Tuesday, May 10, 2011

CRPGs, Blogging, and Time Management

Note: I wrote the following on April 17 (hence the reference to "home in front of my computer all week"). I didn't post it at the time because it didn't seem like a good blog entry, and I couldn't figure out a way to incorporate images. I still have the same concerns, but I'm offering it now as a precursor to the rest of the week. I'm playing MM2 again but I need to rack up some playing time before I can issue the next post. Thanks for bearing with me.

As I've probably mentioned before, I'm a pretty busy guy. So I've read a lot about time management, and I try to dedicate a good portion of every day to tackling the priorities on my "to do" list. However, it has been literally years since I had the capability to focus on a single task for more than an hour at a time--and an hour is really stretching it. Thus, I have an odd system by which I do things in 15 minute chunks. Every morning, I sort my to do list by a formula that takes into consideration the start date, the due date, the priority, and the number of hours it will take me to complete it. I work on Task #1 for 15 minutes, then work on Task #2 for 15 minutes. Then I spend 15 minutes each on #1, #2, and #3, then 15 minutes each on #1 through #4, and so on, until the end of the day (I rarely get past Task #8). The virtue of this system is that Task #1 always gets the most attention, but I never have to do it for more than 15 minutes at a time. The only rule-breaking I allow myself is that if the mood strikes me, I can continue working on Task #1 for as long as I want. But everything else has a 15 minute limit.

This has worked out pretty well for me, but it was only recently that I realized another strategy that should work for you no matter what time management system you use. It seems natural to work on something until you reach a good "stopping point." That's what most people do. Finish reading this chapter, finish writing this paragraph, finish this e-mail, finish this presentation slide. While this brings a certain sense of accomplishment, it makes it harder to re-start the task or project after you've taken a break. Think about it. Say you're writing a term paper, and you promise yourself you can take a break once you finish the literature review. So you write and write and finally reach the end of the section and triumphantly close the document. Feels great. But then, the next time you open it, it's like you're starting a whole new project. You have to type the next section heading, figure out how to begin the first paragraph, sketch a rough outline for what you want to say in the section. It's like jumping right from your bed into the busiest part of the day without your shower and breakfast first.

Thus, my new strategy: don't wait for a good "stopping point"; instead, stop working at a moment when you know exactly what the next steps are going to be. Stop in the middle of a paragraph--the middle of a sentence, even. Most people don't like to stop when they're "on a roll," but "on a roll" is exactly when you should stop, because it makes it so much easier to get the roll going when you pick up the task again. You finish the sentence, finish the paragraph, and by then the pump is primed and you can move on to the next step much more fluidly.

Looking back through my blog, I can see the same principle applying. When am I most prolific? When I'm at the transition point between games. You can see why. The "won" posting is usually fun to write, and then the "final rating" posting writes itself. After that, my next posting is always the beginning of a new game, which is usually fairly easy. That's three postings in a row in which I know exactly what I'm going to write. Sometimes I write them all on the same day and space out their publication. When I hit on a string of short games, I might have two or three weeks of uninterrupted blogging, as I did in January this year, despite the fact I was traveling for most of it.

When do I take the longest breaks? When I'm in the middle of a particularly long game. Right now, in the middle of Might & Magic II. I took long breaks during both The Bard's Tale II and Demon's Winter. Last December, in the intermediate levels of Dungeon Master. Last May, in Ultima IV. I don't know how I missed this pattern before. I've been telling myself that it's my travel and work schedule, but the truth is, I've been using my travel and work schedule as an excuse to avoid playing games. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

The middle of a game is where I find it the most difficult to structure entries. After my last Might & Magic II posting, I thought I had a plan: I'd do my next three postings on dungeons, quests, and spells in that order. I even started three separate blog drafts where I could plug in screenshots and tidbits as I encountered them. But the whole thing became so complicated that, even though I've been at home in front of my computer all week, I've actually procrastinated on playing games because without knowing exactly how I was going to write the next posting, it seemed like too much of an effort.

Therefore, I'm going to apply my general time management strategy to blogging. No more calling it a night at the end of a posting. Instead, I'm going to force myself to start the next posting right after I finish the current one. That should make it easier to get back into it when I return.


  1. Seems like an interesting connection between this and a point from David Allen's 'Getting Things Done' methodology. As I understand it one of his major points is that we put off activities when we don't know what the next concrete action we need to take is, which sounds very much like what you're suggesting here. When you know exactly, specifically, what the next thing you need to do is, it's much easier to just sit down and do it.

  2. I'm beginning to feel like your addiction is discerning motives and applying hypotheses to them and not crpgs in particular :P

  3. I don't think that method would work for me: I tend to forget those oh-so-obvious steps before I start that project again.

  4. Kyle, I actually read the GTD book once on a plane but I forgot this aspect of it--or else it just floated in my subconscious until I hit on this idea.

    Helm, what you describe is actually quite close to my full-time job!

  5. [Repost: Dammit, I had first post as well!] I don't think this would work for me as I often forget those next few critical steps if I leave something, even a straight forward derivation or bit of creative writing.

  6. Wow this all sounds super useful to me, personally.

    I was already glad to have found this blog, but now I’m *extra* glad.


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