Work/Life Balance??

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s always good to remember that there is such a thing as a personal life and it is in fact important. This reminder is especially applicable for our team this year. Why? Because we decided to give ourselves a demo completion deadline that just so happens to coincide with the end of the year. Add in the year end office job deadlines that we face between 9-5, and this combination of deadline and holidays has placed the age old tension of work/life balance in our minds more so than ever before.

Recently, we’ve come across a number of interesting articles on managing indie life, including how to motivate your indie team and how to make games as a family.  Both of these resources were awesome, but as the year comes to a close, we thought it might also be a useful reflective exercise to add our own two cents. So, without further ado – here are some practical thoughts on how to maintain work/life balance as a 20-something, slightly neurotic, mostly hardworking, part-time indie game developer.

It only seems fair to start with the actual developer. Rich is a developer both in his indie game exploits and at the job that actually pays his bills. So, generally he likes to “stay in work mode” and knock out dev tasks for an hour or two, beginning immediately after arriving home from work at 5pm. Of course, we must keep in mind that he is a developer and is therefore prone to bouts of what I like to call “programming berserker rage.” If one of these moods comes over him, all work schedule rules go out the window and he works at exceedingly odd times of the night until he has slain the task at hand or until he loses consciousness.

With Rich in a programming induced blackout, let’s move on to our artist, Wu-Gene. Of course, one must ask, is there really any such thing as work/life balance for an artist? Probably not. But, he makes a valiant attempt at it nonetheless.  Wu-Gene’s typical modus operandi is perhaps the most ritualized out of anyone on the team. First, he wakes up and unfailingly makes his bed. Apparently, a Navy SEAL once said that making your bed no matter what is the key to becoming an overall productive person. This sounds reasonable to me though I’m yet to test the theory. Regardless, it seems to be working for Wu-Gene. After making his bed, he proceeds to the gym, where he lifts weights and destroys any “scrawny artist” stereotypes that you might have in your head. After getting huge, Wu-Gene returns home and listens to epic trailer music (movies or videogames). He then resists the urge to punch a wall in excitement, instead channeling his energy into several hours of artistic creation.

This brings us to Austin – who is our writer, designer, and in many ways our project manager. With years of committed relationship experience under his belt, Austin has perhaps the most nuanced approach to work/life balance on the team. Austin’s guiding philosophy is to alternate days between working on the game and relaxing in the evening. Even on work days, Austin diverges from Rich’s “knock stuff out after work” philosophy, preferring to clear his mind for a couple hours before diving back into his writing. He also generally tries to keep work time as work time and personal time as personal time. According to Austin, he refrains from working when his girlfriend is around “about 80% of the time.” Overall, one of the biggest challenges on this front is that writing a story requires exceptional consistency. Beyond that, writing can also be a very lonely activity, since it generally requires deep focus. So, in Austin’s estimation it is better to work every other day instead of every day, if that leads to long term sustainability and minimal burnout.

And now for myself, Mike the business manager marketing guy. Since I’m a business person, I should be super organized with how I divide up my work, right? To that I say one thing: lol. My work process tends to be more one of semi-controlled chaos. On one hand, I’ve had less work to do, insofar as my marketing tasks are less well defined than many of the other tasks that our team has to get through.  The thing I find stressful about marketing though is that sometimes it can feel like an ever present specter hanging over my head. I suspect that to some extent this is true of any long term project. But, the thing about marketing is, in many cases if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.  Slack on Twitter for a week and your followers start to dip. Slack on reaching out to the press, and you’re one day closer to release date with nothing to show for it. If I succumb to this feeling too much, pressure builds, inertia forms, and nothing happens.

To deal with this stress and prevent it from taking over my life, I’ve started to divide up my marketing work by type. And the key is, I’m only allowing certain types of marketing work to be “ever present.” One example is Twitter. I’ve accepted that Twitter activity basically needs to become an extension of my basic metabolic processes, and I’m okay with this. Fortunately, I can check Twitter in short time chunks throughout the day – on the bus, eating lunch, waiting for a SQL query to run at work, during a boring meeting etc. However, I’m keeping most other things partitioned into pre-defined work times. Blog Post? Work on that on Saturday morning or during lunch. Update the website? Work on that before bed on Wednesday. In terms of work location, I bought a sweet second screen to do work on at my apartment, but I find that I am sadly inefficient there. So instead, I like to do the stereotypical Seattle thing and take my laptop to my favorite Seattle coffee shop.

All in all, this whole Indie thing is a challenge unlike any I’ve experienced before, but I still wouldn’t trade it for anything.

**Disclaimer/Clarification: We probably still have a lot to learn about this whole balance thing. We hope that our thoughts were at least amusing and perhaps even helpful. Let us know what you think!