One of the questions I get most often from developers starting their own projects is ‘where do you find the time?’ This is a very good question. Finding time to work on your game is very difficult – there are a lot of things in life that you can spend your time on, and you can only choose so many! No matter how important your game is to you, other things often take over, and you don’t work on it as much as you want (or need) to.
I think that I do a pretty good job with time management, and I hate wasted time so much, I want to make sure you never waste any time either! Below, in the style I have apparently developed, are some tips I have for making the most of your time, and finding the time to work on your game (or anything else you might need the time for).
Abandon All Of Your Responsibilities
We all have responsibilities – your game is important, but so is your job! However, if you want to make any progress on your game, you need to commit a certain amount of time to it. The best way to do that is to set aside time to work on your game.
In my last post, I mentioned that I spend an hour before work every morning working on Where Shadows Slumber. That’s the time I’ve set aside for my game – even if there’s a bunch of stuff going on in my life, I only ever use that time for my game. That way, there’s always a minimum of time I work every week.
Maybe your schedule doesn’t have a nice time slot like mine does, or maybe five hours a week is too much time to commit. Either way, you have to decide what time you can commit to your game, and then decide when that time will be. With a time block in place, you will find yourself consistently working on your game.
The most important part of this plan is to respect the time you set aside. Consider that time completely booked – if someone asks you to do something then, don’t do it. You already have plans! Setting aside time to work on your game is only useful if you consistently make use of that time.
Learn To Predict The Future
It’s pretty obvious why this is helpful – you can already know the time you’re going to spend on your game! While that’s not exactly possible (yet), we have something close enough. If you can look into the future and know how long it will take you to do something, then you can know how much time you need to dedicate.
What I’m trying very poorly to describe is the concept of project management. If you’ve taken some computer science classes, then I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I’m sure you also scoffed at it and started coding anyways, which is exactly what I did. And then, four years later, I realized I had wasted six months working on a project, because I hadn’t planned it out correctly.
I don’t want to lecture you on the importance of project management (maybe in another blog post…), but I do want to mention how useful it is for time management. For Where Shadows Slumber, Frank and I sit down every week and discuss what we did, why it took so long, and what we’re going to do in the coming week. In this way, we keep ourselves accountable – it’s a lot harder to blow off your work when you’ve committed to doing it.
Another boon of project management is time-boxing, or estimating how long a task will take. If I know I have an hour to work on something, I don’t want to start working on a three-hour task. When I have to stop, I’ll lose my train of thought, which makes it that much harder to start again. That is an inefficiency that can be avoided through time-boxing. Whenever you go over your tasks, look at how long it took to complete each task, and then use that information to decide how long it will take to complete your upcoming tasks. In this way, you can always work on the task that makes the most sense, and you don’t lose any time to context-switching inefficiencies!
Feed on the Scraps
Scraps are the lifeblood of the rodent community. Despite how some people might view the indie gaming community, this is not the point I’m trying to make. Rather, I want you to feed on the scraps of your day.
Let’s go through my (theoretical) 24-hour workday. I sleep from 11PM – 8AM and work from 10AM – 6PM. Together, that’s 17 hours, during which I am fully occupied with something important. That leaves seven hours, during which I am free to do as I please.
That sounds pretty decent, but I’ll tell you that it certainly doesn’t feel like seven hours – it feels more like three. There are so many smaller tasks that we don’t even consider that take up our time. Even if I spend two hours on all the little things (grooming, eating, transit, etc.), the five remaining hours still feel like three. Where did the last two hours go?
Those last few hours just get lost in the shuffle. There’s seven minutes waiting for my roommate to get out of the shower, nine minutes waiting for the train, two minutes waiting for the elevator, on and on and on. These minutes really add up to a lot of wasted time. This time is the hardest to get back – if I decide to go to the train later, I might miss it!
Rather than trying to get all of these minutes back into a two-hour block, you have to appreciate them for what they are – tiny little pauses in your day. Once you’ve accepted that, you can figure out how to make use of them. Personally, I carry a notebook and pencil around, and write down things I think about. While I’m waiting for the train, I think about level design. On the elevator, I consider algorithm implementations. If I get home at 6:30, but I have to leave at 6:45, I jump on my computer and tackle the smallest task I can find.
By taking advantage of all of these ‘scraps’, I don’t get the full two hours back – it’s just hard to be that efficient. However, I do get a solid 30-45 minutes of drudge-work done, which means I don’t have to spend a block of time doing it later! If you develop little habits to try and use up these wasted minutes, you’ll find that you can knock off some of your tasks without even sitting down at your computer.
This is along the lines of ‘nice guys finish last’ – you have to be conceited in order to be successful!
I firmly believe that is not the case – however, this tip is still true, and applies to time management even outside of game development. The core tenant here is commonly phrased like ‘if you don’t value your time, no one will’. In this case, we don’t care about how others value our time, but we do care about how we value it.
Your time should be important to you! If you want to finish your game, you need to spend time on it. Wasting time that could be spent on your game just delays your release. I loathe every minute of wasted time – even if I wasn’t going to work on Where Shadows Slumber, I would be doing something better with my time than wasting it.
This can be hard to apply to everyday life – a lot of minutes slip through the cracks every day, and there’s no real way to get them back. But if you can prevent it, you should. If you’re waiting on work from someone, let them know! If you’re always waiting for someone who is consistently 30 minutes late, tell them the meeting was moved up by 30 minutes!
These are just examples, but the key is to keep in mind the fact that your time is valuable – you could be doing anything with it, so why are you waiting around for someone or something else?
These are my four tips for managing your time. I also want to mention that there’s really only one of these that I practice with regularity, and thus it is the one I consider the most important. It is, of course, the last one. This shift in mindset is so important, as it’s hard to really apply any time management strategy if you don’t value your own time.
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As always, let us know if you have any questions, feedback, or topic requests! You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, itch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.
Jack Kelly is the head developer and designer for Where Shadows Slumber.