Seeing this on Damion's blog reminded me of the Seinfeld movie *Comedian*. It's worthwhile viewing for game designers; there's one bit he does where he says the audience is his boss, and, well, it's funny the way he says it.
I mention to Tomo that I'm reading *Getting Things Done* the other day.
"It's one of those books that takes 200 pages to tell you have a 'to-do list'," I say. "Yeah," he says. "Getting things done is just a matter of willpower."
I kind of agree with that. On the other hand, reading one of these productivity books often gives my willpower a boost, and for a couple weeks straight I'll get a bunch of stuff done that I'd been putting off for ages.
And *Getting Things Done* is actually a decent book. Sure, it inspires crazy, almost cultlike, devotion in some. And its central thesis *is* pretty much just, "Have a 'to-do list.'" But I got some stuff out of it. And for only $15, it was worth it.
Here's some of the stuff I found useful:
* Buy a nice file cabinet. Although at work I'm almost entirely paperless, at home I don't have that luxury. I used to have a cheap file cabinet where the drawer was difficult to open. I never filed anything; I just had a big pile of papers sitting on top of the filing cabinet. David Allen points out the reason I never filed anything was because it was so unpleasant. So I bought this gunmetal gray Hon where the drawers slide out like butter...and it really is pleasant. I keep all the menus from our nearby takeout places in a file in the filing cabinet now, instead of the kitchen drawer, because it's just so nice to open and close the thing.
* The reason to write things down isn't because you might forget. It's so you can "free your mind." If you don't write things down, your mind loops on stuff. When you write them down, you don't have to think about them anymore. Less stress. Very Matrixy.
* The two-minute rule. As you're processing stuff that needs to be done: filing it for later or adding it to your calendar or whatever, if it takes less than two minutes, just do it! You might point out that now, instead of getting big, important tasks done, you're getting lots of little possibly not-so-important tasks done, but it is great for staying on top of things.
* Weekly review. You need to spend up to an hour or so every week on maintenance: getting the latest batch of papers and notes and crap that's collected over the week into the todo list and calendar and what not. And you need to review your todo lists, see if anything from your "someday maybe" list wants to come over to one of your "do soon" lists. Otherwise all you get after your burst of willpower is back to the status quo.
* The "someday maybe" list. In game development, we call this the "wish list". It usually translates to the "we're never actually going to get around to this" list.
In the long run, GTD isn't so much a productivity book as a staying organized book. It has a little more to offer than *Organizing Your Office* but it's basically the same kind of thing. There's no advice to make you any more productive in there: it just changes your priorities. Little tasks get done. Stuff you might have forgotten about gets done. Stuff you don't care about - you explicitly decide not to do yet.
I have a theory, and the theory is that there's almost no such thing as more productivity. Every minute you spend doing something is a minute spent doing something valuable. Maybe it's sleeping. Now you're better rested. Maybe it's playing a videogame or watching TV. Now you're more in touch with pop culture, or maybe you've exercised your mind. Maybe it's staring off into space. They call that "meditating", and it's good for you. And maybe it's working or taking out the trash, those things that everyone considers productive.
There are only a few ways to truly increase productivity:
1) become more efficient-something GTD doesn't talk about-for example, learning to type might make you a faster blogger and thus you could produce more blog in the same amount of time.
2) eliminate dead time. Okay, so my theory's obviously hyperbole, and some tasks are truly unproductive, such as commuting and waiting for builds to finish. If you can eliminate or reduce these (move closer to work / shorten your build time) you're a winner. (But #2 is basically another way of saying the same thing as #1, now, isn't it?)
2) multitask. If you can't eliminate dead time, at least get something else done while it's happening. For example, I didn't actually read *Getting Things Done* - I rented the audiobook from simplyaudiobooks.com and listened to it during my commute.
I'm so lazy I'll work really hard to make my life easier.
In one way, I'm an optimist. When somebody tells me that learning such-and-such will give me big productivity gains, I tend to buy into it. I work to get over that hump to the promised land. Sure, refactoring that code will take some time now, but in the long run it'll be worth it! Sure, the tools are broken and annoying now, but once we've gotten them solid, we'll be working faster than ever before! Sure, STL is hard to learn, but once you know it, it lets you do things much quicker than before!
A lot of the time I'm right. And things do go faster once I get over that hump. Sometimes I'm wrong...for example, although STL's container templates helped my productivity shoot way up, STL's algorithm templates weren't much help. Boy, did I want to believe in those algorithm classes. Hell, I thought I'd never have to write code again. I'd just hook up algorithms. For loops would be a thing of the past. It took me dozens of failures, dozens of times saying, "This is a perfect opportunity for an STL algorithm!", dozens of times realizing the time I spent trying to get the STL algorithm to work was an order of magnitude more than it would have been if I just coded the damn algorithm myself, that I finally gave up.
Is there any way to tell the fool's gold from the real gold? The STL algorithm templates from the STL container templates?
In general, you should have people assigned to One Project for large blocks of time, you should group your bugs by category so a bunch can be fixed at once without a lot of re-setup time, and you shouldn't constantly change your mind about which task has higher priority over which other task.
But we do this all the time; "We need combat fixes to show on the next rev!" "We need those memory optimizations for the next burn!" "We need, we need, we need..."
So is it really as bad as all that?
Joel Spolsky puts forth a situation where a guy is rotating between Task A, Task B, and Task C. What usually happens in the real world is actually a stack: guy works on Task A, the higher priority Task B supersedes that, and the higher priority Task C supersedes that. Task C ends up done ASAP, Task B less so, Task A less-less-so. You might get some wanker asking "Joe Coder started Task A two months ago and it's still not finished!" at which point you point out it was that or Task C and they shut up.
So, in short: no, it's not really always as bad as all that.
Still, there's something to be said for not switching to a higher priority task if your current task is close to being finished. In the long run that'll pay off.
I'm going to be kind of a dick here and say that Facade is not, in fact, the great revolution in videogame history that Ernest Adams and Chris Crawford say it is. It's very cool, definitely worth checking out, and I would have made a donation to the cause if my PayPal account hadn't freaked out on me...but I've got to ask - has Ernest Adams played Half-Life 2?
The facial expressions in Facade are a step up from Half-Life 2, but I don't know if it's a huge step, and they get more leeway since they're further from the brink of the uncanny valley. There's a lot of emotion on the faces in both games. Also, in both games, the characters react to what you do, and what you manipulate in the room. (Anyone want to do a Facade mod for Source?)
Of course, it's not just about the facial expressions - it's also about the natural language parsing - which didn't really blow me away. Most of the time it seemed like the characters didn't know what the hell I was talking about, unless I took pains to put some key-word in.
Of course, it's not just about the natural language parsing, it's also about the story/world/characters that the Facade guys chose to work with: ordinary people having an ordinary domestic dispute. No aliens or laser guns or secret agents here. I'm reminded of the comics of Adrian Tomine: no superheroes, just ordinary people. In other words - boring. What makes both Adrian Tomine and Facade interesting is that you don't expect to see such boring people in genres that are normally all about flash and spectacle. It subverts your expectations.
Ok, done being a dick now. Facade really is worth checking out, and it points to a future where we might actually get some different kinds of stories in our videogames, ones that aren't necessarily all about violence. And maybe even the games that *are* all about violence will get a better balance between violence and emotional drama: more *War of the Worlds*, less *The Rock*.
The Playstation / Nintendo 64 generation was a landmark breakthrough - suddenly 3D gaming on console was the norm.
The Dreamcast, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox generation was another, smaller, landmark - suddenly 3D looked good. If you ported a previous generation game to the new generation, you got instant results - your textures were perspective correct, you stopped having a lot of sorting issues, yada. At first, a developer could impress people without doing much, if any additional work.
You do a straight port of a current gen game to the new next gen - it looks identical. Unless you're hooked up to an HD TV. The burden is definitely on the developers to prove that these new systems are worth upgrading for.
I'd almost think that maybe this could be the generation where people wise up and realise - "Maybe I don't need a new game console" - but it won't be. We'll see massive marketing budgets. We won't be able to get away from the Xbox 360 and PS3 advertisements. People will buy these consoles like hotcakes without even knowing why they should. Or shouldn't. And someday there'll be a killer app for them, that isn't available on a previous console, and I'll have to buy one.
$20 million dollars; 10 years to live. What do you do?
I keep right on making and playing videogames. Videogames are important. The hard part is working out how to spend as much time with my family as possible and still make them. Maybe work-from-home or something like that. In fact, I'd probably do the Chris Crawford thing, and try my hand at interactive fiction, but I'd take a much different approach then he does.
Something I keep mentioning - I was burned out on videogames, then I read Richard Powers Plowing The Dark, and that gave me a whole new outlook. The poetry of virtual space. Keeps me going.
Jim Collins is my new management hero. The "Hitting The Wall" article on this page is outstanding. I need to read more of his books. There's one weird thing about him, though: he talks about the importance of humble, un-self-centered leadership, and yet he himself seems fairly oriented towards attention-getting. I wonder how he rationalizes / justifies that.
Another iffy thing about his theories: he talks about big, hairy, ambitious goals - and he says that good ones come out of understanding and bad ones come out of bravado. But how can you know if your goal came out of understanding or bravado until afterwards, when you've won or lost? (Of course, he did foresee this complaint, and even addresses it in *Good To Great*.)
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