Making games is hard. Finding time to make games is harder. If you’re working/married with kids like I am, you probably have wondered vaguely how anyone gets anything done. You have the ambition to make games, but time slips away and you’re no closer than you were one month ago. What gives? Are you just too busy to make any progress?
Advice makes things even worse – if you’ve gone looking for help, you’ve probably been provided with one of three models that are sub-optimal, if not totally counter-productive:
Bad model 1: Have no life
“If you really care about your dreams” they’ll tell you, “you’ll make time for them. Yesterday I woke up feeling soooooper unmotivated, but after I drank a couple cups of Yerba mate and meditated for two hours, I felt a lot better and I knocked out 27 hours of highly productive work! Just do what I do!”
This advice only applies to lucky people with no life: they’re independently wealthy, childless, unattached, healthy folks. Most of us aren’t that. For most of us, “Have no life” is profoundly frustrating advice if we attempt to follow it: there are many days (or many weeks) where, no matter how much you care about your game, you can’t find hours of time to work on it. You can try ditching sleep, but that’s just undermining your long-term health and productivity.
Bad model 2: Whale eating
Whale eating looks like this: Make progress towards your goals on the side, 5 minutes, 10 minutes at a time. Just do 5 minutes a day! You’ll make huge progress in no time!
Not really. Here’s the problem: for most people, if you sit down to work for 5 minutes, you’ll get nothing good done. If you string together a week of 10 minute days, it adds up to something much less than an hour of focused work. Trying to finish a big project 5 minutes at a time leads to bad, incomplete work: we need focused blocks of time to do good work. There’s a seed of truth in this approach, but it’s not complete. We’ll come back to this
Bad Model 3: Wait until you can sprint
This model is all about waiting: life is busy, but if you just wait patiently enough, eventually you’ll have a free afternoon. When you do, you’ll hit the project with everything you’ve got, work like crazy, and catch up. You wait at the starting line, and someday you’ll be able to take off and run like an unburdened gazelle. Someday.
There are two problems with waiting around: First, lack of daily progress tends to make you frustrated and resentful. You start to quietly blame your kids, your spouse, your circumstances, whatever you perceive is standing in the way. Your life quickly becomes a misery while you’re waiting at the starting line.
Second, when you do finally get a big chunk of time, you’ll often self-sabotage and get little or nothing done. You’ll get distracted. You’ll work on something else. You’ll fall into a Youtube hole.
Here’s what’s up: the hardest part of work is beating the self-sabotage, and you’re out of practice.
While you’ve been waiting at the starting line, your muscles have been atrophying and stiffening, so when you take off on your sprint, you cramp up and fall down in agony. You wanted to get work done, but somehow the time just gets away from you. It’s self-sabotage. Sprinting is required if you want to get things done in a busy life, but it’s pretty ineffective on its own.
So, what do we do? Let’s talk about the whale in the room: THE FEAR.
You’re afraid of the work you want to do. Why? Because it’s so important to you. It’s precious. It’s perfect, in the realm of ideas: you don’t want to destroy the beauty of the idea with your imperfect hands. If you’re not used to creative work, you’ll do anything you can to avoid it. You’ll rationalize. You’ll self-sabotage. You’ll procrastinate.
The fear will tell you that you’re not afraid, that you’re just busy. You are busy, but even if you weren’t you’d still be afraid. You’d come up with other excuses for why you “can’t” work.
You might be skeptical: You suspect that it really is life standing in thee way, that you aren’t really afraid – just strapped for time.
I can prove it in five minutes. Give me five minutes, and I will prove that you’re afraid, afraid to your bones. But this only works if you actually do it.
The five-minute exercise
Before you read the steps below, commit five minutes of time to this process. It might even take less time.
Here it is:
- Think of that project that you want to do. Bring it to mind. Maybe you’ve been dreaming about being this for years. Maybe decades. Maybe life has always been too busy.
- Get up, set a timer for five minutes, and work on it For five minutes.
Here’s what just happened: All the justifications in the world popped up in your head.
