As I write this I should be working on prep for tomorrow's Firefly finale. I'll definitely get on that as soon as I'm done, but I really want to try and keep a regular flow of content on this blog and the topic that immediately sprang to mind is procrastination. My biggest flaw both as a GM and as a writer is my tendency to leave things until the last minute or get distracted by other things (like binge watching ten episodes of Daredevil on Netflix last week).
This post is more about dealing with procrastination as a GM than as a writer because, as many a successful writer has said, in order to be a writer, you have to write. With my current level of output, I'm more of a blogger than I am a writer, and even then I'm not much of one. Still, a lot of the issues and solutions I'll likely discuss will be relevant to improving my productivity as a writer as well, it's just that GMing is the role most relevant to my current situation.
Too often I've left planning and prep until the day before (or even the day of) the session itself. (See, for example, today) And I know I'm not alone in this. I know other GMs at GUGS who have the same habit of leaving their prep until the last minute or even having to resort to improvising sessions on the fly because they never got around to it. Sometimes I can get away with that, sure; for some games improv is even the encouraged method for running (like Apocalypse World).
But more often than not, things would run more smoothly if I'd done the prep beforehand. So what can I do in future to make sure I get the prep work done before it's too late?
1) Turn Distractions Into Rewards
I'll be honest, as awesome as the new Daredevil series is, the four and a half hours I spent watching it last Wednesday and Thursday night would have been better spent doing prep for tomorrow's finale.
The really irksome thing about that is, I already know how to solve the problem. I've done it before with writing, particularly for NaNoWriMo. Get the work done first and make watching stuff on Netflix or playing video games a reward of sorts. For every hour of writing I got done, I would usually allow myself one episode of an hour-long drama, or an hour's play time on the Xbox, or an hour of reading or listening to an audiobook.
So why haven't I been doing it of late? The best I can think of is that, now that I actually have a job, I have less free time than I used to and so when it comes to spending that free time I default to the lazy types of fun like playing games, reading, watching TV, etc. In so doing, I leave myself less time for activities like session prep and writing which, although fun in their own way, can still feel like work. This brings me to the second point.
2) Time Management
More and more in today's world, time is like a precious commodity and to make the most effective use of it we need to plan for how much time we're going to spend on the things we want to do. I used to be much better at this than I have been of late and my primary method of time management consists of a combination of the pomodoro technique and creating an unschedule.
(Michael Sliwinski had the same idea, so I suggest checking out his article about it for more details about those time management techniques if you're interested.)
In any case, having a plan for when I'm going to work on session prep or writing, and how long I'm going to spend on them, has helped me get things done in the past and will probably help me in the future if I can get back into the habit.
However, I tend to schedule my creative activities for earlier in the day which has become a problem due to poor sleep hygiene on my part. That's a personal issue though, and not necessarily something that affects other GMs, so it's less relevant to the topic at hand.
Something I will say is that it's probably better to schedule your prep time as soon as is possible after the previous session. Sitting down and making notes on what happened in the latest game session is something I've heard helps other GMs plan their next move and it has helped me when I've taken the time to do so.
The issue for me is that pesky sleep hygiene again, plus the fact that I usually do volunteer work the afternoon after my game. Waking up late, plus having other committments to attend to means that I don't have time to work on anything until the evening after each session. Still, I should start work on it during that evening and not put it off any later than that.
3) Break It Down
Historically, my habit when it comes to doing session prep has been to sit down for three to four hours and try to do it all in one spurt. However, after reading the advice in Phil Vecchione's Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep, I've started to realise this is probably not the best way to go about things. In his book (which is well worth reading, IMHO), Vecchione breaks up prep into five distinct phases and seeing it broken up that way has made me realise that I don't have to do it all in one go. In fact, it's probably better if I don't, as doing it in shorter bursts leaves time in between for new ideas and connections to occur to me. Plus, doing it all in one go is mentally exhausting and probably why I've come to regard session prep with no small amount of dread in the first place.
These are just a few ideas I've come up with for reducing my own procrastination levels when it comes to session prep (and writing too), but I'd be interested to hear other GMs' thoughts on the topic. If you have suggestions or thoughts about procrastination with regard to session prep, please leave a comment below.
That's all from me, for now I have a finale to prepare for. See you later!