The last two buckets that I mentioned on an earlier post were “Social” and “Family.” I’ve rambled on about ways to gamify the others, because I tend to do better when there are goals with deadlines and rewards (SMART goals, maybe?), but not necessarily punishments. Writing, Health, and Work were fairly conducive to doing that.
But Social? Family?
Not so much. How do you gamify that kind of thing?
What it boils down to is that I don’t really need to. If anything, I actually need to reduce my participation in some social things and transfer that to spending time with my family. We all have busy lives, and as we get older, with more responsibilities and more activities that claim our interests, we — or at least I — tend to have a busy schedule for eight or ten weekends out, and finding times to do stuff gets harder and harder. My D&D gaming group went for nearly ten months without meeting because there was just no weekend where all of us could meet.
I don’t consider myself a social butterfly, but I have several circles of friends, and if possible, I want to spend time with each of them.
Back when I first moved to Atlanta from Alabama, I had been visiting my mother every other weekend or so. At the time, that was approximately ten hours of driving round trip. I don’t mind driving, because that’s time I can listen to podcasts or catch up on audiobooks. That kept up for a while, but these days, I’m “so busy,” I don’t get down to visit her but every six weeks or so. So instead of turning anything into a game, what it comes down to is scheduling mom-time first, even if it conflicts with other things, and my friends will understand. :) I don’t have to be at every critique session or whatever. My mother is reading this, and I’m sure she’s in total agreement.
As far as the social bucket goes, most of that is just a matter of learning when to say “no” to things. I almost always say ‘yes’ to events on the weekends, because I like doing stuff with people. But when it gets to be every single weekend, it makes it hard to find time to do things like visit my mother. Or just to have a breather.
Just in March, 2014, the first weekend was free, but only because something else fell through. The second weekend had an all-day gaming session on Saturday and a critique session on Sunday. The third weekend has three social events, two of which conflict, so I had to choose between them. The fourth weekend is free, and finally, the last weekend of the month has a critique session for which I’m potentially submitting something (Deadline!). So that third weekend will be when I go down to visit my mother.
My “Social” bucket contains such things as spending time with friends, watching TV, YouTube, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, and such. The TV watching happens mostly on week nights after dinner. We’ll watch an episode each of Buffy and Angel, or two Jonathan Creeks or a Doctor Who or two (we’re deep into David Tennant’s second season, at the moment, with Martha as the companion, in case you care). That can easily be put off until after I’ve written for the day.
Facebook doesn’t really take that much time. I spend more time on it than I should between stuff at work, but it falls away during the evening. Twitter I mostly use for those times when I’m waiting somewhere and I need something to entertain me for twenty minutes on my phone. Podcasts I do while I’m doing other things.
YouTube, though. That’s the biggest time-suck. I’m subscribed to 332 channels on YouTube. Now, in my defense, not all of them are active channels. And I only get notifications in email if new content is posted on 124 of those. And of those 124, most of them are short subjects, like science updates or song covers.1
But it does underscore a problem. I spend far too much time watching other people living their lives and less time living my own. So my first order of business is culling the 332 down to maybe just the active ones that I care enough about to be alerted when they update. And then we’ll work on figuring out which of those 124 can go.2
I mean, they could all go. It’s not like I absolutely must watch the videos. But I do enjoy them, and it is my main form of entertainment, so cold turkey doesn’t make sense. Maybe I could use the Social bucket as rewards for success of the other buckets?
Now that’s an idea. I’ll give that a try. :)
This concludes my ‘gamification’ series of posts. I know they weren’t much about writing, but I’m sure I’ll get back to that topic post haste. :)
- When I wrote this post, that was all true. Now, I have 217 subscriptions, so as you can see, I culled a lot. Still working on whittling it down even more. If I have even a moment’s pause over clicking a link when I get an email, I unsubscribe. I should also point out that not all of these accounts that I get notifications for are daily, or even weekly. The largest percentage of them are ‘weekly’ or ‘periodically,’ meaning that the owner posts videos when s/he feels like it. Sometimes months go by with nothing.
- As with the subscriptions, this number changed. It went up, I think (I didn’t actually count). I operated on the assumption that if I didn’t delete the subscription, I want to be notified when new content is posted, and if I am annoyed by it or don’t like it . . . that’s the time to cull.
