The step leading up to that also required very little motivation - putting clothes in your backpack. The result was that I created a sequence of events that each had a small likelihood of failure. 10 years later, going to the gym is my favorite hobby.

Another example related to getting work done came about when I was trying to work on my side projects from home. It never worked. I'd always want to browse the internet, watch tv, play video games, or spend time with my girlfriend. Starting work when my Xbox was in the next room meant summoning a monumental amount of motivation. Instead what I started doing was going to a local coffee shop or coworking space. It doesn't take that much effort to just go to a public space with wifi (and if it does, you can use the advice above). Once there, you have put yourself in an environment where everyone else is working. Aside from noise, there are fewer distractions. In addition, you'll look like an asshole if you're sitting in front of your laptop playing on Reddit for 4 hours while everyone around you is getting shit done.

If you can make a habit of completing those small triggers that lead to bigger outcomes, you'll eventually have gained a much more significant habit.

That actually is a very simple approach but makes a lot of sense, I'll definitely think about it, thanks for writing it down.

Thanks! It is nice to know I'm not the only one going trough this. Let me know if you find the/an/your answer!

Some things I've noticed: Being physically fit helps and doing sport is a bit easier than overthrowing the world. Maybe ask a friend to go with you.

Sleep is also easily modified: Try out the effects of light, temperature, noise, sleep duration etc. Maybe use Melatonine or a sleep cycle alarm.

It's also a lot easier to do things when I don't have to do them. If I tell myself, I _have_ to run today in order to get fit I probably won't do it. But just going outside quickly for some fresh air? Sure, let's check the mailbox ... and now that I'm outside, why not run for a bit?

It's a bit like jumping out of the bed before the brain realizes what you're doing and has no time to scream "I don't want to wake up!" :)

> It's a bit like jumping out of the bed before the brain realizes what you're doing and has no time to scream "I don't want to wake up!" :)

Here's a good technique for training yoũrself to get up in the morning:


It's the same technique that you suggested: train yourself to get up as more of a reflex of hearing the alarm, not as a series of mental motivations and self-persuasions.

In a wilderness we would be turned into someone's food very quickly, but luckily nowadays in our world you don't really have to work that hard to survive. If you can't do all the things that you dream of right now, maybe you are simply over-ambitious. Try to move your focus from the things that you didn't do and focus instead on something else, more realistic that can be done. Do one thing, but do it right. And then work your way up from there...

Think of any film about any successful company that has ever been made and you'll realize the 'idea' and the 'success' get all the screen time. All of the hard work, sacrifice and, arguably, the best parts of starting a company get rolled up into a 60 second montage. Nobody wants to watch the nitty gritty stuff, let alone do it, but that's what separates founders from everyone else.

> Engage your will to eat right, to exercise and go to bed on time so that you have the energy to get up and bring it.

One can't overestimate this advice. Regarding willpower: What I find very useful to remember is that willpower is something we all can and have to develop. Also, it's important to understand that willpower is a limited resource. Similar to training your body it has a lot to do with energy management - strain and rest. One of the richest advices I've found is [1]. I particularly like the 4 steps of development:

1. Avoid things that are not useful

2. Overcome in case they are apparent

3. Develop things that are useful

4. Maintain them

[1] http://swamij.com/podcast.htm see Developing Determination for Enlightenment

Wow, great comment. That's the first time I've wanted to buy someone Reddit Gold on Hacker News!

This is the kind of thing that I need to hear.

Thank you.

> Also, let go of "Internet Time." That is to say, we all read HN and see these impressive "Show HN" posts, and submitted stories about the Next Big Thing... and it seems like things are happening so fast, and we think, "Why even try?" Well, the reality is nothing is happening fast. It is an illusion. Most all of these stories have an incredible amount of time and work behind them, so let go of that illusion, get started, and stay focused.

