Tanya Short gave one of the best talks I’ve heard in a long time about the fallacies of crunching and bad work habits many people have. The video is now up for free at the GDCVault. Her talk starts at 6:00 :
Summary of her points:
When trying to hit deadlines, she starts out by observing that most of the time we think ‘getting X done’ is our highest priority. It’s not. It’s actually #3:
Your real priorities:
- Don’t burn out (i.e. don’t die)
- Always keep in mind you’re going to do another – and you should be excited to do the next one even better.
- Get it done
That sounds great, but it also sounds a bit idealistic. She says it is not easy, but lays out these points.
Step-by-step roadmap to not dying:
- Believe it is possible to hold those priorities in that order
Many great studios work and ship games without crunch. It can be done, she does it. You just have to be disciplined.
- Stop working ‘all the time’. Set work hours.
It is a fallacy to think working all the time is better. Especially in creative fields. Creative work and creative problem solving require a relaxed mind to do it. Time away from work helps us be more productive. So set work hours and stick to them.
- Prioritize your tasks and re-prioritize as often as needed.
In order to hit your deadlines, you need to know what you’re working on RIGHT NOW is important, not just urgent. If you focus just on the ‘urgent’ emails/tasks/etc, then you’ll never get into the steady workflow that is what makes your work great.
- Estimate your tasks. Re-estimate when needed.
When you finish your task, ask if it took the time you thought it would take. You should do that with every task. It helps you get better at estimating.
- Cut the scope before you bleed out.
If you’re 3 weeks out and realize you won’t make it, don’t immediately think about working more/harder/longer. 3 or more 60 hour weeks is scientifically less productive than 3 or more weeks of 40 hour weeks. You are doing worse work. Even if you think you are a special exception. Why can she say that? A study was done on 100 people that claimed they needed less than 7 hours of sleep. Only 5 out of the 100 could actually do it.
- Don’t give up – iterate steps 1-5 again and again
These steps (production) is a skill. Skills can be developed. Skill development requires practice. So congratulate yourself when you do it pretty well, forgive and be kind to yourself when you don’t treat yourself as you deserve.
We are primates. Primates need to be taken care of in a way computers and games don’t, so don’t act like that towards yourself. It’s not about how many hours you spend because everyone is different.
A few long nights won’t kill you, but a few long months might. Especially if combined with other health and life factors.
Burnout is the feeling of being dulled as layer after layer of exhaustion accumulates. Burnout is the void left behind where your career could have been.
Then she has a real Benedictine moment: The moment right now will never come again. Every one of us will die. No matter what we create, all we have is right now. Don’t use up that joy, love, and creative energy you have by burning yourself out.
Keep death always before your eyes.
—St. Benedict: The Rules: Chapter 4.47
She doesn’t cite the studies, but I found some: