Reiterating the Importance of Lists, or How to Stall Development

Jay Barnson wrote about the importance of lists and mentioned his experience with a lack of productivity that made me think he was watching me at home the night before…what a creep!

I had most of an evening dedicated to working on Oracle’s Eye. The next thing I know, it is 11PM and I haven’t done much to improve the game at all. Maybe I changed some code, but I didn’t really have a good direction or focus. And even after I’ve posted about planning my next steps!

I also noticed that my Next Actions list isn’t strictly a list of next actions. I already knew that it wasn’t perfect, but a number of items have been sticking around for longer than I thought they would. I put a new entry: “Analyze/Update this list” for when I had time to do so.

When I read through the items, I realized that the problem was that many of the items weren’t next actions at all. A lot of them were objectives or goals. I wrote down what results I wanted, but I didn’t write down the actionable steps needed to get there. For example, my entry “Create level loader for Oracle’s Eye” isn’t a next action. It is too vague for me to do anything with, requires me to try to remember what I need to do, and so it is really easy to gloss over it and try to find something else to do. Next action items on a list are supposed to be effortless at reminding me what I need to do. I should not need to question what my actual action is; it’s right there on the page!

I haven’t been happy with only getting an hour to work on the game project during a session. It doesn’t seem right that I can sit down at the computer for two to five hours and only get minutes of actual work completed. By not having specific and clear lists, I’m sabotaging my productivity and making it a lot easier to procrastinate, and as Barnson says, “managing yourself can be a trick”.

As for my list, I think that rather than fixing it so that they are all Next Actions, I should recognize that the list has Projects. I could then create a few Project pages in my notebook (or at least get a good excuse for buying a new notebook for each Project) and list Next Actions under each one. It will force me to write down actual Next Actions, which will make it easier for me to work on my tasks when I do get a chance.

The next time I sit down for project development, I shall be awesomes.

4 comments to Reiterating the Importance of Lists, or How to Stall Development

  • Mr. Allen has taught you well… Good luck with the reorganization.

  • Heh – good points here! Thanks for the kind mention and for bringing up some things that I hadn’t thought about — and you are absolutely right.

    I have run into those same stall points, and never quite realized where or why the stall occured… I wasn’t sure of some of my list items were better than others, or if some nights were just better than others. After reading this I looked back and realized that some items WERE better than others for the very reason you describe. I’d left things too broad and hadn’t gone down to actionable detail.

    Right now I’m working with a third-party engine, and one of my top reasons for stalling is running into unknowns in the engine. It’s a demotivator (for me at least) when I run into problems requiring research. I ran into a few similar problems with Void War (even though it was my own, custom engine) when I had to work out certain math issues for collision and whatnot. The best “tasks” broke down what questions I needed answered – very specifically. Suddenly I wasn’t tasked with trying to eat an elephant anymore.

    Anyway, this was a good read. Thanks.

  • Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad that you found that blog post helpful. Good luck!

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