Time Management for the full time Dev, full time parent, part time Indie

Part 1 – Sleep

Welcome to part one in a little series of posts I’m going to do over the next few weeks on time management for the part time indie. Let me first explain the title. I consider myself a Full Time/Part Time because I have a full time job, I have a young family with two kids under 5 and I have my own little indie studio. This usually feels like at least 3 jobs and the sheer number of things to do can feel overwhelming at times. But it can be managed.

In this intro post, we’ll talk about what my days are like personally, talk about the needs I have commitment-wise and we’ll talk a little bit about the arch nemesis of the Indie: Sleep. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’d like to quickly point out that despite the fact I’m a developer in my day job, this series is in no way aimed at programmers in that same situation. This is for anyone that works full time and find they have a ton of ideas rolling around their head that they just can’t get to because work sucks up all their time. I was just speaking to a young man last night who was saying that with the 2 hour commute to work, and 6 day work week, he has no time left to do anything. He is exactly who this series is aimed at.

So let’s talk quickly about my life. This is in part in the hope that you’ll find some aspect of what I manage that’s relatable to you and drive home the point that the techniques I’ll talk about can benefit you, and in part to add credibility to these techniques at all. Although, full disclosure, there is nothing here that I came up with. This is just a combination of techniques and lessons learned that have helped me and will hopefully help you.

Firstly, I work full time. So that’s Monday to Friday, 9 till 5. I commute to work and that takes 30-40 minutes of pure train time (depending on the train I catch). By pure time I mean there is more time buffered around getting to and from the train station. It’s important to keep in mind “dead” time. It still comes out of your 24 hours obviously. Yes, the time I spend getting to work might be closer to an hour, but only the time spent on the train itself has the potential to be productive. We’ll talk more about “filling in the cracks” in a future post though.

I have a young family. A beautiful wife, Lauren, who rightly expects some attention every now and then. And to be fair is a big part of why I can manage as much as I do. I rarely have to think about making my own dinner for instance and that’s a huge deal. I have two awesome kids, Harrison, aged 4 and a half (the halves are important at that age) and Eliza, who’s a little over 1. These guys not only demand, but deserve my attention as much as possible. And I mean actually possible. Not the “I’ve got a ton to do, it’s just not possible” kind of possible. On the priority list, these three sit above almost everything. It’s worth keeping in mind though that you can make compromises with them. My son loves making deals (though he’s not keen on keeping his side of them) and that’s absolutely ok in my opinion. So long as you never renege on a deal you make.

I am also the programmer for an amazing bitpop band called 7Bit Hero. We incorporate multiplayer gaming into our live performances. The audience can use our app to connect to our server and when certain songs come on, a game fires up on a big screen behind the band. The audience’s phone turns into a big join button and they race each other to get into the game. Some games have 8 players, some can go as high as 32. They are all simple, one button games, but the pure fun of seeing your little custom person up on the stage, responding to your commands to jump the jars or avoid the giant cactus slamming into the ground is awesome. This technology is still a very early prototype, and I try to allocate time to work on it each week.

On top of that I’m also the director and programmer of my own indie studio called Sly Budgie. We are 4 friends that really want to make the type of games we love to play. But none of us live in the same city as another, so it’s all remote work. Plus, two of us have day jobs and other businesses and families while the other two live off contract work that can require a truck load of hours poured into them. Usually way outside the “normal” 9 to 5. So Sly Budgie exists in the cracks (which as I mentioned I’ll talk more about another day). We have actually decided to work on a non-game application we’re calling Flock of Pain for a few reasons. To find out more on what that is all about feel free to check out www.slybudgie.com

I like to dedicate one day a week, usually Friday, to prototyping and exploring new programming techniques (which is where the application idea for Sly Budgie came from) but at the moment I’ve just launched a new collaboration with another mate. We’re calling ourselves One Coin and are working on a super hero choose-your-own-adventure comic…strategy…RPG-ish kinda thing. It’s called Exemplar and you can find out more about that one at www.onecoin.azurewebsites.net

With three projects being worked on outside of work hours (and kids bed times), I’ve also temporarily shelved the day I was putting into working through online courses and learning new skills. I had just started a Udemy course on learning professional game art. As a coder it can be a huge block in productivity to not be able to slap out your own placeholder/prototype art, so I plan to fix that. I’ve temporarily reallocated that day to either Sly Budgie or One Coin, whichever needs the attention most that week.

So I have a lot of plates spinning here. And there is only so much time in a day. Let’s broadly talk about an average day. My morning usually kicks off around 5.30, when the alarm goes off. Unless one of the kids decides earlier looks better. This happens more in the summer though, when the sun is up earlier. The morning routine keeps us going till we head for daycare about 7. By the time the drop off has been completed I’m probably over at the train station by about 7.30, though some days it’s as late as 8. Around a 40 minute train trip into the city, then 5-10 minute walk to work depending on traffic (have to cross a big, busy road). Finish work at 5, usually manage to make it to the train station in time for the 5.12 express, so that gets into my station by about 5.45ish. Wait for my bus, that shows up about 10 to 6 and it’s about 15 past by the time I walk in the front door.

Once there, we’re in the night routine. Dinner, baths, stories, walking the little one to sleep, cleaning the kitchen, making lunches for the next day then odd jobs like folding washing, tidying etc. By the time I sit down to work, it’s usually somewhere between 8.30 and 9.30. Some nights it might be as late as 10. Then I’ll work till around 11 or midnight. Most nights, at this stage, this work is punctuated with a baby waking up a few times and needing to be comforted back to sleep. Then up again at 5 or 5.30 to do it all again.

