The Balancing Act

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Apr 1, 2008

Filed under: Personal 26 comments

That did it, I pushed it too far.

For the past couple of years my life has been a carefully managed collection of projects. Once my day job ends, I have to ration the remaining hours of the day among my many projects and responsibilities. Family time. The comic. My exercise regimen. Writing for this site. Reading time. Weekly D&D game. Videogame time. Taking care of my wordpress plugins and fulfilling my other admin duties here. I do not pretend they are done in that order.

A couple of weeks ago I began a new project, and I managed to bite off more than I can chew. I figured if I cut out videogame time I’d be able to get by. As luck would have it, Shawn suggested a break from the comic just as the project began, so that was two items off my daily itinerary. Still, I have too much on my plate now. I can’t bear to cut anything, which leaves me at something of a loss. There are only so many hours in the day, and no degree of diligence and self-discipline can change that. I tried borrowing a few hours from sleep time, but you can’t ever get ahead doing that and at my age the interest payments are murder.

It’s odd, because having one too many projects doesn’t just mean I fail one of them, I seem to be failing all of them. One problem is that I underestimated the drain that the new project would put on me mentally: After a long day of coding at work my brain is mush. It seemed reasonable that I could drop my two hours of videogame time and replace it with scripting, but I failed to take into account that I needed those couple of hours of mental rest. The exercise program is a similar problem. I figured I could handle an hour of exercise a day. I failed to account for the fact that after the workout ends I’m too exhausted to do anything productive. I’m rushed and distracted during family time, because I’m thinking about all the other stuff I “should” be doing. I’m not getting all the things done for my website that I want (I’d planned on doing an April Fool’s day theme for this site that would make it look like a horrible mid-90’s Geocities page) and it is only by the narrowest of margins that I’ve avoided resorting to YouTube and top-ten list posts.

It’s like I’m juggling: Adding one too many items didn’t just make me drop one, it made the entire act impossible.

Looking back, I know that at 26 years old I could have kept up with this workload, but I lacked the self-discipline. Now at 36 I have the discipline, but my mind and body can’t keep up. I’m not sure what I’ll do next. Chainmail Bikini starts up again soon. I really need to start cutting things.


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26 thoughts on “The Balancing Act

  1. Shandrunn says:

    Huh, I though that indie game WAS your day job as of late. No wonder you’re having such trouble with your time.

    Hang in there Shamus, and don’t risk a burnout just because you think you owe anything to us or the comic readers.

  2. A Gould says:

    Just as important as choosing your projects is choosing the projects that you can’t do right now. I’ve done the drop-the-balls routine a few times over the years, and it never gets less painful, or embarrassing, or causes less general burnout.

    Far better to pick something, say “I’ll do that after I get one of these done”, and put it aside.

  3. SomeGuyInDC says:

    This should be fun to watch.

  4. Aaron says:

    Balancing act is right. That’s a lot of stuff!! Prioritizing some of those might help a bit. I know they are all important, but figuring out which ones are most important and focusing on those first might be the best way to go. Yes, that’ll mean something has to slide or even be let go. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to take something off of the heap you’ve collected on your back that’s weighing you down.

    Sounds easy when I put it like that, but I know for a fact it’s MUCH more difficult. I don’t envy you the decision. Good luck.

  5. ChattyDm says:

    I’m so on board with you Shamus, been going through the exact same things…

    I’ve been forced to drop projects and since they can’t be Job/family or health projects… there remains only hobby projects like blogging and gaming…

    Sigh… maybe we should do like Scott Kurtz and the Penny Arcade boys do and go for a Webcomic that ends up paying all the household bills… if only I had the talent…

    Hang in there man, cut what needs to be cut and if it’s blogging for a while, it’s okay, we’ll be there when you come back …

  6. Leo says:

    April Fool’s?

  7. Micah says:

    You’re right on the money here. When I started working on Obsidian Portal, I thought I could spend a little time, get it going, then sit back and coast.

    Now, it’s eating up all my spare time, video games are a thing of the past, I’m up until 1:00am on many nights, and my wife is constantly P.O.’ed that I spend more time with my website than I do with her.

    Honestly, I think the answer is to cut back on the day-job stuff if at all possible. If your company will let you telecommute one or two days a week, you can save an hour or so there. Plus, if you just straight up cut back on work (taking a pay cut) you can buy back some of your time.

    On the down side, even places that allow for less than full time often still push you as if you’re at 100%.

  8. Luke Maciak says:

    I know what you feel Shamus. I don’t have any kids but I do have two jobs – my day job, and my evening teaching gig.

    I’m usually borrowing on sleep time and the interest is not as bad yet. I pay large amounts of my sleep debt off on weekends when I get to sleep till like 4pm. ;)

    But yes – I do often feel as if there was not enough hours in the day. Even if I could just stay awake, and not sleep at all I think I still wouldn’t be short on time.

    Also, I lack the discipline and organization thing big time. :P

  9. anonymouse says:

    Hey Shamus, I love reading your blog and the comic, but I second the ChattyDM: If you need time out, feel free not to post every day! We’ll be here when you come back! Promise!
    (Have you discussed extending the CB hiatus with Shawn?)
    Best of Luck!

  10. Nilus says:

    Wow, I am surprised the first thing you didn’t lose was the weekly D&D game. I am lucky if I get together with my buddies to game once a month.

    I am curious, is that two of video game playing a day, or a week.

  11. Hugo Riley says:

    I know this story. I got myself into juggling few times and came out richer for the experience. You can’t know your limits until you push too far. Learn and regroup, that’s my advice.

    Pick the projects that are absolutely necessary like day job, ones which you love, like family, that which are fun, like games and blogging, and dump the rest. Try them again when you’ll have more energy.

  12. onosson says:

    I, too, am 36 years old. In another time and place, we would both be approaching our maximum lifespan, so it’s not surprising that energy is harder to come by!

    I’m sure you will find a new juggling routine that works for you. I suggest dropping the chainsaws from your act!

  13. Beefeater says:

    Too much to hope that this is an April Fool’s, and Shamus is actually feeling uncommonly perky today?

  14. Jahnoth says:

    Being a married 35 year old man and father of six, I feel your pain. The only thing you can do to help yourself mentally is to spend the most time with what matters the most to you. My family matters the most to me, so when I get home from my day job, the hours between getting home and getting the kids in bed is spent entirely with the family. Sure, we may watch a show or movie together, or play games together. Or we may go to the library, or spend time in a park, or even in just the backyard. Or perhaps we’ll read a book together. But that’s the point. Together. Once you stop trying to whittle time away from the family, and realize that’s where your time is best spent, I think you’ll start to feel better.

    Anyway, you ever need a chat, I’m good at that.

  15. Richard says:

    Same here. I’ve got my job, my family, and a couple of side projects which are in the ‘learning how to do this’ phase. Add cooking dinner every night, and it adds up to not getting the side projects (or blogging) done.

  16. Blackbird71 says:

    I’ve been there, part of the reason it took me a couple extra years to get through college was a bad habit of overloading my plate. On the other hand, pressure was always a good motivator, so things became a balancing act of having enough to do to keep up my momentum without taking on so much that my life became a spectacular train wreck.

    Seriously though, with age comes wisdom. Family comes first. Job is second, because it facilitates the first. Beyond that, the rest of it doesn’t matter. All the side projects are fun, engaging, and fulfilling while you work on them, but 20-30 years down the road, are you really going to care if you got that one comic strip posted or scripted that one bit of game code? Or will you wish you had more time with the people who matter to you? When you look at it, the answer is always obvious, but in practice it always seems hard for us to make that realization. The truth is that once you do manage to truly understand those priorities and follow them in daily life, life just becomes so much better. The extra stuff is great along the way, up until the point where it cuts into the important stuff. As soon as that happens, it’s time to make some changes. Good luck finding your balance.

  17. King of Men says:

    I echo what others have said: This blog is surely the least important of your commitments. Take a deep breath, and then take a hiatus from the blog. As much as I enjoy reading your opinions, you owe me nothing; you owe your family, employers, and collaborators much more.

  18. Adamantyr says:

    Work has never been an issue for me… it always takes top priority… but I’ve never been able to multi-task on my hobbies much.

    Right now, I’m in my second week of a new job, so I’m really focused on ramping up. Off-time, I really don’t have the drive or energy to do more work, so I’m mostly just playing (gaming).

    At some point, I’ll be back to game coding and I’ll be like, 99% focused on that with nothing else. It would be nice to have both, but it’s just not the way I’m wired.

  19. jdelcom says:

    I know EXACTLY how you feel. I can’t seem to decide which projects to dump…

  20. Ideaman says:

    Why don’t you try devoting only an hour to most things. I don’t know what this knew thing is because either it was not mentioned or I am being ablivious again. Say exercise takes an hour. Then play video games OR read the next hour. Find a job that better suits your needs. D&D for only like 5 hours. And if all else fails… I hate to say it because I really enjoy your articles…. Leave this site. I would like to hear your thoughts on this. The email address I supplied is my main.

  21. ArchU says:

    Shamus, you just finished a gaming campaign. Cut out roleplaying* for the time being! ^^

    *Yes, I realise that, as a gamer, this would be akin to gouging out your own heart with a spoon. But it’s safer to keep your options open ^_~

  22. Zaxares says:

    You’ve no shortage of sympathisers here, Shamus. ;) I realised long ago that as I grew older and the responsibilities of life began to pile on, some things would have to go. I ended up writing a list of the things I enjoyed doing (and which wasn’t crucial to continuing to have a roof over my head, putting food on the table and having enough money left over to pay for other things) and arranged them in order of most favorite to least favorite.

    Whenever time grew short and something needed to be dropped, I always picked whatever was last on the list. Most recently, it’s been anime.

  23. Thpbltblt says:

    My soon to be father in-law is in a similar predicament. Work is taking a toll on his personal life, and it’s not making any of us happy. Do yourself and your family a favor, and make yourself stop doing all the unnecessary things until you get caught up. Your fans can and will wait.

  24. Oboe Cop says:

    Ugh. I hear ya. I am the same way. Too many requirements… too little time.

  25. As I’m responsible for one of those extra balls, I wasn’t sure I should post this (especially since coincidentally my advice basically means “focus on my ball!” :) ) but this is merely what I think work best for me to handle one of those situation.

    When I’m overloaded with commitments (which happens fairly often in my case) I first focus on tying up loose ends. When I started doing that, I managed to squeeze at least one or two more productive hours out of each day. Switching from one project to another is very time consuming: it takes time to get in the zone for any given project, and you also lose time between each project by setting up, checking emails, going to get a drink, etc…

    The downside is of course that while you’re focusing on one project, the others are completely stalled. So that’s not always an option. And it’s not a solution for large-scale (or potentially infinite-scale projects, such as webcomics and RPG campaigns.)

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