New Year’s Resolutions: Making Time
January 2, 2015
The clock has ticked over. The calendar page has turned. It is now 2015 (although I’m writing this in advance so it’s actually still 2014, so there’s that…). While people can start new projects or take up new resolutions at any time, there’s just a certain something about starting with a fresh new year. Starting is often the easy part, it’s finishing that can prove challenging. I think that’s because anything really worth doing requires that most precious of commodities: time.
Some years back I came upon the book The Indie Game Development Survival Guide by David Michael. It was one of the inspirations to me for setting out on my own creative course. Within its pages, I found many useful lessons and not just on computer game development. While game development is the focus of the book, much of what Mr. Michael writes about is applicable to any creative undertaking whether it be game design, other software development, fiction writing, blogging, composing, whatever.
While I learned a great deal from this book, one thing that stood out in particular was the difference between finding time and making time. As the book points out, people tend to say “I’ll do that when I find the time,” as if time was laying around and could be picked up. What stuck for me was the concept of making time. People lead busy lives. How often have you said there’s not enough hours in the day? And therein lies the crux of making time. We, each of us, must choose what we spend our valuable time on. Meeting with friends and family, working, watching television, reading, advancing our own projects.
As the content on my other website, www.CubesComic.com, can attest, I’ve worked on creative projects for over a decade prior to jumping to them full time. During those years, I made the time to work on those projects. I made the choice to set aside an hour a day to devote to my comics, my programming, and my writing, building my skills and experience for the day when I could do something more.
To help keep myself going, I actually did, and do, track the time that I spend working on things. If I fell behind on my hours then I would work hard to get back on track. If I knew something was coming up, like a trip or a wedding to attend, I would “bank” hours ahead of time to stay the course.
An hour a day doesn’t seem like a lot of time. However, for me I found it was enough time to get a noticeable amount done in a day without ever feeling like a burden or stressing me out because it was just too much work. That said, in the early days it wasn’t always easy going. When I first started devoting time to my projects, I encountered two challenges.
Habits Before They’re Habits
When I first started trying to devote an hour a day to my projects, I wasn’t used to it. It wasn’t engrained. It wasn’t a habit. Whenever I start a new project there’s always a new excitement and enthusiasm for that project. That tends to wear off after the first couple of weeks and I’m left with the realization of “wow, this is going to be a lot of work.” Without that initial energy, it took an act of will to keep sitting down and keep pushing my projects forward. In those early days, more than one project fell by the wayside, never to be picked up again, simply because I couldn’t make myself invest time in it.
However, as time went by, and I did more projects, that hour a day started to become a habit. It just became a part of my life. Once it did and once I got a few projects under my belt and could see how much I could accomplish working just one hour a day, well, the following projects became much easier.
Banking Time is Bad
I mentioned earlier that I tracked my time. I would write down in a text document how much time I spent each day and what I worked on for my creative projects. In some cases, I would miss a day here or there and would fall behind by an hour or two. That would make me work harder to get caught up again.
Then I had the thought that if I could fall behind I should also be able to get ahead. After all, there were some days where I just felt more inspired than others and would naturally put in more than one hour. That’s when I fell into the trap of banking hours.
Putting in more than one hour a day is great when it’s possible. It lets you stay focused on your tasks and move them farther than could be done spread out over multiple days. The trap I fell into was allowing myself to bank say three or four hours ahead of time and then take the following three or four days off.
This banking of hours to earn “vacation time” from my projects was a problem. It was a problem because it allowed me to run for several days without putting any time in. When you’re trying to establish a good habit, consistency is the key. In this case, I needed to consistently put in that crucial hour every day. I needed that to become part of my life, part of me.
I carried on for probably a couple of years before I saw the light. Banking hours was holding me back. It was making it easy for me to set aside my projects when my interest in them waned. Even the most exciting project becomes humdrum after weeks, months, or years of work on it.
I don’t remember now what changed my approach or when, exactly, it happened. What changed was the realization that, as far as tracking my hours was concerned, I could only fall behind. I could never allow myself to get ahead.
To be sure, if I felt inspired and wanted to put in more than an hour a day I didn’t stop myself at the hour mark. What I did stop myself from doing was banking that hour against the future. So if I put in four extra hours on one day (probably a Saturday because who has four “extra” hours?) I did not allow that to count against the following four days. Each of those days I still had to put in an hour. And if I missed one? Well, then I was one hour behind that I had to catch up.
Make Some Time
It’s not a blindingly new idea that everyone is different. What works well for one person may not work well—or at all—for another. That said, if you’ve ever thought about tackling a creative project of your own, if you’ve ever wanted to see what you yourself are capable of doing, I’d suggest making the time to do it. Give up an hour of television, for example. Or even a half hour. Or if you’re stuck in a long commute, use that time (if you’re not driving because that probably wouldn’t end well, just saying). Keep track of your time and what you spend it on. If nothing else, it will give you a good sense of what you can accomplish in a limited time.
And don’t bank time. Remember, it’s resolution time and you’re trying to pick up a new good habit here. The key to that is consistency.
Good luck and I hope to see all of your completed projects in the future. I even promise to find the time for them. ;-)
Happy New Year!