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11 May 2015

Things Indie Developers Need To Know: Avoiding Burnout

Because we constantly get new readers all the time here at Game Academy, we’ve been trying to cater to you new guys/gals as much as possible. Yet, we want to cater to all of you guys. What better way to do so than with a week-long series on critical things indie developers need to know – no matter how long they’ve been in the game (pun was intended).

Today, we’re focusing on the foundation every indie developer should have in order to work often, churn out the best games, and most importantly, avoiding hating this industry with the fury of a thousand suns. In other words, you need to set yourself up for success and avoiding burnout. Doing so is actually pretty simple, so implement the following tips into your work life as soon as possible.

Plenty of sleep

For some reason, we love to romanticize late-night work. We always hear about people that worked on their dream games at all hours of the night, staying up late and working, working, working and only stopping to get a few hours of sleep. But it’s dangerous.

There’s nothing wrong with staying up a few hours later and working occasionally, but if you make it a habit? Your work is eventually going to suffer. Think you can work all night then double-up on your sleep and be fine? Not a chance. There’s no way around it: you need to sleep a consistent amount of hours every night.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that you need seven hours of sleep per night, but every person is different. I know someone that swears by 12 (a little excessive to me) while I only need six. Find your perfect number (you probably already know it), and stick to it, no excuses. Believe me: if you get your ideal amount of sleep every night before work, you’re going to feel fantastic, will stay productive, and will churn out consistent, quality work. It’s one of the key things indie developers need to know, and once you find yourself churning out consistent work, you’re going to get a lot more done and will make less design mistakes in the long run.

Frequent breaks

Bouncing off the tip above, you need to also take frequent, regular breaks during the workday. As you work, your mind becomes tired, your eyes are fatigued, your legs and back are stiff, and it’s harder to consistently work at an optimal level. While you may feel as if this interrupts your train of thought, believe me: it’s mandatory.

Taking a break every 1-2 hours (between 5-10 minutes) so that your quality of work doesn’t suffer throughout the day. Stand up, stop staring at a screen, walk around, and return to work. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Be active

One of the most important things indie developers need to know (and truthfully, everyone needs to know this tip) is that it’s vital that you are active in some regard. It can be as hardcore as lifting weights or doing a program like Crossfit, or as simple as a few Yoga exercises or going for a 30-minute walk; just be sure that you are active in some capacity. Being active results in an improved mind, self-esteem, and avoids burnout. Be active to be healthy, happy, and ready to take on the world every single day.

Eat well

Most of us love eating unhealthy foods: burgers, pizza, nachos, burritos, etc. Yet, you can’t eat them all the time. As fun as they are to eat, chowing down on a bag of fries and a apple fritter every night for dinner is going to make you feel like Jabba the Hutt all the time; worst of all, this will severely affect your ability to perform work at an ideal level. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a list of items you need to be eating with every regular meal, but the big takeaway is also the most obvious: control your portion sizes! Eat well, and your work will benefit.

Have connections

When you feel burned out, lost, hopeless, or simply need some advice, you need to have someone to talk to when the going gets tough. Speak with your peers, other indie developers, join a community of other indie developers (Reddit is a great place to start), and the like so you can vent when you need it. Having a line of support is the best way to avoid any kind of burnout, so be sure you have it!

Have a hobby

In other words, have something to do when you are not working! A lot of people have a problem with separating their work life from their personal life, and eventually the two become one. When this happens, you get people that know nothing but work, work, work and it kills their personal lives.

Don’t get me wrong: making indie games is awesome, but it shouldn’t consume your life. Have a hobby (no, Netflix doesn’t count) that you can fall back on when you’re done for the day and need to unwind; the less it has in common with developing indie games, the better. For example, I know an indie developer that uses carpentry as an escape. His quality of work remains at an optimal level and he gets to make awesome furniture. Find your perfect hobby, and use it to escape from your work.

There are many reasons why burnout occurs, but by doing the following above, you’re going to stamp it out before it even begins. Plus, you’ll feel great!

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