What to Do When You Have a Literal Gamedev Breakdown

On remotivating with productivity systems like Bullet Journaling and Getting Things Done…

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On the GameDev Breakdown podcast, producer and host, Todd Mitchell, dreams up game ideas with friends. Then, they try to make them a reality.

I’ve heard it called the “trough of discontent.” It’s that phase a project enters after the adrenaline of ideation and comraderie wears off where it’s just you, your work, and a ticking clock on the wall. The world continues to turn as doubt starts to distract you. Is this worth doing? Is someone just outside the room convinced you’re crazy? Maybe it’s more practical in nature. Maybe you don’t know how to build this magical dream project as well as you thought.

In my case, my body simply crapped out. Twice.

Podcast listeners will recall I sounded like garbage on my call with Boss Fight author Sebastian Deken to the point that we briefly discussed postponing. This turned out to be part of a short week-long break before everyone in the house got sick again. My throat, my head, my ears, my lungs, nearly everything in my body betrayed me precisely when I had the most to prove. I wondered what point there was in recording this week at all.

Then I decided it was a very important week to record. Coming up with fun ideas is great, but it doesn’t really tell the story of game development. Hell, showing off a finished project really doesn’t, either. Game development, writing, and just about any other creative pursuit is usually a story about weeks like this and what happened next.

To explain how I planned to pull it back together in this week’s show, I had to explain how I usually hold it together in the first place.

How I get things done

Bullet Journaling

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll at Amazon

If you’re not familiar with the Bullet Journal method, you can think of it as a fancy way to organize a notebook or planner developed by a guy named Ryder Carroll. That doesn’t sound like much, but doing it legitimately changed my life. The idea that we don’t teach the fundamentals of this method in more schools yet is a real shame. If I’d had this process at my disposal as a kid, I could have saved myself a whole lot of trouble as a student.

The strength of Bullet Journaling, beyond having a handy organizer at your side with basically every vital piece of information you need at a moment’s notice, is in its flexibility. It’s great for anyone, because anyone can turn it into whatever they need. I spent over a year following the method to the letter before deviating or going digital, and in that time I organized reading notes, developed miniature game design documents, started journaling regularly, explored mindfulness practices for the first time, and more.


Getting Things Done by David Allen at Amazon

David Allen decided to go ahead and write the book on “getting things done.” When you hear “GTD” out in the wild, a lot of the chatter traces back to David’s bestselling productivity guide. As I explain in this week’s episode, I wanted to hear from David because some professional opportunities arose that would require me to act in more of a project management capacity, and that was brand new for me. While it’s actually kind of difficult to sort out exactly what David’s personal qualifications are, his material is certainly geared more toward the management crowd. The slight disconnect there may actually be a benefit, because all of the actual project management manuals I’ve looked at so far have challenged my will to go on.

While I didn’t get as much from GTD as Bullet Journaling, there are a couple of things here I love. David’s method for rounding everything up in your workspace and powering through “processing” all of it is no-nonsense and very practical. I’m using his suggestion of dividing task lists up into functional spaces. I have lists of tasks I need to complete at my desk, items I can do anywhere I have my laptop, and things for around the house. Finally, his perspective on maintaining project plans and breaking off tasks one by one should be common sense for everyone, but I suspect the average person could benefit from taking time to think about it.

My System

When the impractical paper issue of Bullet Journaling got to be too much, I blended the process with a couple of GTD features I liked and created a flexible digital journal that has met my every need for months now.

I’ve been using Markdown for everything lately, and my current productivity system is no exception. I first checked out the Obsidian notetaking app in hopes that it might help me plan out my next book or help with future software projects. Instead, I ended up using their Sync service to develop a journal vault that I can access from my office PC, my laptop, my phone, and my tablet. This isn’t going to be for everyone, and $10/mo. is pretty steep for the privilege, but I absolutely love what I’ve been able to develop within the app.

Using the Daily Notes core plugin, my vault greets me each day with a blank, date-coded file ready for the day’s tasks. Markdown support means I can format at the same speed I can type, and fully functional checklists let me see my progress in real time.

The only problem is you have to use a journal like this consistently to enjoy the benefits.

Recovering from an actual gamedev breakdown

The theme of this week’s show is that, no matter how in-control you appear to be, a big setback in any part of your life can bring the others temporarily tumbling down. When my family got sick (again), the journaling stopped because the development, the exercise, the mindfulness, and everything else stopped with it. I spent most of my time for a week simply staring at the ceiling thinking about how miserable I was.

And that’s okay.

Over the last couple of years of fully committing to maintaining some form of personal productivity system, I’ve learned that the flexibility to drop off and return to it is one of the most important features. As we speak, getting this podcast out has been the first relatively big productive thing I’ve tackled in about two weeks. My journal is a mess. For many days, the vault has dutifully created a blank page for each day’s tasks, and for many days, I’ve ignored it. That’s simply what it is to be off track.

The difference between now and previous derailments in my life is that I have something simple I can do to pull myself back together. As I revisit my future log full of calendar dates, appointments past and present, I’ll regain my sense of participation in the world around me. I’ll have to face a project schedule that has slipped away from me, but I’ll get to re-evaluate what to do and when to do it. I’ll file away the empty task pages with perhaps a short journal entry about the worst cold and flu season we’ve had in years.

Before I know it, I’ll be fully up to date, ready to break off the next task that will bring my next project one step closer to the finish line. It won’t require a brand new life plan. It won’t involve a period of feeling completely overwhelmed. It will just be a process to kick off when I’m ready, work to put in toward a goal of my own choosing.

If you don’t have a personal organizational system you can rely on, try one. Anything. It might be the safety net your project needs. It might just have something extra that you need, too.

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