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Detour: "Thought Block"

By mind21_98 in Culture
Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 11:41:21 AM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)

There is a thing that happens to all of us sooner or later. The typical person works on something vigorously for a while, but then slacks off due to lack of interest and motivation as something newer and more interesting appeals to that person. Eventually the person may return to the previous task after a certain period of time, or the person may avoid it alltogether. What causes people to lose interest and commitment to a specific task?

An example may prove useful here before we go on: I am the lead (actually only) programmer for GPLTrans, a open-source language translator similiar to Babelfish. It's a fact of life that machine translators cannot replace a human translator when translating languages, but these two pieces of software attempt to perform that same task. Unfortunately, GPLTrans is the worst of the two. In order to produce something that may rival Babelfish, I would need to put some more time and effort into the development of the software itself and the dictionaries that come with it. To get where GPLTrans is currently at today (as of this writing, 0.9.10), I ended up taking a six month break stretching from February to August, 2000. This break was long enough for an archive for abandoned software to notice, and the email motivated me to make a release.

By the end of October 2000 I ended up taking another break for four months (until February 2001). This time no abandonware archive noticed, but I was making up a todo list because I felt I was spending too much time in IRC and just idling on the computer. One of the items on the TODO list was to try to make a release of both GPLTrans and libhtmlparse, another project I put off for a while. A few days after making that TODO, I released new versions of both pieces of software. Although those versions might have not been spectacular, they were enough to rekindle interest in the community.

As I'm writing this I realized that I did not feel like working on GPLTrans at the moment. I could be losing interest again, but now since you've heard an example, let's see what causes people to demand something newer and more attractive.


For some efforts, the actual coding/development of a piece of software or other form of art could be for educational purposes (i.e. to put a technique you saw to good use). One of those techniques could be a new way to develop an application or a new form of literature. With these kinds of things, after you learn what you need to learn, you lose interest because there is nothing further to learn. Interest usually involves commitment directly, so you end up trying to look for something new to do.

Lack of commitment

This type of event is also common. It involves things that pop up in your mind at the moment and motivate you to actually do it. Unless you are 100 percent committed (i.e. you will not change your mind no matter what anyone says), you end up losing interest within a few days. I have experienced this numerous times, most of the time involving me changing my own mind about something after hearing that it's "already been done" or "no one will go for it." Just as interest directly affects commitment, the reverse is true.


Now that we've discussed a few possible reasons for the lack of commitment and/or interest in a particular thing, we can see how we can maintain motivation to perform. One thing mentioned above that is very important is the ability to commit yourself 100 percent regardless of what anyone says. A fear of failure may be the cause of why some people do not commit themselves completely to a certain task at hand. Since they think that what they are thinking of doing has already been done, they think that another entry into the field will ultimately fail. Unless there is a piece of magic that will accurately portray what will happen in the future there is no way to determine if something you make will fail or succeed.

Another thing that would possibly help is to educate yourself via other means, and then apply what you have learned to your current project. This could be as simple as a new data structure. Once a new concept is learned, attempt to see if it is possible to implement it somehow in a project you are working on. After that, do it! Not immediately applying the concept will prevent the concept from reaching your long term memory.

There may be other reasons or solutions that are out there, physical or psychological. Remember this is not a list set in stone, so you can add recommendations you have for others.


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o Raw Infrastructure


How do you maintain interest in something?
o Removing the competition so you would be forced to do something due to the lack of other players 0%
o Keeping a list of what you should do 22%
o Nothing; you are so committed you will die for your product/work if needed 2%
o Taking breaks from something every once in a while 75%

Votes: 36
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o GPLTrans
o Babelfish
o Also by mind21_98

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Detour: "Thought Block" | 9 comments (6 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
A few thoughts about this (4.66 / 3) (#4)
by Gndlf on Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 12:51:27 PM EST

With these kinds of things, after you learn what you need to learn, you lose interest because there is nothing further to learn.

From CatB: "When you lose interest in a program, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor." That's something I think many Open Source programmers forget. *You* may have learnt(sp?) all you can at the moment, and can't get more satisfaction out of that particular project, but someone else may be able to get satisfaction and new knowledge from continuing where you left off. Well, GPLTrans is at least "visible" to other developers, since it's not sitting unfinished in someones home directory gathering dust.

I have experienced this numerous times, most of the time involving me changing my own mind about something after hearing that it's "already been done" or "no one will go for it."

In the case of Babelfish, that "it's already been done" is not a good excuse for not continuing to develop GPLTrans. Babelfish isn't Emacs. It's not "the translation program that can't be competed with or made better." (my apologies to the vi fans out there :-)) And even if Emacs is the de facto programmable editor, and vi the de facto lightweight, fast, small editor, there are scores of other editors out there. Most of them are one-man projects that never see the popularity of the Big Two, but the creators have made them anyway. Maybe they don't like the Escape-Meta-Alt-Control-Shift or the "mode" features, or maybe their editors are lasherisms. It doesn't matter. If a program fills a single individual's needs, your needs, there's no excuse to stop developing it just because everyone else thinks it's redundant. Let other people decide whether(sp?) they like it or not. If they like it, fine, maybe they'll contribute. If not, tell them to shut up and leave you alone.

Hmm. I think I need to go home, make a gallon of coffee, pick up the Camel, and head for that dusty [or perhaps that should be "rusty" ? :-)] ~/projects/old/ directory.

I find it helpful (4.00 / 3) (#5)
by pistols on Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 02:11:07 PM EST

My biggest problem is getting back into a program at the beginning of each day. Unless I am working exclusivly on a project (and ignoring less relevant things, like deciding what to eat), I have to 'relearn' how I structured the program. Sometimes this just doesn't seem worth the effort (I use to joke that I had only ever completed one program... but I don't anymore).

I find it helpfull to write down explicitly what I was thinking when I started the program. Sometimes this involves implementing a specific algorithm/structure, but ussually I find it more helpful the state my end use for it: "this is a flashcard program so that I don't have to make hundreds of flashcards for russian." Keeping the end goal in mind renews my energy when looking over some code I wrote a day or more ago.

Works well enough for me... (4.00 / 2) (#6)
by DJBongHit on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 09:43:34 AM EST

I'm the author of PowerShell (if you always end up with a lot of xterms [or Gnome-terms, or whatever] open, check it out), which is used by a *lot* of people. People are constantly pouring in requests for new features and reporting bugs (OK, reporting *2 bugs*. Repeatedly. :P ), but since it works well for what *I* use it for, I have a hard time motivating myself to fix these 2 bugs or add new features (for those that are curious, the bugs are as follows (in the latest CVS version): the menu editor is broken (it's in the process of being changed from the GtkList to a GtkTree in order to support nested menus, and segfaults if you try to use it), and if you try to close a tab which has a zombie process running in it (i.e. one that kill -9 doesn't kill) it will segfault.)

Anyway, kinda went off on a tangent there :) The point is, it doesn't crash for me, since I don't use the menu editor and very rarely end up with a zombie process), so I don't bother to spend the time to fix it or add new features. I should, and I keep planning to, but I never get around to it.


GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

solution: design, brainstorm, repeat the above (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by nickp on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 04:36:49 PM EST

Go crazy, fill notebooks with pages of diagrams and ideas. Hey, it works well enough for me. I also find it very useful to team up with other interested people and brainstorm over email. Then sometimes when a disagreement arises I want to make something work just to prove a point. On the other hand, when we agree on stuff I'm motivated to do something because I infer that many other people would think it's a good, valuable, important thing to do.

"Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love." -- Albert Einstein

Organization. (none / 0) (#8)
by Mr. Excitement on Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 05:10:54 AM EST

This is a problem that hits practically everyone now and then. I happen to be a great "starter" but a lousy "finisher". There always seems to be some Great New Project beckoning, and roughly two or three old ones languishing for each new one.

Recently, I've found an interesting way to organize all of my data into two neat piles: stuff that I generate (either alone or collaboratively), and stuff that I find elsewhere.

All the data (except dotfiles) in my home directory are now organized as ~/random_internal_shit and ~/random_external_shit; symlinks ~/i and ~/x , respectively.

So, old projects await rediscovery in one centralized location ( ~/i/coding/projects--I deliberately separated coding/projects from a generic projects directory, since the former seems to be more common, and can be symlinked from a generic projects directory anyway).

Any new, unsorted files sent to me, or found online, awaits sorting in ~/x/inbox.

This simple change frees my often-cluttered mind from a cluttered organization of data, and seems to help my overall productivity. Mental ergonomics, or somesuch.

Now, if only I could find some similar trick for managing time... ;)

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]

Other People (none / 0) (#9)
by {ice}blueplazma on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 08:21:46 AM EST

Sometimes, perhaps, people are motivated by another person to start working on something. They are motivated by that person. As it goes, if the motivator leaves for some reason, then the person working will soon loose interest. Could it be that if a person starts a project because he/she wants to look good in the eyes of another then when the other leaves, they don't feel any need to keep working.

"Denise, I've been begging you for the kind of love that Donny and Smitty have, but you won't let me do it, not even once!"
--Jimmy Fallon
Detour: "Thought Block" | 9 comments (6 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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