The title of today’s post is a quote by John C. Maxwell (an American clergyman born in 1947).
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. All work and . . . wait. This isn’t The Shining and I’m certainly not Jack Nicholson.
So, in my last post, I asked a question: how can one gamify work?
I consider my writing part of my work. But it is not (yet) what I am paid to do. One day I’d like that to be the case, but realistically, I’ll be doing this job or one just like it for many years to come. Because, frankly, I like to eat, have clothing to wear, shelter over my head, and affordable health insurance. Just little stuff like that. Anything after that is gravy. Mmm, gravy.
Where was I? Oh, right.
I’ve been working in1 this company for going on nine years. In fact, depending on how you calculate the number of days I’ve worked in various places, on April 21, 2014, I will have been working for my current employer longer than any other.
When I interviewed for the job back in 2005, I made it clear that I’m not a ladder-climber. I didn’t want my boss’s job. I don’t have a big desire to be The Guy Everyone Comes To For Answers™. I mean, we already have several of those, so why encroach on their territory?2 And I certainly don’t want to be someone who has the power to hire and fire. I’m not cut out for that; it’s not in my personality.
That can, however, lead to a certain degree of stagnation. I’ve basically been doing the same type of things in my job for my entire tenure. Maintaining existing code. Writing new code, sure, but usually nothing exciting and different. Doing documentation. And putting in my eight hours per day (and no more, because although I get paid for overtime, if I work overtime, I have to justify why I needed it3).
I’ve definitely been going through the motions, walking through the part. Sitting at my desk, doing what I’m asked, but little more. Being useful and productive enough that they have no desire to get rid of me, but not so useful or productive that anyone feels the need to promote me or pay me a higher salary. I admit it. I’ve become complacent.
And it’s not about the money. I’m overpaid as it is, for what I do. I know this and go through bouts of being uncomfortable with it. But to live in certain areas, one has to either believe the hype and one’s own inflated self-worth, or one has to be OK with looking at one’s paycheck stub and thinking, “I can’t believe they pay me this,” while simultaneously being OK with the fact that the person in the next cube might be getting half or twice that number. And also being OK with the fact that much younger people who’ve been with the company for less time have been promoted while you’re still in the same position. Or they may have moved on to greener pastures, if this place doesn’t value their contributions adequately.
All this is getting around to saying that it’s time I make a change on this front as well. Those 8 hours per day that they pay me to sit here and do my job can also be spent learning new things. We have all kinds of training courses available for employees of my company. I could even get involved in Six Sigma, if I wanted to, and help identify and eliminate wasteful spending. They always need new green belts.
And that doesn’t even count me just buying a book and studying it at my desk, on my own copious free time.4 As long as I’m doing something that the company sees as valuable, they’ll be OK with it.
And it’s not all work-related training, either. There’s a Weight Watchers group here at work, and they meet onsite during work hours every Thursday. There’s a group who does fitness training on-site during and after work hours out in the parking lot or in one of the conference rooms if weather is bad. They have a trainer and everything.
There’s even a ToastMasters group that threatened to form, but no one wanted to take the reins. Maybe that person is me. The company is providing all of this for massive discounts or for free. And that doesn’t count stuff I don’t know about because I haven’t really looked into what’s available. (See ‘going through the motions’ above.)
And I’m not a moron, I know that there’s something in it for them, as well, or they wouldn’t offer it. Lower healthcare costs for healthier, happier employees. Better employees with greater knowledge and training. Go-getters instead of loiterers. Higher profits, happier customers.
So I’ll be looking into training courses, first. The other stuff will have to wait until I can take care of a slight medical issue. I’m being vague on purpose, yes. Suffice it to say, strenuous exercise is right out for the moment, but perhaps the Weight Watchers is a place to start.
It’s funny how all this circled around back to health, isn’t it? Maybe not. Having an active, engaging work life is a good part of mental health. Most of my active, engaging mental life comes from hanging out with friends, listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos. I love learning. I’ve just been looking at work-related learning in the wrong way.
So. Gamifying work could (heh) work as long as I keep track of it. I’ll work (more heh) on that and let you know what I work up (heh . . . yeah, three was one too many).
And to bring this whole post back around to writing, which is what this blog is specifically about: The happier I am, the more likely I’ll be to enjoy writing more, and do more of it. I’m continuing to use 750words.com daily. This post was written after 5 pm while waiting on a unit test to complete. As of the end of this sentence, it was 862 words (on the first pass).
Which is quite adequate, I think. So I’ll stop here, and save the topic of my family and social buckets for another post.
- The choice of prepositions was quite deliberate. I worked for my current employer for about eight and a half months as a contractor before they hired me permanently. So ‘in’ but not ‘for.’ It’s a tiny distinction, but it’s there.
- More importantly, why be the person they wake up at 2 AM when something goes wrong? That used to be me at my first long-term job. I’m pretty much done with that.
- A few years ago, thanks to a lawsuit in California, tech workers below a certain level were redesignated as hourly workers and were therefore eligible for overtime pay. Rather than wait for this to percolate through all the other states, my company (which I believe is based in San Francisco) preemptively did this a few years ago. And paid us back pay for any overtime we had reported for the prior two years. Because I’m very diligent at recording butt-chair hours, I got a rather sizable sum of money, while all the people who just reported straight eights per day got bupkis. But now, they view working overtime as evidence of bad time management skills or an inability to do the work. So if you do have to work overtime, you keep it to yourself. Which is exactly the same thing we had when we were salaried, but without the implied threat.
- I’m only being partially facetious. There are weeks that go by with very little in the way of billable hours (as it were) for me to do. Earlier this week, I asked my team lead, “What should I be working on next?” and her answer was, “Nothing’s been approved yet, but I’m sure something will next week.” It goes like that: some weeks, there are tumbleweeds blowing through my schedule; other weeks, I’d have to be three people to get everything done on time.
Ten points if you caught the subtle Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. Ten more if you have the music in your head right now.
By the end of my last post, I figured out a way to make the writing more fun using gaming. But what about some of the other buckets?
How can I gamify health, for example? On the surface of it, that shouldn’t be all that difficult. After all, what did we do in recess and P. E. all those year ago in school? We ran around and played games. The problem is . . . I don’t really enjoy doing that. I enjoy playing tennis, or used to, before I gained a bunch of weight. But tennis isn’t something you just go out and do. You have to have a partner, and you have to have one that’s approximately your own level of skill or it blows.
One of my friends has a little device called a fitbit that seems to be something I should look into. She runs, and it reports how far she ran and how long it took to do so, and it maintains a graph so that these daily “scores” are visible on her Facebook page.
I’ve been thinking about doing something like that. Not running. I don’t run unless chased. And frankly, the guy better have a chainsaw. No, I’m talking about with other activities, like walking.
The previous times when I’ve tried something like that, it’s failed ultimately because it’s during the dead of winter (which in spite of reports, can actually get pretty cold here in Hotlanta) or the blazing heat of summer (105 in the shade with a 95% humidity), and/or because it’s hard to teach the devices I tried what a “step” is for me.
I’m a heavy guy. When I wear a regular step-meter on my belt, it turns at an angle and isn’t always accurate. I wore it a few times at work, and it reported that I had walked 10,000+ steps when I knew for a fact I had not. It was recording each time I shifted in my chair or . . . who knows what it was counting. The point is: it was wrong. The fitbit is a wristband, and that attracts me.
The company sent me a new device after it turned out there were design issues, but I never took it out of the box. Maybe I can figure out a way to make it accurate, and then have it report to the world to keep me honest. The only way this is going to work is if I’m required to be honest. :)
Until I can get a fitbit.
“They” say that it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit, but only a few to break. Would me forcing myself to walk three days per week for seven weeks do it? Could I also include some time on the several machines we have here at the house in that total to add up to something approaching respectable? We have an elliptical, a treadmill, and a kind of a cross-country skiing kind of a thing. Ish. <makes vague gestures in the air>
Only time will tell, ultimately, but I hope to try.
The other aspect of health that I mentioned a couple of posts ago was sleep. I get far too little sleep. Well, that’s something I can and actually have been doing something about. When I realized I was staying up until 1:00 or 2:00 AM almost every night . . . just because, I then realized I could also put a stop to it . . . equally because. With only a few exceptions (due to medication or a late night at work), I have been to bed by midnight every night for the last ten or eleven days.