Yeah, I seem to get this false sense of these Show HN all being something that someone whipped up in the weekend, even though the magnitude of implies that that is very, very unlikely. It's like I think that since that they are all so easy to find, and they happen so often, the time that these seeming wizards made them is proportional to how much attention I have put on them, which is clearly erroneous. Looking at the projects they are often years old, maybe even years in the making.

I think I crossed the line of being more demotivated than inspired by those types of posts. I should cut down on this Web-thing.

I'm sure some of those Show HN posts are knocked out over a weekend, and I might have done that when I was 20 and had oceans of time, but not now that I'm 34 and have too many other things going on besides programming.

My own submission from a year ago [0] which is quite meager compared to most of those Show HN posts was developed in the free time I could scrounge out over a period of 3 months. I spent another month or so after that polishing a first version. Then I took a break from hobby programming for half a year to play some games that were sitting in my steam account, and now over the course of the past few months I've been developing a javascript library to sync JSON data in a P2P way, which will take another few months until it's ready to post to HN (if I ever finish it ;) ). It's not easy to find time for programming hobby projects when you have a family, a job, a life and a collection of books/games/movies to get through :)

Anyway, the way that I see it you have to do these projects for yourself, not for anyone else. You write them to scratch an itch, to see an idea blossom or wither, to enjoy the act of coding. Posting them online is the thing you do after you've done the thing you wanted to do.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5184926

This a good point, thus the +1 from me.

I know when I originally started frequenting HN, I felt enlightened, educated, and sometimes motivated by some of the posts I saw.

Nowadays, I feel overwhelmed and discouraged from everything going on and what I seem to be missing. But I think you're dead-on -- it's all an illusion.

of course each one might have "an incredible amount of time and work behind them" but that's not the issues, it's that there are many of them, giving the accurate appearance that things are happening quickly - because indeed they are.

This is very recognizable. I have had this a lot, but accidentily I had an idea 2 days ago that I have put more time in already than any other of my fun plans or cool projects.

It's called PyLaTeX [1], it's a Python interface for LaTeX that supports creating documents and snippets. One of the coolest features I think is the conversion of NumPy matrices to LaTeX ones.

The HN new page [2] is just a bit rough on someone posting that doesn't know a lot of people that can upvote it, reddit [3] was a lot more forgiving.

[1] https://github.com/JelteF/PyLaTeX

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7075212

[3] http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/1vcqxw/pylatex_...

I immediately commiserated with this article when I saw the headline, because I have the same problem. I wish the resolution of the blog post was something other than "break the big thing in to little bits and do those" - something that I've known for a long time. For me, the most successful thing I've come across, and coincidentally the hardest part to change, was not being a perfectionist and just getting to MVP. Sometimes you have to say no, and just finish.

The biggest game-changer for me has been peer pressure, if that helps. I left a talkshop group of friends and started working with people who were getting things done. Changed my life dramatically.

Yeah, I'm working on that. I've got a few friends who are in similar situations, so we schedule Hangouts or the like to do show-and-tells and keep each other accountable. It helps, but hasn't fully fixed me of bad habits.

Accountability can be a great thing, agreed.

I used a kind of accountability hack to get a lot of writing done last year — basically by setting a £100 penalty for any day that I didn't write 1,000 words.

I have a similar process to the author, but I get further. Must have a name! Is it available everywhere? Once I've settled some of that detail, it's on to the code with the basic features.

I'll need a database (and thus a schema), and a REST API, and security considerations ... that's all fine. Start actually writing and testing and OH BOY another feature idea! Write it down for later, continue back where I was. But that new feature will require this change to the current design. And to do that now I have to change this other part and ... repeat until I give up.

tl;dr: feature creep kills me, even with my own ideas. I cannot just Let It Be and produce a 1.0 with minimal features.

I read somewhere recently that if you fantasize/talk about your ideas/goals it triggers your brain to let you feel a similar satisfaction for actually accomplishing the said idea/goal. Of course now I can't find the article so take it with a grain of salt.

