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How To Get Out of Developer's Block? 601

Midnight Thunder writes "I have spent the past six months working on a software project, and while I can come up with ideas, I just can't seem to sit down in front of the computer to code. I sit there and I just can't concentrate. I don't know whether this is akin to writer's block, but it feels like it. Have any other Slashdotters run into this and if so how did you get out of it? It is bothering me since the project has ground to a halt and I really want to get started again. I am the sole developer on the project, if that makes a difference."
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How To Get Out of Developer's Block?

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  • by loteck ( 533317 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:09PM (#28474153) Homepage
    Get to work. Guess why it's called work?
    • by Vectronic ( 1221470 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:26PM (#28474461)

      Wikipedia says:
      "Weorc or Work (Anglo-Saxon leader). Gave name to Workington or 'Weorc-inga-tun' which means the 'tun' (settlement) of the 'Weorcingas' (the people of Weorc or Work)"

      Merriam-Webster says:
      Middle English werk, work, from Old English werc, weorc; akin to Old High German werc work, Greek ergon, Avestan varÉ(TM)zem activity
      before 12th century

      If you know anything further, please inform.

    • by Photo_Nut ( 676334 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:34PM (#28474591)

      Your motivation to work on something has to come from within. That being said, if you are in a depressed mood (understandable in these times), then you are less likely to be productive. I suggest going out for a run, getting your blood pumping, etc. Sometimes caffeine helps. Music helps. Minimizing distractions helps - web browser, cell phone, etc.

      One thing you can do if you want motivation is to reward completing the boring or hard tasks with easier, more fun tasks. Mix up the hard problems you have to solve with minor annoyances. That way, if you can't concentrate on a hard problem, you can at least make some progress. Making progress is the way to get through the doldrums.

      Go to bed early, next to a window facing East. Wake up in sunlight.

      You might also take the approach that video games do - track the work you do. Reward yourself for making milestones.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "I have spent the past six months working on a software project, and while I can come up with ideas, I just can't seem to sit down in front of the computer to code. I sit there and I just can't concentrate.

          What a coincidence!

          I have spent the past six months working on a software project, and while I can come up with ideas, I CAN sit down in front of the computer and I CAN concentrate.

        Now, if I only knew how to code!

      • by OldSoldier ( 168889 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @11:44PM (#28477089)

        Many years ago I had a conversation with an author friend who mentioned that by the time she gets to writing chapter 11 in a book she begins to lose interest in completing it. Something along the lines of being far enough into the book to have put a good piece of work in and are bored with the prospect of what lies ahead and not far enough into it that the end is in sight. She mentioned that she just needs to power through those spots. Eventually you'll move through it and the work will become self fulfilling again.

        I think that book-writing metaphor applies here too.

        If this is essentially your first project (or your first solo project) you may not believe there's an joyful end to where you currently are, but if you really believed in what you were doing when you started you'll get that old feeling again when you start to get closer to the end. So ... yea... get back to work.

        BTW, my author friend didn't refer to this as 'writers block' because that term applies to a loss of ideas and inability to figure out what to write next. Her "chapter-11" concern and what appears to be your concern too, is an easier one of lacking motivation; you know what to do you just don't want to do it. Now... if you got a thorny problem and don't know how to get started working on it then ... that's closer to the classical writers block problem.

        • by nacturation ( 646836 ) * <> on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:08AM (#28477679) Journal

          Chapter 11? That's kind of like a bankruptcy in motivation.

        • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @06:30AM (#28479719)

          Many years ago I had a conversation with an author friend who mentioned that by the time she gets to writing chapter 11 in a book she begins to lose interest in completing it. Something along the lines of being far enough into the book to have put a good piece of work in and are bored with the prospect of what lies ahead and not far enough into it that the end is in sight. She mentioned that she just needs to power through those spots. Eventually you'll move through it and the work will become self fulfilling again.

          If you "power through" it despite lack of inspiration, you risk writing a book that becomes boring and uninspired after chapter 11. Has she considered writingt books with 10 chapters instead? A lot of writers write books that are way too thick and get boring halfway through. Better write only the bits for which you have inspiration and skip the rest entirely, IMO. You don't need to tell everything that happens, just the bits that are fun to read.

