We’ve all been there: staring blankly at a computer screen, eyes glazed over for who knows how long, until you finally zap yourself to the present and find… What’s this? It couldn’t be! Why, it’s online shopping, and it has struck again! So much for getting work done, and meeting deadlines. Wave so long to that Greenlit game of yours, there’s no possible way it’ll be playable in time.
Or will it?
The amount of things you just get used to is astonishing. You can get used to a small screen, a bad relationship, a fattening diet, and even cramped spaces. In the case of the average developer, it’s easy to just give up and accept that the internet has mysterious, addictive ways. However, that shouldn’t seal your fate. If anything, it should motivate you to rise above. Especially if you’re like most indie developers, and have a day job. There’s only so much time for that game of yours, and we’re here to help you improve your productivity when working remotely.
1) Get Another Monitor
Before stating anything else, let’s just put it out there that none of the other tips involve money. This one might not either, assuming you have a second spare monitor to use. Remember, TV’s can also be used for this. But the reason why it’s even on this list is really invaluable: more screen space to get more done, plus it’s better on the eyes.
For instance, say you’re working on your average desktop. The screen can only fit so much on it, but with a second one, you can work on those collision points while checking email. More so, chances are one of the monitors will be bigger than the other, which in turn makes your primary task easier to see. With a smaller screen, there’s only so much you can do. It involves more tabs being open, more windows up, and having to constantly click back and forth between things. All that time clicking can be better spent actually getting stuff done.
Here’s another scenario: you’re in a Skype meeting with the team on one screen, but you need to have Unity pulled up. Rather than sacrifice Skype, and pull up Unity over it, now you can have both. You can even browse things for reference while working in Unity. Imagine test playing, and being able to check Slack!
2) Set Attainable Hourly Goals
Monday to Friday, I rise at 6:30 and begin working by 7. First thing I do is plan an itinerary for the day, with times. Normally the morning is always the same: check email and other messages by 8:45, email my team with their daily dose of industry new by 9, and finish a blog post by noon. After that, I assign projects for every hour on the hour, up until 3. And guess what? Being this strict about my time has allowed me to get more done in any given day than the system I had before, which was simply “get as much done as possible.”
In other words, if you’re working on your game, plan out what you can realistically do on an average day. Chances are each day will be different. Animations on Mondays, coding on Tuesdays, playtesting on Wednesday, weekly community engagement on Thursdays, etc. But declaring what you’re going to get done, before setting off to do it all, keeps you focused. Suddenly, you’re motivated, because you know exactly what they day will hold. Just remember to leave wiggle room for any unexpected surprises!
3) Get An Online Productivity Tool
Now, even the best of the best get distracted. It’s normal, it’s natural, it’s going to happen. Social media and online shopping never quit. However, there are ways to keep it to a minimum. Easy-to-use online productivity tool, Simpleology, is perfect for those looking for a browser bouncer, add-on and morning thought processor. In other words, this tool blocks access to any distracting website with the click of a button. It also has a Chrome extension, so when you’re working and something distracting pops up in your mind, you can type it into your browser bar and save it for Simpleology’s “Start My Day” box the following morning. In fact, every morning you use the tool to empty your rambling thoughts. Then, simply choose what you’d ideally like to get done in the next 8 hours, and boom, you’ve limited distractions.
It comes with a 30-day trial, but if you want a free version, just send a support request.
4) Don’t Skimp On the Snacks
If you’re like most people, you eat whatever is easiest while working. Maybe you reach for a candy bar, a yogurt, or something you can pop in the microwave. But did you know that what you eat affects your productivity? Consider whenever you’ve gone to Long Horn Steakhouse and almost died from being so stuffed from all that delicious food. They throw salad, bread and butter, and a giant entree at you, come on now. It’s absurd, more so if you make the mistake of ordering an appetizer. Chances are, after all that, you don’t feel like doing anything.
Sure, you’re not eating like this while working (hopefully), but you might be eating food loaded with sugar and simple carbs. Fun fact: these foods rank high on the glycemic index, an indicator of how rapidly carbs increase blood sugar. All those blood sugar spikes followed by sharp drops cause fatigue throughout the day. Looking at you Oreos!
Instead try eating blueberries, avocados, leafy green veggies, fatty fish, nuts and even dark chocolate, all of which are proven to improve your focus, and therefore, your productivity. If you’re lazy, and don’t want to go digging for healthy food, just prep a few containers for 2 days in advance. Get yourself some containers with separate sections, and fill each one with things like carrots, orange slices and yes, yogurt. Ziplock bags work just fine too!
5) Avoid Too Much Coffee
There was a point in time when I was drinking coffee every single morning, and then following it up with a second cup somewhere around noon. Little did I know at the time just how horrible this was. In those days, I was pulling long hours and for some reason I couldn’t quite place at the time, I was suffering from insomnia and some anxiety.
Well, as it turns out, too much coffee causes this. It causes a lot of other things too, like increased blood pressure, stomach ulcers, headaches, heart palpitations, dehydration, muscle twitches and spasms, etc. Upon finding this out, I stopped drinking coffee more than once per day and noticed I felt better. Soon, I switched it up to drinking coffee once every other morning, and felt even better. So, the moral of the story here is if you’re working on your game and drinking coffee to stay awake, just stop. Get some sleep and try again the next night. There’s no realistic way you can get anything substantial done while your heart is threatening to pump out of your chest.
Instead reach for some water, which keeps you hydrated and promotes a healthy system. If you drink coffee, limit how much you actually drink. Two or more cups isn’t a necessity after all.
6) Multitask Like Someone with ADD
The brain wiring of ADD makes it difficult to focus on only one thing at a time. Ask anyone with ADD and they’ll say the same thing: doing one thing at a time get boring, and they end up getting seriously distracted as a result. The task at hand needs to be stimulating, or interesting, in order to keep focused. And you know what? This is actually a great thing.
