Even the smallest distractions can take away minutes from your day and cripple your productivity.
Try to think about how many times you get sidetracked by a Discord ping, email notification, Reddit update, Twitter update, or whatever social communities that you actively participate in. Even if it is just two to three minutes each time, this can add up significantly over the period of an entire game development release cycle. And you know there are times when you click a Youtube video and wonder an hour later how you are still watching videos.
Social media is getting too good at capturing our attention. The front page of youtube always seems to know exactly what you can’t avoid clicking on. It is valuable too. That attention is what is paying them (seeing ads) and what is preventing you from progress on your own goals. It is making the rich richer and you poorer.
Say you are a game developer and are making a game with a development cycle that lasts two years and each day you have 30 to 45 minutes of these small distractions. If you work 300 days a year, that adds up to 187.5 hours per year (with 37.5 minutes per day of distractions away from your development).
If you are working 10 hour days, that is 18.5 days. 18.5 DAYS! (even more if working less hours than that) Imagine how you would feel to waste 18.5 days straight. Or imagine having 18.5 extra days of development each year. And this is doubled considering a two year development cycle, at 37 days.
That is a LOT of time. Some people release entire games in that amount of time, and you would be losing that time just because you feel like a few minutes to check a new message or post isn’t a big deal.
It is a huge deal.
This is compounded considering the transitional time that it takes to refocus your attention on a new subject.
On top of the time you are losing from doing something else and the efficiency and time lost with transitioning between tasks, you are telling your mind that what you are doing isn’t your #1 priority.
Each time you click away and check something, even if only for 20 seconds while your code compiles, you are putting an extra point into your personal stats for how distracted you can become. If you don’t believe 100% that you are completely committed to a task while you are working, it is much harder to stay motivated and excited about reaching your goals because the progress is slower and energy is wasted on things that could be contributing to your goals.
There is a time to check these things but prioritize a time slot for them to happen, and do them on a scheduled break with a timer that tells you when time is up. Most people take 5 to 10 minute breaks anyways and if it happens during those times then no time is wasted. Much less time will be spent on these things, if any additional time at all (if using break times).
Obviously sometimes you will have to open a new window real quick and find a piece of information. Just by being aware of how costly getting sidetracked is will help you ignore any non essential information or tasks while that window is open, and you will know to close it before you click anything that would take a few minutes.
This doesn’t happen just by waking up one day and saying to yourself “Okay, no more small distractions”. This must be a habit that is built and strengthened over time. More about building habits in a future article, because that is a whole other art by itself.
You must also remove distractions from your physical and digital environments.
I like to keep a clean desk because then there is nothing to get in my way when trying to put a pad of paper down and sketch something or take notes. If I have to move a bunch of stuff to do this, there is a good chance that the stuff scattered around your desk is going to take a minute or two of your attention, which is what creates that 37 days of development time lost.
Keep your digital workspace clean as well. I have a habit of keeping a ton of tabs open at the same time, so whenever starting a new task that doesn’t involve them, I hide them all or open a single tab and only use that to work on the task at hand. If I don’t do that I notice that I always end up getting sidetracked by an open tab at some point (37 days!) and sometimes when processing information I mindlessly click on random tabs to try and find what I am looking for, which is never productive.
It is much easier to fix this habit by being aware of how costly it is, because yeah, two or three minutes checking a message isn’t a big deal at all as a singular event. Each time it happens though is a habit building exercise in not being effective or in control of your focus. I promise you that it won’t only happen just once.
That two minutes will repeat itself over the course of the day, the week, and the year. That is why it is so costly and detrimental over the course of a development cycle. If you get in a habit of only checking these things at a designated time during the day, (do it with purpose) then all of that sidetracked time will be put into furthering your development, and you will release quicker, or have more time to playtest. I guarantee that doing this will make both your game and your career more successful. And I also guarantee that missing the latest post on Reddit is not going to have a negative effect on your life. So keep this in mind throughout the day, it is the first step to eliminating the behavior that can be such a time killer over extended development periods.
I bet if you think about it you can come up with other small distractions that happen over the course of your day. What else is distracting you? Identifying them and being aware is the first step to eliminating them.
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