I did find this article which is related…


This is probably what you're recalling: http://sivers.org/zipit

The article argues that the satisfaction prevents us from actually reaching our goals.

I like the building things. I finish building them too. Unfortunately, that isn't the job done. You then have to promote it and get users. That is harder than the building stage.

Christ you are in for a shock if you think the immediate step after reserving social media handles is the hard bit...

I think that's just the bit I run through often.

My main project (CycleLive) is approaching two years old now, and I've got a small but loyal audience which I'm nurturing.

Actually I think CycleLove has a different problem — the "a blog is not a business" one.

Although it was never intended to be a business in the first place, I want to angle it in that direction, and that's the part I'm struggling with now.

oh yeah, cool site.

yeah perhaps what you and I consider products are in different categories, so perhaps my words are not so relevant to you.

I enjoy making geeky technical things, but fail to find any users. :(

One day I will sort it out (maybe).

Are you building something that other people actually want? Or something that you think they want?

If the former, how do you know that?

This might be a bit cogsci, but one thing that has really helped me over the years is to switch my mental language away from statements like "I never finish anything", to statements like "I have had trouble finishing things in the past."

The first is a static judgment I am applying to myself, and it's a definitional straitjacket. The second is simply an observation, and it leaves room and opportunity for positive change.

When we tell ourselves we "are" certain things or "always/never do" certain things, we are defining ourselves in a way that makes it harder to change, due to the reinforcement.

At this point, I pretty much automatically recognize negative "judgments" and do the translation... I think it helps a lot.

I really like that idea - how something is phrased can and does have a profound impact.

I like to pursue ideas enough to validate if they really are "easy" or "hard." That helps me think about if they are worth pursuing. If they are "easy" I try to figure out what the other people who had this idea got hung up on, if they are "hard" I try to figure out if the hardness is intrinsic to the problem or the approach. I think of this as sort of the 'minimum work' to do on any new idea. Just having an idea and writing it into my notebook doesn't count :-)

I absolutely love these, "Get off of HN and get some work done" posts that get voted to the top of HN. Are we heroin addicts that know what's bad for us? :-)

Wow, great post. Who isn't guilty or fallen prey to this?

The few projects I've finished, they've always been for-pay. Either contracting or as an employee. For my own, almost none.

However. A little over two years ago, I started coding an edu-based app that a friend and I designed (he's the biz side). I was gonna become a father and I thought, what better space to be in since I'm going to be dealing with it in the coming years.

Typical story, coded nights, mornings, weekends. After the baby came, coded less but still the same schedule. We launched the site last fall. And then.. we started having having users saying our site was too complicated, the change log and bug list kept growing. So, this thing I had worked on for so long and pushed into existence by sheer will, just burned me out.

I walked away for a few months and even though we were making almost $1k/mo, I felt it not worth my time anymore. But now, in the past week, I'm changing my tune.

At my day job, we're going thru the final phases of closing on m&a suitors. At first I thought this was awesome, but then looking at the suitors jobs list and reading them, I realized none of them are interesting. Do I want to code day an night? No. Do I want to spend all my day at an office? No. Do I want to help push someone else's dream closer to IPO? No.

I realized after this that I already have the dream (work-wise). We have edu partners lined up, some good potential biz deals, and it's all hinging on just spending a few weeks and fixing things. But having a family, working for something for a long time and not really seeing the reward (yet) - it's hard to keep going thru it all. But, I visualized and thought about "what would it be like to sit at my desk (anywhere I want) and keep making the thing I built better?".

This is the only thing I have ever 'finished' (will it ever be) and I think looking back, I did it all for the right reasons and kept pushing forward. Regardless what anyone else said about it (almost all the responses about the site were positive).

For me, in the end it is about doing what you love, channeling your passion to reach the goal(s). Goal 1 - launching it - reached, done. Goal 2 - helping people enjoy using it - restarted.