And without exception, I have awakened naturally between six and seven hours later, with no help from the now-shut-off alarm. This gives me plenty of time to get to work by a reasonable hour, and feeling rested and mostly ready to face the day.
Next, I’ll try to cut back on caffeine. For me, this means Coke Zero, Dr Pepper Ten, and iced tea. I don’t do coffee.
I know I should start immediately doing the walking after work thing, but I want to start it when I can realistically track my progress. That’s not procrastination.
Really. It isn’t.
Up next: Work. How can I gamify that?
The title of this post is a quote by Benjamin Franklin. Yes, that one.
In my last post, I ended on kind of a cliff-hanger. I apportioned out all my required time and my copious spare time, and discovered that I actually have quite a bit of it, but I don’t spend most of it writing, because . . . well, I don’t know why, really. I do enjoy it, when I actually do it. It’s just a matter of getting over that initial hurdle.
So, when do I write consistently?
Codex Weekend Warrior. For the last two years, I have managed to churn out ten flash pieces in under 54-ish hours. This year, most of that was actually in five hours, because my inspiration didn’t come until way late.
What’s the common thread of those two things? Gamification.
In other words, I write consistently when it’s treated like a game. For each day during NaNoWriMo, I have to write at least 1667 words, and I can compare my progress with other peoples’ progress, and have little word wars and such.
During Weekend Warrior, there is a deadline, and then at the end there’s the rating of everyone else’s stories. The game is obvious there.
I tried one gamification system that didn’t work as well. It’s called The Magic Spreadsheet. It was created by a classmate of Mur Lafferty‘s at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing. She talked it up quite a bit on her podcast I Should Be Writing and so, after some hemming and hawing, I tried it out. It’s a system of rewards and “punishments.” For each day you write 250 or more words, you get a point. The longer your unbroken chain is, the more points you get. As you consistently write, you “level up” and then more words are required for each day, etc. But miss a day and . . . you go back to the start (in some ways; it’s complicated).
But, alas, the spreadsheet is unwieldy to manage, and I just couldn’t get into it. What consistuted “writing” for them wasn’t what necessarily constituted “writing” for me. I mean, a blog post is writing. So is writing a document at work. Sure, it’s not going toward a story, but it is BICHOK.
I lasted for about 10 days, and then I was out of town for the weekend and broke my chain. And that break cost me points, and I never went back to the Magic Spreadsheet.
Then, a few days ago, Sherry D. Ramsey, a friend of mine from The Quillians, my Second Life writers group, posted a blog post about a site called 750 Words. Which is almost exactly the same thing as The Magic Spreadsheet, except it doesn’t matter what you write (not that it did on TMS, but it felt like it did.
750 Words “requires” that you write 750 words every day, to gain more points, and to get silly little badges. 750 words is roughly three pages of a mass-market paperback. That’s doable in a day, without trying too horribly much for me.
So I signed up and am trying out their free, 30-day trial. After that, you have to pay them $5/month. Unfortunately, it’s through PayPal only which is distressing, because I loathe PayPal, so I won’t be able to continue after my 30 days are up, and no one from the site seems to be monitoring their Twitter or email or forums to answer questions.
But for now, this is working for me, and it’s forcing me to write blog posts (three of them, so far, including this one!) and one letter that will not be sent, but which allowed me to lay out my arguments in a coherent manner so that when I do contact the people in question, I can sound prepared instead of not. And several thousand words of outline for my novel.
Now, the question is whether I can continue this even after the free trial runs out, on my own, or whether it’ll fizzle like some of the other ones.
I do have a novel I’m supposed to be working on. And I have a novel group and either me or one other person are “up next” for having a novel to critique, but alas, neither of us has anything actually ready for critique yet. At least in the other person’s case, they have begun the novel. What I have are a few thousand words from NaNoWriMo and a bunch of notes that may make up a novel plot. It’s the one I’ve been talking about on here, forever, with the magical FBI in Atlanta. Much revised and hopefully improved over the next-most-recent attempt.
So I’m proceeding apace on the gamification of writing. But what about the other stuff? Stay tuned!
The title of this post is a quote from Roald Dahl from his book My Uncle Oswald.