Life hack request: I want to want to work.

post by DanielLC · 2013-06-11T19:41:01.252Z · score: 6 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 53 comments

I have a master's project I'm having trouble working on. It's something I've wanted to do, and I even started working on, long before I started my master's degree. If I can't even enjoy that, then I'm doomed to spend eight hours a day doing something I hate for the rest of my life. Even if I manage to improve my willpower, I doubt I'll be very productive doing something I don't want to do.

Does anyone have any idea how I can enjoy working more?

53 comments

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comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-12T03:10:09.935Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Interest follows focus. You're obsessing about your lack of productivity, and so your interest shifts to productivity, and away from the material.

Focus on the material, even if you do nothing. Especially if you do nothing. Refuse to do anything. Ponder. Think. Analyze. Make plans. Try experiments. Piddle around. See what happens.

Do only and whatever interests you about the material. Refuse to work toward the goal. See how that works out. Forget about success or failure, and do what you want. Pay attention.

Go with your interest in the material, and quash thoughts of success/failure or improving productivity. Failure/success will take care of themselves.

It strikes me that this tribe, myself included, is meta compulsive, and habitually switches into meta analysis mode. Most people think too little. We think too much, spiraling off into meta levels. Do. Do not try. Just focus on the material. That will likely bring interest, as it brings questions and possible solutions.

I've been working on my car lately. I find myself compulsively wanting to work on it more. How do I fix this? How do I fix that? What could I do there? I'm trying to remind myself to spend time more productively.

The problem is, whatever we do, we could be doing something else more productive. Gotta put those meta thoughts aside if you ever want to get anything done. I think the Getting Things Done guy has a good plan in that regard - write a note, and review it at a schedule time. Don't get sidetracked now, handle that thought later.

comment by lucidian · 2013-06-13T03:30:32.353Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I cannot agree with this more strongly. I was burnt out for a year, and I've only just begun to recover over the last month or two. But one thing that speeded my recovery greatly over the last few weeks was stopping worrying about burnout. Every time I sat down to work, I would gauge my wanting-to-work-ness. When I inevitably found it lacking, I would go off on a thought spiral asking "why don't I like working? how can I make myself like working?" which of course distracted me from doing the actual work. Also, the constant worry about my burnout surely contributed to depression, which then fed back into burnout....

It took me a really long time to get rid of these thoughts, not because I have trouble purging unwanted thoughts (this is something I have extensive practice in), but because they didn't seem unwanted. They seemed quite important! Burnout was the biggest problem in my life, so it seemed only natural that I should think about it all the time. I would think to myself, "I have to fix burnout! I must constantly try to optimize everything related to this! Maybe if I rearrange the desks in my office I won't be burnt out anymore." I thought, for a long time, that this was "optimization" and "problem solving". It took a depressingly long time for me to identify it for what it really was, which is just plain old stress and worry.

Once I stopped worrying about my inability to work, it became a lot easier to work.

Of course, there's some danger here - I got rid of the worry-thoughts after I had already started to recover from burnout. They weren't necessary, and my desire to work could just take over and make me work. But if you really have no desire to work, then erasing such thoughts could just lead to utter blissful unproductivity.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-13T09:09:37.071Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It took me a really long time to get rid of these thoughts, not because I have trouble purging unwanted thoughts (this is something I have extensive practice in), but because they didn't seem unwanted. They seemed quite important! Burnout was the biggest problem in my life, so it seemed only natural that I should think about it all the time. I would think to myself, "I have to fix burnout! I must constantly try to optimize everything related to this! Maybe if I rearrange the desks in my office I won't be burnt out anymore." I thought, for a long time, that this was "optimization" and "problem solving". It took a depressingly long time for me to identify it for what it really was, which is just plain old stress and worry.

Bingo. When you have a seemingly intractable problem, always remember to ask yourself if what you're trying to do to solve the problem is making it worse. That's where intractable problems come from.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-13T09:31:45.550Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But if you really have no desire to work, then erasing such thoughts could just lead to utter blissful unproductivity.

