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Tips for working at home

Time saving tips for working at home.
One of the biggest cost savings a small game studio can make is telecommuting.  Not having an office to pay rent on, not having to pay for gas to drive to that office, not wasting two plus hours a day driving there, and not having to buy a ten dollar lunch every day adds up to tens of thousands and maybe more!  Not to mention another hour and a half wasted at lunch.

However, there is one giant hurdle to overcome with a telecommuting team.  Everyone has to be disciplined enough to actually “work” from home.  Over the years I have found two types of people, those that don’t do crap when home, and those that do more work than in an office.  I have had years, actually a decade now, of experience working at home and have seen the pit falls first hand.  So here are some tips on making game development productive while working at home.

No Television:

Of all the tips I could possibly give, it is the “No Television” rule.  The TV truly is of the devil.  This awesome piece of technological entertainment is the biggest time suck in the world.  When you get up in the morning, don’t turn it on.

I find that if it is on, and I am just passing through the room, inevitably something will catch my attention and I will stand there and watch it for a bit.  This will happen about ten times a day.  Also if something is really interesting I will tend to slowly gravitate to the couch, sit on the edge, and watch it just a little and before I know it….I’m sitting there doing nothing but watching TV.

The best invention in the world has been digital video recorders like Tivo and Dish DVR.  I record everything I want to watch on DVR, then when I am done working I watch what I want.  Not to mention I save about twenty minutes per show by skipping the commercials.

Screen your calls:

Another time suck is the phone.  If you’re not doing business on the phone in your work time, then you are just wasting time.  For me it is easy to get to talking to a friend on the phone and completely lose track of time.  So during work hours, if someone calls and you see it isn’t a business call, let it go to voice mail.

Get your groove on:

For me, one of the most motivational things I have found is putting on music.  Particularly music with a good pace beat and little or no lyrics works best for me.  Techno, Classical, Jazz, all these work great for me.  Don’t listen to NPR, talk shows, or any other stream or radio station where you have to pay attention to what they are saying.  It will just suck 20% of your mental capacity to keep up with what is going on instead of making awesome games.

Make a ten list:

“Out of sight is out of mind” really is a true.  If something is not directly in your face, you tend to forget about it.  Because of this, for years I have made a habit of making what I call the “Ten List” on my white board.  This is a list of ten things of most importance that I need to get done each day.  By writing them in plain sight, with bright colors on the white board I am constantly reminded.  I try to put them in order of priority.  If I can, I try to put the next day’s ten list up on the board the night before.  This way when I get up, I don’t sit around for twenty minutes trying to remember what it is I am supposed work on. Do the list the night before when you have all the stuff that needs to be done clear in your mind.  Now, I don’t always get all ten done, but sometimes I get all ten done and move on to more.  The point is by keeping it constantly in my sight, I know what I have to do, and feel guilty if I don’t get them done.

RSS Everything:

I have to say the RSS can be the biggest information gold mine, and time saver of anything on the net.  There are about fifty websites that I keep track of on a daily basis, yet by just subscribing to the RSS of each, I only have to visit one site.  So I go to Google Feedburner each morning, and read all the news and information I am interested in.  This saves me so much time I can’t tell you.

Time Box:

Time boxing is a time management technique where a person sets aside a specific amount of time for each problem.  When the time is up, you are suppose to stop working and move to the next block of time.  While this doesn’t work for debugging or programming that well, it works excellent for the other tasks.  I use time boxing each morning when I go to read the RSS feeds,  look into facebook, twitter and stuff like that.  When my hour is up, I get my ass to work on real stuff.

Time boxing is great for forcing yourself to work too.  Sometimes I don’t feel like doing anything.  So I set up a period of time and make sure that I work for that time period without getting up.  I end up feeling much better about myself and don’t go to bed feeling guilty.

Tell people you are working:

One of the biggest problems about working at home is other people think you’re not working.  I don’t know how many of my relatives and friends assume that because I am home they can just come by and sit at the table and blather about the weather or whatever.  You just have to put your foot down.  Right when they show up, you have to tell them right up front that you are working and you don’t have time to socialize.  Some of them still won’t understand, and might not be your friend after that, but you will be better off without those type of loafer people anyhow :)

Time is money:

Also understand as a software engineer that time is money.  If you make an average of 40 bucks an hour and it takes you an hour to mow your yard, hire the neighbor kid to do it.

Mix up your location:

One of the other things you can do to increase productivity is change your work location.  I regularly move from my office, to the dining room, to the living room, and in the summer time I usually work somewhere outside on the Area 52 compound.  I live deep in the woods so that isn’t a noise issue, but if you live in the city you might want to find somewhere else.

Reward Yourself:

Finally one of the last things I do to keep myself motivated is set up rewards.  For example I am a beer fanatic, and I brew my own stuff.  However if I feel like I am really jonesing for a beer, I force myself to finish all ten items on the ten list before I allow myself to have any.  It is a super powerful motivator!

You can read more and follow me and Neuron Games, Inc. here:

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