Time Management & Side Projects

This sounds fun!

An illustration of a person with a cardboard box on their head sitting at a desk. The box has a worried face drawn on it, and they are holding the box like someone cradling their head. There is an open planner on the desk and a clock with a scared cartoon face behind them. The character is wearing a red shirt and has blue-tinted skin.
This is a fun illustration I made while I watched The Matrix. Procreate tells me it took 1 hour and 40 minutes. The Matrix is 2 hours and 16 minutes, so I guess I must have put my pen down a few times.

It’s been some time since I managed to make an update here. I’m trying extremely hard to feel okay about that because I find it really troubling when I see people take some time away from social media or a side project (whether intentionally or not) and come back apologizing profusely for being absent (I’ve done this too). So this time I’m not doing that. I’m just stating a fact: I haven’t posted here in a while. Now I am again! Hello!

I’ve been thinking a lot about side projects, personal projects, work outside of work, passion projects – whatever you want to call them. I’ve been thinking about the finite nature of our time and how it can often seem like we waste a lot of time while, simultaneously, it feels like we never have enough time. How the heck can you be wasting all this time you don’t have?

Since I last posted, I’ve been on a months-long journey to find the SECRET TRICK to making time for this project. I work full-time, and during the winter I was also teaching three classes a week remotely. On top of all that, I wanted to try to learn chinese, become an incredible runner and make a video game (and do the dishes and walk my dog and actually see my partner and make leisure time to relax, meditate, read a book a month)… Seems manageable, right?

Prioritizing is tough. I want a bit of a buffet-style life where I can have a bit of everything on my plate. The trouble is, you often end up with too much on your plate and nothing specific enough to leave you satisfied. Sometimes you want more than just one bite of each thing! I don’t know if this metaphor is holding up. Abandon ship!

So I thought it would be funny to look at some of the different life hacks I tried or came up with since last October to try to make time for my game and discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what I’m doing now to make time for this project.

15 Minutes Every Day

Sounds simple right? If you can just find fifteen minutes every day to work on your project, then in a week you’ll have…. Like a full work week or something. Basically the idea is that a lot of little bits of time add up into lots of time. Brilliant!

I really thought this would work for me, and for about a week it did. The trouble is, that 15 minutes never felt like it could be just fifteen minutes. I would plan my day and kind of want to block off an hour for that fifteen minutes so I could get ready, maybe make a coffee, sit down, load things up… well, that’s fifteen minutes gone. And god forbid you run into an issue! I can burn fifteen minutes googling a photoshop interface bug like it’s nothing!

Basically, I found that the simplicity of this approach was actually really complicated. I know that’s not the point, and maybe if your goal is to journal for fifteen minutes every day this would help, but I found that fifteen minutes every day very quickly became nothing while I was juggling other things.

Along with that came a weird guilt and negativity. Like, if I missed a day, I would kind of throw out the whole week. It was easy to lose perspective of the idea that 15 minutes a day was not the goal – making the game was the goal. If I missed a day for some reason, I’d get a bit discouraged and just stop working.

One full day a week

This also felt simple. I’ll just take one day every week (Saturday, for example) and commit myself to working on my game that day. A full work day. One day a week for seven weeks makes a full, weekend-free, overtime-filled work week! Perfect!

The whole reason this didn’t work is because I was already over-working when I tried this idea. I think the thing this doesn’t account for is that, whether you like it or not, eventually you get tired and need a break. Almost every day that I scheduled to work on my game ended up being a day I needed to do nothing because I was working every other day of the week. And as much as that felt like a “free” day, where I ought to be able to work on my game, it was actually already booked. For naps and walks and mental recharge time.

I’m proud of the fact that I do (sometimes) take time to relax. I definitely find myself reaching mental exhaustion points, though, where the idea of working just doesn’t feel possible. One day a week would probably work if you had a few free days a week, but if you’re already working every weekday and on weekends, then you are sort of out of days. There isn’t much of a way around that.

Rigorous Scheduling and Planning

I tried to plan ahead of time and schedule time to work on my game. Plan my week, look at where I had free time, and then put in game time in those holes. A big issue with that process was that, like when my “free day” ended up being for rest, a lot of the “free” time on my schedule was actually time that was already being used. 

Counter to what my calendar might say, things like walking the dog, brushing my teeth, cooking, doing dishes, grocery shopping and sleeping all do take time. I was constantly doubling-up on time in my schedule by trying to plan development time on top of where I typically do chores or maintain my personal hygiene. This meant that those things I couldn’t realistically skip took precedent and my scheduled game-time just got ignored.

This one also contributed strongly to the negative feedback loop. You book time to work on something without realizing you don’t really have the time, and then later when you don’t do it you look at your planned schedule and feel like you didn’t do anything! I would forget about things I needed time for both before and after I did them, and just spend the whole time feeling bad about not making my game. That’s not fun!

No planning at all

Feel like working on your game? GO! IMMEDIATELY! DO IT NOW! That was the idea behind this method. I made a lot of notes this way and definitely made a few conceptual breakthroughs in my head, but it is also completely impractical for a side-project where most of the time you want to work on it but you’re already at work (like, your day job) so you can’t really just… not do your job and run off to make a game. When this method lines up with fortuitous free time, it works wonders.

Conclusion: Self-help books and lifestyle blogs have lied to us all. God help us!

There really isn’t one quick tip that will get you to do your side project unless: A) You have a lot of free time anyways and B) You have robotic-level discipline and focus (and maybe C) You’re single and can spend 100% of your free-time on yourself).

I’ve recently found some more success and ability to get into this work again, and that came from accepting my situation, honoring my need for rest, scaling back that amount of other work I do, and trying a modest mix of these different techniques. I might plan a day to work on my game if I feel like it and have the time. And if I want to spend fifteen minutes working on my game in the morning before work, I do. That doesn’t mean that if I don’t the next day, the whole plan is falling to pieces.

The main take-away for me is that there is truly no magic fix for over-extending yourself and over-committing to work. So if I really want to make time for this project, it has to become a priority and take precedence over other things that take up time (this is part of why I’m not teaching right now, and my chinese learning has really stalled – 對不起 😢). 

If you really want to do something, you have to make the time to do it. It doesn’t come out of nowhere.

This doesn’t really feel like as much of a brilliant revelation as I thought it was when I started writing this…

Next time on Robot Fan Club blog:

I’ll share a bit more of what I’ve actually been working on when I find the time for it! I swear it’s more than nothing! See you then!

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