Yesterday I went through a similar situation; I realized that I was basically done with a major proposal for a project except for an optional component. I have over a month before it is all scheduled to be reviewed, and most of the zest I have for the project has gone away when I realized that I had already done most of what I needed to do. All that is left is an admittedly tricky technical problem.
I would like to get it all done though, so I plan on using one of Feynmann’s stories for dealing with burn out:
He had just gotten done with some big project(s) and was feeling way down. He had pushed hard and gotten some good results, but somehow along the way he had lost his drive to get anything worthwhile done. He noticed that he was letting the little stuff, like teaching and paperwork, take up a big part of his life but he couldn’t bring himself to work on the “big” ideas like everybody expected him to.
This went on for a few weeks and it was really starting to irk him. He was in the cafeteria eating a meal and not really doing anything of significance when a few students walked by. One of them was tossing an empty plate up in the air. Feynmann saw the plate and starting asking himself, “How could I parameterize the path of one of the molecules in that plate?” He sat down with a napkin and spent the rest of the night accounting for the plate’s lateral/rotational movement as well as the wobble that was introduced by the uneven launch.
The next morning, he felt like he was back. Something had changed. He credited the change with the fact that he had done good work on a problem that he wanted to work on, even though the work didn’t really seem to go anywhere.
It seems like when you are feeling lazy, the best thing to do is gain momentum by working on a hard problem that you want, but maybe not have, to work on and then see how you feel afterwards. My plan is to just mess around with the code and try to do some stuff that I have been excited about for a long time and see where it gets me.
So, I was thinking that's an awesome comment and quite pleased Zack shard it, when he left a second comment an hour later -
Just thought you might want to know:
It worked! I started doing something unrelated to my techie problem and I found/saw the answer to my original problem within two minutes. Although it is not quite done yet, the hardest part is finished. My apologies for commenting so verbosely before.
Awesome, awesome stuff :) Thanks for sharing, Zack.
Again, way cool you put this up.
Saw this http://denis.papathanasiou.org/?p=438 on hacker news.
It provides the actual story and quote I was thinking of when I wrote those comments.
I totally understand the feeling one gets after just finishing up a huge problem. The brain feels totally mushed. It is really hard to get into the mood to begin the next project, even when it is beginning another software development project.
I would just like to add that if you are speaking of the great physicist Richard Feynman, I have read most of his books and I love his enthusiasm of life. If you really want to get in the mood to see the world in a different perspective, go on YouTube and look his small interview up he did with BBC (I believe). It's called, "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out".
My mind has been scrambled the last couple days. I don't know why, it came on very suddenly. I've made massive strides over the two weeks before - I accomplished about six months worth of work over two weeks. I felt on top of the world. I wasn't even very tired afterwards, I felt good, ready to go.
Then yesterday, just bzzt - nothing. Foggy, almost like confusion. Couldn't focus at all. Strange. I said, y'know what? I haven't had a day off in a while, I'm just going to take the day off. Went and sat at a cafe and listened to some audio for about four hours, walked around and saw the city, went and had a massage, and then sat and ate fruit. Spend like 10 hours in a row just thinking and relaxing, which is good, I don't take full days off very often. I had some good ideas when I was out at the cafe and took some extensive notes, so I got some production out of it too without even trying to.
Now, I wish I could say, "And then I was recharged, and today I was awesome!" But no, I woke up in a fog again. Damn this. I track my time and have some routines to keep me running well, but I was foggy despite it, unable to focus really. Suck, what is this?
I was working, but it was half-working. Now, half-working is a big problem in my opinion. Half-working tires you out as much or more than real full working, but you get about 5% as much stuff done. Yes, 5%. Good work requires something like focus. It doesn't necessarily require the highest levels of focus and flow (though that stuff is very good), but it requires working through the mentally difficult parts when they come up. The worst part about half-work is you cruise through the easy enough stuff, then stumble on a difficult part.
This is doubly bad, because when you come back to your work, you're staring the hardest part in the face. This sucks, you need to kind of regroup and double down to get re-started while staring a difficult or complex part of work in the face. But again, I was in that mental fog and so I start half-working on it, and then I wander off again. And I try to come back to the work, but then - bam, there's this hard problem staring me right in the face, that I already failed to conquer twice.
My post before this was a kind of therapy / Buddhism / personal growth kind of deal, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about how to run effective teams and to be a responsible, thoughtful manager of people. It is my work: I am a lead engineer at Bungie, an independent video game developer of about 300 employees (though not for long, we're growing.) There are some unique aspects to making videogames, and I'll use game development terminology here as I refer to, say, texture artists or sound designers or programmers, but when I talk to friends in different creative industries - film, industrial design, other software development - I find these themes are pretty universal.
If you're going to manage people, you're going to have a lot of conversations about employee performance. It's just bound to happen. Sometimes, like during reviews, it might seem excessive. You might wonder if's worth all the time it takes. It is. It's OK that you spend a bunch of time on this. As a manager, that is your job. It's your job to have well-formed opinions about how you evaluate people and how you work with them to help them grow. If you aren't spending time on that, then you may be succeeding as a leader, but probably not as a manager. Apples and oranges.
It is, however, important to spend this time well. During conversations about performance, everything you talk about should boil down to one thing: the value they contribute to the team. What is their value, and how can they become more valuable?
I find a lot of review conversations tend to focus on strengths, weaknesses, and specific work results. These seem like reasonable topics, and there's value there, but I also find this often leads to a review that looks like this: