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I work as a software engineer 40+ hours a week and I find that between balancing my personal life and family responsibilities that I have literally no energy to work on game development.

What can I do to make more time for my hobby without burning myself out in front of the computer? I am sure there must be someone here successfully developing a game while working as a programmer on the side.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Josh Petrie Dec 3 '14 at 19:41

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Get rid of the family, the personal life, or the job... – thedaian Sep 30 '11 at 2:44
SE now has a Productivity site, which is a better place for questions like this. – Cyclops Sep 30 '11 at 12:51
Stop sleeping 7 hours a day and start sleeping only 4. There you go, 3 hours for gamedev everyday ;) – Notabene Sep 30 '11 at 13:24
In addition to, we've had two similar questions in the past,… and…. – user744 Sep 30 '11 at 13:27
@Notabene he said without burning myself out in front of the computer! – bobobobo Sep 30 '11 at 14:33

10 Answers 10

up vote 57 down vote accepted

When I worked as a software engineering intern the past three summers, I also wanted to work on my own projects, but also spend time with friends/family. Not quite the pressure of family responsibility that you face, but still a time sink.

The only way I could make things sort of work was identifying nights that were completely dedicated to one thing over the other. If I was supposed to spend the evening with my family I wouldn't even boot my computer. Other times, I had to ask my family not to disturb me and turn off my phone so I wouldn't get distracted.

Even while working, take a break every 20-30 minutes to walk around and get your eyes off the screen. The pomodoro technique has proven handy when I've had to juggle several projects at once.

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the pomodoro technique sounds like great advice :) – radenon Sep 30 '11 at 3:18
I was about to answer pretty much the same thing, as my challenge is balancing full time work, full time university classes and some freelancing. I just have to schedule everything and then follow the schedule. =) – Kenneth Posey Sep 30 '11 at 17:05
I'm currently in a similar situation. The biggest obstacle for me has been when the code reaches a speedbump, ie, something doesn't work the way you think it should, and frustrates you. Early on, that would be the point at which I called it quits for the night. DO NOT DO THAT. Stick it through, and whenever possible, don't stop until you're past the roadblock. If you finish a night/session in the middle of clear sailing, it gives you more impetus to start again the next time. – Jordaan Mylonas Oct 4 '11 at 5:44

One thing that I've done lately, is getting up painfully early every morning to program- my mind is fresh, and I stay clearer throughout the day for my job and the rest of my activities.

The problem with this route is the necessity of going to bed early- and if you've ever been on a programming rampage, you know it's tough to stop for simple things like (pshh) sleep- who needs it?

But seriously, 5am-8am = programming time. While I've been doing this I've completed more games while also working full time and having a social life than I ever did programming full time.

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Does your job require you to do any programming? – radenon Sep 30 '11 at 4:37
Yes, though I'm quitting tomorrow, I was the network administrator and sole programmer for all of the convenience/utility programs at the work place (made something like 20 helper programs) She also had me work on an iPhone app for the company and let me make games while at work. – ultifinitus Sep 30 '11 at 4:57
I'll try this one! Very different idea, should work! – user9471 Sep 30 '11 at 5:27
I tried this one, and it does work, provided you can go to bed early in the evening. I failed because I just had to stay awake until almost midnight. – Nevermind Sep 30 '11 at 6:35
I find that working early in the morning like this (a few hours before business begins) does result in more productivity (unless I get started on Stack Exchange -- it's very addictive!). – Randolf Richardson Sep 30 '11 at 20:45

IMHO your family should come first. The reward for time well spent on them will far out weigh any gains you acquire from your game dev. Balance your time wisely, but make sure they get the lion's share.

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+1 for making sure family get the lion's share of time. Your family will be there for you right up to the end (and beyond), but any venture capitalists who might buy your software won't be -- your family needs you a lot more than an investor ever will. – Randolf Richardson Sep 30 '11 at 20:49

I use the Pomodoro technique to manage my time. I allot 8 Pomodoros minimum daily to programming.