          Terry Pratchett (an author who doesn't use chapters at all) says there's no such thing as writer's block. There's only bad writers.

          I'm afraid this advice doesn't translate well to programming projects, however. You can't skip bits of code and let the end user imagine them. Although you might skip over the boring bits of code and focus on the fun bits first, and later return to the boring bits when everything else is done, because otherwise it just won't work. Doing boring stuff that's essential to get the fun stuff working isn't nearly as bad as doing boring stuff that won't do anything meaningful until I've gotten around to the fun stuff later.

      • by Samah ( 729132 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @02:12AM (#28478115)

        You might also take the approach that video games do - track the work you do. Reward yourself for making milestones.

        * Midnight Thunder has earned the achievement [Installing Windows]!

      • WAY more. (Score:5, Informative)

        by El Jynx ( 548908 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @04:25AM (#28479039)

        There's, indeed, a LOT more to it than that. There are any number of things that may be blocking your creativity, but from the description I suspect burnout and/or depression. If you've been working a lot or are under a lot of stress (kids, too many hours, responsible position, people complaining to you a lot) your mind may simply be locked up. This is a panic reaction, a last defense mechanism for a mind running with hormonal imbalances. It will mean your cortisol is too high early on, then drops off at the time you need it most. Your body's stress response is worn out and depleted and needs time to regenerate. That's why burn-out victims are usually told to go home and do nothing for a year. It takes a LOT of time.

        Ask yourself the following questions:

        - Do I drink more than two cups of coffee every day? Too much caffeine will elevate cortisol and make you more sensitive to stress. Cut down on coffee and take Ginseng supplements - this will help your body restore its decreased cortisol capacity. I personally like green tea with ginseng. It takes a bit of time to switch, just do it gradually and you won't run into problems. Try to cut smoking and alcohol as well as much as you can.

        - Can I work for a few hours only, and then feel like my mind "locks up"? This is definitely a stress sign. If that's the case, take a 10 minute break for a walk OUTSIDE, EVERY HOUR. (I mean it! I had the same problem, and an external management bureau with lots of hands-on experience gave us these tips, and they worked.) This will help you de-stress and over longer time will help reset your body's hormone system. Also: cut away any other stress factors. Are you busy two days a week helping your kids' soccer teams do their paperwork? Let it go. This will be difficult if you are indeed tottering near burnout - it makes you more emotional since your "logical" brain is less active - but it is vital. Also, do you jump out of your skin every time your mobile phone rings? Also a very strong indicator of stress. Be wary and get to know your own fear signs. If it is all too much, consider if you can let it all go and rest for at least half a year. The project will still be there then, or if you are overtaken by competition, there will be other projects. Rule one of life: we all want to feel good. Only then can we help others and be productive. If you're living only for others and don't feel good doing it, something is wrong. Some people - especially those with a large sense of responsibility - are extremely sensitive to stress, and you don't know for certain until you have crashed through and are well beyond your limits. That's what it took for me to realise something was wrong: I could barely do the dishes without being told how to do it. Don't let it get to that.

        - Do I feel miserable? If so, that might indicate not only burnout, but also dysthemia/depression. GET PROFESSIONAL HELP. And I mean a real shrink, not just a psychologist. He can temporarily set you up on medication which will help you recuperate; after some time you can then build down and get rid of the meds once you're standing on your own feet again. But for the time being, medication is probably essential as a crutch. Note: it is of VITAL importance that you find one you're comfortable with; if you don't feel OK with the shrink after a few sessions, thank him/her and just tell them that you don't feel allright and try another one. It can take a few tries to find the right person.

        - Do I sleep enough? If you're not getting at least 6 hours of clean sleep, you're probably stressed or burned out. I remember a "burning" feeling from that period and only sleepint 2-3 hours a night.

        - Do I have a real work place, and are there distractions? I ran my own company for seven years, and in the beginning I worked from home. In doing so I could never really "get away" from it. Once I had an office outside the door it made a real difference: I went to the office to work, and psychologically that also did a trick - it set me into "work mode". I left the browse

    • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:45PM (#28474767) Homepage

      "Shut down your web browser", especially that part that involves reading or...posting/submitting articles to Slashdot.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:11PM (#28474201)

    Mhmmm.... get a job as a project manager ?

