(last updated on April 5, 2017)
I’ve started doing a morning video recording as part of a series I’m calling “What’s Up, Dave?“. The nominal intent is to simulate “talking to my friends” and see how it develops as a daily ritual. I’m hoping that after a few dozen attempts at this, I’ll stumble upon a format that is both useful and entertaining.
In the meantime, however, it’s probably not interesting to the vast majority of people, but I’ve decided that I’ll use the recording as a prompt for a return to semi-regular blogging; here’s some thoughts that were worth writing down:
Though I understand that steady and meticulous progress is the foundation of good engineering, personally I really dislike all the waiting. The tension I’m feeling these days is because I’ve not been getting the “big bangs” of progress that I like to experience, but big bangs come from pushing through the difficult time-consuming work without immediate reward. The feelings overwhelm the rational thinking occasionally, and right now I am going through such a phase. I WANT SOMETHING BIG TO HAPPEN, but it’s unlikely to unless I put the effort into making it happen.
If I need more “things to happen”, perhaps I can design that into my process. Energy comes from the exciting start when the world is full of possibilities, and also from the exciting conclusion where you receive the big payoff. A video game is typically designed to provide many such starts/conclusions during the course of play. This is easier to do in a game, where most activities, payoffs, and paths are explicitly known. In real life this is much more difficult because so much is unknown, so designing compelling “in-between starts and finishes” activities would probably be helpful. However, part of the joy of BIG BANGS is the BIG SURPRISE; if I am designing the system, as the game designer I know what is going to happen and therefore I am terrible at surprising myself. It’s like trying to tickle yourself; it generally just doesn’t work.
I also wrote down a list of tricks I use to get started:
- Writing/talking as I figure out what I am going to do is a really good lubricant for my thoughts, making it easier to start the work. So writing for five minutes might be a good way to kickstart the day’s projects.
- Remembering not to be in the past or future is a way to stay focused on the present. As it is with distracting feeling and thoughts, learning enough meditation so I can dispel them is a good part of my startup ritual.
- In general, finding the push/pull nature of a challenge as I did regarding “not being in past or future/staying in the moment” above, is a good way to map the difficulties in a project to something more actionable than “just do this”.
- Don’t shackle myself to a task. Instead timebox tasks for a limited amount of time. I keep expecting that I should work in chunks of 4-8 hours non-stop to be a productive worker. It’s difficult to maintain this level of energy also when the process is so new that it’s unpredictable. So just timebox the project and trust that a fresh mind applied everyday tends to yield solutions. I read a 60-minute period of focus is about average, though it can be pushed to 90 minutes with some outside experience.
- Remember: don’t mistake my negative feelings with myself. It’s easy to let one’s feelings become a legitimizing force in one’s state of being. When something seems hard or stupid, letting the negative feelings dissuade you from working is not being one’s best self. A lot of the skills we need require working through the uncertainty to learn something new. Don’t let negativity win!
- Having something fun to look forward to is an area where I’m very bad at following through. I like being in my basement office and reading stuff, but I think getting out of the house for newer kinds of fun is called for.
Those are the thoughts I wanted to remember from the morning video. I’m going to go take a nap now and reset my fuzzy head so I can work!