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  Two Kinds Of Work 12:47 AM -- Thu November 19, 2009  

I am sitting here trying to get organized and figure out where my time goes and where it ought to go, and I have hit upon an interesting phenomenon. I am definitely not the first, but since I'm thinking about it, I'm gonna think about it at you right now.

When people make charts or lists of stuff they need to do, they invariably do it one of two ways: either a grid of how they are going to spend their time each day (3 hours working on Loonyland, lunch break, do the dishes...), or they make a list of projects that should get worked on (Loonyland, Website updates, Super Pizza Dancer 3000). Neither approach is sufficient on its own, and combining them is pretty much just an ugly tangle.

You see, there are two kinds of work you need to do: Creative work and process work. Those are just terms I came up with, so let me explain. Creative work is the act of making something new. Once it's done, you have something new, and that project is complete. You have created it. Good job!

Process work, on the other hand, involves taking things which already exist and doing things to them (maintenance, cleaning, answering emails, working on an assembly line - notice the last two are actually acts of creation, but they go in this category for a reason). Once it's done, some time later, you have to do it again! It's an ongoing process. Maybe you don't have to answer that same exact email again, but you have new emails to answer.

Many things blur the line between these two. A journalist creatively writes an article, but he has to keep cranking out articles every week for his newspaper so even though each article is a creative event, writing is an ongoing process.

So the issue becomes: how do you make a comprehensive schedule of tasks for your life? Some things can go in slots - every day, spend an hour cleaning the house. It's always going to need more cleaning, and you can always work on that. Other things can't - work on Loonyland until it's done, and then that slot is empty. Now that slot could be "work on current game", but it's just not that simple with creative work. One problem is that you can't just schedule it. Creativity has mystical powers and cannot be constrained. And different stages of the process will demand different timeframes. I can sit and hammer out levels and monsters for hours, but don't expect me to bang my head against a horrible bug for 4 hours straight. It just won't happen. If I go to bed thinking about it though, chances are I'll wake up with the answer (at a ridiculously early hour like what happened to me the other day... thinking is not conducive to sleep).

A lot of writers set a schedule like "spend 4 hours writing at this time", while other writers find they can't organize it like that, the words don't come at a set time. I have read that Stephen King doesn't do that, he sets a word goal for the day (you know, 100,000 or so for him) and won't quit writing until he gets there. But even this does nothing to alleviate the original issue! You still have two different things you are trying to track: projects you want to accomplish, and hours during the day to fill.

So what do you do? Two separate charts seems to be the answer, but I'm not happy with it. One, a schedule that breaks down what you do each hour of your weekday, and two, a list of projects you want to accomplish that breaks down in tree form to the elements that need doing in them. Then there could be the issue of deadlines... but I ignore those. Those are for people who have some concept of what can and will happen in a given timeframe.

I don't know, man, have you got something better?
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