  • by mtrachtenberg ( 67780 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:11PM (#28474209) Homepage

    Sit yourself down for a half hour, promising yourself that at the end of the half hour, you'll get up and take a break.


    Expand to 45 minutes. Repeat.


    Oh, and stop whining.

  • by basementman ( 1475159 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:12PM (#28474219) Homepage

    LSD and Weed, just stock up on Doritos and Grateful dead CDs beforehand.

  • Coder's block (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:12PM (#28474227) Journal

    I take a walk if it's one of those small bugs that holds you up for days and then turns out to be a semi colon in the wrong place.

    If I can't motivate myself to work on a particular project, I work on something similar for personal projects at home, because that's always more interesting than doing something because you have to. Once I get into it, I get little moments of inspiration like "Ah, that'd be a really useful feature to use at work." That makes the work more interesting and there are times at work when I get little moments of inspiration like "Ah, that'd be really useful to use on my home project."

    • What kind of compiler are you using that doesn't tell you that you missed a semicolon?
      • PHP. No compiler.

        • You still get the usual error referencing the line adjacent to the one you missed off the semicolon.
          Bad example I think.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        GP is probably referring to something like:

        if (x); onlyDoThisIfXIsTrue();


    • Re:Coder's block (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:25PM (#28474445) Journal

      You are a far better person than I. Ever since I took my hobby of programmer to work, I haven't been able to do it as a hobby. I get home and the last thing I was to do is look at code. I blame Scrum Logs, and crappy deadlines. I blame Scrum because it's a daily reminder of how little you did the day before and how much more crap you have to do over the next 2 weeks. In one ear you have your manager asking you what you did and what you're doing every freaking day, and in the other you have yourself pointing out that you desperately need a vacation. If I had no time-lines and could go back to pre-Scrum days, I think I'd be in a far better mood. ;)

      • Re:Coder's block (Score:5, Interesting)

        by wrook ( 134116 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @03:53AM (#28478809) Homepage

        I never really did Scrum, but on several XP teams we had daily standups in the morning. However, I *never* invited the manager. In fact, I explicitly told the manager he wasn't welcome. A standup is about communicating small important issues to the rest of the team so that they don't have to discover it themselves. For instance, "I've changed the interface to this class, so if you're going to use it, please come and talk to me." It should never, ever be about tracking progress!!!!!! In XP there is an iteration plan, in Scrum there's a backlog. Either way that document tracks progress. A manager should never, ever ask "How far are you in your task", or "Do you think you'll finish in time" or "What have you done". He can look at the plan to see what is crossed off the list (and if you're really on the ball you've got people independently verifying that the acceptance tests are acceptable). It's up to *you* to warn people if you think your task won't fit in the time remaining. Everything else can be determined by looking at the plan/backlog.

        Agile should be *easy* on you from this perspective. It's one of the reasons it's called agile. If you're not finding it this way you're doing it wrong (IMHO -- of course flame wars have been started on less). Ideally you should never talk to your manager. All information up and down the chain should be transparent. This leaves your manager free to act solely as a shit shield. Unfortunately most managers are too micro-managing to do agile properly.

    • by Max Littlemore ( 1001285 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @02:01AM (#28478033)

      Letting a semi colon hold you up for days shows that your approach to programming is half-arsed.

      Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all weak.

  • by fictionpuss ( 1136565 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:12PM (#28474235)

    ..whether because you think your project will make the world a better place or just cause you think your coding style is gonna get you laid.

    Motivate yourself - doesn't matter how or what, as long as it's something you care enough about to put ahead of other stuff you obviously find more fun. Like asking questions on Slashdot.

  • by Antidamage ( 1506489 ) * on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:12PM (#28474239) Homepage

    Break your project into manageable steps. It's the only way to tackle large, complicated tasks when you lack motivation.

    If you do enough small steps, you'll regain your enthusiasm for the project. Then you'll be back on the rails in no time.

