Time Management

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is time management. I had to learn how to manage mine carefully when I was looking for a new job. Liquid Development needed me back in production to help meet milestones on a project, so they took marketing away from me permanently, and that was something I wouldn’t do. I was forced into working on art from 9 to 6, then coming home and working on art tests from 6 to 3am. That got me thinking, what can I do to manage my time more efficiently?

The first place to start was to find out what I was spending most of my time on at work. My morning routine is usually to come in at 9, fire up ICQ (for friends), Yahoo (for work) and MSN (for Dea). Then I’ll drink my coffee and browse the news for about 15 to 30 minutes, then begin working. I began paying attention to every distraction around me and was stunned to realize how much time was spent on non-work.

These are the biggest culprits I’ve found:

  1. IM applications. I get messages from people constantly and that distracts me from my work. And it’s SO easy to think “Hey, I wonder how X is doing” and just send him a message.
  2. Web browsing. I use Opera, and I can have as many windows open at once as I want without cluttering the taskbar. Nice feature, but makes it way too easy to get distracted browsing something.
  3. Music. Fiddling with my playlist or trying to find the right album to play gets in the way.

The worst part of these distractions is that they not only occupy my attention, they occupy my mind and kick me out of the flow of working. Since I needed to reach a new level of productivity so I could focus on each task one by one and bust it all out like a machine. The more I considered it the more I realized that the tasks I had before me were almost entirely mechanical work. I was spending most of my time texturing characters, and I’ve reached the point where that’s a simple mechanical process. There are small elements of design in it, but almost without exception it’s something I can look at, know what I need to do to do it and just do it. Fatigue isn’t a factor.

So I worked up a plan to solve all these time management problems and worked up a few other little schemes to increase my productivity. This is what I came up with:

  1. Close all Instant Messaging apps while I work. There’s no reason not to. I know it’s a distraction and I get amazing amounts of work done simply from doing this.
  2. Close email apps and web browser. These are undeniably distracting, and made a huge difference in my output.
  3. Turn off music and listen to audio books. I do like music, and it helps me concentrate sometimes, but playlist shuffling and switching songs doesn’t occupy my brain like it should and my mind wanders and I become tempted to use IM or web browse. It ties into the mechanical process I mentioned earlier… my mind doesn’t need to be completely focused on my task because I know instinctively what needs to be done and how. So a large part of my mind is left dormant. If I put on an audio book, that part of my mind is fully occupied and I can work freely and without distraction, and literally lose myself in my work. It also removes the need for playlist shuffling. This is the biggest productivity boost I’ve found.
  4. Turn the TV off if I’m at home. I’m in a 1bed apartment now, and I have a TV four feet on my right. Dea almost always has it on and I fucking hate it because it’s so distracting. If I can help it, I tell her to listen to music instead of TV and I turn it off and can focus.
  5. Use a stopwatch to time my tasks. This not only helps me achieve better productivity but it’s also a way to measure my progress. Since the tasks I have are mechanical processes, the variables of time are minimized and I can quickly and reliably estimate how long X or Y will take. It’s extremely interesting to measure my performance at a certain task, both for comparing my time to previous tasks and for seeing how accurate my internal sense of time is. I’ve begun pondering how far I can take this concept, and try and set performance records for myself like athletes do.
  6. Drink coffee, avoid alcohol. I get a wicked head-buzz from coffee that makes me feel like I can do anything and conquer the world. I do my best reading and thinking when I’m buzzed. Conversely, alcohol destroys that part of my brain, and even if I have a single drink at 7pm one night, sometimes my concentration is shot for half the day the next day. It’s sad, but I know that’s the cause now, so I can act accordingly.

I’ve done all these things and watched my productivity increase dramatically. When I’m in that flow I can bust out a full character every two days, which feels pretty awesome. I also had some other ideas that I’m going to experiment with when I start at Ready At Dawn. It’s near-Draconian discipline, I know, but since I’m starting fresh in a new environment, why not experiment and see what works?

  1. Only ONE Instant Messaging client, for work colleagues only. Not even Dea gets this one. I know the people I’m working with will be busting ass as hard as I am and won’t bother me with trivial BS.
  2. Only ONE email account, for work mail only. I won’t have my GMail tray notification open, which is another distraction.
  3. No web browser bookmarks. I’m tempted to go through the full cycle, and if I keep no bookmarks at all (except for work-related bookmarks), I’m less likely to be distracted.
  4. Time blocks. I’m going to try setting hourly goals for myself and push my performance forward with the stopwatch like an athlete does.
  5. No disruptive music. Stuff like Mindless Self Indulgence, Slipknot, Atari Teenage Riot and GWAR really break my concentration and makes it hard to work. If I’m listening to any music I need to make it softer more concentration-conducive music like Mozart, Crystal Method or Frontline Assembly.

I’m wondering how much of those I’ll keep doing after I start. Since I haven’t made any memory associations with RAD yet, I think if I start out feeling like it’s a place to work and NOT fuck around, I’ll be able to maintain productivity long term. It’s too easy to get distracted at Liquid Development, and I’m so used to fucking around there that it’s really hard to change those habits.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Going to read a few books on the subject and see what else I learn. In reading Sam “Wal-Mart” Walton’s quasi-autobiography, I read about an efficiency consultant that Japanese companies have utilized heavily in maintaining insane levels of structure and productivity, and I found that interesting. I’ve packed that book away and the bookmark that I wrote that consultant’s name on is inside it, but as soon as I get to CA I’m going to dig it out find out who it is and start absorbing his wisdom.

Thanks for reading!

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