Finding Time to Work

Tagged under indiedev

I develop games alongside doing a full-time job and I also have a family to look after. This is a similar situation to a lot of indie devs; it isn’t easy, but we all have that secret ingredient that drives us to find the time to do it: passion.

But even with passion it’s difficult finding time to work on your project alongside all these other responsibilities.

I’m always working on how to be efficient and get as much done as possible, but it takes time (and experimenting) to find the right things that work for you. These are the things that work for me:

1. Find the good times to work (and get into a routine)

I’ve figured out the best times that I can work free from distraction:

  • Early morning – I can fit in some work if I get up early. The house is quiet (everyone’s still in bed!) and I’m fresh and alert, so it’s a good time to tackle tough programming problems
  • On the tube commuting to my job– if I can get a seat I use my Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones (which are great for concentration). It takes some practice to get ‘into the zone’ on public transport but it’s a great chance to work without being distracted
  • I prefer to work with music on. I used to choose my own music which actually was time consuming (as I had to take time to choose) and often my brain would get distracted because it would be humming along to music it knew and liked
  • Straight after work – if I’m not too tired I head to a café after work and carry on (with the help of some coffee :D). I’ve found over the years that waiting until I’m home after work means I’m too tired (the commute takes it out of you!)

It took a bit of trial and error to find these but once I knew them I just made sure I consistently worked at these times so my body got used to the routine.

2. Keep a list of things to work on

Probably the most important thing I’ve started to do. When I’m building a game I break down the features needed into lists, and each feature itself has a list of things that need to be implemented.

Having a list makes it super easy to dive right back in because I know what I need to work on next. It’s also very satisfying when you get to tick something off as done!

Another tip: in writing they say a great way to make it easier to get back into working is leaving a sentence half-written, as it gives you a way back into the flow of things. I’ve found the same works with game programming (eg: write down the method name of the next method you need).

3. Working Practices

Time is precious so when you start working you want to get started as soon as possible – no distractions. I used to waste time at the start of working sessions but I’ve been able to reduce this thanks to two working practices I’ve adopted:

  • Pareto Principle: set a timer, work for a set time, then take a break. Simple but it’s easy to forget to take a break and you can get distracted by wondering if it’s time for a break yet. This method takes any guesswork out of it. 35 minute work periods work best for me.
  • Focus@will: A subscription site that plays music scientifically proven to not be distracting. I really like this – before I’d spend ages choosing music to play and often I’d pick catchy stuff that my brain knew and it got distracted. Now I waste no time choosing music!

These are the working practices I use to squeeze in as many productive working sessions as I can during the working week. Hopefully some of these might work for you too, but I’d be interesting in hearing how you work as well so feel free to add your own tips in the comments.

Happy working!

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