I have a well paid job, but I've come to realize that I treat my bosses (we have matrix management) badly.

I turn up late, leave early, don't turn up for meetings, don't hand my work in on time, bunk work, and my absentee record - don't even want to think about that. Plus I don't get sanctioned for it. I am actually quite talented in my work, when I can be bothered to do it, and am fast and accurate. But that doesn't excuse me for being a dreadful member of staff. The company's very, very politically correct and understanding in a very motherly way.

Frankly, I have no passion for what I do now-a-days. I have to work with so much legacy stuff, which was sparkly and new 10-15 years ago, but is now rather drab and hum-drum.

The second issue contributing to a lot of my behavior is my family. I have young children to support, and a wife who dumps a lot of problems on me and expects me to carry the can. I have no friends or external support network. When something has to give, it's generally my work because I'm on the "Mommy track". In some respects it is my fault, as I elected to help my wife break the glass ceiling and give her the support necessary to do so.

I feel like I am in a vicious circle - I have to have a job to support my family, and I can't really go for something exciting (aka lower paid) or an internship or do a career volte-face, because of those obligations. And if I did try, I would still have to deal with all these bad habits and behaviors that are now ingrained.

I have raised this issue with my line manager, and have been tasked with coming up with my own solution.

So how do I rehabilitate myself and my work ethic? I would like to stop the poor patterns and introduce better ones, but I am not sure where I should look, or what I should look for in the way of reference material or advice. I would like to become the good, solid, dependable employee I once was.

  • I would ask myself - "Can I improve my fitness/health" , "can I make simple changes like being timely, sleeping earlier", "Can I use any time-management techniques to make work less boring(ie pomodoro/flylady etc)" Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 16:10
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    I think that the answer provided by @Bethlakshmi is applicable for addressing several problems we face in our daily life. Therefore, I vote for reopening this question.
    – samarasa
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 18:25
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    @samarasa questions should not be opened/closed based on answers..
    – enderland
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 20:26
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    comments removed: Comments are intended to help improve a post or seek clarification. Please don't answer the questions in the comments. These can't be easily voted on as the best answers, and they may inadvertently prevent other users from providing real answers. Please see How should I post a useful non-answer if it shouldn't be a comment? for more guidance.
    – jmort253
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 2:33
  • @gruffalow, You had mentioned on another thread that you don't do coding. So what's the scope of your work like?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 1:31

5 Answers 5


The Work

I have little pity for someone who says "I don't want to do my work because it's boring" - even legacy maintenance can be made interesting. I've noticed that:

  • people who really hate the type of work they do can't actually improve their work habits, even if they have better/more fun work in the same sphere. So changing jobs may not make any difference.
  • even legacy product support and other less-in-demand work can get improved - you can go the extra mile to take on some adventures - small steps towards moving to a newer product base, usage of new techniques even with old technology, pet projects to automate routine tasks - there's always something.

If you really do like the overall job, discuss the parameters of a personal project with your management and what it would take for that to be allowed. If I was your boss, I'd probably lay down restrictions on getting the must-do work done first. But even then, I often find (personally) that coming in with a personal project on my mind makes the boring stuff go by quicker.

Home Life/Work Life

Will always be an individual balance. It sounds like at least some of your decisions have been quite conscious - you and your family prioritize your spouse's job and child care over your job. And I realize - in any family, something's got to give.

My thought would be - can you make this a more conscious and communicated choice? Look for patterns. I've had plenty of folks on my teams who needed a unique work/life balance - and I was always glad to do so, provided the work was getting done with the efficiency that it required. It's when the work slips and the schedule/reliabilty slip together that problems arise.

Things I'd look for:

  • where do schedule problems arise? Can you shift or modify your work day?
  • what are the work at home options?
  • what can you do, discipline wise, to switch mentally from parent/caregiver to employee?
  • are you happy, overall, with the status quo between yourself and your wife? You speak of choosing to be the parent who sacrifices job for family, but you also use words like "dumps a lot of problems with me". When I listen to collegues who enjoy being the primary parent, I don't often hear that sort of phrasing. Realize that relationships are an ongoing negotiation and it may be time to talk.
  • is this the optimal job for you? Is the money/time/flexibility the best option for you and your skill set? It sounds like you are well paid to work on legacy systems, with a company that has a certain level of permissiveness, but on an unofficial level. That's one tradeoff, there may be others. Only you can really answer this one - only you know your priorities.
  • Are there other trades that you haven't considered - in terms of childcare, housekeeping, etc. - there may be options for saving time with money that you haven't considered. To some extent, expanding your social network may help here.

Vicious Circles

Most of my personal vicious circles have been formed when I was unwilling to consider any change at all. If I opened myself up to the idea of some part of my current status quo changing (possibly for the worst) I could make other options better. The overall question was the net value of my life and my enjoyment.

