Designing Tabletop Games #4: Have A Routine

The title of this post is a reminder. Mostly to myself. Have a routine. Routines don’t come easy to me. I’m a non-linear thinker and doer. And I’m often distracted by other ideas or videos or fun things.

Having a daily routine is critical in game design. The main reason is that game design is a time intensive discipline. Every part of the process takes a lot of time – conceptualization, prototyping, play-testing, designing, illustrating, more play-testing. To keep things on track, you’ll need a schedule.

Here’s the schedule I try to keep, which may not work for you. But I’d encourage you to get a routine of some sort going and stick to it as closely as possible. As you develop your own game design projects, or any other for that matter, a routine will help you get where you’re wanting to be.

 Having a routine keeps procrastination at bay. Procrastination is the enemy.

Having a routine keeps procrastination at bay. Procrastination is the enemy.

What’s on tap

In my office I have an “On Tap” wall. (I like beer references I guess.) It’s basically a wall with a giant sticky note which has super sticky post-it notes placed on it. Each note is a task. I line that task up with which day it needs to happen.

Yes, this can be done on my phone or in some other calendar. But this method means the schedule is always within sight. Even when I’ve put my phone down for a while. There’s something about writing each task out, placing it on the day it will happen, and then being able to see everything at a high level that’s really effective for me. I can’t wait to complete tasks so that I can experience removing those notes from the wall.

It may sound strange, but rituals like this are methods that work for me. Writing tasks out. Giving them a sense of place or staging them. And then executing with focus on those tasks. Rinse and repeat on a weekly basis.

A day in the life

I set my alarm for 5:00am. I’m up by 5:30. Right away I try to drink a glass of water and stretch and do some push ups. Hey, don’t laugh. I can do a few pushups!

During weekdays between 6:00am and 9:00 I sprint on different tasks. I tackle emails from my inbox. Then I move on to getting work tasks going at my day job. Starting the day early means I’m able to get things done with minimal interruptions. I absolutely abhor multi-tasking so I really strive to stay focused. But hey, it’s a multi-tasker’s world, so I do my best.

Around 9:00am it’s time for breakfast. These days I’m keeping it light. After this I’m back at it. It’s meetings, and tasks and phone calls until 11:00am or 12:00pm.

I stay available for work through lunch. However, I try to focus for a bit on the rest of my day and how things are shaping up. Sometimes (a lot of times) the day doesn’t go as planned. Despite this, I’m still trying to land in a place where I can mark off the things on my “On Tap” chart.

By 4:00pm I’m wrapping up a 10 hour day on the job. If I’m working late, I’m thinking: ? How can I get done what I need to get done at a high level, but quickly. By 5:00pm I try to be done with day job tasks and take a walk/stretch some more.

On weekends I wake up at the same time and apply this routine to my personal projects. Downtime, family commitments, and other responsibilities are accounted for first though. The remaining time is put to use though.

The night life

By 7:00pm my wife and I have already eaten dinner and are on to personal things. Sure I like a nice speak easy or tiki bar now and then, but most of the time we’re hanging out at home watching a show or maybe running errands. On days when we’re doing our own thing, I’m spending my evenings writing, drawing, or designing for personal projects.

10:00pm is when I try to be in bed. Sometimes my brain won’t shut off and other times I’m wiped and asleep by 9:00. In recent years I’ve found I’m more of a morning person. That’s when my brain is most active and wanting to be in creative gear.

One thing about getting older is you learn not to view solitary time as expendable. Time becomes more valuable. Growing up, being creative was entertainment for me, so it’s no different now. If you’re a parent, this is one way to ensure your children value their own creativity later in life. While they’re little, help them balance all that screen time with opportunities to express their own inborn artistry. If you do this, they’ll thank you later.

The point of all this is I try to have some kind of daily routine. This allows me to control more of how my time is used rather than just reacting to things all day. Surprises and urgent matters come up, but when they do I’m able to shift to them knowing I’ve been being proactive on other tasks.

So how do you organize yourself? What tricks and tips would you offer for staying on track and focused throughout the day?

–E