Right… lists… lists… what was I planning to write about lists? Something about… them… being… good?
Oh yea… lists are good for reminding yourself of what you’re going to do! I probably should have written that down somewhere. If you’re working on a game and don’t have a list, you’re probably inefficient. Constantly trying to decide what to do, switching between working and thinking and testing. All those switches must make your head spin! Not to mention last week when you had that GREAT idea, and 5 minutes later forgot what it was. You spent the next hour retracing your steps, trying to find whatever that great idea was. The next morning, you remember “buy more milk” as you try to pour your cereal. Whoops!
The list is your home for everything that doesn’t have an immediate response. If it will only take you a minute to do something than do it right away. If it will take more than a minute, or you’re currently too busy even to lose a minute (or else you’d lose your work rhythm) then add it to a list. Not only does it give you a reference of what to do next, but it clears your mind. You don’t have to worry about remembering things. Just take a deep breath, relax, and say “it’s on the list”. Without the list you’re just using your own head as a scratch pad. Doesn’t your head have more important things to do?
With a list you’ll also find out how vague you tend to be when thinking. “Program the AI” used to be an item on my mental list. I always knew I needed AI, but without it being on paper I could never devote enough mental space to split that task up. This is common for big tasks. They aren’t just about how to do the task, but what pieces are involved in that task. Suddenly I have new menu items I need to add for difficulty levels, how to determine what an AI player can/will buy in a store, who the AI attacks. Some tasks end up filling up a whole pages with their subtasks.
For me, I use paper lists. I like having something I can move between all my workspaces (including when I’m nowhere near a computer) and it is cathartic to check items off. It’s also nice to see a full page of completed tasks, even if they were all small tasks.
Which brings me to moving lists. Often I’ll have 3 or more pages of list items which I’m working on, and I’m almost finished a lot of those lists, but not completely. It’s actually “work” for me to look through so many lists to find what I want to work on next. When this happens the answer is simple. Go through the lists once, and move the unfinished tasks from all of them into a new, single list. Put the old ones away because you don’t need them anymore. Let the new list guide you. It’s short and easy to read.
Hopefully you’ll take this advice on lists to heart, so you too can spend less time remembering that you like milk in your cereal.