18 September 2017 | 39 Comments
“I’d love to read ways that you have dealt with procrastination, wanting to give up, productivity tips, what held you back from making your first commercial board game or writing an novel until you were in your 30’s.” –Anthony G. in the comments of this blog entry
This comment hit home with me because I’m a lifelong procrastinator. From elementary school through college I would wait until the last minute to study for a test or write a paper. In my three careers I’ve delayed dreaded tasks over and over again. My car is currently 2000 miles overdue for an oil change.
Perhaps most of all, for the longest time I considered my two big lifelong goals–to write a novel and publish a board game–to be things I’d do “someday” instead of “today.”
Let’s talk about the novel first. Why did I wait so long to write it, and what changed?
I always thought that novelists needed big blocks of uninterrupted time–months or even years–to write a book. No distractions, no responsibilities…just long days of writing, perhaps in some cabin up in the mountains.
This misconception put the idea of writing a novel solidly in the “someday” category. I’ve always either been in school or at a job, so for a long time I simply looked forward to the day when I’d saved up enough money to do nothing but write.
But then I started to follow and chat with novelists on Twitter. No one famous, just passionate authors. Mostly women (I had crushes on many of them). And the amazing thing to me was how much they wrote. They were completing novels every few months! Writing was a hobby for them, not a job–they all had full-time jobs, and some were single moms.
This completely changed my frame of reference, and I realized that there was absolutely no reason why I couldn’t write a novel. I just had to make it a priority.
So I did. Over the course of 2 months in the spring of 2012, I spent 2-3 hours each night writing a chapter. I’d write a chapter and then jot down notes for the next section (this was really helpful, as it gave me something to look forward to and ensured that I could jump right into the writing the next night).
At the end of the 2-month period, I had my novel. It was incredibly gratifying to finish. Of course, it was just a first draft, and I haven’t done much more than a few beta reads since then, but I’m fine with that (for now).
Board games were a different story. I’ve designed games ever since I was a kid, but I never considered sending one to a publisher. I had the misconception that publishers already had a slew of in-house designers to choose from.
The procrastination went beyond that, though, because I really didn’t design games in my 20s. I had several long-term relationships followed by an online dating spree that never went anywhere–I think my priorities were very different then.
But then along came my new love, Kickstarter. Eminent Domain, Alien Frontiers, Rise, and others made me realize that it was a viable funding platform for tabletop games. That was the push I needed to actually do something about my dream, and I set out to design Viticulture in 2011.
Even then, it’s quite possible that the idea may have fizzled out were it not for the interest of a friend, Alan, who playtested the game with his wife in the fall of 2011. He offered to partner up for the project, which gave me a consistent playtester and someone to be accountable.
I still procrastinate all the time. I have something on my to-do list that’s been there for over a month. I frequently choose to respond to e-mails or check BGG for the 20th time instead of focusing on a big-picture task. There are elements of game design I enjoy; there are others for which I’ll really drag my feet.
But I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that help me, and maybe they’ll help you too. Some of them tie to the stories above; others are new:
- I stopped saying that I didn’t have enough time and started viewing life as a series of priorities. I’m still learning about this frame of reference, but it’s been incredibly helpful when I’ve applied it to the novel and to my first published board game. It’s not a coincidence that both of those things came to fruition in the same 12-month window, because I didn’t have a girlfriend and for once wasn’t looking for one. I realized that my happiest days were those when I spent time creating something instead of courting someone. This isn’t a commentary on dating; rather, it’s a matter of looking at how you spend your time and deciding if that’s really how you want to spend your time.
- I considered the scariest reason I wasn’t actively working towards my goal. A while ago I met with someone who wanted to write children’s books. They wanted advice on how they could pursue that dream, and instead I asked them a question, “Why weren’t they already doing it?” There’s literally no barrier preventing someone from writing a book. So isn’t it a bit of a red flag that they weren’t already doing it? I think sometimes we fall in love with the idea of doing something, but really we have no true desire to actually do it. This is something I’ll continue to ask myself as long as I run Stonemaier Games. Just because I love to design and develop games now doesn’t mean I’ll always enjoy doing it. [Update: This entire point applies to things that you are physically and mentally able to do, as different people have different limitations–perhaps even those that may prevent someone from expressing themselves in words or pictures.]
- I’ll pay someone else to do it. This has been one of the hardest tips for me to adapt, as I’m frugal, and in general I love to work. But sometimes there’s a task that I never want to do and I’m not even good at it when I do it. Early on at my company this was mailing stuff. As much as I like to receive mail, I loathe the disruption mailing stuff to other people. So I hired fulfillment centers to mail batches of stuff and individual orders, and found helpers to mail replacement parts.
- I found a business partner. As I mentioned earlier, it’s incredibly helpful for me to have someone who else who believes in Stonemaier Games, is personally invested in the success of the company, and can hold me accountable. We meet almost every week, and it makes me feel like I need to actually produce something to show at that meeting. For those same reasons, I’ve also started to work more with co-designers, like on the second and third Scythe expansions.
- I learned a to-do list trick for procrastinators. My ongoing to-do list is kept on a sticky note on my desk. Sometimes if there’s something on the list that I really need to do but don’t want to (Item A), I’ll add something else to the list that I want to do even less (Item B). Relative to Item B, Item A doesn’t seem so bad, so it’s much easier then for me to dive into it.
I still have a lot to learn as a procrastinator, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you a procrastinator? If so, how have you learned to get things done?
- Kickstarter Lesson #45: Partnership
- You Are Your Own Gatekeeper
- Kickstarter Lesson #105: Minimum Viable Product