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Do you mean 8 Pomodoros only to game development or you include development at the job as well? – Ilya Ivanov Feb 12 '13 at 9:23

I can only offer tips for managing/getting solid work time in the home and balancing work/family.

Like it or not, you're going to have to be selfish _some of the time_. The difference between being a shithead and a good person is if you're selfish all of the time.

Hobby/family balance is taking time out for yourself. If you automatically assign all time outside of work to family time, then you're not going to have time to dev games/pursue hobbies. And that's fine. You can do that. But to pursue personal projects _you're going to have to be a bit selfish, some of the time._

Further to being selfish:

  • There must be a room for you to work in that is completely isolated
  • You have to set up a policy for the times that you're working on your hobby.
  • Seal yourself away for short time periods (1-2 hours tops) in the evenings (8pm-9:30pm?) where you get to pursue your hobbies. If you do longer sprints, then you're starting to get a bit too selfish.

Look, 2h family time can be >= 4h family time. If you spend 6pm-8pm with the family, then go pursue your hobbies, all bets are your relationship will be just as healthy with them if you spent 6pm-10pm then went to sleep. As long as you see your family every day and you spend 1-2 hours with them, and communicate with them during that time, your relationship will be maintained/grow. I have no reference for this but there's a certain threshold where there is very little negative impact if you spend 1-2 hours less with them.

And what happened to weekends? If you spend 4 hours Sat+Sun morn (before the rest of your family gets up) that's a solid 8 more hours over the weekend.

No references for this, just personal experience what worked for me with 2 small kids in the house (who are not my own).

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I've found there's about enough time available in life for work, family, and 1 hobby that you do really well. Do you have other hobbies that are less important? If so, you'll need to drop them. Take it from someone that has accumulated several hobbies and now finds that he's no longer very good at any of them (vs. when I had 1 serious hobby and was quite good at it). :-)

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Get someone else to work with. Do pair programming or just work together in the same location. It really helps keep your motivation up especially when having to do something tedious or difficult.

You could recruit a friend, co-worker or if you live near a college or university, hire a student as an intern.

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Energy is not everything. Take every precaution to not develop an RSI, because in that case you won't have your game and your job neither. You have to be very aware of these (now distant) things if you plan to type on a keyboard, 10+ hours a day, for years.

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RSI is genetic and a regular exercise routine can help/ IS necessary if you are developing RSI. (This isn't an advertising plug! I tried the linked site and it worked for me!) – bobobobo Sep 30 '11 at 14:18

My opinion is that you're going to have to accept that you're just not going to. From the sounds of it you have a hobby that involves the same kind of general thing as you do in work. That's not great for a number of reasons, but - totally leaving aside the more personal ones - one thing you're going to find is that there are some days in work where you're going to feel burned out on coding/problem solving/etc and just flat out won't feel like doing any hobby coding, and vice-versa.

Doing something for X hours per day in work and then coming home and doing what is broadly the same kind of thing all over again runs a high risk of leading to a crash landing. I'd suggest picking which is most important to you, and looking to make a change in the other. So if your hobby is more important, see about getting a move to a different role in work. If work is more important, use a pre-built engine and do some map design, art, or something else for the hobby.

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A list of goals. I work as an intern games developer, while not working i also do online study courses to help improve my coding or analytical skills, developing my own game and playing games. There is one thing that boils my blood, it is waking up without any clear idea of what i should be looking to achieve for the day. Managing your time effectively can be a pain in the arse especially if your days are mainly consumed by working and travelling but if done correctly you should have enough time to work, enough time to play and enough time to code your own game, while also feeling accomplished and sleeping easy.

But be weary of overshooting. Don't make your list of goals incredibly vague that it still leaves you wondering about where you should start or when to finish. Also try to estimate the time needed to accomplish a given task and look to put a cap on the time spent as something.

I also find that looking for inspiration through music or reading helps a lot.

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