Channel your inner ADD “victim” and take a page out of the book. Rather than work on one task at a time, pull up about 2-3. Try working on one task for 20 minutes, before switching over to another, then repeat. In 60 minutes, or 1 hour, you’ll have made progress on three tasks. If you have dual monitors, like we suggested on #1, pulling up three tasks is even easier. This helps you take care of more than just one task at a time, and ensures you feel like you’re winning at productivity. Just that boost of happiness is enough to keep you motivated and actually finish everything.
If this sounds too stressful, and counterproductive, remember: it’s how you approach things. Did you make a to-do list for the day? Are you making use of downtime (checking email while snacking)? Are you grouping compatible tasks?
7) Listen to Your Body
Here’s something obvious: your body is a smart machine that requires certain things. It requires sleep (rest), food (fuel) and entertainment (motivation/happiness). It needs water, vitamins and even strenuous physical activity (jogging for all of 60 seconds is worthy of a trophy). When you’re working on something at ten o’ clock at night, and it’s catching up to you, you feel it. Your back gets sore, your foot begins to fall asleep. It becomes much more difficult to focus. Soon, you find yourself nodding off in your desk chair, losing precious time and quality sleep.
To improve your productivity, you absolutely must know when enough is enough. It’s better to take a night off, and go to sleep early, than to fight through it and wind up doing tasks poorly, or blinking rapidly at your keyboard. Being tired and busy puts you under some serious psychological and physical stress. Stop it! Whatever the task on hand is, it can wait, assuming it isn’t due the very next day!
8) Be Realistic About Where You’re Setting Up Shop
Working remotely means you can work from anywhere, at any time. You could set up your laptop at Starbucks and fuel those jokes about needing to be in a public space to validate your work. You could also stay at home, in your PJs, and work from the couch with the TV on. Maybe the kitchen counter, the bar top, or the balcony. Maybe you just prefer to go to the library. It’s all possible, and likely to occur at least once. Trouble is, some places just aren’t that great to work from. Any place with slow wi-fi is an automatic no. Hotels generally have awful internet as well, for those who travel for work all the time.
Meanwhile, paying a monthly fee to access a co-working space might not be so bad. In fact, these places are exclusively all about remote work. Everyone there is there for the same reason: to get stuff done and feel like they have a place to go to for work. Much like an office, only people there all work for different companies. Sometimes, a home office is an even better option, as it’s yours, and customized to your specific needs and wants.
There are many places you could work from, but are they all effective? No. Keep this in mind when you’re setting up shop.
9) Mute Notifications
If you use productivity and messaging programs like Slack in order to stay in touch with your team, you might find yourself interrupted often. The same goes with Skype, text messages, and email. That means that while trying to get stuff done, you might find yourself getting constantly distracted. Who said what? Does the conversation involve you in some way, is there something you’re going to need to do now?
While answering all these messages is important, so is your actual work. And sometimes those messages just need to wait an extra 30 minutes. Unless it’s a dire emergency, you should be fine going M.I.A. when you’re busy. For starters, Skype has status settings, so you can set yourself away, or even invisible. Use Away so people know you’ll reply back in a bit, but still gives them a chance to tell you if something requires your immediate attention. For Slack, go to preferences and change it to no sound. Alternatively, change it so you’re not notified of anything, unless you’re directly tagged in the conversation. For texting, simply put your phone on silent/vibrate. If you have an iPhone, use the built-in “Do Not Disturb” feature, which silences all incoming calls and alerts, including texts. You can schedule it, or just manually activate it. It even has an optional feature where if someone calls twice in a row, the second call won’t be silenced. This helps stay on top of things when there’s an emergency.
10) Find Your Groove
According to a study done by the Journal of Consumer Research, a good ambient level is around 70 decibels, and it’s proven to improve your productivity. Anything too low or high, like 50 and 85 decibels is awful for productivity. In other words, quiet places are bad news. Loud places are also bad news. If you’re in a library and it’s super quiet, it’s better to pull out some music that keeps you focused. If you’re in a place that makes your ears bleed, hopefully you packed some earplugs. Otherwise, try a piece of balled up napkin. Ideally, however, you desperately need to get out of there!
Oh, and no, you don’t need to listen to classical music to stay focused, although it does help. Music you like, but that isn’t overly loud works just fine. Turn down the volume and you’re fine. Otherwise, try using websites like Noisli, which lets you choose from background sounds like railroads, coffee shops, etc. It’s free, and even reminds you to put those headphones on. Because really, headphones help. Especially those fancy noise-cancelling ones.
Being Productive Isn’t About Force
To improve your productivity when working remotely, keep things as easy as they can possibly be. Silence whatever you can, to limit disruptions, set some nice ambient noise or music, and try to use dual monitors. Try your hand at switching back and forth between two or three tasks. Set attainable goals for each hour, and remember to eat right. Limit the coffee, and up the intake of water. Listen to your body, and be realistic about where you’re setting up shop for the day. All these things can mark the difference between meeting your deadlines, or having a miserable, disorganized time.
Most of all, remember that there’s only so much time in a given day. Don’t feel awful if you don’t get around to working on something specific. Odds are the rest of your indie development team feels the same way. There is always something to do, and the work never truly ends. The best way to approach each day is to just aim for organization. What can you realistically get done today? What can wait a bit? More so, what can you delegate to someone with more experience in a certain area? Sometimes you’re not the best person for a task, and that’s fine. Hand it to someone who does it in their sleep, so you can focus on playing up your own strengths!
As always, let us know if you liked this article, and don’t be afraid to follow us on social media. We love making new friends around here at Black Shell Media, LLC.!