Time

I’ve been trying to get a grip on how my IF support time is spent, because I feel like I’m working harder, but simultaneously turning down more requests and taking more time to get around to deadline-free requests. This is a post about how I spend that time. I realize this may seem a bit self-regarding, so please please feel free to skip on past this discussion if it grosses you out.

However, if you’re interested in community overhead and dynamics, I’m hoping that a little transparency will help — both help me figure out what to prioritize better, and help others understand either why I can’t handle their requests or where the community might bolster its resources to good effect.

So I went back through my email and social media contacts and did a little analysis on the following parameters:

  1. It covers only requests made in the past 3.5 weeks. It doesn’t look at things that people asked me to do prior to that window, whether or not I completed them during that time. (I made it 3.5 weeks rather than a month because during that extra week, I was traveling and my time use was atypical, including more student meetings etc.)
  2. It does include what you might call implicit requests, things that no one explicitly asked me to do but that are ongoing parts of my community role, such as Meetup organizing, or covering Spring Thing.
  3. It does not include regular client work or compensated speaking engagements.
  4. It includes only a very loose, rough estimate of requests for information on Twitter or through DMs — I get a lot of those, so I went with average contact numbers from Twitter’s analysis dashboard rather than trying to go through every single contact request and give it a time estimate.
  5. It does not include writing blog posts except the Spring Thing posts and posts that were answers to specific questions. I consider writing a certain number of analytical blog posts to be part of my job, because though no one pays me to do it, it raises visibility, and helps me record and think through knowledge I’ve acquired as career skills. So that work is accounted for separately.

For each line item, I recorded whether I had accepted the request, whether or not I had performed it already, and how many hours I estimate the request took (or will take when I do it). Hour estimates do include things like travel and prep time for speaking engagements, since that consumes hours that I am not able to spend otherwise.

Given how much is estimated and how much is left out, the numbers will be more precise than they are accurate, but I’m at least confident that they’re conservative: that is, I am seldom over-reporting the amount of time requested or spent.

I should also preface this by saying that this is not a complaint and it is also not fishing for thanks. I choose to spend my time this way, and if you wrote to me and I answered you, it’s because I wanted to do so and think it was worthwhile. I am just trying to figure out how to rebalance things a little so that the time I’m spending is as productive as possible and I can maximize the needs met as a result.

Here’s the breakdown from March 24 to April 15:

Hours of work requested: 184. (This would be equivalent to more than full-time employment for the period in question.)

Hours accepted and performed: 59. (A week and a half of full employment, though, as I in fact do have client work, it happens around the edges of that.)

Hours accepted and not performed yet: 58. Ugh. I feel like I’m on one of those reality TV makeover shows where the exuberant host is showing me just how bad my budget really is. This during a month when I’ve been intentionally turning stuff down. (It also does not account for at least another 16 hours’ worth of pre-existing obligations that are past due.)

Hours refused: 67. So I’m trying.

What am I doing with that time? That comes out roughly as follows:

Inform-related task management. Roughly 1 hour. Peter Pears is helpfully keeping me updated on what goes on at the intfiction forum, and I generally send technical support requests to that forum, which means that my overhead in this space is now fairly low. I used to spend many hours a week doing user support. If we were doing a new build with new features, this might spike since I might need to write new examples, but otherwise this is fairly typical for my current level of engagement.

Public appearances of various types. Unpaid speaking, teaching, and workshops go here. 11 hours this month, and I’ll be doing a London meeting of the IF Meetup on the 26th, which will run at least another 7. Since a lot of this happens in London, and it takes several hours each way to get to London, travel time is a big part of the time cost. There’s also prep. I turned down several requests in this space.

Event planning overhead. Exchanging email/messages associated with the Oxford/London Meetup and other events I’m involved with. I’ve estimated this at 30 minutes this month, but that represents a large number of fast emails or chat exchanges. 30 minutes may be an underestimate.

Providing feedback. Feedback on tools, on articles, on games, on design concepts or community organization ideas. This clocks in at 17.5 hours performed, of which a healthy chunk was the roughly 8 hours spent reviewing academic articles for the program committee of an upcoming conference. I’m committed to another such review cycle soon. The rest of the time corresponds to everything from spending five minutes telling someone what I think of a minor game design notion to emails that take multiple hours. I am more likely to give extensive feedback on things I think are promising and worthwhile.

Information requests. Roughly 6 hours performed. Providing recommendations of articles and games, answering questions of the form “once you blogged about X but I can’t find it on your site,” etc. Most of these requests are minor and can be answered within a couple of minutes, but this month there were two that struck me as reasonably important but that took significant time to answer: the request that led to the Brief Bibliography post, and the one about writing novice-friendly parser games. These were needed as background information for a class; in both cases, I didn’t have a good source I felt I could recommend instead.