That's still a step up from the given alternative of miserable unproductivity.

comment by SuspiciousTitForTat · 2013-06-14T04:31:43.414Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect it is possible to be blissfully improductive forever, and that thought alone can dominate my attention for weeks.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2013-06-11T20:08:58.942Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I can't say I've got a magic trick, but I do find work is more enjoyable if you get into flow, and flow (or at least the start of flow) is utterly interrupted by free access to the Internet. So the usual anti-Reddit devices might be helpful as an enjoyment hack as well as an akrasia hack.

I also find that my flow is very bad if the task at hand is something that requires my intervention every two minutes. If it requires constant concentration I'm fine; if I can look in on it every twenty or thirty minutes I'm fine because then I can manage to task-switch; but in between those is a sour spot where I can either sit and stare at the screen for a while long enough to be boring, or else go off and do something useless for what always turns out to be ten or fifteen minutes instead of the required two. And even then it's hard to get started again. So, if it's at all possible to design your workflow beforehand, you might try to avoid those check-in-two-minutes tasks, or set up three or four of them at the same time so you can context-switch effectively. I don't know if this is relevant to your project, though.

Another trick with which I've had modest success is to buy some barbells, and when I get into the two-minute-wait thing I pick them up and do some lifts instead of tabbing to the internets. That way I've got something to do while I wait, but it's not a Skinner-box thing that will suck me in for twenty minutes or more - I actually want to stop. This does require the activation energy of remembering to pick them up instead of doing the Alt-Tab which is much more engrained in my muscle memory. Of course you could just as easily do situps or pushups or something, but having a physical object is a useful reminder, or so I conjecture. At any rate I do more lifts than I did pushups when I didn't have the barbells. YMMV.

comment by Mimosa · 2013-06-11T21:36:33.035Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Have you tried using the LessWrong Study Hall? They do pomodoros (25 minutes of work with 5 minutes break or 50 minutes work with 10 minutes break). YMMV, but I found that it helped motivate me, when I would otherwise be unmotivated. The five or ten minutes between pomodoros is fun, and while in a pomodoro, you are working with other people, so you have that sense of solidarity.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-11T22:43:10.528Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I bookmarked it. I'll probably check it out soon.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2013-06-11T23:11:32.058Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'll probably check it out soon.

Coming from someone who just asked about ways to overcome procrastination, this made me quite literally laugh out loud. :)

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-12T00:18:59.533Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To be fair, I did manage to work for an hour without it. I haven't worked much since then, though.

comment by Mimosa · 2013-06-11T23:54:34.542Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I dare you to try it out in the next 6 hours, no excuses. :)

comment by Technoguyrob · 2013-06-11T20:12:56.314Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

See lukeprog's How to Beat Procrastination and Algorithm for Beating Procrastination. In particular, try to identify which term(s) in the equation in the latter are problematic for you, then use goal shaping to slowly modify them. (Of course, you could also realize you may not want to do this master's thesis and switch to a different problem.)

Goal shaping means rewarding yourself for successively more proximate actions to the desired goal (writing your thesis) in behavior-space. For example, rather than beating yourself up over not getting anything done today, you can practice simply opening and closing LaTeX or MatLab (or whatever you need to be doing your research), and do this for ten or twenty minutes. You then eat something you like or pump your fist in the air shouting "YES!" Once you can do this consistently, you can set a goal of writing one line of code or reading half a page. At this point, you can start exploiting the peak-end rule: start rewarding yourself for these tasks at the end rather than trying to enjoy them during the process. Soon your brain will start associating the entire experience with the reward and you will be happy to do them. YMMV.

comment by pinyaka · 2013-06-12T13:22:06.648Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For an algorithmic approach to beating procrastination, this poster may be helpful in the moment.

comment by 9eB1 · 2013-06-12T01:22:41.475Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Inspired by Nick Winter's The Motivation Hacker, what has been effective for me is sending an e-mail to three friends from separate social circles with a listing of the amount of time I worked each day, broken down by task (I clock in and clock out of each item on my todo list). I also Beemind my work hours and include a link to my Beeminder in each of the daily emails. My friends think it's fun, and even though it seems initially like it wouldn't actually make work easier, since you are relying on avoiding future feelings of guilt to motivate you, it actually does make starting work emotionally much easier. It's also fun to write a note each day to them (couple sentences, takes like 30 seconds). I also block my Internet. The key insight from The Motivation Hacker was to use overlapping commitment mechanisms to make work much easier, and I use three (Beeminder, the e-mails, and Internet blocking). Since I started this I have worked far far more hours per day, and much more emotionally easy, than I had before.

By the way, when you first contemplate writing an e-mail to your friends committing to send them a daily e-mail with your work log, you will be very scared. The reason you are scared is because you know that this will work and you'll have to keep your commitment (if telling your friends you didn't achieve a goal doesn't bother you, maybe this commitment mechanism won't work for you). This is a feature, not a bug.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-11T20:39:27.146Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Have you considered abandoning the project? No, really. It seems like a bad sign that you didn't say "I want to work." Why is this project important enough that you're willing to force yourself to enjoy it even if you currently don't?

(When I have trouble working, it usually takes the form "I have trouble starting to work without using something like Beeminder + Pomodoros, but once I start working I have no problem continuing." But it sounds like your problem may be worse than that, and if it is, I'm not convinced tricking yourself into enjoying it more is the best solution.)

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-11T21:13:00.652Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I could work as little as I need to pay for necessities and internet. Since "internet" seems to include everything I could ever possibly want, this would work great for me. However, I'm not the only one I care about. I need to be productive, because if I don't donate as much as I can to the best charity I can find, hundreds of innocents will die.

Also, this project is somewhat of a lower limit. Insomuch as there is anything productive I want to do, I want to do it. If I can't manage to do it, I can't be productive.

It seems like a bad sign that you didn't say "I want to work."

I didn't say that because, for the most part, I don't want to work. I would like to like to work, though. It would help me accomplish my goals in life, and, unlike if I did it with sheer willpower, it wouldn't come at the expense of my own happiness. Making myself like to work isn't trivial. It's not the sort of thing most people consider as something that you could do. However, I've seen guides on here for things like becoming bisexual and learning to enjoy polyamory, which seems much more impressive.

When I have trouble working, it usually takes the form "I have trouble starting to work without using something like Beeminder + Pomodoros, but once I start working I have no problem continuing."

If it's clear what I need to do, and I don't run into unforseen problems, then this is how it is. Often, I have no trouble working for an hour or so until I run into such a roadblock. Sometimes, I'm not sure what to do and I can't even start.

I'm not convinced tricking yourself into enjoying it more is the best solution.

Why not? If I enjoyed it more, I would have less trouble working on it. It's not like it's not something that can be enjoyed. People have fun working on productive things all the time. I've had fun working on productive things. It's just that it never seems to last very long.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-12T10:17:29.232Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I need to be productive, because if I don't donate as much as I can to the best charity I can find, hundreds of innocents will die.

Ah. We have a motivation!

Do you expect that completing this project will get you money to donate immediately? Or is it one step in a long process that will someday result in doing paid work for money, so you can someday donate money and save lives? If it's the latter, it's easy for me to understand why you're frustrated. You're (faced with the prospect of) putting all this effort into something and getting (what feels like) absolutely nothing for it. Of course you're having trouble wanting to do it!

If it's clear what I need to do, and I don't run into unforseen problems, then this is how it is. Often, I have no trouble working for an hour or so until I run into such a roadblock. Sometimes, I'm not sure what to do and I can't even start.

Sounds like you're taking on a difficult project, then, or at least one that's difficult for you. Doing an activity that requires creativity, such as writing or programming, tends to be much harder than doing something you can reduce to a series of habits. Solving a cubic equation symbolically is easy if you can look up the cubic formula, but deriving the formula on your own is nearly impossible. When I've had writer's block, standard advice such as "write an outline" is useless, because if I could have written an outline, I wouldn't have been stuck in the first place. The hard part of writing isn't what happens when a writer is typing, it's what happens while a writer is staring at a blank screen "doing nothing".

Anyway, the best productivity/motivation hack I can offer is this:

Don't work alone.

