Archive for the ‘Organisational Tips’ Category

How do you manage your endless task list?

Friday, January 1st, 2016

What do you do to manage your time and the billion tasks that life seems to generates? Got any tips/tricks/tools?

Because I run my own business, have a family, and run an Aikido club I have to track:
- game dev-related tasks for the current project
- biz dev tasks
- personal tasks including Aikido
- general household/family tasks.

Here’s what I currently do, and it seems to work quite well, though I’m always interested in optimising:

Current game

For the current game I’m working on, I use a giant Excel spreadsheet for the main tasks, and a mini todo list (in Notepad) of my current sub-tasks/notes. Plus I have a backlog of “nice to have but will probably never add” features.

I know some people probably use online tools but I don’t need to collaborate so it would just slow me down, especially if my Internet connection was being crap, which happens reasonably often.

Backlogs

For biz dev I keep a backlog (in Notepad) of tasks I could do if I could be bothered, but they often aren’t that important. But I have to note them down just for my sanity. It keeps my head clear so I can stay focused on the priorities.

I keep similar lists for personal/fun things, household improvements etc.

Every so often I review these lists and delete tasks that have now become irrelevant and maybe move some of the tasks onto my main to do list (see below)

Main TO DO

For my main day to day important biz/personal/household tasks I used to just keep them on a prioritised todo list, noting deadlines if applicable. But now I’m trying a new method where I basically schedule those tasks on a calendar because I read that it’s less stressful than just having a giant to do list.

If I fail to do a certain task on a specific day I’ll just reschedule it, or maybe move it to a backlog or delete it (sometimes after delaying a task for a while you realise it’s not that important after all – yay!)

Themed Days

Also I’ve tried to set up “themed” days; so like Monday is for biz dev/admin + planning, and the rest of the week is solid game dev work (and I’ll probably sub-divide that into coding days and design/communicating with artists days). Sunday will be for personal/household-related tasks.

I’ve done something like this before and it worked well but recently I fell into a kind of “fire fighting” mode which just leaves me feeling stressed and like I’m not making progress on all the important things, so I wanted to fix that.

Free Time

I want to try to keep my evenings and Saturday free for spending time with the family, practicing Aikido, and self-education (reading, playing guitar, making art etc.) This might go out the window a bit when I’m doing short-term crunches for deadlines but generally I think it’s a good idea to try to stop working at some point! I’m sure my publisher disagrees ;-)

Email

I don’t use my email program to hold tasks. I like to have a zero inbox. I also don’t leave my email program open and I have turned off notifications. Emails can be very distracting when you are trying to focus on a task, so I’d rather be in control of when I check and process them.

I also unsubscribed from a zillion email newsletters and social media notifications a few years ago and don’t get too much spam. Plus I try to keep replies quick. However, I always reply to customers but I ignore all of those “we can promote your game/buy our mobile ad system” emails and other similar time-wasters.

So yeah. That’s how I pretty much manage things. How about you?

Capturing Ideas for Blog Posts

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

For me coming up with ideas for blog posts is like coming up with ideas for games… it’s easy! It happens without me even trying. In fact I have so many ideas that I can’t possibly put them all into action. It’s the same for business ideas too.

In this post I’ll explore how to capture blog ideas when they occur. In a subsequent post I’ll be suggesting some ways that you can generate ideas for blog posts.

Capturing Ideas

One thing that’s important is having a mechanism to catch the ideas so that you never loose them if you are too busy to write a post straight away. Here are some suggestions:

- Have a folder called Blog Ideas or something that you keep on your Desktop for easy access. In fact it’s best to make the actual folder in a location that will get backed up and just have the folder as a shortcut on your desktop.

- You could have a single file and store all the ideas and research notes in it but I tried that and found it to be too unwieldy once it got large (although I do have a small file where I keep the titles of current topics that I think I might write about really soon). So I tend to make a text file for each blog idea and give the text file an approximate title.

- Then I can add notes and links to the text files straight away or later when I feel like doing more research. Sometimes I sit down and research and write a blog post all in one go, but other times I only feel like doing the research and pasting it all into a text file, and other times I only feel like typing up my research into a proper blog post. It’s good to have these different options depending on what mood I’m in.

- If your computer is switched off, but you are in the same building, make sure that you have a notepad and pen ready on your desk so you can scribble and idea down at any time. You can then add the idea to the Blog Ideas folder later on (it’s best not to have multiple lists floating around).

- You may also want to consider having a notepad and pen by your bed so that you can write down any ideas that occur as you are dropping off to sleep. But don’t get too carried away or you may get overexcited and stay awake for hours (this has certainly happened to me quite a few times!)

- If you are away from your home/office then carry a small notepad and pen or a mobile device that you can quickly make a note on. Type these up when you next get to your computer.

- If you are at work and you write your blog at home and you get an idea, just email yourself the idea in a one-line email. You can collect it when you get home and add it to your list.