When I get questions of that kind, I prefer posting the answer on my blog as a general resource rather than just writing back an email. (Here’s another one, but it’s from early March, so outside the timeframe of this analysis.)

Interviews. These fall into three categories: podcasts, interviews with journalists, and informational interviews for students doing research in interactive storytelling. I have one of each in this category for this timeframe; each of these is a 1.5-2 hour commitment. I’ve done one so far and the other two are pending. Journalist interviews are especially tricky because often the person needs answers on a very tight timeframe; but I’d prefer someone writing about interactive storytelling to be as informed about it as possible, so I feel bad about saying no. These numbers are typical.

Review requests. 8+ hours performed. Spring Thing is a subcategory of this for which the request is implicit (see above); the other six requests I received were overt requests, in some cases to cover multiple games. I turned down several of these, amount to an estimated 15 hours of work, but from the handful I did accept, I nonetheless owe people probably 10 hours’ worth of reviews, not counting Ice-Bound Concordance because that’s been on my to-cover list for longer than a month. These numbers are typical or low. In Comp season I can easily put in 100 hours.

Social engagement. Roughly 10.5 hours, and this is the most hand-wavy estimate of the lot because it’s based partly on looking at my tweet-and-reply stats and multiplying. Answering questions and pings on Twitter, meeting up with people on request, interacting on forums, mentoring, and social credentialing. By mentoring, I mean answering questions about pro or semi-pro IF writing and freelancing, about community dynamics that are affecting the person in question, or about educational opportunities — things that are more about life-management than about specific projects people are doing. (Those would be filed under “feedback.”)

Social credentialing is a weirder category and probably the least visible from the outside: this is what happens when someone writes me an email (or asks a Slack question, or DMs me on Twitter, or whatever) saying either “can you recommend someone who is good at X?” or “I have just been contacted by Y; would you say that they’re a promising/competent/safe person for me to work with?”

I get this kind of question from both prospective employers and prospective employees. I take it quite seriously, because I realize that it may have important effects on people’s future opportunities. So I try to be thoughtful and exact about my answers, but this makes it time-consuming.

Notionally there are social media ways of achieving this, but does anyone take LinkedIn seriously? I didn’t think so.

“Social engagement” does sound a bit nothing-y, and perhaps our hypothetical reality-show time-budgeters would tell me to cut this category. But I worry that an accessible Twitter presence is important particularly for newcomers and people socialized to feel that email might be too much of an intrusion: younger people, marginalized people, or people suffering from anxiety and/or impostor syndrome about their place in the community.

Meanwhile, here’s the stuff I’m mostly turning down or not doing:

Writing requests. 0 hours. Articles, book chapters, columns, et al. appearing in other people’s publications, not on my blog. I’ve been asked for a couple of book chapters this month but turned them down. I estimate that the smallest of these would have required at least 24 hours of work (3 full work days) to do the appropriate research, write, submit, proof, etc. These would have been unpaid, or paid at a very low level, in the “you might get a $10 royalty check someday” category. I don’t object to that in the right circumstances, but with present time availability, it isn’t workable.

Bug resolution and hint requests on my own games. I’ve spent ~30 minutes replying to questions on this, particularly about the unavailability of Bee and a game-breaking bug in the latest version of Counterfeit Monkey. I hate having that bug out there: I don’t like that players have a bad experience, I don’t like how it reflects on me, and I wince every time someone recommends Monkey given that this bug exists. I’d love to fix it, but at a conservative estimate fixing it would be 8-16 hours of work, possibly more. The bug itself would take just a few minutes to fix — I know exactly what’s wrong and why — but I would first need to roll back my version of Inform and then afterwards do a whole bunch of tests and updates. So it’s a full weekend, probably.

A possible solution would be to hunt up version 4 of CM, which predates this bug, and put that up on IFDB until I have time to do a more comprehensive fix.

Invited freeware games. 3 hours this month. Client work doesn’t go here, obviously. This is for cases where someone writes asking me to submit to their zine, comp, journal, jam, or anthology for the fun of it. I have done exactly one of these this month. That is a huge fluke. Almost always I do zero. It took a few hours, mostly because I needed to teach myself enough Harlowe to do it. This was the result of Cat Manning campaigning… aggressively would be the wrong word. She made a strong argument that since the theme of this jam was my idea, I should really have something in it. That was a very tiny piece. Often people are asking for larger projects that would take at least 20 hours to complete to my satisfaction.

Writing my own games for free release. I am doing R&D in my own time. This means writing prototypes to solve some conceptual and design issues I think need to be resolved to build the kind of engine I’d like to see next. It’s following up some ideas from Versu in a different form.