    • Seconded, I am doing something myself at the moment, and I was like this. I have written myself a plan, and I am giving myself deadlines of when I have to get things done. After that I take a break for a couple of days.

  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:13PM (#28474251) Journal

    Sole developer is hard. There's no easy answer as people react differently.

    I'd say:

    1) Get away from the computer for a bit.

    2) Do that other project that keeps interrupting your thoughts.

    3) Sit down and work out a hard plan with deadlines. Not long term deadlines, but in the near future. If you can't do this, then maybe the project is too fuzzily defined.

    4) Do a lot more work with pencil and paper. Only use the computer for programming and post-pencil-paper documentation.

    5) Is there anything outside life that's affecting you? Afraid of zombies in red jackets dancing if you fail to finish the project? Is it actually going well, or are you unhappy with it? Ask yourself the hard questions to see if it's that. I.e., you feel it's not worth finishing the project, so you can't.

    6) It could just be your work conditions - chair, computer position, desk cleanliness. Or the people around you - interruptions, etc. Make notes of when you get interrupted, and then see what they're like at the end of the week. Like a food diary, you might be surprised.

    • by Heir Of The Mess ( 939658 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:26PM (#28474475)

      I've had this problem where I've sunk into a funk, there's a few things I did to cure it:

      - Quit coffee for a while and get your sleep patterns back to normal

      - Exercise more. Sitting at a desk I can get my breathing down to almost nothing and my pulse down to 40. Do this for a year and your body becomes inefficient at getting oxygen into your system. Exercise and stretch your lungs. I do 50 pushups a day, and jogging on the weekend and it's changed my life.

      - Once an hour move around a bit, again increasing your breathing and heart rate.

      - Try to get more sunlight in your life.

      - Stop reading slashdot for a while - it sucks the life force out of you. In fact try to cut down on tv and internet browsing and do stuff requires more active involvement.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hattig ( 47930 )

        Good advice. Good quality sleep where you're not thinking of work is great. Being a bit fit helps too. I walk a couple of miles a day, and am lucky to have a window desk so I see the sunlight. If you're in a dark office, or area of the world, then maybe invest in a lightbox. Do some gardening at the weekend as well - exercise, creative, different, sunlight and fresh air.

        Actually, before you leave for the day, write a list of what you want to do the next day. And after that, DON'T think of work until you're

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        That was a pretty depressing 'funny' mod. Looks like we have some shut-ins afraid to face facts and using mod points to change the subject.

        Getting outside and exercising will immensely improve your quality of life. Period.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Exercise more. Sitting at a desk I can get my breathing down to almost nothing and my pulse down to 40. Do this for a year and your body becomes inefficient at getting oxygen into your system. Exercise and stretch your lungs. I do 50 pushups a day, and jogging on the weekend and it's changed my life.

        I live in the American Gardens Building on W. 81st Street on the 11th floor. My name is Patrick Bateman. I'm 27 years old. I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nschubach ( 922175 )

      #1 If you can, take breaks every 30-45 min. Just 5 minutes. Actually get up. Walk out of the office, down the hall and back.

      #2 I agree with. It always helps me to work on something else, even for a half hour. Before you do it though, pick a class or a page of code that needs work and think about it (don't code, just think) and then start that other project. Sometimes it helps to put the ideas in your head and let your brain subconsciously multi-task. (like remember the name of an artist that was on t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      2) Do that other project that keeps interrupting your thoughts.

      Maybe we should set up a developer exchange program for open source programs, like Erasmus for devs. Then the exchangees could yell at each other how lazy they are. Seriously though, this could bring some lively exchange of knowledge.

    • by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @11:07PM (#28476801)

      Sole developer is hard.

      So don't be a sole developer. Stop worrying about code, and focus on packaging your idea to 'sell' to others. Find a partner, a team, an investor, or just a friend who will be pleased to see you succeed in making your vision a reality.

      The first thing I do on most projects is find the one stakeholder who I would be most pleased to make happy. I then share all of my ideas, sketches, prototypes, etc. to this person. Usually they are just a non-techie user who gets anxious to see the final result... which in turn makes me excited to finish so I can finally show it to them.

