working every other day; reasons and observations

September 10th, 2014

From today on, I will be working every other day.

My working ethics were a fallacy and I am proud to have a friend to have carefully explained this to me. I have always told myself and others that the only way to make and do things is to make and do things without excuses. Even as I'm writing this, I feel like this is absolutely true, but it is not. Because the only way to make and do things is to make and do things and live a healthy life.

I've been greatly inspired by people like Rami Ismail and Max Temkin, mainly for their unearthly dedication to their work. These guys work hard. It has been my ambition for years to be able to do what these guys do. But what I have ignored is that 1) passion is generally beter than ambition, the difference between greatly enjoying the end result or greatly enjoying the process, and 2) that 'healthy' can be radically different for other people. Both Max and Rami face completely different problems when it comes to their health, and have each found their way to deal with them. Doing exactly as they do will not work for me.

My food, sleep, and exercise patterns have been messed up since I got back from numerous game developer events in Germany. I've always tried to eat healthy, to do enough exercise, and to have full nights of sleep, and while I'm still mostly doing all these things, I've end up in a downward spiral when it comes to fitting all these things together with work.

I wake up feeling tired and enter the office feeling exhausted, even though having had a good breakfast. I then slowly get into work and feel my energy levels slowly going up, until I get hungry and eat, causing another energy drain as my body starts digesting. Slowly getting into work again, I feel most energetic at a very problematic time, around 17:00. I face the dilemma of either going home on time and having a healthy meal on time so that I will still be able to sleep on time, or... work on until 19:00, eat nearby the office, work some more, and go home much later only to find myself craving for relaxation and not being able to sleep being knee deep in working mode. I often choose the latter, as I feel that there is no other way to get anything done other than actually doing it. Falling asleep before 2:00 became the exception. And the next morning, I wake up again between 8:00 and 9:00 to not 'further waste my day', only to continue in this cycle.

I've tried eating at work, but the food around our office is either too expensive for me or not healthy. There is no kitchen in / near our office I can use. I've tried spending more energy through exercising in the mornings or evenings, but I keep having the problem of being at work when it's almost time to eat and facing the dilemma of going home for good food or having a productive day. I've tried cooking in the morning, or taking food from the previous evening with me, but I can't seem to fit this in my daily routine.

This relationship between food and sleep affects my motivation for exercise, too. I know that being tired during the day means that I'm also not challenging my body enough for it to become energetic. Getting out of a tired state requires huge mental effort and discipline, and has ALWAYS proven to be absolutely worth it. But then, my sleep and food patterns are there, once again, to bring me back to a tired state, and I have to face the same mental challenges, again, and again, and again, and motivating myself to continue exercising has proven to be immensely difficult.

I wasted a large chunk of my day on email and Twitter. I quit Facebook two years ago to solve the very same problem I'm fighting today with email and Twitter; it's an endless pit of procrastination and 95% of the time it doesn't add anything to my day-to-day life, but it's rewarding and there really is value to that 5%. Unfortunately, I haven't found a way to use email, Twitter, or Facebook, without having to go through that 95%.

And I have really tried. I have tried to only login once in the evenings, I have tried to block access during daytime, I've tried to login only twice a week... all failed attempts. I am addicted to these services. I enjoy reading about the indie game development soap on Twitter, although it does not add anything to my day to day life, and I enjoy clearing my inbox, although most of the emails don't add anything to my day to day life.

I could not enjoy leisure as much as I should. The things I do when I 'relax' in my day-to-day life are playing games, watching movies, reading books, or taking a walk. But I've found that because of my creative responsibility at Game Oven, I often enjoy doing these things less because I feel like 'I should be focussing on something else right now, but I'm procrastinating.' I feel that I really need to get this urgent thing done. And this feeling results in even more craving for leisure, and makes me feel even worse about the situation.

This is just plain wrong, and I know it, but the difficult part is that more leisure is not going to solve it for me. A walk in the park is not going to give me peace of mind. Neither is a game, or a movie, or a book. It's all the previously mentioned things that are the core to the problem, and this just adds up to it.

All these problems made it clear to me that I need to change my routines, and so, I will work on the even days of the month, and calm down on the uneven days. This solution is about a mindset more than anything. The free day allows me to do whatever I want, all the things that feel less urgent but important nonetheless, while I can do all the important and urgent stuff on the working day. I won't go to the office on my free day, and I won't worry too much about everything that needs to happen at Game Oven.