However, I’ve cut to pretty much zero the amount that I write unpaid games as a mode of personal expression. (Again, the tiny jam this month was exceptionally high participation in this area, rather than exceptionally low.) There are a lot of reasons for this: partly that the community already has loads of my games; partly that it’s important to me to support other people; partly that I feel the weight of the argument that, for the marginalized voices to be heard, the less-marginalized need to be quiet sometimes; partly that I feel like I should put the energy I do have for game-writing into contexts where it might pay (which in turn gives me more resources to put into the community).

But since a couple of people recently have asked me about this: no, I don’t have any freeware games of my own currently nearing release. It is unlikely that I will in the near future, and certainly not works of any large scale.

*

Final note: the fact that I can put in this many hours doing these things is itself an expression of extraordinary privilege, and I’m aware of that. I’m putting the information out there because I’m hoping it will be useful. I recognize that most people have more external demands on their time than I do, given that I have no commute, no children, no ill relatives to look after, and so on.

Anyway. I generally don’t put parameters on comment replies, but I’m hoping that in this particular case, any responses people might have will take the form of constructive critique such as

— suggestions about how some of this work might be made more efficient or else delegated

— thoughts (which I absolutely do not guarantee to follow, but I’m interested in the data) about the relative priority of these tasks

I am not seeking thanks/reassurance/comfort or other forms of emotional labor from readers: it would be in my view actively counterproductive to add to the Total Community Workload by requesting that kind of input. Also, unappealing.

 

 

17 thoughts on “Time

  1. > Notionally there are social media ways of achieving this, but does anyone take LinkedIn seriously? I didn’t think so.

    Yes and no. LinkedIn allows you both to connect to another person (which means little) and to write a written personal recommendation, which is usually about a paragraph.

    If I’ve seen that you’ve written a paragraph of glowing praise about someone, I’d probably not bother to ask you whether you think that person’s work is any good, because you’ve just told the world that you do, in fact, think so, and I (and, I think, other potential employers) take that reasonably seriously. If you’re only just connected to that person, the only thing I can assume is that you know them; indeed, it just invites me to ask your opinion about that person.

    So, it might actually make sense for you to write a recommendation on LinkedIn when somebody privately asks you for social credentialing, for some of the same reasons as when you write a blog post when somone asks you a great question on Twitter DM.

    In particular, it might save you from having to answer the same question about the same person in the future, and it does that person a favor that can last their whole career.

    • Okay, that’s a fair point. Thanks! I was mostly thinking of the way LinkedIn asks you if you “endorse” someone for some vague category of thing (e.g. “video game writing”) — and that seems like it’s far too little information to be useful.

      • Yeah, I’ll +1 both that endorsements are not very meaningful but that written LinkedIn recommendations are genuine signal. If a person has no LinkedIn recommendations that’s fine—plenty of people mostly ignore the service—but the presence of them is a nice positive sign to me, in some ways even more so than a recommendation letter. They’re very public, and the recommendations I write show up on my own profile too, so I’m not about to write any pro-forma ones that would reflect badly on me.

        (I recommend that people aggressively prune their own endorsements list, too. They’re overused, so most people have a big wall of them. Pick 3-5 that really define your expertise as you’d like it to be perceived and delete the rest—LinkedIn will prompt people to pick from the current list and you’ll quickly build the core up.)

  2. My own time breakdown (per week):
    Hours of “free” time: 30 daylight hours and 15 evening hours = 45 potential hours.
    Hours spent keeping in contact with the IF Community – learning craft, playing games, joining discussions, trading reviews: 10hrs
    Hours spent writing my own games (slightly paid): 35 hours (including much procrastination, which is arguably part of the process).

    95% of my writing is now for Tin Man Games, which in my current project is extremely deadline-driven and with a high output. I am EXTREMELY lucky to have a consistent paying gig (although at the same time, I’ve invested well over 10,000 hours in building my skill as a writer ever since I was a teenager, and almost none of that was paid at all) and I live in constant fear of missing a deadline. Deadlines are thrilling to me, and great for focusing my priorities.

    As a newbie in the world of IF, I’m rarely asked for my advice and therefore get to say yes to everyone. I suspect my answers will get briefer over time.

    I go to several conferences a year – writing rather than gaming conferences, which means I’m always explaining IF to the uninitiated (which I enjoy and which spreads the gospel of IF) – and each one costs about a week’s worth of my health and writing output. So far, they’re absolutely not a good financial investment… but I have things to sell now (including a print novel which gives legitimacy to everything else I do) and they’re the best way for me to meet the most awesome readers/players. Also, they’re incredibly fun.