      I guess what I am saying, is make the project bigger than you... don't be a sole developer, be a hero, be a teammate, be a friend, make someone proud... then the project isn't a chore!

  • Idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by Neil Blender ( 555885 ) <> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:13PM (#28474253)

    echo '' >> /etc/hosts

  • Drink beer (Score:5, Funny)

    by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:14PM (#28474271) Homepage

    Drink enough beer and you will wake up with the project completely finished.
    You won't remember how, plus there might be some residual traffic cones and hookers in your office.

  • Try taking 2 weeks off and going to Japan.

  • You're fired.
  • by ctrl-alt-canc ( 977108 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:15PM (#28474297)
    This will terminate your code block.
  • Don't Code, Design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fidget42 ( 538823 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:16PM (#28474309)
    Work on the software's architecture or design. Draw diagrams on how the pieces are to fit together and how data (and control) are to flow throughout the system. This lets you look at your project from a more abstract perspective and may make it easier to get motivated to code portions.
  • Both of these make me want to get back and code as soon as possible. Another idea is to stop trying to code and instead concentrate on what has inspired you in the past. Think of the possibilities! New ways to format or generate those TPS reports will have you coding again in no time!
  • by syntap ( 242090 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:16PM (#28474315)

    That has happened to me on lone-gunman projects. It is particularly troublesome when you are determining your own deadline as the writer's block feeds procrastination.

    Because this is a lone gunman project you may have an ordered list of development steps or modules to develop in your head. One thing to try would be to mix up the order of development a little in order to jump-start your brain and motivation with something different while at the same time being productive on the project.

    Or set up a development schedule with firm delivery milestones and hand it to your boss, and working against a deadline may get the brain moving.

  • by ChopsMIDI ( 613634 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:16PM (#28474319) Homepage

    Start fun and small. Do the fun stuff first, get your mind obsessing over it (sketching up your mockups, database schemas, etc), so that that's all you're thinking about, then starting the coding isn't so much of a hassle. Don't think too big off the bat, or the project will seem too daunting. Focus on getting a small prototype up and running, then once you've got that momentum, you can start adding features.

    They say to start but not finish the easy stuff at night so that when you wake up the next morning, you have the easy part to finish, which gets you started. Then, once you've got momentum, continuing on the harder stuff is easier.

    • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
      Yes, I agree. Find something that you would enjoy working on and sink your teeth into that. Once you start grinding away at that you will get rolling. Doing a throw away prototype is sometimes good to get started.
  • on Slashdot. So, you're off to a good start!

  • by ddebrito ( 33316 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:19PM (#28474367)

    Abraham Lincoln said: "If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four hours sharpening the axe".
    The same applies for building an app.
    One approach:
    Draw a schematic of data flow.
    Start thinking about data structures for your app.
    Write test cases for imaginary modules that talk to these data structures.
    Code the modules utilizing the above test cases.
    Write app code that utilized the modules.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mangu ( 126918 )

      Abraham Lincoln said: "If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four hours sharpening the axe".

      If the edge were so important, they would cut trees with razors.

      I fall more in the "agile" than in the "waterfall" methodology mindset. Usually when I start with flowcharts and schematics I get nowhere.

      For me, the way to get over the block is to write one routine that works in some small detail of the project. When I get the perfect data formatting in the gizmo function I start understanding the

  • as bullet points.
    The expand o each bullet point until you have psuedo code.
    Then call some guy in India to finish it.

  • Writer's block occurs when the stuff you're trying to write is SO BORING or otherwise uninteresting and unengaging that you, yourself don't even care about it. I've heard at least one writer say that writers block is a good thing, as it tells him when he needs to go in another direction. I would take the same approach to this situation. You've got this piece of code to write, but it's so uninteresting that you don't even care about it. The question then becomes, "Why?" Is it a feature that isn't really needed? Is it an ugly brute-force approach to a problem? Maybe it's just a piece of backend code that you don't really consider "sexy". Once you figure out why you're not interested, you can then address that problem and the coders block will fix itself.
    • Once you figure out why you're not interested, you can then address that problem and the coders block will fix itself.

      So what you're saying is I need to quit my job?

