"I want to do <insert project here> but I just can't find the time for it!!" I've heard this exasperated cry so many times that I can't tell you. I get it-we all have our lives to live-day jobs, classes, assignments, studies, exams, spouses, kids, pets and household chores and errands occupy most of the time and after doing all this, we either collapse exhausted into bed or do a bit of what we do to unwind-play games, watch Netflix or whatever else we want!
In order to make progress in our professional lives (to do what we WANT to do), however, we need to do more than what we NEED to do. If we want to upgrade ourselves by acquiring new skills and go where we haven't before, we need to do a fair bit of work above and beyond all of the stuff I mentioned just now. To break into the game industry, for example, you may be working on a game project on your own or in collaboration with others- this is a reasonably large commitment in terms of time and effort. Making even a simple game in a group would take a bare minimum of three to six months, with at least ten hours of work required by each team member every week, which makes around an hour and half of work on the game required per day.
This may not sound like much considering that there are twenty-four hours in a day, but in practice, doing an hour and half of work every day (apart from your regular stuff), isn't easy! I have a fair bit of experience in this matter, as I am writing this blog (and making videos for each one) apart from having a 9 to 5 job, teaching at two game colleges, mentoring and consulting outside of working hours, studying for TWO courses (business management and marketing) and also helping out in the house with four kids (two of which are new-born) and a dog.
I struggled with this for quite some time before coming up with some solutions that have worked quite well for me; here they are!
1. ANALYZE YOUR SCHEDULE AND RUTHLESSLY ELIMINATE DEAD TIME
I wake up at 5.30 AM and used to spend a while on my phone checking social media and email (it helped eliminate the fog of sleep). I thought it was five minutes, but on closer examination, it turned out to be a whole 15 to 20 minutes! Instead of sitting with my phone, I started stepping into the shower straight away- that saved me an hour and a half of time in a week.
Even ten, twenty minutes saved every day adds up to a considerable amount of time that you could be putting into your game project! Here's how to do it-one day, take a piece of paper and a pen, carry it around in your pocket and make a careful note of exactly what you do during a typical day, even if it is for five or ten minutes. That includes time on social media (it turned out that I spent thirty minutes a day on in the toilet looking at my phone!)
After you have this note, label each thing with a necessity-High, Medium and Low. Cooking, eating, doing your day job would be a HIGH, watching three episodes of a Netflix show would be MEDIUM and scrolling Reddit on the toilet would be LOW.
Now add up all your LOW and MEDIUM necessity time, and see how much you get. You can see how much time you spend on stuff that's lower priority than your project, and take a call on eliminating it.
Do this, and I promise you that you will find at least an hour and a half EVERY DAY for your project!
2. RATION YOUR INDULGENCES
You probably spend a few hours every day playing video games, watching something on Netflix or getting out and playing a sport; it is absolutely vital to find leisure time to unwind and stay healthy(physically and mentally) by doing what gives us some pleasure.
In reality, however, we tend to overdo these very things. One hour of Netflix becomes three; two hours of Overwatch tend to become five and so on. Added up, these 'little' indulgences suck up all our extra time and end up interfering with our sleep and productivity.
This is the big one, a very real battle that you have to fight and win in order to find time to do the things that you NEED to do. It's not easy by any means, but can be done with perseverance and effort.
Like to unwind by watching Netflix for two hours every day? Cut that to one hour.
Can't do less than two hours? Watch for two hours, but skip a day and watch every other day; that's at least six more hours in a week!
I would not advise trying to go "Cold Turkey" and completely stop doing anything that you have a tendency to over-do, as you will probably go right back to it worse than before; I find that the best way is to cut down on it bit by bit, increasing the time you spend on your project while gradually decreasing the time spent on overindulgence.
You're always going to be struggling between indulgence and project time, make no mistake-but with time, you will get better at balancing the two by building up your self-discipline. Slipping up every now and then is normal, as long as you get right back into it soon after! Right now it is 9.42 PM when I'm typing this; I'm going to stop working at 10 and watch Umbrella Academy on Netflix for 30 minutes before going to bed, and I'm looking forward to my thirty minutes' indulgence!
3. MORNINGS AND SLEEP PATTERNS
The most common killers of productivity are-Insufficient sleep and Inconsistent sleep. You might be spending all night working on your game,but how much are you actually getting done? You need at least around seven hours of (continuous) sleep to function normally, and it's super important to make sure you make that happen.
Here's an excellent article about productivity and sleep.
I'm aware that it's quite common for game developers to work at night, in some cases all night, and sleep in the day. Unless you have a very good reason why you can't sleep at night and work in the day, I would strongly advise against making that a habit. There are two good reasons for this-firstly, in most cases you're not going to be as productive at night as you can be in the day, due to the body's natural Circadian Rhythms- and secondly-permanently disrupting your sleep patterns will well affect your health (physical and mental).
This might sound crazy, but the early mornings (4 AM to sunrise) is the time that one can be really productive and do some high-quality work, provided that one has gotten some good sleep before that. If you go to sleep at 9 or 10 pm (Horrifying, I know) and get up around 4 or 5, in about three hours you will be able to do the same work that takes five to six hours during the day; this is from personal experience.
So to conclude, it doesn't matter if you have a day job, classes, pets, spouse, kids...you CAN make at least six to eight hours for your personal project every week, if you follow these simple instructions-this is all from personal experience!
I'd love to hear about how you make time for your personal project, and what you have to say about what I've written here...so comment away!