I don’t like deadlines. They stress me out. But they are also the only way I get anything done.
When I started designing games I would follow an idea for as long as I was interested, and then get distracted by a new idea. I didn’t get very far with most designs because of this. My computer is full of half finished ideas and unprinted prototypes. I never had a clear goal while working on those designs. I didn’t have a deadline. They would never be late, so they never had to be finished.
Then I started entering design contests. Design contests have deadlines. So I had to finish the design or it would be late. And if a design I made specifically for a contest was late for the contest, that was a lot of wasted effort.
Contests were a great help in getting me to stick with a design, focus, and get it to a finished enough state to submit. I wouldn’t say that these where complete to the point of publishing, but they were usually a solid 80% of a game.
But I went too far with the contests. I kept having ideas for every design contest I saw. So as soon as I submitted my game to one, I would move on to another, and another, and another.
So, while this was better than my collection of unrealized ideas, a collection of 80% finished games wasn’t really what I wanted either. So I decided to stop entering contests and start finishing games.
Without the external deadlines of a contest I needed something else to keep me focused. I’m part of two board game design groups. Between them, I have 3 design meet ups a month. That’s three deadlines every month. Three targets that keep me focused.
For a while I was working solely on Plutocracy, which itself originated from a contest. But I’ve since been trying to work on a few different games so I don’t get burned out. It’s been going well. Just this week I finished rules for two games because I’ll have a chance to play them soon.
Board game design is an iterative process so I work best with smaller goals. With three meet ups and three games that means each game has a monthly deadline. So every month I finish three games. But since it isn’t a contest, the next month I finish those same games again.
So far none of them are done. But neither are they abandoned. And that constant, steady progress is reassuring. A more measured success than sudden bursts of creativity followed by months of inactivity.
As you may know, in addition to game design I also produce a podcast and write this blog you are currently reading. For these endeavors deadlines are even more important. While a game design can get to it’s final product in many ways, a podcast and blog must build an audience. And to do that they must be consistent.
I published the first episode of my podcast in January. I committed myself to produce one episode a month and, importantly, always on the 15th. With a deadline of the 15th I could be consistent. I might have stayed up very late on the 14th of each of those months, but I met my deadline. After a few episodes I started to record episodes much faster than I was releasing them so I adjusted my deadline and started publishing an episode every other week and then weekly.
Since then I changed the podcast to a longer format and went back to biweekly releases. While I changed my deadlines, I always did it intentionally and never allowed myself to miss a deadline.
With the blog, I set myself weekly Friday deadlines. This has been the toughest to keep up with. Probably because writing is something that I can do at the last minute. With the podcast I need to setup guests, record for an hour and spend a few hours editing and publishing so I’m forced to do things ahead of time. But with the blog I can sit down at 10pm Friday night and probably get something posted in time. I took a bit longer posting my Plutocracy look back and missed the deadline by half an hour, but other than that I’ve managed to stick with it.
There are two steps to succeeding at something. First you must start, then you must continue. Deadlines help me with the second step. So if you want or need to do something, set a deadline and meet it. No matter how rushed, problematic, buggy, or broken, meet the deadline. Then set a new deadline to improve it.