Help wanted, on showing up everyday!

@zedshaw, I’m here!

this is such a nifty forum! loved discobot :slight_smile:

reposting my gitter question here …

need a bit of personal advice. My day is really fragmented. It’s been weeks since I last did an exercise and I can’t seem to focus. Would you give me a day in the life of Zed Shaw? How do you manage to shift focus from making videos to doing painting to writing? How do you stay productive every day?

would love to hear you thoughts! if there’s too much, would love to hear the 5-6 most important things I could do

Thank you

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@zedshaw, please help!

One hack is to stop working in the middle of a line. because you have left that thing incomplete you will be tempeted to start again tomorrow before you forget how to end it. So pick a time to stop working and just stop. 9:30pm is my absolute shut the laptop off time.

if you want a whole book on this topic: War of art.

summary here:


Nice, well I’m going to get off gitter because, while it’s a great chat, it’s way too Brain Cycle intensive and doesn’t allow for building a knowledge repository. Hopefully this forum works out well.

So the first thing is you know what the problem is but you probably aren’t sure what the cause is. If I break this down the problems are usually:

Can’t Focus

Do you feel like you have “brain fog”? Like you sit there and just can’t focus and have no direction? This is usually caused by external factors like not getting enough sleep, not eating right, not exercising. Sometimes just working out everyday, even a little, and eating better usually helps this.

The next thing is you must live and die by the TODO! The vast majority of things you do in programming are boring. Especially as a professional. But, you have to sit down and do them anyway. The very best tool for making sure you get things done is the TODO list. Just don’t even bother looking for motivation and instead, just sit down, write down your tasks on a 3x5 index card or notebook, and do them. Use the TODO list as a rhythm to do tasks, and eventually you’ll be able to use this even though you don’t feel like working. I typically will just sit down and turn off my emotions and just robotically crank out a TODO list like it’s nothing.

This way of working doesn’t make the most inspired things, but it does get grunt work done. Especially if you throw in breaks and rewards. Like, “I’ll knock out the next 5 TODOs then go watch 3 minutes of TV.”

Fragmented Time.

This is is probably the biggest one but it’s where you seem to do a whole bunch of stuff all day, but actually don’t get anything done. It’s all errands and random things and before you know it it’s 9pm and you haven’t even eaten dinner yet. Best solution for this is to build a routine where, first thing in the morning, get up and do the things you need to do for self-improvement. Just get up, exercise, eat, 2 hours of Python, and then do all your random errands.

Too Many Interests

This is definitely me, but I’ve mastered the art of doing multiple things at once. For example, I like watching TV but I hate how it eats into the time I need for everything else. Solution? I have an easel in my living room and while I watch TV I paint. Or, while I watch TV I practice guitar scales. I even bought a silent metronome and a tiny practice device with headphones so that I can play guitar and no disturb anyone else. If I’m coding these days it’s also to work on a book or to implement something I need. For example, right now I’m learning Perl 6 by using it to automate my systems and video production as much as possible.

There are then some interests that you need to focus on, but that you really enjoy. Playing video games is a good example of that, so what you do is use those activities as rewards for getting your other stuff done. If you do 4 exercises of LPTHW then you can play video games for an hour.

Finally, just put some things on hold. When I found painting I stopped playing guitar mostly for about 4 years. I wanted to get good at painting. I would still practice sometimes, and I still built one recently, but I didn’t really play nearly as much as I did before. Now that I’m confident in my painting abilities I’m getting back into guitar and I find that I’m not really terrible like I thought I’d be.

Magical Should Thinking

This is the worst thing you can do, but if you constantly tell yourself you should be better, or should be doing more, or should magically know how to do things without practice, then you’re going about it all wrong. I work crazy hard at the things I want to be good at and I don’t expect to be an expert in them without a lot of work, and possibly never in my lifetime. I don’t tell myself I should be better at painting. I just paint, and then figure out how I can do better the next time. Too often though I see people who, despite not investing any time in learning to code, have this unrealistic idea that they should be better at it. They should just know how to code a small project from nothing.

If this is how you think then you’ll constantly be avoiding doing the work you need to get better, and you’ll be searching for hacks and ways around the work. Hacks are awesome, and I have a whole rant on how the majority of things that separate experts from beginners is secret hacks, but most everyone who’s an expert puts in the work.

Related to this is beating your self up for not meeting some insane expectations. If you have a bad day and don’t do anything all day, maybe you just needed a break. Everyone does. Just get up the next day and try again. I don’t think in terms of “Do 10 Things Each Day”, but more in terms of my improvement from day to day, which goes up and down in a cycle. It’s not constant, but I look at the average over time of what I’m getting done and that’s what I’m aiming for.

End Game Only Thinking*

You want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, but you can’t code at all. Alright so you go get LPTHW and start working on it while fantasies of billion dollar IPOs dance in your head. You need to rush! Now! You’re getting old and you’re like, wow man, 23 already! Zuck was a billionaire by then. You should already know how to code even though you’re only on exercise 10. I wonder if there’s a quick hack, like what if Ruby is easier. Everyone says it is.

This is similar to Magical Should Thinking, but it’s more that you’re putting your dreams before the work you need to realize those dreams. You have a dream of being a top guitarist but don’t want to do any scales. You want to be a major painter but don’t want to practice drawing (well, yeah that happens a lot but you get the idea). The end game is important, but the path to get there is even more important. Many times, on the road to fulfilling your dreams you find new dreams.

So what I do is I set goals and setup ideas, but I figure out all the steps I need to get from where I am to where I want to be, and then I just start knocking down the steps. Many times I run into something weird and new along the way and my plan changes, but I don’t let my ideas and goals get in the way of the process of learning. On the flip side, I try not to let the process of learning get in the way of making things. I tend to do that a lot, but then again I love learning new things so it’s not too big of a deal for me.

Create A Base Sheet

I have no idea what to call this, but it’s not really a TODO list. It’s more of a “I want to do these 10 things every day.” Mine currently is Art, Music, Work, Write, Code, Record, Fitness, Finances, Plan, and Meditate. I have a grid with those on the left and M, T, W, Th, F, S, S along the top, and I just try to fill the grid. Even if I only do one of those things for 10-15 minutes I count it, and if you’re combining things, then it becomes fairly easy to do both. For example, I need to practice drawing and meditating, so if I practice drawing from memory then that does both. Done, 2 boxes off the list.

This works great when combined with a morning routine.

I think that’s most everything I can think of. Let me know if you want more.


Thank you! That‘s a neat hack :slight_smile: Put the book in my must read pile!

If only, I had more likes and loves to give!

Before I go on, I hope all is well with you and you’re safe.
It didn’t strike me at all, that you were in the path of nature’s fury until you posted pics on twitter!
Felt bad about asking you questions, when you were battening down the hatches!
I did pray for you though!

This whole note was like you were in my head!
I was nodding along to all the issues you pointed out!

I think I am most afflicted by “Magical Should Thinking” & “End Game Only Thinking”

Also this “You can spot the adults who used to be the gifted kids by how enraged they are that they can’t learn something right now.” :stuck_out_tongue:
I did not go to college because I had to support the family.
But I taught myself at 19 and I read and learnt and I got to be an IT support guy.

Come 40 and time to reskill, I am frustrated that I cannot make the kind of extreme progress I made in my early 20s!

One BIG question I need help with.
How do I make my brain comfortable with strain and failure?
Here’s the scenario

On the slightly bright side, I do have a morning routine and a focus queue (which is what I call your “not really a TODO list”)
The problem is that I don’t seem to tick off the boxes consistently.

I sit down to study.
How do I keep at it?
Those two hours that you mention?

Sometimes it just clicks and I have a marvellous day!
Two hours in. Done & Dusted
That happened when I started with the book.
I zipped through the exercises and I think I am at exercise 31 before I fell off.

Now it’s been nearly two months and … nothing
And now that the exercises get harder, somehow I sit to do them … and I do something else and before I know it, study time is over.
And I don’t know what I was doing

It has been months and I see the other guys (in gitter) chugging along and I feel so ashamed.

Right now, I’m desperate for anything that’ll push me through this crazy hippo like stasis I find myself in!

Thank you for listening!

PS - In the time it has taken me to type this, I have

  1. Done some online banking
  2. Checked twitter
  3. Checked whatsapp
  4. Filled my water cooler


Thank you, so much! :slight_smile:

@zedshaw, would love more insight

The web is awash with (supposedly useful and so convenient to get) information. And its potency as time killer and escape habit has probably surpassed opium dens (have no experience with opium dens to comment further, but have read about em). Am being quite serious.

Information is not knowledge. That is - my knowledge is garnered from my experiences. And my experience is not your knowledge. At best, if I talk or write about my knowledge/experience, it will be merely information to you - until you do something with it. Then it becomes your knowledge. But until then, my experience and knowledge remains information to you.

And information has the advantage of always being pristine - that is, unblemished by the messy realities of experience (life). Information always carries the sweet and heady fragrance of possibility, if not actual potential.

And so people chase the dragon, always seeking information.

In keeping with this thread, based on my experience - a few things that Zed mentioned: regular exercise, eating and sleep habits - will likely solve at least 90% of what ails, including things like how to get things done.


Well I think what I wrote is everything. Did you start doing any of the above suggestions? I wonder if it’d be helpful for an “accountability” part of the forum where people can post their stuff for the day? Not even sure what that’d look like but maybe it’d help.

I do. Maybe I should just show up and do shit everyday, right or wrong no matter.
Thank you @zedshaw

That’s what I did to learn to play guitar and paint. Just kept doing it every day. Even if it was just 15 minutes I still did something.

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Interesting you should say that, it reminds me of when I could afford to do gym etc. The trainer said “just rock up even if you don’t feel like it. Walk in the door and walk out. Just get into the habit of coming” and strangely it works. I walk now and do exercise instead but haven’t made a habit, like creating a “base sheet” and “TODO” list. Both of those are seem really beneficial and as they say in Australia “lock it in Eddie” I’m doing that today.

One other I’d like to add that you say @zedshaw is “email yourself the problem, have break and come back to it”. Do one of the activities on your “Base Sheet”. Strangely enough, sleeping on it helps, tremendously! If you want to know more, look at “sleep” and “memory consolidation”, but really it’s enough to say it works.


@tcratius I think I nailed my issue (and the solution) down to exactly what you just described.
showing up is the hardest part for me
so I am just training myself to do that.
Just show up. Everyday.

There is slow progress :slight_smile:

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Mate, always here to help a fellow coder. Slow is best, I tried rushing, doesn’t work. Never know, you might just help me out. Have fun mate

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This reminds me of a youtube video from one of my fav authors. He approaches problems as this: The solution isn’t the reason, its the hard work getting there. The grind is the reason he grinds. Not to win, not to be anything, just to grind. Love the grind and you’ll get jobs done and things accomplished and you’ll enjoy the process and the results will take care of themselves. Helps me keep focused for sure.

great watch if you have a three minutes.

Jocko - Sisyphus


This reminds me of reading about a published poet/author whose apparent production and solution for possible ‘writer’s block’ was to create hundreds of sheets of paper in a day, all containing prose, verse etc. Not concerned about quality or coherence or anything. His goal was just on the physical act of having his floor completely covered with sheets of paper he wrote stuff on. It was a physical thing, not abstract.


On keeping with the theme of this thread, I got off to a roaring start, began working my way through the game around chapter 40, adding new things from python, struggling a lot, then actually making progress and seeing daylight and then… just stopped.

After putting in a month or so if daily consistent input, have taken at least a complete week off from doing anything. This is part of my pattern with learning programming. I will do it until it gets tough, actually make headway where I am encouraged, then stop cold turkey and start telling myself that having stopped doing it means that I don’t want to do it and that it’s not for me, which ensures I will increase the downtime considerably longer so that if or when I do go back to it I will basically have to start over (and how’s that for a run on sentence! :slight_smile: )

But seriously though, if there are any experienced folks out there that know what I’m going and have been there done that and overcame a few words might somewhere with me at this time. It sounds like a bizarre form of torture (perhaps from the Spanish Inquisition, for Python fans out there).

But this is what happens. I told myself this is the last time I give programming a shot. If I quit and walk away this time I won’t go back to it.

[EDIT] to add: rereading Zed’s intro to the Python book it occurred to me this: I tend to be naturally good at some things. And when good, I tend to be elite good - like scholarships good and that sort of thing. I wonder if perhaps having to struggle at something scares me a little, or rather scares me a lot. And so, even though I struggled and began succeeding with the game, the fact that I had to struggle in order to succeed actually scared me, so that the success was secondary. The fear of struggling gets my attention more. I seem to have an expectation that to struggle means it’s not for me. I know what all the motivational wall posters say on the subject. But I think that is what it is, the fear of having to struggle and wrestle with it. Still keeping it real. :):thinking:


This is a lot like me! only I quit much earlier!
Thank you for sharing, Scott!
It some helps to know that there are other folks that go through the same problems I do.

@theminshew, goes Love the Grind.
@zedshaw & Stephen Pressfield say Do the Work!

Well, that’s just what I’ll do!

And to all you folks who commented. Thank you so, so much!
This thread has turned into pure gold for me!