The Time Dilemma

Attempting to produce creative work with limited free time is always a challenge – this is a fact known to anyone attempting to break in to a creative industry while also maintaining a job in what I will sarcastically call the “real world”. Without the hours to put in, you will find yourself at a disadvantage next to those who are able to do this as their full time job.

Since my quest for indie sustainability does not involve me throwing caution to the wind, eating ramen for a year and taking a substantial risk to my personal life, I have always needed to find a way to fit my game design ambitions around a regular software development job in order to pay the bills.

Here’s the trouble: even if something is your passion, it can often by hard to find the time, energy and motivation to do even more when you’ve just been dragging yourself around the office all day. Many people in similar positions struggle with this, but like so many things, it can be worked around. And also like so many things, it is bloody hard.

Life has a tendency of getting in the way. For just over a year after the release of Circuit Scramble, I found myself in a position where I could barely drag myself to game development. I had just made a move to live in Berlin, Germany, and had started a new job which was taking every ounce of my energy to keep up with. When I came home, I essentially collapsed, just wanting to play some games myself and tune out for an hour or two.

Even when this eventually began to settle down, I still wasn’t able to pull myself back. I told myself I didn’t want to take anything else on just yet, I told myself that I didn’t have a good enough idea as a followup, I told myself more and more that as much as I wanted to make another game, I just didn’t have enough time.

What I eventually realised is that time was always going to be an excuse. Certainly a lack of time is an obstacle – it made the development process harder and longer, but it was far from making it impossible. If I was going to take this seriously, I would need to at least take a stab at it.

If I could even commit a couple hours in the evening to working on my games, even if it meant things would go slowly, at least I would be making tangible progress. So that was a starting put. Plus, the more organised I can get myself – the better I plan out my game in advance – the more efficient I can be with my time. Slow, steady but efficient progress trumps an eighteen hour marathon coding in a caffeinated haze, any day.

My next problem to solve was motivation – in that, I often found it difficult to do game development after work. Even though I love game development, it still requires a great deal of thought and mental engagement, which can be difficult to summon when you feel burnt out from a day at the office.

I started to take some inspiration from authors. Most authors that I came across – even those incredibly successful ones for which this is their full time job – do not jump out of bed every day pumped up to start writing. Those days are rare. For them, writing is matter of discipline. Making progress on your projects can be completely separate from excitement or “motivation”. I’m discovering that I can still sit down and hammer out a few of my tasks, even when I’m just not feeling it.

Now, I am laughably far from perfect. I quite often still lose that fight with my mind as to whether I should drag myself away from something relaxing to go get things done. I’m only human, and I still have a lot to learn. But discipline in working on your projects is not an innate talent, it’s a skill that needs to be honed. And I must say, though I do love those days of intense motivation, I take a great deal of satisfaction from sitting down and getting stuff done, even when my brain desperately doesn’t want to.

Rob van Staalduinen