in Project management

No Rest for The Indies

You’d think that things would slow down around Christmas time over here. And that I would have lots of time to catch up and write about all the things I keep jotting down in my overflowing “to write” list. Right? Unfortunately that’s not the case.

I do want to catch up and share my iPhone development experience with everybody, but it’s hard to make time, even during the holidays. To make things worse, I have a pretty hard deadline I set myself to have my iPhone app ready by early February.

It’s funny, I’ve worked more hours in the last year than any other year during my career, but it has never felt like work. Quite the opposite actually, and I find myself doing “work” instead of other things that used to be more fun and having a blast with it. For example, my game-playing time has gone waaay down. If I have an hour that I can do anything, I think “oh, maybe I can play a bit of World of Warcraft now” followed by “but it would be so much fun to finally add this other feature…” I let you figure out which one ends up winning in the end. If it wasn’t because of my weekly WoW session with Jim, Joey, and Michael, I wouldn’t make any progress in the game!

Not only am I enjoying what I do immensely, but it’s very easy to spend lots of time doing it because I get to do it from the comfort of my own home. I never have to worry about getting to work by a particular time, so I can get in my morning runs or go grocery shopping when the stores are empty, I have all my stuff around me, my work area has an incredible view overlooking the whole of Mission Valley, and my kitchen is stocked up with all my favorite teas. It’s really easy to spend hours and hours working. A bit too easy actually.

Burnout is the evil flip side of fun work. Even with incredibly rewarding and fun work, doing something for many hours a day can burn me out pretty easily. The symptoms are obvious: I start to lose interest, I’m not as productive, my mind wanders, and I find all sorts of other things I’d rather be doing. Fortunately, I can recognize those symptoms early on, so just backing off a bit, or taking an afternoon off, allows me to walk the fine line between work and burnout and keeps me productive.

Initially I was a bit concerned about the thought of working full time from home. Would I miss the interaction with coworkers and the sparks and new ideas from seeing all sorts of stuff around me in a company. It turns out that it wasn’t anything to be worried about. Thanks to the Internet, it’s very easy to reach out and connect with other people. I regularly share my progress with some friends and family members, and I always enjoy hearing their comments and reactions (even the not so positive ones–especially those actually). I also meet in a semi-regularly basis with my friend Dave, who is doing all the graphic design for my app (and he’s the mastermind behind the Power of Two logo).  Those meetings are always very inspiring, and usually result in all sorts of new ideas flying around and a flurry of activity in the days following.

Having non-work related hobbies really helps to keep me from spending too much time on work. Training for half marathons (I keep saying that one of these days I’ll do a full marathon–we’ll see about that), or just getting back in shape to do a century on my bike require quite a time commitment and keep me in shape and in top mental shape.

I suppose this is exactly the feeling that some companies try to encourage in their employees. They hire people who are really passionate about their work, give them the means and the freedom to do it, and hope they pour their heart into it. They just have to hope that their employees are able to keep themselves from burning out. That might be easier if you’re forced to work from an office environment, totally separate from home. On the other hand, being away from your family for longs periods of time eventually takes a toll on happiness and morale.

That’s a totally different beast from the kind of crunch that is rampant in the games industry. I define crunch as having to mandate long work hours (either explicitly or through peer pressure–which is more sublte and infinitely more evil). In one case, you’re so passionate about what you’re doing that you can’t wait to go back to work on Monday morning. In the other case, you’re still stuck to your desk come Monday morning because you were forced to work the weekend and get a build ready for some marketing demo. One is a very rewarding life, the other is soul-draining. One results in happy, ultra-productive people and the other degenerates into a death march, people leaving, and projects being even more delayed.

So, even with the February deadline looming, I want to take a few more hours these next few days and get back into the wrting swing of things. Besides, with the app coming up so soon, I should start thinking about announcing it soon! First I need to wrap up the Game Developer Magazine column due on Monday, but after that, I’ll try to start posting regular updates.

Until then, happy holidays to everybody. I hope you’re taking some time off, or at least doing what you really love.

  • Frederic

    The grocery shopping part reminds me of when I was unemployed in Toulouse, I would do exactly the same thing as you and be almost alone in shops, with retired people, good times… 🙂

  • Seriously. Might as well take good advantage of a *totally* flexible schedule 🙂 And even so, Trader Joe’s is still too crowded for my taste on a weekday at 9AM. Are all those people also doing iPhone development from their home or what??? 🙂