  • 3 Things (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aikiplayer ( 804569 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:23PM (#28474419)
    When I get stuck (kinda often sometimes):

    1. Find something really easy, quick, simple to do. Builds momentum. (At the end of the day, I like to leave myself something easy for the next day to get started on).

    2. Find somebody to discuss the project with. That alone will often get me going.

    3. Get more sleep. This is more of a personal thing, but I find I'm able to concentrate less effectively when not getting enough sleep.


  • It's a quick read. The main thing to do in this situation is to mull over the project and decide on the single next thing that needs to be done. Then do it.

    But if you aren't careful, you will work back too far and become overwhelmed with non-coding issues and optimize too-early. "Research version-control systems" may be important but it can just as easily be a non-productive stalling technique.

  • It invigorates the mind.
  • I've never had a problem STARTING.

    It's that last 20% of a project when I'm trying to nail down the last and hardest bugs, while the client is trying to slip in "edits" that imply major functional changes.

    That's when have to pick up my @ss with both hands and drop it in front of the keyboard.

  • I've done some simple coding projects on my own, and what I usually do is try to get a minimum level of functionality first, then add features. It helps you see your work in progress, unlike code that is useless until 100% completed.
  • Do some truth (Score:5, Insightful)

    by heretic108 ( 454817 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:30PM (#28474519)

    Sounds a lot like, deep down, you don't really want to be there, or at least you don't want to be working on that project. Are you happy working as a coder? Do you like your particular technical area? Do you truly like your colleagues? Your employer?

    Conditions such as depression not withstanding, it sounds like something deeper within you is trying to tell you something.

  • by SimonInOz ( 579741 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:35PM (#28474609)

    Doing it by yourself is, indeed, hard.

    I have done too much of this. Far too much. I need to get back to a group ... over a year away from a company, some years away from a team. My sanity is fading a bit.

    You get the following problems:

          You get lonely

          You have nobody to talk over a problem or a design with - and that's bad. You can get stuck on a stupid problem, and if you talked to someone else they'd have said "You idiot, you just need to use this widget" .. and they'd be right. This is probably the worst one

          You get very jaded. There's no competition, nor does anyone say "Well done Fred. Nice work"

          If you are working at home - the fridge is far, far too close. Nasty

          Your designs get corrupt because there's nobody charged with keeping the design and structure in shape. It's far too easy to cheat - you wrote the code, after all, why do I need encapsulation?

    What to do?

    The fridge problem takes self control, the corrupt design problem is tough, and the loneliness problem is very difficult. Take some external sport, maybe - perhaps some sort of team sport (I skate - in a team. Embarrassing for a geek perhaps, but nice to talk to people completely outside your field).
    But you do need some interaction with your peers - Slashdot is not a good way. Too introspective.

    You need a friend network, for the occasional geek chat, kick in the head, and the odd war story. Oh, and beer.

    Personally I am trying to leap back into the arm of an organisation, with teams. A difficult change, especially in the current climate, but essential for my sanity.

    So I wish you luck.
    You might try studying a completely new environment - Ruby or something, in an attempt to reinspire the child-like wonder that got you into this area. It's still there. Go for it!

  • by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:35PM (#28474611) Homepage
    I find that nothing gets me cleaning the apartment like having a project to do. And nothing gets me working on a project like having a clean apartment AND another more urgent, less appealing project to do.

    Right now, if your apartment is messy, work on your current project. Of course, instead of working the project, you'll procrastinate it by cleaning your apartment. When your apartment is clean, get yourself an urgent, unappealing project. Soon you'll be using your original project as a means of procrastinating the new one!
  • by kramulous ( 977841 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:59PM (#28474977)

    So far, I remove all technology from my life. Phone kept to essential calls/text only. Turn off (temporarily) Internet at home. Zero tv and movies. No games. Zero technology and information intake.

    I'll start to get better after a couple of days but I keep up the detox for about two weeks. Ramp up the reading, jogging, rowing, sport with mates, go for drinks.

    You'll feel better and the 'itch' to burn code will return.

  • by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @08:08PM (#28475089) Homepage
    Get yourself an enormous piece of paper (butcher paper, or something from an art store), and make a big drawing, in pencil, of the entire project and how everything will fit together. Do it at an appropriate detail level to fill a good portion of the paper.

