Monday, September 30, 2013

Work-Life Balance, and Finishing a Game

It's been a month since my last post.

Traditionally, I've been pretty good about keeping a rhythm on this blog. One post, bi-weekly for over two years, save for the occasional vacation. And even then, I was usually quick to make-up for lost time.

Lately, though, it's been harder to keep up that rhythm. For one thing, it's getting harder to find topics that are both relevant and as-yet uncovered.

Two years ago, I had seemingly endless questions about becoming an indie developer. How much money does it require? What's a day in the life of an indie like? Why do developers choose to become independent? I tried to dissect each of the events and considerations I faced, in an effort to draw back the curtain for others.

The bigger issue, though, is psychological. As I make NEO Scavenger's final push to completion, I find I'm using every bit of energy I can muster to stay on-task. Despite what I can only describe as a surprising success so far (positive feedback, encouraging sales, acceptance from vendors, and even Greenlight approval), I feel emotionally drained, fearful, stressed, and distracted.

It turns out that this isn't unusual. I definitely struggle with perfectionism, often putting off finishing something because I'm not completely happy with it. And two (plus) years on the same game/engine/job/problems has dulled that once-sharp edge of excitement and novelty.

In the aforementioned article, Ms. Saunders's suggestions for dealing with those blocks are helpful, too. Itemized to-do lists are definitely a huge help, particularly when the tasks are smaller and well-defined. The days when I can't stop working are those when my direction seems clear. Conversely, those that are the most grueling are when my task is large and poorly-defined (e.g. "finish NEO Scavenger's plot").

Recognizing the effort expended vs. the effort remaining is also useful. I'll admit that starting a new game looks enticing, to the point that I could find motivation to work on it in my spare evenings and weekends. But taking a look at how much effort it took to get here, and realizing that I would be here again in two years, helps put things into perspective.

Prioritization is also key. There are several areas which I try to balance in my life. Listed in order from most to least important:

  1. Maintaining relationships (spouse, family, friends)
  2. Staying healthy (i.e. eating right, getting enough sleep, getting exercise, avoiding crunch)
  3. Running my business, Blue Bottle Games
  4. Developing my first game, NEO Scavenger
  5. Running this blog
That is to say, if something higher up on the list is threatened, something lower gives. So things like vacation, weddings, and funerals usually trump everything else (even healthy sleeping and eating, as a recent funeral has demonstrated). I'm also pretty rigid about not working on evenings and weekends, and eating at regular times (with a few exceptions).

Numbers 3 and 4 have been more demanding lately, not to mention s summer thick with number 1, so blog posting has admittedly been swept aside. And even then, skipping the blog only frees up a few hours every two weeks (normally), so I shudder to think where else the squeeze has occurred (I'm looking at you, number 2).

All things considered, I think I'm surprisingly still pretty healthy in my balance. I still quit at 6:30pm each day, and don't touch work on weekends, except to deal with occasional emails (less than 1-2 hours per weekend).

It's been hard to focus, though, and stress is at a local peak. I'm gritting my teeth again, clenching my jaw unconsciously, and my mind wanders at any possible opportunity. I had a good day, Friday, when I refused any internet distractions for most of the working day. I got a lot done, and I felt better for it. But it was a slog.

I think this is the way it's going to be until I finish NEO Scavenger and launch it. And even then, the prevailing wisdom is that it just gets more stressful in the subsequent months. The road's getting tough, and the toughest is yet to come.