- Another possibility is using your own voicemail if you really don’t have a pen and paper handy.

Now What?

Great so you’ve got all these ideas for posts, but they mean nothing unless you actually write them up into proper posts. I’m pretty motivated to write posts at the moment and I don’t even know why. Sometimes I think I’ll just write a short post but it ends up being quite long because I realise that each point can be explained in more depth, and before I know it I’ve written a long post.

I don’t force myself to write posts, but when I’m in the mood I make sure I write one (and finish it). I’m doing it as a preference to playing games at the moment for some reason – I just feel like I have a lot of information that wants to get out and I also like seeing the finished article (the development time of a blog article is way less than that of a game ;-) )

Unless I’m 100% driven to write a particular post (which does happen quite a lot) I check out my Blog Ideas folder and pick a post that I’m into writing up right now. I have so many ideas that I’ve actually had to split up my Blog Ideas folder into high priority ones and medium and lower priority ones. Possibly some of the lower priority ones will never get written, and some of them even become obsolete over time, but that’s OK because I’m enjoying writing the ones I write.

Sometimes I even write multiple articles in one day but I realise that it’s not so good to post several in one day and then have a gap (from a point of view of returning readers), or to post a less important article after a really great one thus pushing it down the front page – it’s better to spread them out. So I really should start scheduling the posts to automatically publish on certain days…

I hope that this article aids you in some way with your blogging.

Do you set Milestones?

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

I’m contractually obliged to complete my current project by June 1st. So how can I make sure that I do that? By setting Milestones of course. If I was to just work on my project and hope that it will be ready in time one of three things could happen:

1) I actually finish it early because I’m an incredibly hard worker and/or the deadline was “easy”
2) Miraculously I finish bang on time with no loose ends.
3) I overrun by anywhere from a small to very large amount.

I have found option 3 to be the most common in development with myself in the past and with other developers that I’ve hired or been in contact with.

Who set the deadline?

One important thing to realise with deadlines is who set it. If it’s some date that a manager pulled out of a hat for you, you could be in trouble…If it’s a date that you set yourself then how did you arrive at that date? Did you just say “Yeah June sounds good, I’ll do it by then” or did you make a comprehensive plan overviewing all areas of the project and then assign time estimates (this takes experience by the way) to each part and then add on some contingency time before arriving at a viable date? Hopefully it was the second one. If you have been handed a date on plate by a third party (could even be a client) then make a plan, assign estimates and work out if you can complete the project on time. If not, then speak to them and ask what they want to remove from the project or if they want to change the date – it’s no use asking for an “extension”, school-project-style, the day before the project is due to be delivered (or worse still, not even contacting them and just being late).

Milestones

OK so you’ve got a plan and a viable date, now how do you make sure that you finish on time? Sure, you could just work on the project a set amount of hours each day, dealing with problems as they arise and adding little extras here and there and then … oops you’ve missed the deadline. Why? Because all the unforseen problems and additional extras gradually padded the project out by weeks until you missed the deadline by a mile.

This is where Milestones come in. You look at your plan and use your time estimates to work out what you should have completed by Friday at the end of the first week. Then you repeat for all the other weeks in the project timescale. Then you start programming and if you haven’t hit your milestone by the Friday then you work all weekend until you have hit your milestone. It’s no use thinking that you’ll catch up later when some piece of work takes less time that you thought because it *never* happens (OK I’ll concede that if you are lucky, it *sometimes* happens).

Avoiding padding

So OK, how can you avoid working at the weekend every week as that’s not particularly desirable? Well you need to put the most effort in at the start of the week so that you finish on time or even early! If you finish early, then what? Well you could get a head start on the next piece of work or you could go back over the last week’s work and add some more polish – after all, if you are making a game, polish sells! Here’s a key point, if you get a bright idea halfway through the week don’t start to implement it immediately or you’ll fall behind. Make a note of all such “polish” ideas and see if there is time to put them in at the *end* of the week. Or, at the end of the project, if you have any time left (haha), you may be able to put some more polish items in then or you may be able to talk to the manager/customer and see if they even want the polish items – because sometimes they won’t as they just want the project delivered on time.

Summary

So to summarise:

1) Before making a commitment to a date, make an overview plan detailing each section of the project and attach time estimates to it. Then you know if the date is viable.
2) Set milestones based on your plan and time estimates.
3) Work hard at the start of the week (or better still, *all* week long) and make sure that you meet your milestone.
4) If you finish early, add some extra polish or get a head start on next week’s work.
5) If you miss the milestone, catch up right now, you cannot afford to let the lateness compound.
6) Note down polish items, ideas etc throughout the project and see if there is time to do them at the end or talk to the manager/customer and see if they even want them!

I hope that this article helps you with future projects. If you follow the techniques above (or a suitable variation of them), you’ll be amazed at how productive you can be in terms of delivering finished projects on time. If anyone disagrees with any points or has any other useful feedback or systems of your own, then please let me know! :-)