Staying sharp and being productive are two common complaints for everyone, but more so for the lazy developer. Most have day jobs, get home tired, and still need to make dinner, clean up a bit, and make time for the family before finally curling up on the couch to just… exist! It’s natural to think “I’ll work on that level later, right now I just want to binge watch Netflix.”
But see, the problem is you’re on deadline, the never-ending pile of work gets bigger by the day, and your team is counting on you. The good news is that as long as you remember to live a little, work remains enjoyable!
1) Don’t Forget to Play Video Games
No, not the games your team is making. Remember, before game developers join studios large and small, they’re players. And to be a great developer, that can’t change. It improves your skills in the game and helps you pinpoint what you do and don’t enjoy. Maybe you have an undying love for MMO’s and want to finally work on one (be careful starting an MMO as a small indie team!) Or perhaps you’ve discovered you hate the use of RNG and want to create a game that uses a new system.
There will always be work to do. Time will always seem rather limited, especially during crunch period. Even during the times when there are no projects on the table, there’s always networking to do. But you can’t stop playing video games. Even if it’s just one game every month or two, staying on top of what else is out there will keep you from getting tunnel vision. Being exposed to the creativity of others helps spark more ideas of your own. Plus, it’s fun to relax with some games!
2) Size Up The Competition
Here’s something most players don’t understand: once you become a developer, you don’t view games the way you did before. Being a player, and solely a player, makes games enjoyable because you’re free to criticize people. Once you’re a developer, you sympathize with other developers’ choices more, and you seek to understand what it is they did and why.
Unfortunately, this is what creates a disconnect in the industry. Many developers lack the ability to view a game the way they did when they were just players.
While you’re playing video games, try to use both methods of viewing the situation. Look at the choices other studios make, and determine what works and what doesn’t. What resonates with players, and what makes them want to rant about it on forums?
Don’t be afraid to look up specific developers and studios to see what they’re working on either. All of this helps you see how you measure up by comparison. Are you where you should be, or is there a clear step you have yet to take in the industry? Does your game stand out, or are you creating something that’s already been done?
Most of all, ask yourself, “What would players think?”
3) Make New Friends
If you’re going to stay sharp, you can’t spend all your time making games in a studio or playing them in your bedroom or living room. You’re going to need some fresh air.
Now, it might seem like time wasted—going out and meeting people—but it’s actually still work when you think about it. Talking to people in the industry and exposing yourself to different ideas and levels of creativity is what separates productive developers from hobbyists.
Getting involved in the gaming community and making friends with other developers not only makes for a more fruitful life, but a more rewarding work experience. Imagine collaborating with a newfound friend or finding out about a job opportunity from someone you met just a few months back.
If you don’t live in a city where there’s plenty of developer hot spots (San Francisco, anyone?), then there’s still hope. There’s GDC every single year, and there are developer forums online. Social media is another good place to rub shoulders with other people in the community, from developers to journalists. If you want more of a face-to-face interaction, try looking up any developer conventions or game jams.
4) Learn When to Take a Break
Notice how all the steps provided so far help you progress your career while seemingly doing something a little different than those regular 13-hour workdays. It’s time for a tip that doesn’t involve gaming, or career building in any way!
Game development is one of the most challenging career paths to break into, and spending time away from all of that seems like wasted time, but burning yourself out is counterproductive. You can’t just work on games, or play games. Taking up other hobbies is what keeps you sane, and interesting. It’s what helps you live a full life, rather than have it be sucked away by career building.
Do yourself a favor and clear up every Friday and Saturday night from this week forward. This is something you should have already been doing, but you’d be surprised how common it is for developers to not have weekend nights off. Many developers work part time, choosing to work a day job to make ends meet while building a portfolio, meaning they use weekends, and weekend nights, to finish their games.
Unfortunately, not giving yourself a break can lead to a tired mind and body. Instead, take up cooking, have movie nights with friends, treat yourself to a spa day, or pick up a book. Have dinner with your parents who probably don’t see you very often.
Remember, fresh minds are far more productive!
5) Get Started Now
The root cause of procrastination for many people tends to be anxiety. Many people fear failing, or fear that their best efforts won’t be good enough. Others fear the work itself, that the work will be boring and will drag on forever. Still others are paradoxically afraid of becoming distracted and thus will try to get everything else in their lives done first. Many people have trouble getting started with their work even after they’ve walked the dog, done all the laundry in their house and cleaned out their garage. Getting rid of background distractions is quite nice but sometimes, your work takes priority.
The best way to overcome such anxiety is to simply get started on whatever you were supposed to work on. When you simply take the first step, draw the first stroke, write the first word or type the first line of code in, you make progress. By making progress, you might find that the work is easier than you thought it would be, or that your output isn’t the worst thing in the world as you previously feared. It is only through getting work done that you can allay your anxieties, so it’s important that you get started on your work as soon as possible.
6) Reward Yourself Later
After getting started on your project, make sure that you have a reward for yourself later on. Don’t just force yourself to finish that latest project just so you can do even more work later. If you put too much work into a project, sooner or later, you’ll tire of whatever you were doing and become burned out.
Because fatigue can be a real problem, especially with very long term projects with no end in sight, it is important to reward yourself every so often. Once you start feeling tired, give yourself a reward. This may be as little as five minutes on Facebook or as major as a vacation to another country. The primary purpose of this reward is to keep your spirits up and to make your to-do list just a little bit less daunting if you know there’s something in the middle waiting for you.
7) Always Prioritize
As a corollary to the last point, it is important that you know where the middle is. Plan out and prioritize all your tasks, so that you’ll know what you’re doing at all times. A task can seem insurmountable if you don’t even know where to start or how close you are to finishing. If you do know what you’re doing, then things will become a lot easier and there will be less stress regarding the amount of work you might have.
What planning doesn’t mean, however is not getting started on a task at all because you’re too busy planning how you’re going to do it. At some point, you will have to take the plunge and get started.
8) Take Responsibility
Last but not least, take responsibility for your work. Don’t get started just because a deadline is coming up, or you think a deadline is coming up. This means getting started on work early and working to finish what you need to, not just desperately typing something up because you were off doing something else and needed to turn something in. Deadline driven work is usually subpar in quality and is nowhere near as good as work that was completed with due diligence and planning. If you take responsibility for your work, then you will finish everything on time, without having to make excuses.
H/T to Yixin Li for writing half of this post!
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