Focus, Man, Focus!

I have a bunch of draft blog posts from the time I was planning all my life-improvement shenanigans. One of them was about focusing what’s important when starting out a side project – which can be the path towards becoming an indie gamedev, and is a pretty good fit to be published as-is now. Especially as I’ve had difficulties to focus on programming today. Here you go!


So you’re all exited to go indie and what’s the first thing you do? You buy unnecessary stuff and set up your home office because it “needs to be super cool for me to do super work”.

I’ll give you some advice: no, you don’t need to buy all that stuff and no, your home office does not need to be anything more than a computer, a decent monitor, and a corner of a room. Comfortable enough for you to avoid physical illness in the next six months. I say physical just to point out that you don’t need to be psychologically fit in there, because then you’ll get into a comfort zone where you actually focus on the wrong things. But if your back is screwed or your wrist hurts due to inflammation from overusing the mouse, you cannot write your app.

I started my sole proprietorship in 2004 while I was still studying. And yes, the first thing I did when I got the papers sorted, was to say ‘yes’ to all kind of business- and entrepreneur-related magazine subscriptions, which I got bombarded with from day one when the company contact information was published on the registration authorities web pages. I designed my own business card and spent hours on browsing for good deals on the printing of those. Hey, one subscription came with a present of a stamper with my company name and address, w00t, now I’m in business!

The thing is – focus only on what you really need to make it happen. Everything else is a waste of time and money – the two most important assets you need to go indie. You need time to push out that product as fast as possible. You need money to live – or if you’re unlucky enough to go indie when old, like me, you need some money to provide for your family as well.

Everyone’s situation is naturally a bit different but I think this is a somewhat accurate generalisation. Taking me for an example, and why wouldn’t we because this is my blog, after all.

I need a lot of money to keep things rolling on a daily basis. Not me personally, but my family as a whole. I need so much that I cannot quit my day job, because I have not enough savings (well I have, sort of, but I’m too big of a pussy to cash them in for this silly journey. Those savings are for our house that we will build sometime in the future). I currently live in Switzerland, and the rents are quite insane here, and the general cost of living is not on the cheap side. But luckily I make quite nice bucks, so for me it’s only about finding the time to do this. Hence the life improvement program. You know – first, take some time of yourself because that’s for free, build the product, and cash in. Chi-ching! Spend time first, get money afterwards. In the mean time, keep on living as you’ve done, but optimise your daily routines to be able to squeeze out of it as much of that development time as possible without lessening your devotion to your family.

For others to be able to afford going indie might mean moving to a crappycheap, apartment, start saving heavily on food quality, sell some hardly-ever-used stuff (we all have that, right?), even sell something that one likes and/or needs very much, say, like a car. While I can get by, just living my rather nice life and optimise my time management, I suppose I can be regarded as one lucky bastard. But then again, I’m not anymore a student living in smelly dorms and drinking cheap beer. I’ve reached a certain point of life quality, I think I’ve earned it, plus my calculations show that I can pull this off by just managing my time better.

So, why do I care about saving a few hundred bucks if I don’t seem to mind to blow $200 on Swiss chocolate alone, in one go? Because,  it’s about managing yourself, right? Learning as we go, improving oneself. And one lesson we all need is to focus on what matters and just ignore what doesn’t. Really, just ignore. You’re allowed to mention those things in a sub sentence, but if you start explaining them and giving reasons why you need to ignore them, then you become one of those annoying persons at work who always digress when something important is being discussed. Why would I want to listen five minutes to some idiot rambling on an item that is to be ignored? I already know it’s going to be ignored.

Learn the technique to quickly skip unnecessary things, and reflect that in how you handle things. To continue the example of discussing: skip the unnecessary things efficiently by using short sentences like “it’s not an issue“, “we’ll skip that for now“, “not important“, “good, skipped“, and “for fox’ sake, Jake, if you’re not gonna shut up about how it’s sometimes OK to skip the acceptance criteria when defining user stories, because it’s never OK, I’m gonna shove this boot so deep up your ass that you’re gonna write the acceptance criteria to your dentist“. That last sentence may or might not be OK to use at your work, depending on your employer.

I notice the irony in the text above as I’m writing a rambling set of digressions as we speak. But there’s a time and place for everything and rambling digressions fit very well in a blog. I think.

Using me as an example once more, this is what I did to get started. Minimal stuff.

  • Bought a monitor
  • Bought a mouse pad with that gel padding at the wrist, as I get RSI without one
  • Bought a keyboard
  • Bought a Bamboo Stylus pen for my iPad (this was completely unnecessary but it turned out to be a great help in using the iPad for designing screens for my app)
  • Bought an Apple TV

None of the above I had before. I had a mouse, and a MacMini as a living room computer which my kids use to watch TV and movies on, that’s why the seemingly unnecessary Apple TV on the list. One of the rules of my life-improvement program is not to piss my family off.

This all drained about $400 from me, so I recon that is quite a cheap home office. It’s still stylish as every piece goes nicely with the white Mac look, and putting all that up in a corner of our guest bedroom on a cheap IKEA frosted glass table we had from before, my wife haven’t complained a bit about it looking horrible and not fitting our interior design. Win-win.

So you will not be seeing any blog post from me about how I built my desk, computer setup with N monitors, decorated the room, bought silly USB toys, and still did not get further in developing my app. Because all that is unnecessary right now. You actually need only a cheap, used laptop to write software and you can do that at the kitchen table or on the floor if you cannot afford a table.

Well, all that is unnecessary until you can afford it nicely. Rest assured, I will also set my home office to a code monkey’s paradise, but only when I know it makes sense – and that is when I’m sure my app will bring in some sweet cash. And that is when I see the money on my bank account, not a minute before.

I use RTM as a To Do list and I created a list in there called “Wishlist”. On it I put all kinds of stuff I would like to have in the near future, but stuff I will not buy just because it’s cool to have. It’s the list for stuff I will reward myself with when I’ve done good work. A bike (for commuting and for fitness), a 55-inch TV (“for the family”), a good office chair (I’m thinking Herman-Miller’s Aeron or a saddle chair), or maybe an electronically adjustable office desk. Stuff like that. Stuff that’s cool to have.