You’ll want to check Facebook, you’ll want to get a snack, or a drink. You came up with 100 reasons why you can’t work on it for five minutes: it’s pointless, it won’t do any good, something just came up. But…you have five minutes, of course you do. You’re not that busy. Five minutes won’ break your day. But it’s not all the plausible, reasonable obstacles that are really keeping you from your work, it’s not your kids, it’s not your job, it’s not your spouse: It’s the fear. You self-sabotage, and blame it on things around you, because you don’t want to admit that you’re afraid.
So right, you’re afraid – but eve if you want to face the fear, life still happens. You can’t magic up two hours every day. True. I’m going to share with you my solution — it’s hard, but it will work if you do it. It will work even if you’re insanely busy. You can be a responsible parent, good spouse, and keep up with everything, and still make progress, real progress.
My model: Facing the fear.
My model is simple. Do the five-minute exercise every day, sprint when you can.
You won’t make any progress. You won’t get anything done on your game, but that’s not the point. You job isn’t to make progress on your game.
You job, first and foremost, is to sit down and face the soul-consuming fear. Every day.
That’s the battle that will make or break the war. Be warned: if you sit down and work for five minutes every day, it will be miserable, especially at first. You’ll hate the lousy work you create. You’ll feel like you’re dragging yourself through thick mud. You’ll feel defeated, you’ll feel like an imposter. At the end you’ll want to toss the work into the trash can.
That’s OK. Your job, on a daily basis, isn’t to make good work, your job is to sit down and face the fear. Don’t see yourself as a game developer, see yourself as someone who faces the fear.
Whoever you think of as the toughest cur in existence – the marine, the knight, the spartan – see yourself as him. You show up and face the gut-wrenching fear, fear that sends lesser men running to whatever vice soothes their pain. You’re tougher.
You’re Saint George, and you face dragons. You’re a bareknuckle boxer who climbs into the ring, day after day, and bets beat to a pulp. You know you’ll be back again tomorrow, no matter how hard the beating is. You’re not there to win: You’re just there to show up, to take your licks.
When you start operating this way, when you start facing the fear, a few things will happen:
Sometimes you’ll actually make progress.
Almost never, but occasionally you’ll find that you actually made something good. This can’t be your goal — remember, you’re not a game developer, you’re a person who faces the fear — but it will happen. Some days you’ll get to the end of your five minutes, and you’ll be kind of into it. You’ll find you have five more minutes. You’ll create something halfway decent .
Sometimes you’ll get a burst of energy afterwards.
You’ll plug away at the work, hating the work, hating yourself, and you’ll feel utterly miserable and defeated, and finish your five minutes. Then you look up,a nd somehow you’ll find that you’re energized. You’ll wash a few dishes, and won’t feel like whining. You’ll get a few things done. Things will be OK for a while, somehow.
You’ll gain a bit of self-respect.
Once you admit how hard it is to face THE FEAR, then you’ll gain a bit of self-respect. When you’re sitting down and facing THE FEAR, you’ll be able to honestly respect yourself.
Talented people have blown up in the face of THE FEAR. It’s destroyed lives. When you face it,that’s tough. It’s worth respect. I respect you, and you’ll respect yourself, a bit. You’ll be a bit nicer to your wife, you’ll be a better parent, a better employee. When you feel self-respect, Yyou’ll be less likely to get caught up in your own ego, and less likely to fall for crap, whatever crap you tend to get caught up in.
Most importantly: You’ll be ready for the sprint.
This is where it all comes together. When you’re facing the fear for 5–10 minutes a day, you still won’t be getting anything done. You still won’t be making any measurable progress on your dream. You won’t be crossing the starting line.
But you will be keeping your fear-fighting muscles in shape.
When you do find an unbroken chunk of time to work on your project — say a Saturday morning is unexpectedly free — then you’ll be ready to sit down and do the work. These sprints are where you get most of your work done, but they’re only possible if you are used to sitting down and facing THE FEAR.
Daily face THE FEAR, and sprint when you can. This is how I’ve published 7 books, developed 4 commercial games and countless small projects. I’ve had a complicated life — kids, health difficulties, financial strain — I’ve faced the fear regularly, and I’ve sprinted when I could.
It won’t always be perfect, some days you’ll fall off the wagon, don’t worry. Just show up again the next day, ready to face THE FEAR. This is how you can work towards your game, make good consistent progress, and become a better person in the meantime.
Go do it.