How to Tackle a To-Do List (After Finishing a Demo)December 27, 2019
It's almost 2020! A whole new decade, and I'm sure many of us want to make a resolution to work smarter and get our games done. I decided to write a post detailing how I tackle my to-do lists, especially in this rough era where I have a demo done and it's all just adding things. The game is playable. But nobody wants to stop there. You have a whole game to build! But where do you even start?
How to Set Tasks
This step is simple. Just create categories of all your major parts of the game. Art, Music, Sound Effects, Engine Programming, Mechanics, etc.
After that, divide them further and add goals and tasks to reach those goals.
Art -> Character art -> Main character -> Animations -> Run -> Draw rough sketch cycle
Easy as that!
Milestones and Deadlines
Now this part is where timing comes into play. If you're like me and not good at "this is the date and time" deadlines due to procrastination, setting a specific deadline only makes reaching goals harder. A good idea is milestones - you want so much of a task done by this point in time. Your major milestones can be further in the future, such as giving yourself two-three months to finish character art.
However, a good practice is to figure out how long a task takes, and add a label or tag of some sort signifying that time span. Another label to have handy is importance of the task, from "polish" to "very important". Polish tasks can be done at any point and don't effect the game as much as important tasks. The player run cycle being completed is very important, but a speech bubble that pops up when you are within range of an NPC is definitely polish.
(This is where tools come in handy. Trello has many features to help label things, and I personally use it for Tarrata. You can even use a simple spreadsheet or whatever other tools you can find, as there are plenty out there.) The reason why doing your tasks like this rather than in deadlines is because you see it in how much time it will take rather than how much time you have to do it. A task that takes 30 minutes will feel easier to tackle than a task due at some point three weeks in the future.
Of course, if you prefer deadlines, use them all you want!
Tackling a Task (Using the Pomodoro Technique)
I recently learned of the pomodoro technique and began using it. I find that it works very well, and suggest at least trying it. If it doesn't work for you and you're better at just finishing a task in the moment, don't worry about it.
So, what is the pomodoro technique and why do I like it? The pomodoro technique consists of working in 25-minute "pomodoros", time blocks named for the shape of the timer the inventor used (a tomato), followed by 5-minute breaks with a 15-minute break every 4 pomodoros. Simply, I find it easier to get into the swing of a new task when I'm under a time limit as opposed to crossing off a list, then finding motivation to start the next task. How do you do a Pomodoro? It's simple.
- Set a time span to work. Maybe about 4-5 hours, no more than 8 in a day (unless you feel you can handle it).
- Write down every task you want to accomplish today on a piece of paper, or sticky notes. Physical paper is important, as it will help cut down on screen distraction. Take it off your Trello, then close Trello. Try to time the tasks so they fit within your time plan, with some wiggle room at the end in case a task proves more difficult. To ease your workload, stick a few non-game dev tasks in there; tidy your desk or make your bed at some point, something just to clear your head.
- Prepare your work station. You want any relevant programs and tools open for your work now, so you're not stuck waiting and risking distraction later. Turn your phone on silent, make sure to have a drink on hand, turn on ambient noise now (nothing distracting, I like to use classical music or compilations of fantasy/chill music).
- When you finally feel ready, set a timer for 25 minutes. Double check your list, take a breath, and start the timer. Start immediately on the first task on your list. Try your best to concentrate solely on that task. Don't think ahead to the next tasks, or check your phone or email. One trick is to write a small note each time you get distracted and by what. Right after noting the distraction, get back to work.
- When you finish an item, cross it off and move directly to the next one. Don't take a break between tasks. Only take breaks when the pomodoro ends. The reasoning behind this is because starting a task is harder than finishing one that is started already, and by thinking in time blocks rather than individual tasks, it feels more natural to just hop onto the next task. You want to focus on the timer rather than completing and starting tasks, if that makes sense.
- When your 25 minutes is up, it's time for a break. Set the timer for 5 minutes and leave your chair. You can walk around your room, check your phone, read emails, browse social media. Whatever you do, don't work. Stretch. Spend that 5 minutes taking your proper break.
- When the 5 minutes is up, repeat the process, starting with wherever you left off. After 4 pomodoros, set the timer to 15 minutes instead of 5 for your break. Now's a good time to refill your drink, grab a snack, situate yourself. You could even fit a short walk around the block in this time span if you're quick. Once it's over, go back to 5-minute breaks.
- Keep going until you finish all tasks or run out of your pre-planned time block!
- As a final note, look over your list of distractions and think of ways to avoid them. We're human, and you'll never be totally free of distractions. At least you can get an idea of what makes you look away.
Obviously, this method may not be for everyone. If it works for you, all the better! If you have a method that works, definitely keep with it. I hope your developing goes well! Thanks for the read, and have a Happy New Year.