This new structure is completely incompatible with the traditional working week, but that's fine. Some fun events may happen during a weekend while I have a working day planned. Some work-related events may happen during free days. I have decided to shuffle the working / free days around in my agenda, to sometimes have two working days, or to sometimes have two free days; I don't want to force anything, I just want this experimental structure to guide me.


October 11th, 2014

The workweek is deeply ingrained into our lives; maybe too deeply. My experiment of working every other day has opened my eyes to what 'balance' in work and leisure really means.

I work about thirteen hours on a working day, with dinner (at work) right in the middle. About one-third of my actual-work-done happens before dinner as I spend a larger part of my time discussing design and priorities with my colleagues. I get much more productive after dinner where I do the remaining two-third of the work, when my colleagues are out of the office, when I can turn the music really loud, and when I'm not disturbed by anyone for entire the evening. I greatly enjoy these hours and they are super productive and rewarding.

My free day allows for many things that I would previously neglect or didn't put enough time into. To summarise, I spend most of my free days reading and thinking a lot, coding prototypes, cooking things I had not tried before, meeting friends, running, exercising, biking through the Amsterdam forests with autumn, and I go out for a drink every once in a while. Every free day feels like the first day of vacation. A day relieved of stress. It's liberating.

A couple unforeseen things.

- The occasional dinner, networking reception, or an event that happens every wednesday evening, becomes the dilemma that I've been trying to avoid: to work or not to work? I have yet found how to deal with this. More often than not, these events have an overlap with work, yet eliminate my most productive hours of the day.

- I fell for the fallacy that a free day is also a resting day. Quite the opposite can be true: activities on a free day can be exhausting sometimes. This is why I found it much more convenient to sometimes skip a working day rather than a free day. This might sound obvious, but isn't as obvious for someone who greatly enjoys working. I've skipped exactly four working days over the last month because of long-planned events during weekends, and added only one extra working day to catch up. In the end, I got enough work done, which I think is the only way I can objectively decide whether I should allow for these exceptions or be more strict about it.

- I found that home isn't a very stimulating place for activity. I tried to work from home on some of my working days, but wasn't even half as productive as a working day at the office. Likewise, being home on a free day without any activities is 'counterproductive' too, and hasn't given me the rest or peace of mind that I think a free should bring me.

- Having alcoholic drinks is always badly timed; it will potentially ruin the following day, whether a working or free day, and I'd rather live that day feeling good.

I'd like to conclude with some philosophical words on balance. I've come to understand that there are two ways you can look at balance. In the first, you shrink two or more areas that overlap until they no longer do. I need to relax, but I need to get at least X amount of work done. In the second, you push each area away while maintaining their size. I will relax now, and work hard later.

November 16th, 2014

The bigger idea that I've been trying to implement in my life is that of balance. And while most of my examples have been regarding work and leisure, I found that they also apply to many other domains:

Food - I eat as varied as possible, sometimes super healthy, other times very unhealthy.
Exercise - I do intense interval training once a week to compensate for doing nothing. Basically, I die during these sessions. Also, I found that doing my jumping jacks 10x faster than normal makes me feel much better. Same goes for anything sports related, really.
Relationship - my girlfriend and I agree that we enjoy hanging out with each other more if we haven't seen each other for a little while. We minimize calling and texting so that when we are together, we are fully together, mentally as well as physically, having quality time.
Games - I have always and will continue to look for extreme variants of my game ideas.
Friends - I have about 4 good friends. I see them highly irregular, but always one-to-one for at least a couple of hours.

It requires discipline to not work on my own prototypes for the entire free day. I really enjoy making things but have to keep reminding myself that I really need the off-computer time. Sometimes I have more difficulties in that, leading to expected problems such as a restless mind, or barely exercising. But the payoff is amazing when I do the things that need to be done, and relax when I need to relax, and exercise when I need to exercise. Makes it all worth it.

September 7th, 2015

I quit. Since I quit Game Oven in April and no longer have an office I’ve been trying real hard to stick to working every other day with no success. This was largely due to saying yes to too many things now that I'm a freelancer, but it's also because of my traveling and being unfit for most of the time.

I might pick this up again when I have an office, but until then I’ll revert to a more traditional working structure.

Comments? Tweet at @AdriaandeJongh.

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