The morning was frigid. The sun had yet to rise and the world was dark and still. The only sounds were the snow crunching beneath my feet and my fevered breath; strained as it was by the effort of trying to get to the bus on time. I was up late the night before, like so many nights prior, building virtual worlds; making Dungeonforge. I was exhausted. I was also extremely stressed since I had overslept my alarm and had to jog, in my work clothes no less, to get to the bus on time so I could get to work at the big-named tech conglomerate I worked for. As I neared the end of the block I saw it in the distance; my bus heading toward my stop. There was no one at the bus stop when it got there, so it just paused, idly opened it’s doors in a merely obligatory manner, and then drove away. Without me.
I made a decision then. It’s one that changed my life in myriad ways. You see, in that moment, faced with being late to work and not for the first time, I felt many things. The worst thing though, was that I felt like a child that was about to get scolded for doing something bad. That sucked. It was the feeling that I wasn’t in control of my own destiny. So, as I said, I made a decision; to take control of my fate.
In the time since I quit my day job I’ve learned a thing or two. It’s not all sunshine and roses on the other side. There are things to consider which you might not have. And if you didn’t then maybe I can save you the trouble of having to learn them the hard way.
Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword
The biggest commodity that you find yourself in sudden possession of is near absolute freedom. Suddenly, you can show up for work in your underwear. Or less. Or just decide not to show up at all. And you will do each of those things. You can set your own schedule. Or not schedule anything at all. And you can take breaks from work whenever you want and just get back to it whenever you feel the need.
This last bit is the trickiest. Since no one is breathing down your shoulder, keeping you productive with an iron fist and the stinging lash of corporate discipline, what’s to keep you from going recklessly off-task in a world full of the reddits and the facebooks and the video games?
Like it or not, you’ll want to find time to set out a schedule and stick to it. You might try looking at it like this: the real beauty of this proposition is not that you don’t have to stick to any sort of schedule, but that you can create and stick to any sort of schedule you wish! If there’s a schedule to follow, it’s your own, of your own design.
Me? I find I work best between in the wee hours of the night. And that’s okay because my boss says it is.
Further, if you’re like me and have a family, remember that they’re going to want to see you too. And when they do you may want to consider putting some sort of clothing on.
Time is Relative
How much time you think is enough to work on your project in a day is relative to how much time you think you actually have to work on it. Go ahead and read that one again if needed.
You see, when I only had maybe five-or-six hours a day to work on Dungeonforge, five-or-six hours felt like enough. Now that I have unlimited time to work on the game I am almost ashamed of the number of 12-16 hour days I’ve put in. You see, you’re almost always going to want to put every available minute into the game. For me, I all of a sudden had eight hours freed up that I promptly added onto the five-or-six I normally worked on it. Further, I found I could sleep in later, which led to staying up later. Lastly, I didn’t have to factor in two hours a day for commuting. Ta-da! 16-hour work day. This effect can be exacerbated by the knowledge that now, your game will become your only source of income. If you don’t currently have a game to sell, you may not currently have an income at all. This will inevitably cause you to want to work all the more in order to have a game to sell. See where this is going?
I had told my wife that quitting my day job would result in a better balance, since I would just be replacing working there with working on the game. Of course, however inadvertently, I lied.
Balance is important. Whether you have a family or not you can’t simply tuck yourself away in a room in front of a computer screen until you pass out, then wake up, brush the Cheeto crumbs off and get back to work. You will die. It’s proven by science.
So, as you’re designing your special, self-conforming schedule, be sure and include some downtime, won’t you?
Let them eat…
Eating is important, right? We can all agree that brains and muscles need fuel. Besides, don’t we all get a little cranky when we don’t eat?
And yet I find that, without that corporate designated lunching hour, I find it hard to eat consistently. I’ll wait until I notice just how angrily I’m programming. It’s more noticeable on days when I’ve got the PR hat on and am actually talking to people. The crankiness of a hungry dev does not help win the hearts and minds of the public.
And without the cushy amenities of an on-campus cafe, I find it hard to eat well. Many a day has passed where I’ve subsided on a single bowl of Cocoa Puffs.
Don’t code cranky. Eat something. Eat something that’s actually food. And set aside some fixed amount of time every day to do it.
And on the seventh day, dude totally rest
Weekends used to be my staple. When I was working a day job, I’d gather my little studio around and we’d have marathon development sessions from Friday evening on until Saturday evening. Much was accomplished. And, most notably, divorce nearly occurred. Twice.
Happily my wife and I remain married, but this surely stands as a cautionary tale.
The first two weekends after quitting my day job, I tried these same weekend shenanigans because, well how much time you think is enough to work on your project is relative to how much time you think you actually have to work on it. Working the weekend after putting in 12+ hours a day the week before took it’s toll. I got sick and didn’t work for a couple of days. After that I decided what you should decide now: bless the weekend and consecrate it for much napping.
Naturally, everybody is different and, of course, YMMV and all that. If there’s one thing though that is universal, it’s that quitting your day job to work full time as an independent game developer will change your life. You’ll have your share of naysayers. Your mother will ask about your “plan B.” Your father (and your bank, debtors and utilities company) will ask how you’re paying for things. There will be things to consider which you haven’t yet. But the proof is in the pudding. Since quitting my day job to work on Dungeonforge, we advanced to the point where we were able to run a successful Greenlight campaign in which we were Greenlit in under two weeks. We’re now on Kickstarter and have received a far better response than our first two crowdfunding experiments (we still majorly need the help of some generous souls at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1004444231/dungeonforge-be-the-ultimate-dungeon-master. Also, more on the failed attempts in a post to follow). In short, we are closer than ever to making our dreams a reality.
The overriding message here is, if you want to change your life, just change it. Just, ya know, be prepared for change, alright?