Lesson learned: don't give up. Every hour makes a difference.

Something REALLY has to pique my interest for me to get into the flow state and once I'm there I have a go at it like no one will; and once I'm out of that state, its really hard to go back into it unless something picks me back up. What I discovered is:

1) Break down your project into bits that excite you all the way through and imagine being excited while you're planning it. Have someone else be there with you with to plan this with you while you do it - helps with the planning. This chunking of the project itself is the battle. You beat this and you've conquered most of the problem.

2) Work on two - three manageable projects at the same time. This usually has worked for me my entire life. Alternate between them. When you get bored with one, pick the other one up and plan all of them out so you have interesting bits chunked out throughout.

3) Always work with high-energy individuals who would keep the energy up throughout the project. When you feel tired or bored, they will find a way to pick you back up again.

4) Always find projects that YOU can find some value in YOUR life.

I think "finishing" something means accepting its flaws (which will always be there) ...that makes it psychologically difficult.

I experienced this. I have a lot of started projects on my mac. Some i spent a few days on, other i spent a few months. In 2011 I started a game and that was the first project I finished (spiderdash.net). Although not really finished, but close enough. It took me over a year, and I really like it. What I realized, is that I do love the execution actually, but I am too unsure of the potential to focus on anything else, that is sales and marketing. So in the past 6 months I started building the ideas of my friends, I get them engaged because it's their ideas, and I get to do just the execution with the right amount of freedom. If you're like me, do things, but do it with someone else. The other good part about this is that you're going to create a unique mix of competencies. My friends are not developers, but they also are subject matter experts. So we are mixing 2 very different kind of expertise, and that's rich.

I'm going to finish my beer right now.

I only have starting problems. Right now my starting problem is the laundry. I abandon a lot of stuff, but only because I've built enough of it to see the flaws. I don't see that as a problem. It looks like a problem if you predicate the goal on external societal factors like "get attention/money," because a thing has to be finished (to some degree) to be part of society. But we already know that the external stuff is a poor motivator.

So stop beating yourself up about finishing. Play in society and worry about things when you feel it's necessary, but if it's your private, creative work, that is the time to be bold and selfish. Don't try to fit in for the sake of it, do things because you want them. You shouldn't care about "finished", because you should be engrossed in the act of creation.

> check the availability of urls and social media accounts

Are people really checking the availability on social media? I know that if I get the .com I want nothing else matters and the social media handles can be anything.

I know the feeling anyway! The initial excitement and the downfall.

It could have something to do with the reason you wanted to start a project in the first place.

If you start a project just to play with some new shinny framework/tech then it is likely that once the novelty wears off nothing of interest would remain.

If however you start a project because you are excited about some product vision that doesn't already exist or not in the form you've envision then the drive to bring that idea/vision to fruition can be a powerful motivator.

I wrote a blog post on this matter some time back: http://colabopad.blogspot.com/2009/12/on-joys-of-creativity-...

I struggle with this too, my github/bitbucket is a barren wasteland of half finished products. I believe that its fully a mindset thing and realize that success is not an accident nor some ephemeral spark of genius. Success is a a choice, every day.

I find this YT video on Steph Curry to be an amazing story of how success is built by they choices we make every day.


'Are the habits you have for today on par with the dreams you have for tomorrow?' Not yet... but its getting there.

After working at a startup I started to not feel so bad about this. And/or I set my sights lower as far as putting in all required features, but putting higher stress on actually delivering what's important, and polish.

For instance, I made a podcast downloader as a Haskell learning project. I haven't goften around to making it delete old files. Meh. The interface is good, it is reliable and fast. I'll just clean it out manually now and then. Or maybe get to it later if I feel like it. A few years ago this might have been hanging over my head as a failure.

I know exactly where you're coming from. In my studies I've found this behavior common amongst people that are INTJs (including myself). I would comically refer to myself as a serial project starter. I finally realized the pattern of getting all excited, pushing out a lot of code, and then abandoning the project a month in long before it's done. Launching my site yesterday was a relief to finish a project and push it out for the world to see. Even if nobody uses it I'm glad that I finished something.

I finally managed to finish one! http://www.youshouldbuythese.com

I think the secret to a successful side-project is deciding on an MVP that can be built in a single weekend. I've found that I'm also much more likely to keep iterating on a project if it's already in a 'finished' state.

I seem to run out of steam or lost interest in my more ambitious side-projects, where working for a whole weekend will only get you 10% closer to a finished product.

I signed in and I got

an editor I own a book I own another book I own the newer version of a phone I used to own (had s3, got s4)

a mouse I am going to consider buying a keyboard that probably would have been my choice if I didn't get a kinesis

nicely done.

I started to read this article, but I gave up about half way through.

Up until what part did

For me gamification works. I'm a sucker for the stats Github can display for a project. And keeping that streak going.

I've started to throw all my embarrasing, childish project onto github. If someone files a comment regarding how bad something is - great, then I have something concrete to fix.

And having a lot of projects open means there is always something easy to fix to keep the streak going. Suddenly projects move forward, albeit one small commit at a time.

This way I have actually completed more projects in years.

I did that for my Open Source stuff, I stopped at 164 days streaking. Maybe I should take that up for private projects.

I agree with advice that you should document your idea in your notebook, but don't put any immediate effort into implementing it. The ideas you keep coming back to are the ones that you're truly interested in ... and yet you still have to be careful that those are viable ideas.

In any case, rushing after each new idea is a great way to spend time, but you need that time to be executing on the few ideas you actually choose to pursue.

Nobody ever finishes anything. Have you ever heard about a finished project? Linus Torvalds hasn't "finished" Linux yet. But it's certainly out there — it's alive!

I don't think "man, I'm so far from being finished." That's just a demotivating way to see your project. The big milestone is having something that's useful enough for people to be interested in, no?

I think the author meant to reach version 1.0 of a project or at least have a fully working prototype.

Most projects die during the creation of the outer scaffolding without much of the envisioned functionality in place.

Sadly this is why employers and early investors give preference to Ivy League graduates. That's likely because the programs ensure graduates are most likely to push the bar higher and achieve. But those who make the exception list (achievers non-league) turn out to be even stronger achievers because their determination comes from deep within rather than from training.

Disclosure: I'm not a leaguer.

Same way. I'm a 30%'er. I'll do the name, branding, front end mockups... but then I'll lose it. I wont want to dive into the back and write any backend or server code.

That's why you need a team. Everyone has optimistic days and pessimistic days. On a good team you all wont have them at exactly the same time. You're team will push you through and help you finish.

To further illustrate the benefit of a team... I'm exactly the opposite. I dive right into the backend stuff... APIs, database schema, etc, and tack just enough UI on the front end to make it usable (Name? Branding? That can all come later...(and never does))

This article gave me idea for a new project. Yes, it's all clear in my head and I have to start working on it right now and abandon all other projects.

A site where you take responsibility for finishing your project. If you don't, you will pay heavy price. Lets say we will spam your inbox with a thousands of letters that remind you of your promises.

I've finished something before. It pays back somehow.

But now I barely working on anything. I admit I don't like any work at all. Working for Google or SpaceX? No.

I think we want to finish something because we are not satisfied with our current life. If you feel your current status is okay, it's not easy to get motived to put yourself into some extra work.

Follow me

It's why investors put so much weight on the team. Execution is 90%. We've all heard this endless times. But it really hits you in the face when you actually do a startup. A team that can't execute will probably f*ck up a great idea, whereas a team that can execute can do wonders with a mediocre idea

I no longer care about what people think. I care that I may not get enough people to think anything at all.