    This has multiple benefits... it gets all your ideas written down, it gets the project organized (and helps identify potential problems before they're in code), it makes for nicely visible pieces of a larger puzzle, and, perhaps most importantly, it gets you away from the computer where you have coder's block.

    The one best piece of code I've ever written, which had all sorts of interprocess communication and synchronization problems to overcome, etc., I started with a big drawing, which lent itself very nicely to a fully pseudocoded skeleton of the program (fully doxygened and line-by-line commented before any code went in), followed by the actual code, which practically wrote itself at that point. Not only did this keep the process going, but it also helped me eliminate and compensate for a whole bunch of technical and design issues, before I had even written the code that I would have had to fix. After addressing a few rogue syntax errors, the program ran correctly the first time.

    Unfortunately, while effective, this process left me completely spent. Having written what was, by my standards, a perfect piece of code, I saw little further for me to accomplish in my career, and I was especially devastated when I saw that it was fairly likely that my contribution would not make it into the final product. A mere shell of a programmer remained, and I have steadily lost interest in programming since. I'm enrolling in graduate school for music in the fall.
  • by javabandit ( 464204 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @08:15PM (#28475175)

    As a director of a software development organization, I won't be popular for saying this. But... it is your boss' fault. Not yours.

    You simply aren't motivated. I want to slap the person somewhere in another post who said... "motivation comes from within". It *rarely* comes from within.

    When one of my managers or peers comes to me and complains about "unfocused" or "unmotivated" employees, I tell them to get off their collective ass and motivate their team or their employee. Psychologically, as an employee, you should feel driven by your surroundings to achieve a goal. That feeling should be driven by your team, your boss, your organization.

    Being "self-motivated" is the single, biggest path to burnout in existence. Don't even begin to blame yourself.

    Here is what I would recommend. Go to your manager. Tell your manager that you simply aren't feeling very motivated about the work you are doing. Have an open and honest conversation about it. You might be surprised. Your boss might actually bring some out some of the motivational mojo that you need. If your boss doesn't come through for you, then think about going to another organization.

    But don't quit programming. You probably love it and you probably are pretty decent at it. You just need to be motivated, that's all.

    • I wouldn't go so far as to blame management for motivation problems. It isn't really a dev manager's job to motivate a developer who doesn't know why they are demotivated any more than it is to be a developer's therapist. If the developer has a concrete reason (eg. "the lead is abrasive" or "the deadlines are way too unrealistic") then you can blame the manager for inaction.

      That said, perhaps the solution to this developer's motivation problems is to become a dev manager for a while. Then he'll find coding

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Too right.

      I've burned out myself during a large, sole developer project. I thought about leaving programming at the time. Tried to point out the insanity of deliverables at hand; but had a whole multi-tired management chain above me 'wishing' for some absurd counter-real truth. I crashed majorly. Took the blame. Saw a shrink. Apparently it happens to a lot of us and a huge hand in all of this is down to mis-mangement. Unreal-expectations which are out of your hand and 'seem' very end of the worldish;

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by refactored ( 260886 )
      Strange alien from deepest space...

      ...which planet are you from, and are you hiring?

  • by gringer ( 252588 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @10:13PM (#28476351)

    I'm currently having a similar problem writing my thesis. Luckily, the bit I'm onto at the moment is the "big thing" that I've been working on, but it's still hard to get cracking on writing. Here's a little snippet:

    A multi-marker approach for quantifying genetic variation has been
    demonstrated, using an ideal model population for this task. The
    benefit of using multiple markers has been previously shown by
    \citet{marchini05}, who found that a multi-marker approach will
    generate more informative results, even after considering the
    multiple-testing cost. The approach here has used a bootstrapping
    method, which may help in the removal of false positive signal that is
    common in GWAS \citep[][see]{wellcome07,healy06}.

