Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Ten-Minute Method

So, I have a method of making progress on personal projects outside of work. This applies, for one thing, to game projects for a large number of Indie developers who are working on their games on evenings and weekends.

I think we all suffer from a lack of motivation now and then, and sometimes days seem to rush by without us having the time or strength to get work done on The Project. It's not that you don't love the work or believe in the project. It may simply be that something else always seems like a higher priority, or you feel a sense of dread about the amount of work left to be finished, or you're distracted by an activity that's more appealing in the short term.

The Ten Minute Method is this:

Work on the project every day, even if it's only for 10 minutes. Every single day, no matter what, but you only need to commit to 10 minutes. You can always find 10 minutes, right? Maybe just before you go to bed, or just before you plunk down in front of the television.

The actual work you do can be anything. If you're working on art, just sketch something. Clean something up. Go looking for reference. If you're programming, just look through code for a while. Read some documentation. Comment old modules. Make lists of things to do later. Easy stuff, right?

The results are these:
  1. You'll always be caught up. It's surprising how much time you can waste just coming back up to speed on a project when you haven't been thinking about it for a week or two. This can be really frustrating with software development projects. "What was I working on coding? Why did I start writing this module? Did I need to finish something else first?" As a side benefit, just keeping the project in your head may make it easier to think about the project when you've got a little downtime (like waiting in line at the grocery store). And, it may make it easier to find motivation, if that's what you're lacking, since after a while it helps eliminate fear of the unknown.

  2. Little things add up. 10 minutes a day for a week is a good hour of work that you might not have gotten done otherwise. And since you're working on it every day and don't have to come up to speed every day, it was probably a fairly productive hour.

  3. In practice, the first 10 minutes are the hardest. If motivation is your problem, this is the real benefit of this technique. After the first ten minutes of involving yourself in whatever aspect of the project you choose, you'll find yourself wanting to work a few minutes more, and a few minutes more, and sometimes those 10 minutes can turn into a couple of very pleasant and productive hours! I find that I sometimes forget from session to session how excited and happy I was to be working on The Project the night before, and those 10 minutes are all I need to draw me back in and make me forget about my important plans for watching reruns on television all night.

Maybe it seems self-evident to you, but it's surprising how effective this has been for me and my friends. Once you get into the habit of The Ten Minute Method, things just get done.

-- stay


The Rampant Coyote said...

Hmmm.... I think I'm due putting in my ten minutes now.

One of my problems is getting distracted. It's very easy, with the Internet right there, and surfing potential to do, and people messaging you, and a dog that decides it wants to go outside and play (at midnight). One of the things I noticed working on Hackenslash (my "game-in-a-week") and Void War is that if you can get into the "zone" - cut out all distractions, and go all out with a solid focus for about ten minutes or so, I can go for a good hour or even two without coming up for air.

Otherwise, I'll end up doing about ten minutes of work per hour, and it's a mess. So I think I may try this out a little more - focus on ten minutes with NO DISTRACTIONS (shut off messenger, etc.) If that's what it takes to get me "in the zone," I can really benefit.

It's easy to be motivated when you are really deep in the "cool" parts of a project. The tough part comes later, when you are working on the less entertaining 80% of the job - polishing, debugging, testing, implementing the game save / load logic, and so forth. That's when I start idly wondering if my favorite forums have been updated in the last five minutes.

stay said...

I know what you mean. My distractions are: e-mail, co-workers, three different chat programs, several active web forums, and a huge list of online comics. ARGH!

Now we just need a foolproof method for being undistracted. Maybe I should uninstall all my web browsers. :)

I do find that music (without lyrics) can sometimes help keep me in the groove, especially when I listen with headphones. There's something about the physical feeling of headphones on my head that makes me feel more like I'm supposed to be DOING something and not getting up to root around in the cupboards for candy.

The Rampant Coyote said...

Yeah, that works for me too. I think it's your brain's craving for distraction - the music provides that part of the brain with the distraction that it needs, so the rest of you can do what you need to do.

Or something. :)

balaam said...

I actually take the ethernet cable out from the back of my computer. The only way I can shut it out!

Anonymous said...

I use the same method with one difference: I make no time requirement. I only require that I make some improvement -- any improvement -- every day.

If I'm writting a long paper, adding one word, making one spelling correction, or reflowing existing text is an acceptable improvement and I can quit. I think I still get all three advantages you list with this method, but I don't have to comit 10 minutes of time.

Anonymous said...

i suffer from this problem day in, day out....right now was reading this article for the very same reason...

Anonymous said...

Yes! This works for me as well.

It's like going to the gym. Nobody ever wants to go to the gym, but once you're there it's no problem.

The other way I think about it is through the distinction between _decision_ and _choice_.

I choose to go to the gym. I choose to work on my projects. In fact, I am always reminding myself to choose whatever situation I happen to find myself in.

stay said...

@charthepirate: Wow, this is great advice. I should probably do the host file thing myself...

Klutzmom said...

I was reading your back posts and thought this was great. I wish I had tried this when I was working on my children's book. I kept thinking I needed big blocks of time. Now, it'd like trying to resurrect the dead. The idea of "always being caught up" is a fresh thought. Maybe I could actually get the "computer room" cleaned. Ya think so?