In the question, I hear a lot of "I can't because...":

  • can't change work - no options for more fun work at this job
  • can't change job - no similarly paying positions on new technology
  • can't change home life - spouse job more important, family needs are what they are

Presumably also:

  • can't learn new stuff off hours - too busy with family
  • can't extend personal network to ease family burdens - just too busy
  • can't find job that pays similar but is more enjoyable - no time, no skills

Something has to give. Some part of the day needs to involve a different set of choices than you are currently making. No one here can tell you which choice to start with - although if you find that you've taken up innovative time-wasting approaches, I'd start there - instead of really wasting time, find ways of using the wasted time in some way that benefits your life. It may not be the corporate approved approach - it may be hunting down a better social network, improving your marketable skills, or doing that that self-driven professional project that makes you excited about work again... but something different and life improving is a key here.

  • Thank You Very Much Bethlakshmi, a big part of this answer is something I need myself atm ! ! Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 17:25
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    legacy can be fun if you get the power to deal with it. But in too many places you get a ton of constraints that makes sure it never gets better. And possibly on top of that others keep adding bugs. I don't think fun is possible with that scenario
    – Balog Pal
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 20:20
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    @Chad - well if it benefits somebody else, it hasn't been wasted... Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 2:26
  • @bethlakshmi, I don't think your tips and advice (first few paragraphs) apply. Because he does not work as a coder / programmer.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 1:33

EDIT I had deleted this previously and Beth's answer does a good job addressing the workplace component. Mine focuses a bit more on the personal life components.

So as you can see, I'm in a vicious circle. I have to have a job to support my family I can't really go for something exciting (aka lower paid) or an internship or do a career volte-face

This is a problem. Fix it.

Start by reducing your spending well below what you make. If your response is, "But that's too hard!" then GTFO, I guess. This might seem overtly direct and it is intentionally - this is a huge situation you are in! You aren't going to press an "easy button" and be done with it. Perhaps I should instead say, "then be content with your problems if you do not want to fix the root cause."

You are in a place you need your job. Save a lot of money as quickly as you can. Downgrade your living style. Sell stuff.

You want to have 3-6 months savings so you can afford to live your life without the oppression of needing a job. Break the cycle.

My guess is you live at or very minimally below your means right now. Change this.

also I have no friends or external support network.

This is a problem, fix it.

Unless you live in the mountains somewhere there are thousands if not millions of people close to you. Do something, whether exercise, church, bowling, something to find other people.

It won't fall into your lap, you have to go seek this.

The second issue is, is that a lot of my behaviour comes about because I have young children (and their support), a wife who dumps a lot of problems on me and expects me to carry the can

This is part of marriage. You work in IT it looks like from your PM question. You make plenty of money to support a wife/children on even just your income. If this is difficult, your lifestyle needs reducing.

Your post sounds like you are more depressed than anything else. I would suggest, strongly:

  • Exercise. Preferably find a gym and a program with other people to hold each other accountable to being there. Bonus! You get friendships.
  • Buy your wife flowers on the way home from work today
  • Get a written budget with her, as well, and reduce your spending to unchain you from your dayjob
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    +1 for "But that's too hard!" then GTFO, I guess. Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 15:03

Beth's answer about work/life balance and breaking the vicious cycle is a great one, but here are some specific things you can do to help yourself stay focused on your job while at work, and become a better employee.

  • Keep a list of the little things you want to get done that day/week.

    There's something about having a list of small, easily accomplishable goals that makes it easier to focus on the task at hand. Anytime you feel yourself drifting away from your work, go back to your list and re-focus yourself. Personally I prefer paper lists because the sense of accomplishment when scratching out items one by one is really great :)

    I find it helps to keep your lists very small and detailed to help stay focused. For example, instead of listing "Fix bug X", I might write down "track down bug X", "reproduce bug X", "determine problem for bug X", and "fix bug X".

  • Track your time with use of a chess clock or virtual chess clock.

    It's easy to get distracted while at work, and not realize how much time you've been spending not-working. A chess clock is a really easy way to keep track of how much time you've been spending working vs not working, and is a visual reminder that you need to get back to work.

  • Set specific times to get things done.

    I find it much easier to get something done if I set myself a specific time to do it. I might say "I need to get this really boring bit of legacy code out of the way at some point, so I am going to start that task at 2pm today". And then stick to the time you set.

  • Practice your Self-Discipline again

    It's not easy to get back into forcing yourself to do things you don't really want to do, but it really is necessary at times. Set yourself some reasonable limits and/or goals that are within your control, and make sure you stick to them. Perhaps it's something as simple as ensuring you get something specific accomplished in a workday, or that you'll show up to a meeting at the correct time. Start with small goals that you can control to help build up your self-discipline again.

  • Stay away from the internet at work except for designated break times, unless you need it for research.