Get yourself a partner and work together with that person. If you get stuck, maybe your partner won't be, and you'll probably get much less frustrated with the work itself. You'll also keep each other on track, too. This can backfire if you start fighting with your partner, but overall I find myself becoming much more capable of doing things when I'm doing them with someone else.

comment by SuspiciousTitForTat · 2013-06-14T04:42:56.125Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect working with someone only works when the someone you work with is goal driven by a goal that matters at least a little bit to you. I have no one who shares my goals enough to both 1) want to work alongside me 2) be among those whom I'd have working alongside, if given a chance.

BTW my goals can 90% be achieved alone in the sense of without a partner, but not in the sense of without a motivational human driving force.

comment by savageorange · 2013-06-12T13:08:57.490Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However, I've seen guides on here for things like becoming bisexual and learning to enjoy polyamory, which seems much more impressive.

It does? You mean http://lesswrong.com/lw/453/procedural_knowledge_gaps/3i49 and http://lesswrong.com/lw/79x/polyhacking/ ?

Personally, an asexuality hack would impress me the most. But I think that may be beyond possibility, barring drugs. :)

Sometimes, I'm not sure what to do and I can't even start.

The trick is just to start anyway, unless this is prohibitively expensive; things start falling into place after enough steady work on a single problem. I like this saying to remind me of this:

Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it. -- "the cult of done manifesto" (here)

It's like 'the fact that you haven't yet started' is a looming tyrant that you have to overthrow, and once you have, you can only then begin genuinely THINKING. It's like that often for me. But I have found that with practice this effect is reduced.

comment by SuspiciousTitForTat · 2013-06-14T04:49:00.987Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect, about the bissexuality hack, that just going there and kissing a non bearded guy works faster, and only if that doesn't do the trick one should start using slowmotion behaviorism.

comment by savageorange · 2013-06-15T02:01:59.103Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Totally, Now if only there were an analogous method to go from bi to asexual.

(BTW an inbetween way re: sexuality might be to imagine yourself in that situation, in detail -- make a detailed fantasy going into everything that could happen, deliberately forcing yourself to let the whole thing pan out before you let yourself switch to another train of thought. I've used this to mitigate excessive aversion and excessive attraction in the past.)

comment by drethelin · 2013-06-12T18:13:04.863Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The most wellknown and effective asexuality hack is to hack your balls off.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-11T20:09:57.817Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Two things work for me:

1) Cut superstimulus, which probably includes much of the internet, video games if you play them, etc. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to work to just manage these things, because the issue isn't the time you spend on them, but the pleasure they produce. For me at least, this includes LW.

2) Talk about your work, both with people who understand the field, and those that don't. Explaining your work in terms laypeople can understand often involves explaining why it's interesting or important, and it's good to go over these reasons.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-11T20:20:25.928Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Cut superstimulus

What exactly does that leave?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-11T20:54:13.473Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the work. It sucks. It sucks for weeks. But eventually things reset pleasurewise.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-11T21:02:19.080Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I have the kind of willpower necessary to pull that off.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-11T21:28:39.694Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Nor do I! Which is why I cancel my internet subscription when necessary. It's super inconvenient, but I haven't found a way to solve this problem otherwise.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that I don't have a hack. In my experience, pleasures and pains are very hard to move around as an adult. But the danger you describe in your OP is very, very serious (one I face as well), and so it seems to me to be worth extraordinary measures. But I'm eagerly reading for any easier method.

comment by BenLowell · 2013-06-11T23:00:09.399Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would write down your beliefs about working, and then analyze them. The goal should be to identify false and unhelpful beliefs and then find things that you can replace them with. Your basic beliefs about how the working world works will be a much better psychology base for other skills like beating procrastination or improving willpower. Read books or listen to things that will replace your old beliefs.

One thing that is an important part of procrastination is anxiety that is often related to feeling like your work is part of your self-worth, and so by not working you feel bad.

If you aren't getting anywhere, then you may want to allow yourself to read some procrastination/self help books. For me back when I was depressed at one point I thought "hey, if I'm not going to do anything but sit in my room and watch videos, I guess I'll watch these positive psychology videos". That was a pretty awesome choice. Summaries that other's have posted are good for references, but I get much more out of reading books, where I have more time to make connections and figure out how something would fit into my life.

