Posted on February 11, 2011 by Doolwind

Working From Home Part 2: Staying Motivated

Do you find it hard to stay motivated when working from home? After my last post I received a lot of comments from people stating that the biggest challenge they face is staying motivated. Today I discuss the ways I keep myself motivated while working full-time from home.

Keep It Small

Whether you find it easy to stay motivated and focused on a project or not, there is one general rule that holds true for everyone:

The shorter the project, the easier it is to keep motivation.

Keeping this in mind, the first rule is the easiest; keep your projects as short as possible. Game development is hard and so I always like to overestimate how long a project will take. Anything more than a few months and motivation becomes an issue for me, so I like to keep projects less than 3 months where possible. This is also good as a business owner as it means I’m not spending too much time on any single project that may or may not succeed. Keeping projects down to multi-month rather than multi-year is a luxury we have now that iOS and web games are viable business options.

Small Tasks

One simple way to keep up motivation is to break the tasks for each day up into the smallest possible pieces. I keep all my tasks less than 1 hour in length. Any longer and I break them up into sub-tasks. This has a number of benefits:

  1. You will constantly be ticking tasks off your list throughout the day
  2. At the end of the day you can look back and see what you’ve achieved

There’s nothing more motivating than having visibility on what you are achieving. The only time this becomes a big issue is when tasks start taking a lot longer than you expect. I like to turn these challenges into a positive though. As soon as a task becomes problematic, I immediately break it up into smaller tasks. This lets me continue to tick of tasks, even if they are just sub-tasks of this larger problem. It also helps focus my train of thought on exactly what I’m trying to achieve, often times helping me find the solution I’m searching for.

Set Goals – Short and Long Term

After deciding on a project to work on, I set goals working from top to bottom. These goals can just be seen as large tasks; however they give you broad milestones to aim for. Just as having a dozen or so tasks each day to complete, having a handful of larger goals each week and month is a great way to keep motivation up. It’s another set of items you can tick off a list and it helps you to keep visibility on the overall direction and velocity of the project.

I find it’s a good idea to share my goals with friends and family to get their feedback. While tasks are often highly technical (implement Carmack’s Reverse for shadows volumes) goals are often a lot more general and can easily be shared. Most people can understand “Integrate twitter for posting about headshots” and you will be able to get feedback on whether spending the next week of your life completing the goal is worth your time.

Show Off

It’s easy to lose motivation when working in a vacuum. Showing people your work is a great way to get that much needed injection of motivation. As you plug away day-by-day it’s hard to see the big picture on how far you’ve come. If you show someone once a week or month, they’ll notice dramatic changes and give you positive reinforcement. When looking for a motivation boost, find people that will get excited about the game, rather than looking for critical feedback from play testers. Sometimes it’s good to just have someone go “wow” at your game rather than picking apart the fact you implemented Carmack’s Reverse incorrectly.

This also helps when you go to pitch the game to publishers or the press. If you’re used to showing off the best bits of the game, this job becomes a lot easier. What starts out as a motivational boost can help you “sell” your game further down the track.

Remove Distractions

This fits in with my first article on working from home but it’s the key to keeping motivated. It’s inevitable that you will go through times of low motivation. These times test your resolve with YouTube, Facebook and minesweeper all sitting there giving you an easy out. My biggest advice is to just say “no” to these during work time. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “just one video” and three hours later you’ve lost the afternoon.

There’s always going to be something more interesting than debugging that inconsistent crash bug, but it’s important to realise that spending a few minutes here and there with distractions all adds up at the end of the day. If you find yourself falling into a routine of getting distracted by something, do your best to completely remove it from your work hours.

Work with others

Working in a team is a great way to keep motivation levels high. When one person on the team loses motivation, the others are there to show their enthusiasm and give extra motivation. All team members should be conscious of when anyone is unmotivated and work hard to help them out of the slump. Another benefit of working together is when someone else completes a big task and you can see the work they’ve put in. This spurs the others in the team on to work even harder.

If you’re working alone, I’d think seriously about getting someone else on, even if only for a small section of work. Particularly if there’s something you really don’t enjoy doing. Chances are there is someone you know that absolutely loves that particular task. This has a number of key benefits:

  1. Removes the problem tasks from your life
  2. Lets someone who loves those tasks work on them, ending in better results
  3. Speeds up development time

Be Honest

My final point is a little existential but it’s important. Keeping motivation for long periods requires you to be honest with yourself. We all go through ups and downs; it is a part of life. You need to look at your goals for your work and decide how important they are. If you need to cut out all internet for 8 hours per day to stay motivated then do it, no matter how painful it may seem.

Take time to analyse your productivity throughout your project and spot problem areas. Look to resolving these issues so they don’t become a major drain on your productivity and in turn, motivation. Being honest and realising that you can’t do everything may be hard for some people, but it’s important to achieving your goals.

I personally hate QA. Once I’ve finished a project I don’t even want to look at it. It’s something that must be done, but I really don’t enjoy it and I find I get distracted really easily. I used to plod through with low productivity and motivation and often completely miss bugs that had been staring me in the face for weeks. I found the solution was to get help from others in the team and friends. To many of them, it was a joy to be able to play our unreleased games and give feedback. I often get requests from people to add them to our pre-release list to get a sneak peek at what we are currently working on. By critically analysing myself I found this weakness and turn it around as best I could.


How do you stay motivated when working from home? Do you have any recommendations?