    I've had a go at trying to think through reasons for my writing block, and have narrowed it down to the following:

    • My subject is too boring (so I end up going off on tangents and doing other unrelated things)
    • My subject is too interesting (so I end up going off on tangents and doing other related things)
    • I''m worried that my writing is too simplistic, and I'll end up putting in many things that people already know
    • I'm worried that I assume too much of my readers, and I'll end up missing out things that no one else considers to be obvious
    • I read slashdot, digg, etc, and read about interesting random stuff, taking additional time reading comments and articles
    • I read slashdot, digg, etc, and read about research-related stuff, taking additional time writing emails to my supervisors, and posts on slashdot
    • I play games too much (distracting myself too much)
    • I don't play games enough (not getting enough of a break)
    • My supervisors don't check my chapters quickly enough, so there's not much point in working on later chapters
    • My supervisors check my chapters too quickly, so I don't have time to work on other chapters
    • ...
    • Profit

    I suppose I could keep going for another hour or so, but I have a thesis to write.

  • by will_die ( 586523 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @02:42AM (#28478291) Homepage
    Take a break, holiday or vacation just get away from it all and don't bring your computers with you. The break needs to be for a min of a week and perferably longer.
    Depending on other factors you could also be suffering from burnout []
  • by CuteSteveJobs ( 1343851 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @03:07AM (#28478481)

    It's caused by one or more of the following - Doing something for too long - with a lack of support - without any likely rewards on the horizon - and with a realization what you're doing, while once seemingly important, is truly insignificant.

    Burnout is your brain telling you you're on a loser and it's time to walk away and for good reason: There are worse things than walking away from a losing proposition. If you want to push on anyway, at least learn about it. Google is probably your only friend: []"scientific+american"

  • by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:40AM (#28483561) Homepage

    Most exciting project in the world and all I could do was play solitaire. Game, after game, after game of solitaire. Why was this happening to me?

    That started a long journey of discovery. After talking to several doctors, and a shrink, I learned several things. I learned that on the Myers-Briggs scale I am an INTP, heavy, very heavy on the Introvert, light, very light on the Proceeding part. That means that being around people is stressful for me. I also learned that most programmers are INT types. Funny how that works out. I learned that I had some form of an attentional disorder. Adult men who have undiagnosed attentional disorders tend to develop depression and some form of obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders. (Programmers can really benefit from having a bit of OCD.) The doctors recommended a whole raft of different medications.

    OK, this is my story, not yours, I am just telling you what doctors told me were the cause of my developer's block (and writer's block too). They were right, but their suggested solution was wrong for me. There was one time when I was out of work for a long period of time recovering from having my ankle rebuilt that I did resort to anti-depressants. There are some very good ones that are now available cheaply as generics. They fit my unemployed budget quite nicely. But, I weened myself off of them.

    The whole process that I went through has taken more than 10 years and is on going, when you start to analyze your life you never stop.

    Eventually I started exercising. One day I gave my self a gift. I wrote it down. "I grant my self the gift of one hour per day to exercise." That was the best thing I ever did for myself. I started exercising regularly and took up a martial art. The martial art included meditation and Chi Kung training. That lead to my giving myself the added gift of 1/2 hour of meditation per day. After only a couple of months all the external symptoms went away, Internally, they are still there, but I can deal with them. I also lost 50 pounds and dropped my blood pressure. And, oh yeah, my back that had hurt for 20 years stopped hurting.

    Then, I had an accident and had to have my ankle rebuilt. I stopped exercising (hard to do when you are in deep pain and can only walk with crutches) and I stopped meditating. All the symptoms came back. I fell back into the pit. I'm back doing my martial art and meditating and the symptoms are gone again.

    So, what worked for me? A long journey of self discovery that included my starting a martial art at age 51 and learning to meditate and do Chi Kung.

    At the very least, if you do not already do it, exercise for at least one hour per day, at least 5 days per week. It can be as simple as walking. But, I do believe it must be done all at once, not spread through the day. I set a kitchen timer to tell me when I am done and I use the same timer to tell me when meditation is over so I don't disturb myself by constantly checking the clock.

    Just an aside, once I forgot to set the timer and I wound up meditating for 3 hours. The need to pee got me out of my chair. BTW, you can meditate sitting normally in a chair. No need to twist up your legs into pretzels.

    That is how I solved my developer's block.


Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling