NYR 19-08: “Be More Productive.” Part 4 – Executing.

I’m starting this post on a Friday, which is much later in the week than I usually like. I’ve been on the road, and this just kept falling further and further down on my list of priorities. It would be pretty ironic if the first time I missed a posting deadline was when I was writing a post about Executing on daily tasks.

Ironic, but not out of the ordinary. Because for me, this is definitely the hardest part. Don’t get me wrong – on some days, once I’ve got my day planned out and my tasks prioritized, I just start with the “1”s and knock them out.

But not always. Sometimes I’ll knock out that first “1”, then maybe the second. And then a certain tasks stops me in my tracks. I hesitate. I start looking down the list at the other tasks. The “2”s and the “3”s, tasks that I know for a fact aren’t as important because I evaluated them in the cold, sober light of the morning… they start to look enticing. I start to think about how good it might feel to cross those off, make the whole list a bit smaller. They have to get done anyway – is it really that important that I do these things in the right order?

Yes. It’s incredibly important. In fact, it’s everything. It really comes down to one, simple idea:

If you truly want to be more productive, you have to learn how to do things when you don’t feel like it.

I can be downright masterful at avoiding the task at hand. I can get busy with other less important tasks. I can engage in Pavlovian activities in exchange for quick dopamine hits, like getting up for water or coffee, chatting with a co-worker, scrolling through my phone, organizing my desk. But eventually there comes a time when even I can no longer fool myself… when my desk is clean, my other tasks are crossed off, the deadline is approaching and there is nothing between me and the task at hand other than the fact that I don’t want to do it.

And of course, the only way to get past this is to actually do what I’m supposed to do. Yes, it’s hard. But 90% of the time the hardest part, the greatest point of resistance, is the start. It can be suffocating. To quote Shakespeare,

Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is like a phantasma or a hideous dream.”

Ok that might be a little dramatic if all we’re talking about doing my timesheet at the end of the day. But seriously, how often in life do we encounter things that we know we should do and we just don’t do them? Is there anything we can do, other than, as the Nike slogan goes, “Just Do It?”

No. “Just Do It” is actually the only answer.

But I have developed a few strategies to help me get started on those days where doing it seems impossible.

Break it down. Sometimes I avoid a task because it seems like too big of a thing to handle. I might see it as a three-hour task, and so I tell myself I’ll wait until I have a three-hour block of time to do it. Ha! In my experience, three-hour time-blocks don’t typically fall out of thin air. Sometimes if I really need to do something, I’ll break it into smaller tasks, with the first task in particular being really small. For example, the first task might be, “Open this spreadsheet, this email and this PDF file at the same time.” And see what happens.

Study the problem. If I really can’t figure out why I’m stuck on something, sometimes I’ll give myself permission to stop and take a step back. I’ll open a word document, set a timer for 5 minutes (the timer is important: I don’t want to spend too much time on this), and I’ll just start writing about it. Almost like a journal entry, a sort of letter to myself asking why the hell this is taking me so long. It might start off, “Man, this has been on my to-do list for two weeks and I have no idea why I’m resisting it so much. I know that so-and-so is going to be disappointed if I don’t get it done by Friday. The problem is I just really don’t understand why…

And that’s usually when I figure it out.

When I write a sentence starting out with “The problem is…” I know I’m getting somewhere. Maybe I’m avoiding a confrontation. Maybe I don’t understand the need for the task and I’m worried about looking stupid if I ask about it. Maybe I’ve put it off so long that I’ve forgotten some important details. Writing it out brings clarity, allows me to forgive myself for these rational (but ultimately bad) excuses, and move forward.

The 5 Second Rule. If you’re really stuck, check out this book by Mel Robbins:

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My wife read this for work, I picked it up and it was a great read. If you want the cliff notes, check out her TED Talk:

From the moment that you have the idea… you’ve only got five seconds to take action, otherwise it’s gone.

The exercise is simple: if you want to do something, as soon as it enters your head just start counting down, from five to one, and then push yourself forward. Yes, it sounds cheesy. But I’m telling you, it works. In particular, I find that it’s helpful to 1) count down out loud, and 2) at the end of the countdown, engage in some physical act toward the task at hand (ex. open the email, pick up the phone, get up from my chair). I’ve used it for everything from initiating tough conversations to getting out of bed in the morning.

I certainly don’t have this all figured out. I still put things off, but I’m trying to get better. Call it grit, call it discipline, call it whatever you want, but it takes practice. The only way to get better at doing things when you don’t feel like it is  to do things when you don’t feel like it, again and again.

How much better would your life be if you just did the things you knew you were supposed to do?

So just do it!

NYR 19-08: “Be More Productive.” Part 3 – Prioritizing.

It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed by tasks at work. In last week’s post, what we were really focusing on was completeness. The goal was to get all of the tasks for the day onto one sheet of paper. But if your inbox looks like this:

… where do you start? The answer is as obvious as it is difficult: you have to prioritize.

If you’ll look to the left of my list of tasks, I’ve put a number next to each task:

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Here are the general guidelines I use to come up with these numbers:

“1”s: The Sleep Thieves. I really try to be judicious when applying the “1”s to my tasks. I don’t think I’ve ever had more than five of them. When deciding whether a task is a “1”, I ask myself a simple question: if I didn’t do this task, and then thought about it as I was going to bed tonight, would I get out of bed and do the work? These are the things I’m getting paid for, and they’re nonnegotiable. Sometimes these “1”s get added to the list mid-day (after all, fire drills do happen) but I have to be really careful with that. It can be tempting when an email comes in to all of the sudden decide it’s a priority, when really what I’m doing is trying to put-off something further down the list.

“2”s: The Grind. These are the day to day tasks. They’re important, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t get done. Which, in many ways, makes them the most challenging. If an important tasks comes up out of nowhere and immediately gets classified as a “1”, I’ll often get an adrenaline rush and immediately dive in, working in a comfortable flow state until the job is done. But the day to day stuff? The grind? I don’t always get that same payoff. And unfortunately that sometimes leads to them getting put off, and before long my “2”s become “1”s as deadlines approach.

“3”s: The Wish List. “3”s are an interesting bunch. Sometimes they’re administrative tasks with far-off due dates. But more often they have no due date at all – things like personal and professional development, networking, planning, brainstorming. These tasks are usually associated with some sort of long-term goal, but I’m only allowed to touch them once the real “work” is done. Unfortunately that means that I don’t always get around to them. But they keep getting transferred to the next day’s list, which provides the benefit of keeping them at the front of my mind. The way I see it, “1”s and “2”s are what you get paid for, but the “3”s are what keep your career moving forward. So I try to make time for them whenever I can.

“*”s: My Timesheet. Some of you may have noticed a “*” next to the top task labeled “TS”. That stands for timesheet.  It’s kind of in a it’s own category which is why it gets its own symbol. At my job, we have to record the time we spend on work. And ideally I’m updating my timesheet as I complete tasks throughout the day. I used to label this as a “1” task, but the problem was I couldn’t cross it off until the end of the day, and it became a distraction whenever it was time to go to my “2” (wait, what about that “1” up there?) So I gave it it’s own symbol “*”, allowing me to keep it on the front burner while still moving on to other tasks.

I used to have “4”s but found that there wasn’t much value in distinguishing between them and the “3”s. The only other thing I might write is a “D” for “defer”, and that’s just when I think of a task towards the end of the day that I definitely don’t want to get started on until tomorrow, and I just want to make sure it can get transferred to tomorrow’s list, where I can evaluate it objectively in the cold light of the morning the next day.

And that’s it! Planning and prioritizing is complete. This whole process usually takes me less than fifteen minutes, and I know exactly what I have to do.

I just have to do it.

And that, of course, is the most difficult part. Planning and prioritizing are kind of easy (even fun if you’re into that sort of thing), but eventually you have to do the work. I definitely don’t have all the answers on this, but I have picked up on a few tricks over the years that help, which I’ll be covering in next week’s (final) post for this series: Executing.

See you then!

 

NYR 19-08: “Be More Productive.” Part 2 – Planning.

I find that I get a huge return on investment from spending just a few minutes each morning planning out my work day. Right now, that process takes form in three phases, which I’m calling the Yawn Phase, The Calendar Transfer Phase, and the Task Transfer Phase.

Phase 1: The Yawn Phase

I call this the “Yawn Phase” because that’s what I’m usually doing at this point in the day. Sometimes I’m fired up right when I get into the office, but not always. The Yawn Phase is best thought of as a ritual, a consistent process that I do involving minimal effort and thought, the goal of which is to get my desk looking like this:

In no particular order, I plug in my computer, get a water and a coffee, and start a new daily planner, which literally involves just writing the date and the time on a piece of paper, then numbers down the side representing hours of the day starting with whatever hour I happen to get into the office:

Phase 2: The Calendar Phase.

In Phase 2, I transfer any items from my Outlook calendar into the left column of the page:

I used to do this last, but I’ve realized that it’s important to do this part as early as possible, because it forces me to look at my calendar before I start doing any actual work. I’ve run into situations where I was spending time planning my day, got sidetracked by a task and then suddenly looked at my calendar and realized I had a meeting come up. Not good – planning is important, but actual commitments come first, so the calendar transfer needs to be done as soon as possible.

And it’s super easy – as you can see, I put two (hypothetical) meetings, noting where they are and any other details that might be helpful (ex. internal vs. client facing). All this information is already in Outlook, but the purpose of the calendar isn’t just to remind me of what’s on the agenda, it’s to identify the empty space in my calendar, so I can figure out when I’m going to do the tasks for the day.

Phase 3: The Task Phase.

In Phase 3, I put the tasks for the day in the column on the right:

Where did these tasks come from? Well, for this post I just made them up. And instead of trying to come up with fake names for clients and team members, I just used letters of the alphabet: run a calculation for A, prep forms for B, email C, follow up with D, feedback request for E, and so on. This probably saved me a few minutes, which I promptly lost when I started daydreaming about how funny it would be to work for these guys:

Ha! Little throwback for those of you who aren’t reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom on the regular these days.

In real life, most of the tasks are simply transferred from the previous day. I rarely get everything done, and tasks that aren’t completed are moved over. Other than that, the rest of my tasks come from one place. I know some people like to have their tasks in multiple places, from note pads to post-it notes to apps on their phone. But I’ve found that I need everything to come from one central location. I prefer to put all my eggs in one basket, but just make it a really strong basket: my inbox.

Good or bad, email is the driving force of everything I do at work. I try to touch every email only once and file it when it’s done, getting my inbox down to zero before I close my laptop at the end of the day. This creates a bottleneck, a tiny door through which every task that comes up has to go through, and so I don’t have to worry about things falling through the cracks.

In fact, sometimes I’ll send emails to myself just to make sure that the task eventually flows through the system. For example: let’s say I’m at home, unplugged, playing with the kids when I suddenly remember something I have to do for work. That used to be the worst! I would try to stay engaged with the kids but my mind kept drifting to the task, then I felt guilty about not being present, then I felt guilty about not doing the work.

But now, if I think of a task that needs to be done for work, I just ask myself one simple question: does it need to get done tonight?

I wish the answer was always no. Unfortunately, sometimes there are fire drills at work and things just need to get done. If that’s the case, I do what I can to get the kids down as soon as possible, or (more often) Liz blocks for me while I do the work.

If I decide it doesn’t need to get done tonight… I just send myself an email from my phone.

Done! I know I’ll review emails the next morning first thing when I pull together my tasks for the day. “Home David” has successfully delegated work to “Office David,” and so the task is off “Home David’s” plate. I can unplug again and be present with my family.

It’s a nice feeling to be able to look at everything that’s on your plate in the morning. And as you can see, the Planning Phase doesn’t really require much thinking. It’s just a matter of transferring items from a few different sources to a single page, giving me a snapshot of what needs to be done, all while shaking off the cobwebs and getting in that first sip of coffee.

And we’re going to need that coffee. See those numbers, one through three, to the left of the tasks? Those require a little more thought – we’ll get to that in next week’s post: Prioritizing.

See you then!

NYR 19-08: “Be More Productive.” Part 1 – Making Money vs. Demonstrating Value.

My original plan was to write a series on how to make more money.

After all, it’s a very common NYR, one which can take many forms: start a business, renegotiate my salary, get a promotion, etc. But I felt some resistance. After all, is this something I’m really qualified to speak to? Perhaps a better question: has anybody ever asked me for advice on making more money?

Actually yes.

It was many years ago. I was working at an accounting firm, we’d just wrapped up our fiscal year end and it was time to talk promotions/comp adjustments. And Bill, a first-year staff, had come to me for advice (and yes, I’ve changed every concrete fact in this story to protect the innocent):

“I heard that this year some of the other staff got 5% increases. I only got 3% – do you think I’m leaving money on the table if I don’t go back to the Partner and ask for more?”

Great question, Bill.

Here was my (boilerplate) answer at the time:

“Well, there certainly isn’t any harm in having an honest conversation with the Partner. He’s your boss, and you got good feedback this year. If there’s a gap between your comp adjustment and your expectations, I’m sure the Partner would want to know about it so he can address it.”

However, looking back I think I would have said something different:

“You can always negotiate. But you want to know the best time to negotiate your salary? Literally any other time of the year other than your regularly scheduled comp adjustment.

I’m not saying you should never negotiate “at the table.” There are plenty of circumstances when you absolutely should. For example, if you’re applying for a new job, negotiating skillfully can get you better results while also demonstrating competence.Another example is if you work for a company that doesn’t have regular comp adjustments, in which case it’s necessary to raise your hand to get what you deserve.

The more common “negotiating tactics” that you read about tend to focus on talking numbers towards the end. But that’s actually a small part of the bigger picture. Negotiating isn’t just about the final discussion, but about the positioning you’ve done up to that point to give yourself the leverage necessary to negotiate from a position of power.

So how does Bill position himself so that he has more leverage? The same way we all do: by demonstrating value.

The real “negotiating” happens during the entire year prior to the final discussion. Bill should have been working hard, gathering feedback, acting on that feedback, and getting noticed for doing it. Not easy, but that’s part of the job.

So what if Bill did all of that and still wasn’t on the high end of the comp adjustments. Well, in that case it might make sense for him to go back for more. But we tell Bill to go into the Partner’s office guns blazing, let’s consider two things:

  1. How does this affect the Partner, and
  2. How does this affect Bill?

The Partner may have some wiggle room for comp adjustments. But he may not. He may need to go back to the other partners and make a case for why Bill deserves more money.

So now there’s another thing on the Partner’s “to-do” list, and with a (potentially) huge drawback: it can create the perception that Bill and the Partner are not on the same page, which might not reflect well on the Partner.

Now let’s look at Bill’s side. Bill makes $50,000 a year. He was already getting a 3% bump, he pushes back, and eventually gets 4% instead. If you do the math, after taxes that comes out to about a dollar a day in additional income.

So Bill’s undergone a stressful few days/weeks of negotiating and waiting for the results, annoyed his boss (best case) or created a rift with him (worst case), and all for the price of a daily cup of coffee. Great job, Bill!

So why would Bill make such a fuss over such a nominal amount? The same reason we all would: ego. Bill heard that the other staff were making more, and felt entitled to the same.

Not every case is like this and I’m definitely oversimplifying, but my point is this: if you want to make more money, focus on demonstrating more value. Very often, the money will come.

I realize this doesn’t always work. People get taken advantage of all the time and sometimes you need to have the courage to raise your hand to get what you want. But I think that most of us (myself included) would benefit from focusing on what we can do better, rather than how much more we think we deserve.

So that’s what we’re going to focus on in this month’s series on Being Productive. We’re going to try to figure out what tasks are the highest-and-best use of our time, when to do them, and how to do them.

I’m by no means an expert at this, but I’ve been tweaking my own process of task management for the better part of a year now, which leads me to my personal NYR:

In 2019, I will plan out my daily tasks for 50% of the year. 

You can track my progress here. I’ve planned out over 100 days so far, keeping them for reference in a nice stack of papers:

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To figure out the what, when and how of task management, we’re going to focus on three things: planning, prioritizing, and executing. 

Next week we’ll start with planning. In the meantime – get back to work!

NYR 19-07: “Play More.” Part 4 – Multiplayer.

I’m about to board (another) flight to Philadelphia, this time for a wedding. I’m excited to hang out with friends that I haven’t seen in while as I sit down to write the final post in this month’s series. I’ve come to realize that, good or bad, some of the best memories of my life are from playing video games. And most of those memories had less to do with the game I was playing, and more to do with the people I was playing with.

Sometimes, it was about the journey. The game itself didn’t matter so much, it was just the fact that we had a common goal, and we were in the foxhole together.

It was about going back and forth between laughing and yelling at each other while playing Super Mario 3-D World with my wife:

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It was about one of my buddies from college who wasn’t really into video games all that much, but who still agreed to play Tales of Symphonia with me and stick with it until the end, a game that easily took us over 70 hours to complete:

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It was about playing Zelda with various roommates throughout the years. Some who joined in eagerly, some who I dragged kicking and screaming, and some who just wanted to watch the adventure unfold:

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Other times, it was about escape. It was just about just goofing off with friends, and maybe engaging in some low-stakes competition. It was about whiling away the summers playing Monkey Ball, which sometimes looked like this:

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Or this:

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And eventually this… a single level, sixty seconds long, which we played again and again for months until we finally beat it:

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It was about playing Mario Party. It was sitting on a dirty couch in a smokey frat house sophomore year staring at flickering screen, laughing and talking until it was time for Black Hole Boogie and things got serious:image-65The room seemed to get darker, and everything faded into the background as you focused on one, single thing: tapping “A”. Tapping “A” as fast as you possibly could. Then, after winning, taking a self-righteous victory swig of the Busch Light you’d left on the coffee table, only to spit it out because one of your idiot friends ashed his cigarette in the can thinking it was empty because you were living in a house full of animals.

Also it was about Hot Rope Jump:image-66

But most of the time it wasn’t about the journey or the escape… but the competition.

The purity of competition when the stakes are high. And this took many forms, too numerous to mention. It started with Tetris and Pac Man, then later games like NBA Jam, Madden, Mortal Kombat, Mario Kart, Goldeneye, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, Team Fortress, Halo, Mario Baseball, Wii Sports… the list goes on. 

But for me, the pinnacle of competition had to be playing Super Smash Bros:

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This wasn’t a game for me – it was a practice. I have a nemesis when it comes to this game, and I’ve literally been playing against this guy for 20 years. He always plays as Donkey Kong, and I remember being in middle school, knowing that I was going to spend the night at his house that weekend, and coming home from school and playing against 3 Level 9 Donkey Kong CPU characters at once to prepare for the day of reckoning.

It’s crazy to think how much time I spent playing all these games, especially since these days it’s tough to find any time at all. Maybe that’s a good thing – I can’t say for sure that some (or all) of my hours spent gaming wasn’t just a complete waste of time. I mean especially when I played the same games with the same people for hours on end, there had to be some diminishing returns on that.

That being said, I was a shy kid growing up. Video games were common ground. They were an excuse to get together, sometimes to talk about anything and everything, other times to talk about nothing, but regardless of what we did that time spent together was important to me. And the reality is that the people I played these games with are still some of my closest friends to this day.

This series started as a sort of love letter to video games, and I can’t do that properly without acknowledging the people I was gaming with. I’m very grateful to have spent hours of my life playing with you, with no goal in mind other than to just hang out.

Thanks for the memories – now pass the controller.

NYR 19-07: “Play More.” Part 3 – Graphics vs. Gameplay.

Video game reviews typically evaluate several criteria: gameplay, length, story, graphics, sound, etc. Which begs the question: if you’re trying to determine the overall quality of a game, which of these criteria is most important?

Well gameplay, obviously.

At least that’s what I’ve always told myself. After all,  you’re playing a game, and the quality of that experience rests on the game’s content. How the game actually works, the obstacles you face and your means of overcoming them, these qualities are what gaming is all about. Things like graphics and sound are cool and all but, but they’re also kind of…

Kind of what?

“Kind of superficial.”

And just like that, what started out as an innocuous post about graphics vs. gameplay within the context of video games has cracked open an ugly debate about something much more fundamental and far-reaching: content vs. design.

Donkey Kong Country: A Case Study In Content Vs. Design

I’ve probably clocked in more hours playing Donkey Kong Country than any other game. I was in a band in high school and my drummer had the game at his house. After a half-hour of practicing we’d usually just play Donkey Kong for hours on end. I’m sure we’d be rock stars by now if we’d put half the time into writing songs that we put into playing video games.

And don’t get me wrong, the gameplay in Donkey Kong was phenomenal. But there was more to it than that. It wasn’t just about jumping and swinging, bashing bad guys, collecting bananas, blasting out of barrels. There was something else.

Donkey Kong Country was a beautiful game.

I mean look at it!

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Younger readers might not appreciate this, but when I first saw the pre-rendered 3-D graphics of a monkey wearing a tie scratching his head my jaw dropped. And the music… my friend and I both had MP3s of the entire soundtrack. The underwater music alone still gives me chills.

There have been other “wow” moments like this throughout my gaming career, usually corresponding with the release of a new game console. I remember when I first saw Mario jump out of a 3-D pipe, and realized that gaming as I knew it had changed forever:

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More recently, I played the latest installment of the Zelda series, Breath of the Wild. I remember walking onto a cliff and staring in disbelief at what looked like a painting but was actually an intricate world I could explore to my hearts desire:

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But even I have to admit that Donkey Kong’s graphics are showing their age a little bit. So how important are they, really?

Well, let’s just talk about the “mine cart” levels. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, these are levels in the game where you’re traveling at high speeds in a mine cart, like this:

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Everyone always fights over the controller when it comes to the mine cart levels. They’re so much fun! But why?

Is it the gameplay? If you think about it, the control functions in the mine cart levels are actually fairly limited. Whereas in other levels you can jump, climb, crawl, explore, go backwards forwards and so on, once you’re in the mine cart all you can do is jump. Period.

So why is it so much fun? I think the answer to this question, and the question about the relative importance of content vs. design, is the same. The quality of a gaming experience isn’t just about gameplay or sound or graphics or plot: it’s about everything.

The pace of the music, the spacing of the obstacles, the objects flying by in the background, and yes the responsiveness of the A-button you’re tapping to jump, these qualities all interact and come together to create a magical gaming experience. Like legs of a stool, each of these has equal importance, and you’re going to notice if one isn’t in line with the others.

So why is this important? Well, for years I considered content and design to be a zero-sum game, where favoring one would always come at the expense of the other. I think this attitude is misguided, and could have far-reaching implications in my life if I’m not careful.

Take this blog for example. Zero effort was put into the design of this blog. Font? Default WordPress setting. Structure? Default WordPress setting. The only thing I changed was the background color, which I recently updated to a particular shade of blue-green that I use at work because it’s supposed to be easier on your eyes than looking at a white screen. You’re welcome!

As I dig deeper, I realize that I haven’t just shown indifference toward design, I’ve shown contempt for it. And I’m afraid that this attitude might be grounded in a deep seeded insecurity about my own lack of knowledge in this area.

Saying that “design is superficial” is much easier than admitting I have a blind-spot when it comes to design. It’s easier to say that fonts don’t matter, rather than admit that I’m too lazy to research fonts. If I can convince myself that something isn’t important, then it doesn’t really matter if I don’t see or understand it, right?

Wrong. Basically what I’m saying is I’m Anne Hathaway’s character in the blue sweater scene from Devil Wear’s Prada. And I want to fix that.

So How Do I Fix It?

I think it starts with withholding judgement. We tend to judge what we don’t understand, and judgement in turn acts as a barrier to understanding.

So I just need to break the cycle. The next time I catch myself asking “why does this matter?” or “who cares?” I’m going to try to ask myself a different question:

“What can this teach me?”

And then I’m going to learn.

NYR 19-07: “Play More.” Part 2 – The Reset Button.

“Life doesn’t have a reset button.”

My dad used to say this whenever he caught me leaning in to press this:

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He’s right of course. In life, you can’t just start over from the beginning and erase the mistakes that you’ve made. The world doesn’t let you just “try again,” free of consequences.

But then again, neither does the reset button.

It isn’t a time machine. You, the player, still have to deal with some consequences. If nothing else, you lose the time you spent playing the game up to that point. And hopefully you come away from that experience having learned lessons that you can apply next time you play.

In that sense, life has plenty of reset buttons. Going to college? Reset button. Changing your workout plan? Reset button. New job? New town? New marriage? All reset buttons in their own way.

In gaming and in life, I’ve pressed the reset button more times than I care to admit.

Sometimes I press it because I’m trapped. I’ve reached an impasse, and to continue would be a waste of time. So I hit the reset button, telling myself that next time I’ll avoid the pitfall.

Other times I’m just frustrated. I hit the reset button as sort of a knee-jerk reaction. This usually happens when I feel like I’ve caught a bad break; the game was wrong, I was cheated. I didn’t touch that fire stick, that bad guy wasn’t supposed to be there, and I definitely shot that duck:

Sometimes I hit the reset button because I’m scared. Maybe I’ve screwed up and my confidence is shaken. I tell myself that I need more practice, that I’m not ready for the next level, and that after a few more hours of practicing the earlier levels I’ll be better prepared to take that next step.

These are all valid reasons, but I think we can agree that the reset button isn’t always the answer. So… when should you press it?

Having a mindful approach to the reset button can save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run. To do that, you need to keep three things in mind.

1. You Need To Have Clear Goals.

What do you actually want? A clear goal might be, “I want to beat this game tonight.” Let’s use Contra as an example:

If you get hit in Contra, the consequences are pretty serious. Not only do you lose a valuable life, but you lose your progress in the level and you lose whatever weapon upgrades you’ve acquired up to that point. So that Spread Gun you worked so hard to carry this far? Gone.

Say the game takes about an hour to beat, it’s 7:45 p.m. and you have a 9:00 bedtime. you’re moving along and you get hit in the first level – way earlier than you’re accustomed to. Well, you could make the case that hitting the reset button gives you a better shot at accomplishing your goal.

If, instead, you were halfway through the game and it was already 8:30, well then the reset button is off-limits. This is your last shot; hitting the reset button would literally make it impossible to accomplish your goal (unless you want to try to renegotiate bedtime, or leave the NES on for an entire day so you can pick it back up tomorrow evening. I’ve had limited success with these two strategies).

But what if you don’t have a goal? Or put differently, what if the “goal” is just to have fun? I mean, isn’t that what this series on Playing More is all about?

If you genuinely don’t care about beating the game and your goal is really just to “have fun,” great – press the reset button to your heart’s desire. But be careful with that goal – it can be tempting to say that you don’t care about something and use it as an excuse to get sloppy. It comes down to being honest with yourself, which brings me to point two.

2. Be Honest About Your Intention.

The reset button is easy to use, and this can lead to in an unfortunate phenomenon: tilting.

Tilting is when you’ve made a mistake, you’re frustrated, and you make more mistakes as a result of your negative mental state. I’ve been there – I’ve totally been the guy to run into a bad guy, mash the reset button, then immediately run into the same bad guy.

Try to detach. Ask yourself, “why am I pressing the reset button? Is it because I genuinely learned from my mistake, and it will save me time in the long-run if I go back and redo it? Or, am I just hitting it out of frustration and trying to erase the consequences of my mistakes?”

3. When In Doubt, Keep Going.

As I sat down to write this post, I wanted to present an even-handed view of the reset button. Because I do think that life presents plenty of situations where hitting the reset button is the right thing to do. However, when it comes to gaming, I’m honestly having trouble coming up with good reasons to do it. I dunno, maybe they’re not so different.

You can spend your whole life playing Level 1. You can tell yourself that it’s fun to swim in the shallows, and you can spend your days “preparing” for a battle that you’re never actually going to fight. Because if you spend all your time on Level 1, guess what? You’re never going to get to Level 2. And you can forget about Level 6, which is on so high a pedestal by now you can never hope to reach it.

When in doubt, keep going. It’s not always comfortable, but that’s how you get better (and have more fun, too).