Part 06 – To-Do lists and Notes

To-Do Lists and Note taking – Simple, effective and occasionally misunderstood!

Do To-Do Lists:

Do you use a To-Do list? You should if you don’t. They’re great for development and practically essential for game development with steady progress. What do I define as a To-Do list? It’s a sheet of virtual or real paper you can scribble down a bunch of tasks which need to get done.

I’ve used the free program Stickies for about eight years as my go-to desktop note taker. Let that sink in… eight years! I’m the kind of guy who loves trying new things out and is looking for more efficient processes all the time. Eight years of something I’m not being forced to use is a long time. Stickies has a small footprint and one little thing I love is if you make a closed bracket like so [] and the program will automatically create a neat check box you can use for your to-do list.

Ideally your to-do list is something you go to when you start your day. You make a new one each day and compose it of necessary work and perhaps unfinished work from the previous day. Also you scratch off any work that is no longer needed. I know this may seem pedantic but trust me, I have drifted more than once in my life by forgetting the simple rule of plan your work and work your plan.

New ideas and work can be dropped at the bottom of the list as you go. The daily process ends with you reviewing your whole list (completed and unfinished) to check progress and sort out upcoming priorities. Something I find particularly satisfying is putting ideas and new work in a proper sequence at the end of the day. Not everything you think of can or should be done. A to-do list gives you a visual look at what you are up to and it’s incredibly helpful when you are wondering what to do next. Key takeaway here – focus every minute you can.

You might wonder what the difference between a planning program like Jira and a To-Do list. They do overlap somewhat. Jira and many other programs give you a to-do list of sorts for your daily work. I personally set up a weekly task sets inside my planning software and then have a to-do list for the dailies. It’s a lot more fluid for my workflow. Example of my planning process.

  1. Wake up and drink coffee (Ha! You knew that was coming!)
  2. Open Hansoft (planning software) and check out weekly task list
  3. Grab 5 – 8 daily tasks to start with for the day. I don’t set any limits to daily tasks but I generally only grab 5-8 at a time to avoid getting swamped.
  4. Create a To-Do list for the work
  5. Work the list from top to bottom
  6. If a new idea/work comes up or needs to be added I place it at the bottom of the list for nightly review. This task WILL NOT be worked on that day unless it is critical. It’s only placed for remembering the work.
  7. Continue tasks until end of the day.
  8. Daily review before shutting down for the night – review all work done and any new tasks added.
  9. New tasks are placed in planning software and priorities.
  10. Repeat the next day.

That’s about it when it comes to my daily to-do’s so let’s talk about note taking…

Note Taking and you!

You can use Excel, Notepad, your favorite mail program… even paper! Whatever works. The idea is you have an easy to access place to jot things down as you think of them. I started carrying a small Moleskin everywhere (really any small notebook will do). Most of the time this gets filled with movie recommendations, songs and various ideas I have or hear during the day. There are great programs with Android and iTunes (like Google Keep) which serve the same function on your smart phone.

So… you have the program or journal. The best thing I have found is to just start using it for all of your ideas and notes. Write everything down you think of. Maybe you have some gameplay idea after seeing a movie. Write it down as soon as you can. Maybe you woke up from a dream with an awesome Boss design. Write that down immediately. Keep that list nearby)!

You need to stop with the “I gotta remember to do that” crap. Most of the time you will forget and anyone who has been in game development has a few stories about idea they just forgot which were “so awesome if I could only remember”. Notebooks and note taking will dramatically increase your happiness as a side benefit. How, you ask? Less remembering to do and less forgetting is less work for you and that is always a nice thing. Also, you will learn to collect ideas efficiently as you write things down.

That’s all for this session and tune in next week – “What do publishers think when they see your game?” You want to know don’t you?