Weekends are rarely work time, and if they are, it’s only of a night, once the kids are asleep and anything we need to do around the house is done. Just like a week day. The days are dedicated to the family unless I’ve got a deadline looming that needs some extra time resource allocated to it.

My sleep is still punctuated by waking children, usually the baby these days, so it’s not straight through. According to my FitBit, I usually get between 3 and 5 hours of sleep a night. And here we find the problem we are going to attempt to address today. I have read many, many blog posts on maximizing productivity. I get almost one a day from some source in my inbox. And almost every single one of them starts with “make sure you get 8 hours sleep every night” or “here’s what time you have to go to bed to wake up right”.

The problem is, what do you do if that’s just not an option? Obviously long term, that’s going to be your goal. You don’t want to have as many balls in the air as I have forever. The plan is for at least one to land on a big pile of money that will take the pressure off ;). And you won’t always be woken by the kids. Right? They do sleep eventually don’t they!? And although most nights I might only get 4 hours sleep, I can’t keep that up indefinitely. At least once a fortnight, sometimes once a week if it’s a physically big week, I will crash early. Often while trying to sooth one of the children to sleep. It’s surprisingly hard to calm another human being into sleep without putting yourself to sleep too (I’d love to see the results of a study where insomniacs were asked to do this).

So let me share with you my own rules on sleep.

Rule number 1:

Don’t set yourself up for a late one

Never put yourself in a position where the work you plan on doing tonight needs to be done tonight (unless that choice is taken out of your hands. Not much you can do there). You need to accept that your body will need to make up for lost time at some point. That 8 hours sleep thing isn’t a desirable. It’s something your body needs. What I’m talking about in this post is how to maintain as much alertness and productivity as possible while in what is technically a sleep deprived state. If you can’t afford to pass out tonight because you need to finish what is due tomorrow, you are adding a ton of stress to your plate. On the flip side, being able to casually make the decision to do nothing tonight and accept your body’s screaming desire to sleep has an opposite effect and you’ll feel the stress fade away as you drift off to an early sleep.

Rule number 2:

Eat correctly

Diet. I don’t mean the type of diet you “go on” to achieve some sort of goal. I mean diet in the actual meaning of the word. “The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” Oxford Dictionaries. The Oxford Dictionary also describes the origin of the word as deriving from the original latin diaita meaning ‘a way of life’.

It is hugely important that you eat well. The trick to maximizing the efficiency of your sleep is just to have a healthy body. A healthy body is better at repairing itself, which includes the process of rejuvenation that occurs as we sleep. On top of that, junk food has a poor psychological effect on you. You are going to feel worse, even if you aren’t conscious of the fact. That has an effect on your productivity, which will affect how much you get done in your limited time, which will affect the stress levels you have when you go to sleep (or simply how late you go to sleep). Also watch how much you eat. Over eating will leave you feeling heavy and slow. When your body feels slow, your mind follows suit. Finally, a little rule of thumb I try to stick to is don’t eat after about 8pm. Give your body time to digest food before you lay down to sleep. I’ve found it has a positive effect on both the quality of my sleep and how long it takes me to get to sleep. Please note these are all anecdotal observations from both my personal experience and others I’ve worked and spoken with. Check out a 48 hour Game Jam to see it all in action.

Rule number 3:

Exercise

Last rule. Exercise. Of a night. Before you sit down to work. Before you eat if possible, it’s hard to push yourself hard with a full stomach, but after is ok if it can’t be avoided. It might sound counterproductive to spend some of what little time you have exercising instead of working, but I have found that it has multiple benefits. Firstly, the endorphin kick right after boosts creativity and motivation. Secondly, I feel more energetic with less sleep after exercising consistently for about a week. If you are inconsistent, it could well take you longer than that to feel the benefit when you wake up in the morning, same if you are well out of shape. So you need to commit to it and be consistent.

As for what exercise. That’s pretty much up to you, but make it reasonably high intensity. Don’t go for a stroll. Go for a job. Or even a power walk. Make sure you when you finish you have some elevation to heart rate and breathing rate or “puffedness” as I like to call it. The application I mentioned we are working on at Sly Budgie is actually a fitness application designed to give you High Intensity Interval Training circuits at home. Make it as simple as possible to get a really solid workout with minimal preparation time. That idea came from my own needs when trying to meet this rule. But you can find any bodyweight routine from a fitness magazine or online somewhere and use it. It doesn’t need to be different every night, and it doesn’t need to use all the latest gym equipment. Just so long as your heart and breathing ends up working harder than it is right now as you’re reading this. If you can do something that makes you say “come on!” as you work to push one more rep out, all the better. When you’re done. Have a shower and sit (or better yet, stand) at your computer and you will feel awesome and ready to go.

Knowing what to go on with is the subject of part 2!

I hope this article has provided you with some inspiration to explore what habits you have that might be effecting the quality of your sleep. I hope it’s at least made you take a closer look at the quality of your sleep. There are plenty of people out there that complain they are still tired after 8 hours sleep, but they never seem to look to other areas of their life to solve that problem. They are convinced they are doing all the right steps by getting the required number of hours and it’s obviously out of their hands and not their fault.