    I even went as far as to install the StayFocused plugin for Chrome on my browser to prevent me from browsing unauthorized sites (like StackExchange) during work hours because I was having trouble staying focused on my work.

  • Talk with your manager about flexible hours, or if you think you have the self-discipline for it, possibly working from home.

    We had an employee who's family duties always came before work, and they couldn't always be at work every day or on time. He ended up talking with management and working out a deal to come in later in the morning, and stayed later in the day to make up for it. He also would sometimes work remotely from home, particularly when he had some family business come up that prevented him from coming into the office for the day. Perhaps you can try to arrange something similar with your manager.

I hope some of that helps you out. I had a very similar problem a few years back, where I kept getting bored with the dull and boring workload and legacy technology I was working with at the time, and these things really helped me get back to being a productive and worthwhile employee.

And right now, I'm happily looking for a new job with the full support of my former bosses, both of whom are happy to be references for me and my work.

  • Do you really think that the correct response for someone who is slacking off at work is to work from home? Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 16:45
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    @Chad For someone that is making an effort to get back on track with their work ethics, and whose family life is interfering with their work schedule, yes I think this is what I would advise.
    – Rachel
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 17:53

I'm going to be harsh here.

Only you can change your behavior. There is nothing stopping you from coming in on time and doing your job in a timely manner except yourself. You are being paid to work and frankly what you are doing is cheating your company and cheating yourself. I'm hearing a lot of excuses and it's someone else's fault, but no it isn't, it is your fault. You agreed to the job and you owe the company the hours and the work quality (including meeting deadlines) as long as you accept a salary. It doesn't matter if you are bored or if you hate your job or if you have children, you owe it becausue they pay you. What you are doing right now is basically theft. Frankly I would have fired you a long time ago no matter how well you code because you are a drain on the comapny and you cause harm to projects and other employees with your attitude. So stop behaving like a sulking child and start going to work every day on time.

Lots of people have child care responsibilites but they still make it to work, lots of people don't like their jobs but they still are professional enough to do them until they find another. I had to to deal with a sick life partner and then his death, and I still did my job. I've had friends and relatives with seriously ill children who still managed to come to to work on time and do their jobs. So I have no sympathy for you. You have made bad choices to do the easy, fun thing and they were poor choices, so stop making them. Stop expecting everything to be easy or fun. Start being an adult.

So stop whining and start solving your problems. Start with seting an alarm clock and getting up and going to work on time every day without fail. Then make a child care plan for when you need to deal with child care issues. First fix your bad behavior before it is so ingrained you can't fix it, and then and only then start looking for a job that is more interesting to you. But don't do it until you start behaving like a professional and not an amateur because the next place wil not likely be so forgiving.

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    While I thoroughly agree with you here realize that you are railing against a strawman. Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 19:08

I'm going to take a different track, here.

You need to straighten out your home life, first. You imply that your wife is working as well, and you state that you have young children.

You have two choices here:

  1. One of you needs to take a break from your career and raise the children to a more self-sustaining age.
  2. You need to hire a nanny and/or housekeeper.

Neither option is good, but I'd bet your wife is as burned out as you are on the double-duty of kids and careers. You're both headed for nervous breakdowns if you keep this up.

As far as your interest in your work:


You are an adult now. You are a husband and a father. You have a good job, and you need to do the work you are hired to do. Do you know why legacy code becomes legacy code? BECAUSE IT WORKS!! New and sparkly is something you market a child's toy with.

You have a job and your family is depending on you. If you can't find the motivation you need from the previous sentence, then nothing will help you.

And if you think I'm being harsh, TOUGH. Consider that men from Mexico and Central America walk three days through the desert to get a job scrubbing toilets here and sleep 10 or 20 to a room to provide for their families, who they don't even get to see. They live in constant fear of being deported. What's your problem, again? You don't work on the latest whiz-bang technology?

I grew up on a hog farm. I always had a shovel in my hand. I was either shoveling feed to them or "management" away from them. I work in a technology today that's pretty much unchanged for 15 years, now. I consider myself INCREDIBLY fortunate to be able to make enough to take care of my family doing it. Yeah, I go to the user groups and dabble in the new "cool" stuff. Then in the morning I go back to work and take care of business.

Go take a long, hard look in the mirror, realize just how good you actually have it, and take care of your family. That is what MEN do. That is what WOMEN do. Whining about not having "new and sparkly" is what CHILDREN do.

And if that made you mad, GOOD! If you didn't need to hear it, it wouldn't have bothered you.

  • I expected more downvotes than that. No one likes to hear the harsh truth when they need it. Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 19:06
  • Well nobody needs to hear "trivial truths", I was thinking admittedly humorously. "When i was young we shoveled **** with our own bare hands", reminded me a bit about monty pythons, "when i was young we lived in a tiny shoebox". I rather think you projected your own need to ramble on to the poster.
    – cognacc
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 14:33

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