    If I want to earn a reasonable amount (very important as I have two kids and will otherwise go into massive debt), I need to write a LOT (something like 30,000 words a week or the equivalent of two National Novel Writing Months every month) so now is a good time for me to sit down and take an honest look at how I’m spending my time.

    • 30K a week! I consider myself reasonably prolific, but that is a non-trivial level to maintain, especially in the context of interactive story where you may also need to be tracking structural issues.

      The two things that immediately come to mind (and probably you’ve already thought of this): a) making sure your tools are as low-friction as possible so that you’re not spending any more time than absolutely necessary doing repetitive/predictable tasks like formatting; b) trying for at least some of that work to be long-tail work that will pay you royalties in the future and hopefully ease things up for you down the line, even if right now is tough.

      Best of luck with that, and thanks for sharing the information.

      • All the work I’m doing is by contract, for an advance and royalties (I also receive royalties from my Choice of Games titles), which is far and away the best system (I get money now; a predictable amount! – and if my stories are crazy successful I’ll get more).

        There’s no way I could do this without my partner earning a “normal” living, but in Australia the average professional writer earns less than $12,000/year so in that context I’m doing great.

        I’ll be using one fairly simple tool for everything, with a paid editor/s backing me up and a significant pre-release lag time in case I fall behind for any reason.

        Like I said, I’m incredibly lucky!

  3. On Counterfeit Monkey: how would you feel about open sourcing the entirety of it? (Are the extensions it needs that aren’t public yours to release?) We could put it on Github, have a public bug tracker, work towards updating it for 6M62. I think there’d be enough community interest in the game to keep it maintained.

    • If you think there are people interested in doing the fixes, that would be completely fine with me; the relevant extensions are either public or belong to me, so it’s not like I have secret IP belonging to someone else in the mix.

      I have a snapshot of my extensions library taken when I last compiled Monkey, so all the relevant older versions do exist in one place (plus probably some random old versions of other things, but better to have too much than too little).

      The only reason I didn’t release the full code to start with was that I didn’t want to set up an obligation going the other way — in the past when I’ve published compilable source, it’s meant that down the line people come back to me asking for help getting it to work on their own machines or with subsequent code versions, and I didn’t want to promise I was going to provide that kind of long-term support.

      Is there a place that would be already suitable for this kind of thing (I know some people have set up repositories for extensions already), or should I make my own Github space?

  4. If I won the lottery or when my kids are all done with college (11 more years) I would spend all my time futzing with my own IF endeavors, including writing, making tools, and helping others. You’re a very lucky lady Emily, to be following your passions and making coin at the same time.

  5. Looking at this from the angle of “Which of these could relatively easily be done by people other than Emily”:

    Can someone else take over organizing the meetups, and/or can they be split geographically such that you only regularly attend meetups that are close to where you live?

    Some of the general questions that come up on Twitter might be ones other people could answer; I’m not sure how one delegates that sort of thing though.

  6. Pingback: Passion | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  7. Thanks for writing this. It was interesting to compare with my own experience as a freelancer. From 2008-2010 I did a lot of analogous community management/question answering for the nascent ebook production community, maybe 2-4 hours per week at peak, but I’ve long ceased to be an expert in that field. Like you, I also made a conscious decision to disengage to let others have a voice (especially when it came to public speaking, which I hate anyway). But I never came anywhere near your max, and there’s no equivalent for me for your work reviewing other people’s games. I do get “can we explore a possible partnership” requests often, but that’s legitimate bizdev and usually appropriate.

    The biggest difference for me is that I will almost always accept a serious writing request, even if unpaid (*), because I really like writing. But in part because my space is less academic, I get far fewer opportunities—I might get one or two book chapter or similarly formal writing request per year, not per month, which would be totally unsustainable. I will definitely not accept spammy “write for my blog” or “can I republish your article on my clickbait site” requests, which I receive frequently.

    * That said, I side-eye these more carefully now. I’m privileged to be in a position where I don’t need to be paid to write about things, but I’m conscious that agreeing to do so is akin to accepting unpaid internships. I’ll write a book chapter unpaid if the content itself is distributed for free, but I’ve declined non-fiction anthologies where the book is sold but because “the royalties are too complicated” the publisher expects the chapters to be contributed gratis.

    • I will definitely not accept spammy “write for my blog” or “can I republish your article on my clickbait site” requests, which I receive frequently.

      Oh, yeah — I wasn’t counting that kind of email at all, since I delete it unanswered. Likewise the email about how I can “partner” with businesses that would like me to write “influencer articles” in “cooperation” with them.

  8. Pingback: Counterfeit Monkey Transfer | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

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