Excited, dive right in, run the tutorial, get to the first block, (optional - google try 1, google try 2) and yawnnnnn, next please...

This one has a reverse interest for most entrepreneurs, how do you get your product past the initial excitement and impending boredom of the customer?

I think one of the biggest things that causes is losing faith in your idea. No matter how good it is, the more you think about it without doing anything to go along with the thinking, your brain will naturally find minute flaws in the idea, making you move on.

Great ideas are like juggling clubs. You can keep two or three of them in flight if your coordination is good enough. Add more than that to your routine and you'll probably get smacked in the face.

It's the "doing things" that I have least trouble with. It's the other things, the things that he does first, that I have trouble with.

It is really motivating article and today, I am going to generate a best marketing strategy for tumblr and try to execute that. (only one as you say)...

Reminded me of this story: http://www.leanexpertise.com/TPMONLINE/articles_on_total_pro...

One day a management consultant, Ivy Lee, called on Schwab of the Bethlehem Steel Company. Lee outlined briefly his firm's services, ending with the statement: "With our service, you'll know how to manage better."

The indignant Schwab said, "I'm not managing as well now as I know how. What we need around here is not more "knowing" but more doing, not knowledge but action; if you can give us something to pep us up to do the things we ALREADY KNOW we ought to do, I'll gladly listen to you and pay you anything you ask."

"Fine", said Lee. "I can give you something in twenty minutes that will step up your action and doing at least 50 percent".

"O.K.", said Schwab. "I have just about that much time before I must leave to catch a train. What's your idea?"

Lee pulled a bland 3x5 note sheet out of his pocket, handed it to Schwab and said: "Write on this sheet the six most important tasks you have to do tomorrow". That took about three minutes. "Now", said Lee, "number them in the order of their importance". Five more minutes passed. "Now", said Lee, "put this sheet in you pocket and the first thing tomorrow morning look at item one and start working on it. Pull the sheet out of your pocket every 15 or 20 minutes and look at item one until it is finished. Then tackle item two in the same way, then item three. Do this until quitting time. Don't be concerned if you only finished two or three, or even if you only finish one item. You'll be working on the important ones. The others can wait. If you can't finish them all by this method, you couldn't with any other method either, and without some system you'd probably not even decide which are most important".

"Spend the last five minutes of every working day making out a 'must' list for the next day's tasks. After you've convinced yourself of the worth of this system have your men try it. Try it out as long as you wish and then send me a check for what YOU think it's worth".

The whole interview lasted about twenty-five minutes. In two weeks Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 - a thousand dollars a minute. He added a note saying the lesson was the most profitable from a money standpoint he had every learned. Did it work? In five years it turned the unknown Bethlehem Steel Company into the biggest independent steel producer in the world; made Schwab a hundred million dollar fortune, and the best known steel man alive at that time.

I was curious about Ivy Lee [1]; some interesting tidbits:

> he was retained by John D. Rockefeller Jr to represent his family and Standard Oil, ("to burnish the family image"), after the coal mining rebellion in Colorado known as the "Ludlow Massacre". Upton Sinclair dubbed him "Poison Ivy" after Lee tried to send bulletins saying those that died were victims of an overturned stove, when in fact they were shot by the Colorado militia.

> Lee espoused a philosophy consistent with what has sometimes been called the "two-way street" approach to public relations, in which PR consists of helping clients listen as well as communicate messages to their publics. In practice, however, Lee often engaged in one-way propagandizing on behalf of clients despised by the public.

> Shortly before his death in 1934, the US Congress had been investigating his work in Nazi Germany on behalf of the controversial company IG Farben.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivy_Lee

Great story. I'm off to find me some index cards!

This article inspired me to complete a project I started halfway through last year.

Very good read!

Is it awful that I didn't finish reading his post?

Awful that what? I didn't even make it to the end of your c

What does "anyth" mea

"Real artists ship."

great timely post! thank you !

You an me b

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact