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Working Hard When It’s Hard to Work

Maybe it’s controversial to say, but work isn’t always the most interesting. Sometimes, you fall into a routine where you feel stuck. Other times, your project has slowed down, or the work has become too easy. Your client struggles to give you more work, or your team runs out of interesting problems to solve.

This can happen for just a day, or maybe a week. But once in a while, it becomes your new normal for far longer than you’d hope. Weeks, months spent hoping things will turn around and catch your interest again. It can be demotivating to have your work become like this, and it’s hard to find a way out. Here are a few ways I’ve managed to wander out of “hard to work” territory and into the land of “working hard.”

Take Pride

Taking pride in your work is definitely a cliche, and I don’t blame anyone for rolling their eyes when it’s brought up. But there’s some validity to it. Whether your work is the most exciting thing you’ll ever do, or boring enough to put you to sleep, it’s pretty likely that someone besides you will see, use, or take part in your work.

Use that as motivation. If you’re just fixing a small, uninteresting bug, fix the hell out of it. Write tests to cover the fix, document why it happened, and help prevent it from ever coming up again. If the work isn’t challenging you, challenge yourself.

Shake It Up

Often, when things get uninteresting, it’s because they’ve been the same for too long. You’re not always going to be empowered to change what’s boring you, but you can usually change how you approach the same work.

When you’re doing something that has become routine, that can be the safest situation to experiment. Making dozens of small UI changes to a site? Maybe try to implement a way to theme multiple elements at once. Writing what feels like the same unit tests over and over? Try to find a way to generate what’s common between them. Approaching the same work from different angles can scratch an itch for the creativity you so desperately need when you’re in a rut.

Go Get More

When things go well on projects, you don’t have to change the status quo. Work is well defined, designed, and passed off to you, and you can happily work through the challenges of whatever piece of work you’ve been given.

But when things don’t go well, that’s when the boredom can hit. You’re not being given anything new. You’re meant to just go spend time searching for bugs to fix. Revisit that old feature and clean it up a bit. The well of interesting work has dried up.

What can you do? Go get more. Sure, maybe it isn’t in your job description to go find and define new work. But if nobody else is giving it to you, why not go get it? Talk to product managers, designers, tech leads. Find out what needs to be done. Out of things that need to be done? What do they want to be done?

It can feel awkward or out of your place to be so proactive and get the work yourself. But what client can be upset that you’re trying to do more work for them? What project will suffer because you continue to pursue ways to improve it? Sure, there are some cases where it may not be appropriate to do so, but it’s always worth finding out if that’s the case.

Software development can be weird in that when it’s the easiest, it becomes hard to do. The challenge is often what makes the job interesting, and when that goes away, apathy, boredom, and a feeling of detachment can take its place instead.

But instead of letting it get you down, take the opportunity to find a new sense of purpose in your work, and not get stuck in that rut.