Also, pay a visit to a counselor, or get a free consultation (E.Y's partner Erin does productivity related counseling). Since you are in school this is probably cheap, and a good counselor is worth quite a bit.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-06-11T20:14:01.658Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(1) Identify some reward, like a type of candy, that merely thinking about consuming triggers the pleasure centers of your brain. (2) Set a 25 minute or so timer. Setting the timer will be your cue. (3) When the timer is on just work on your project. (4) If you succeed in just doing the project when the timer is on take your reward immediately after the timer goes off. (5) At various times during the day think about how your cue eventually results in the reward.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-11T21:19:47.762Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Identify some reward, like a type of candy

I have an internet connection. With it, I've surrounded myself with superstimuli. What could I possibly offer myself as a reward that's better than what I'll have if I stop working?

comment by James_Miller · 2013-06-11T21:28:25.073Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The reward doesn't have to be better, just different. Because of (5) your brain will be giving the chosen reward more prominence. Also, you could pick the best superstimuli you now have and consume it only as the reward. Finally, the reward won't be the only reason you work on the project, rather it will be an additional reason and so the reward, by itself, doesn't have to beat out all other superstimuli.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-11T21:36:05.046Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The best superstimuli are the ones that are scarce. I can only reward myself with reading the new Drowtales comic once a day. Still, that's once more than I do now, and I read a lot of webcomics.

I have a rss feeds to tell me when webcomics updated. I need it with the ones that don't update regularly. If I want to use this method, I'm going to have to get over whatever OCD impulse is forcing me to check every update as soon as possible.

I can apparently just hide the rss button. Doing things the easy way is awesome.

comment by gwern · 2013-06-11T22:03:14.610Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You could try using Archive Binge to moderate consumption of webcomics.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-16T00:51:13.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well what precisely do you dislike about what you're working on? If it is something external like the thought of failure, that might be solvable by some of the techniques others have mentioned here.

But a contrarian viewpoint: has it occurred to you that this project may be something that you thought you wanted to do, but never in fact actually wanted to do? Maybe you liked the thought of having done it, or maybe it was ok when you started it but now you don't like the meat of it.

And if is true that if you do not want to do this, that you will hate working in this field... perhaps you should reconsider fields. Usually attempts to change what you want are not successful.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-16T02:35:49.888Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well what precisely do you dislike about what you're working on?

I just get bored after a while. Unless I'm in a slump, in which case I get bored immediately. I'm often in a slump.

If it is something external like the thought of failure,

It's definitely not that.

Perhaps the problem is more the lack of the thought of success. I tend towards living in the moment. It's not about the destination, it's about the journey. If I get bored of the journey, I stop. I do tend to work harder at the beginning, when I'm thinking about how awesome the end result would be.

has it occurred to you that this project may be something that you thought you wanted to do, but never in fact actually wanted to do?

If I had a magical butt tattoo, this wouldn't be a problem.

If this isn't it, how would I go about finding my special talent?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-16T03:31:24.404Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, there's no simple answer to finding your talent. Because really it's about finding that talent which you are also motivated to do. And the motivation can come from a mix of places: both the use of the talent itself and other rewards (like money) it brings. Lots of trial and error and talking to people and research and thought is the basic approach.

But before taking that drastic step, you might want to also examine a bunch of other things. Like are there other things going in your life that are draining your energy? Are your other needs (e.g. needs for relationship, sleep, hydration, etc.) being met? How have you felt about your other work in this master's program? How are your relationships with your peers and teachers? Any of these could affect your motivation.

You might want to also talk to people in the field and do some research to figure out whether this project really is representative of the work that you'd do on graduation. Often classwork has very little relationship to real-world work. So it might be the case that you'd love the actual career you'd get, but that you just have to drag yourself through a few classes to get there. And if necessary, you might just want to do mediocre work on this assignment. Allow yourself to be mediocre. Get a B, or heck, even a C. No big deal. That's all that, under the circumstances, you may be capable of for this class. You gotta realize your limitations sometimes -- and a limitation of motivation is just as powerful as a limitation of intelligence or talent.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2013-06-14T01:24:58.257Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If it's a question of short term motivation to finish grinding through a project, the answer is: "Use stimulants".

If it's a question of long term motivation...you might want to re-evaluate whether you actually prefer doing this, or are getting hung up on the notion that you aught to prefer this.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-14T04:51:55.886Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

While I can do fine without doing this specific project, my problem is doing anything productive in general. I need to work to support myself. I need to work to support those who cannot support themselves.

I don't actually like doing this. The issue isn't that I think I ought to. It's that I think I can. I've enjoyed programming in the past. I've spent a week doing almost nothing but eating sleeping and programming, entirely for my own enjoyment. As I am now, I dislike doing anything productive. If I can't change, I'm doomed to have a job I hate. If I can enjoy it though, I can have a good life.

comment by Dahlen · 2013-06-15T00:51:16.377Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well then do something you enjoy that's not productive right now, but can become so if you try enough to raise your skill at it. Every ability I can boast of so far has been picked up along the way as I was avoiding tasks I ought to have worked on in favor of leisure activities that still required some sort of skill to be performed well. Even procrastination can be useful if your chosen method of procrastinating earns you abilities for which someone, somewhere is willing to pay you.

That is, as long as you don't refuse to enjoy something on the grounds that it might turn out to be lucrative one day, and therefore it's not proper enjoyment.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-15T01:40:36.587Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not that I'm not skilled at the things I like. It's that the stuff I want to do is stuff like reading and playing videogames. It's not something you can feasibly make a living doing. Also, I'm pretty sure that the few actual jobs there are in areas like that still end up pretty unpleasant.

comment by Dahlen · 2013-06-15T02:06:25.146Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not that I'm not skilled at the things I like.

Huh. I never doubted that for one second, nor said anything about it.

It's that the stuff I want to do is stuff like reading and playing videogames. It's not something you can feasibly make a living doing. Also, I'm pretty sure that the few actual jobs there are in areas like that still end up pretty unpleasant.

Oh. Oh, it makes sense now. Well, to tell you the truth, I too started with reading and playing videogames, and I've progressed to writing and making stuff for videogames. Low entry barriers to my respective means of expression helped a lot, too. Do you have any sort of hobby that you'd like to take to the next level, so to speak?

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-15T03:34:04.226Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've tried writing, but I can never get more than a few pages. I can come up with good ideas, but I'll never be able to write the requisite million words before I can get to the good writing.

As for making stuff for videogames, that's pretty much what this project is. I'm making a graphics program for non-euclidean geometry. Imagine portal, but with portals that look like this, or at least they would if you embedded them in four-dimensional space and looked at a cross-section, and several other interesting defects in space.

I've also tried modeling. I've had some fun with it with POV-Ray, but I never got the hang of Blender.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2013-06-14T19:41:52.224Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't actually like doing this. The issue isn't that I think I ought to. It's that I think I can.

What I'm hearing is that you don't enjoy "work" in general, but you need a way to support yourself and you think this is the least unpleasant job - correct?

I've enjoyed programming in the past. I've spent a week doing almost nothing but eating sleeping and programming, entirely for my own enjoyment. As I am now, I dislike doing anything productive

So...why is that? Was it always that way, or did something make you that way? Do you just have a lack of motivation for non-interesting things in general?

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-15T01:44:40.539Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What I'm hearing is that you don't enjoy "work" in general, but you need a way to support yourself and you think this is the least unpleasant job - correct?

Correct.

So...why is that?

I don't know.

Do you just have a lack of motivation for non-interesting things in general?

I'm not motivated to do most things, if that's what you mean. Something being interesting can be a motivation. It doesn't seem like it's motivating me to do this project right now though.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2013-06-15T15:36:41.920Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You didn't answer

Was it always that way, or did something make you that way?

If this is an enduring trait for you, the way I see it you have two options:

1) Treat it as a disorder - go to a psychologist, let them test for ADHD, schizoid, anhedonia, and other motivation effecting disorders. There are lots of relatively safe drugs that can give you motivation. If you've got some sort of ambition in programming or a similarly taxing field, this is probably the best route.

2) Learn to live with less money, and find a way to not "work". There are multiple ways to do this - the hard way is to be self-employed and/or attempt to create some passive income streams. If you're an "I'm only motivated when its fun and self initiated" kind of person, this could work.

An easier route is to do something a bit less intellectual than programming. If you want to get low-effort money, you can seriously do better than programming. Lots of jobs require very little in the way of motivation. Walking people's dogs pays surprisingly well if you live in the right area, since you can charge a reasonable rate per dog, and then walk a bunch of dogs at once. If you're physically adept, you can get a job which forces motivation by putting you in high-pressure situation - firefighting, ER, etc.

Look for jobs which are physical, or jobs which involve bursts of activity with lots of waiting in between, or jobs which allow you to passively sit at a desk and read comics or something until a customer comes.

Programming and similar "creative" jobs require a person to operate largely on their own initiative - if you don't have much initiative, why not just do something else? Just because you're smart doesn't mean you have to do an intellectual job.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-15T21:59:23.979Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't seem like it was always that way. At least, I've spent large amounts of time on a single project before. I do tend to get very unproductive during Summer.

1) Treat it as a disorder

I have Asperger's Syndrome.

2) Learn to live with less money, and find a way to not "work".

I plan on being a professional donor. I can live with less money. Unfortunately, there are others who will not live if I have less money.

Just because you're smart doesn't mean you have to do an intellectual job.

I have some resistance to doing a job like that. I think it's because I just want to create something. Somehow, this doesn't seem to do a lot to translate into me actually creating something.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2013-06-16T00:03:04.654Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Depending on the extent which you are willing to tamper with yourself to upregulate motivation, here are some things to look into:

adderall, ritalin, vyvanse, modafinil, nicotine, caffeine, piracetam, CDPCholine...

comment by moridinamael · 2013-06-12T02:40:30.309Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I only recently started using this one but it's worked well for me. I adapted it from Feeling Good which seems to be well-regarded around here. The idea is to mentally note, or better yet write down, how you expect to feel after doing a task, or obeying a time-wasting compulsion. You will begin to notice patterns, such as the following: you expect some task to be exceedingly painful and boring, make a note of that expectation, finally get around to doing it, and note how you actually felt about it. For myself, I usually find that I get a lot more satisfaction out of even menial tasks than I expect to a priori.

Conversely, note before indulging in a compulsion (for me, checking Facebook or lesswrong on my phone) how much enjoyment you expect to get out of it, and note how much enjoyment you actually got out of it. This surprisingly simple technique has significantly curtailed my dicking-around-on-the-Internet time because I am able to viscerally understand that I won't a actually get anything out of it, that I won't enjoy it any more than I would enjoy practically anything else.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-12T03:59:10.052Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When I first started working today, it was more boring and difficult than I expected. It seemed to get better after an hour or so. That is, I stopped working after an hour or so, but I've been working on-and-off since then without having nearly as much trouble. It's not that I haven't been working continuously. I was fighting impulses to stop from seconds after I started working before. I think it's just that I was less used to working.

Also, I've very much noted that, when my productivity is lowest, I don't get much enjoyment out of anything. At that point, I don't feel like I can do anything productive at all.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-11T20:40:53.288Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have a master's project I'm having trouble working on. It's something I've wanted to do

What has changed since?

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-11T21:01:36.343Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I rarely complete projects. To some extent, I shift which project I want to do the most, but the big problem is that most of the time my productivity hovers around zero. I have something I want to do, but I rarely do it. Even when I do work on it, I don't usually spend much time.

One interesting thing I've noticed is that when I have stuff I have to do, like school, I stay more productive. During summer, I have more free time. The amount of my own work I get done seems to stay about constant.

I think when I'm most productive is when I gain free time. It takes about a week for my productivity to drop, so I can get more done in that time frame.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-12T03:50:44.716Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Somebody told you enjoyment was a big part of your life. Did you believe them? Go visit people with profound physical or mental problems and tell them about your hard time enjoying what they would give anything to do even in utter agony. If that doesn't work, try remembering you are dying. Perspective and mortality are my life hacks.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-12T04:04:27.411Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Go visit people with profound physical or mental problems and tell them about your hard time enjoying what they would give anything to do even in utter agony.

They'd give anything to do it because they'd enjoy it, which is pretty much what I'm asking to learn how to do.

If that doesn't work, try remembering you are dying.

In my experience, a sense of inevitable doom doesn't help me work.