Maintaining momentum using time intervals

How are you using a time interval to maintain your momentum?

@aschultz and I were discussing this in Dee’s Double Postmortem. We didn’t want to derail that post, so I’m continuing this discussion here.

Here’s how I use a time interval when I’m designing.

And here’s what Andrew shared.

Nightly continuous integration. Very nice!


Thanks for starting this topic! I have a lot more I want to say here, and it should dribble in later. I suppose inspiration for this will sort of be like inspiration for writing or designing a game. Also some of the stuff here I feel like I’ve written before elsewhere–but it’d be nice to have stuff dedicated to it here. And actually as I wrote stuff out, I had an idea for a project that had temporarily stalled.

One thing I wanted to add was – only compile the code if certain files have been modified in the previous day. This isn’t as critical now the Inform 636 compiler is much faster, but it’s nice. For instance, for products that have a lazy post-comp schedule release, I might build them once a week but skip them the other 6 days unless code files were edited.

Another piece to this puzzle would be adding a nightly run of Zarf’s regex scripts if code changed or a new binary was built. It’s not too bad to remember to run things, but a Cron job would be really awesome. Even remembering to write things.

Oh–one other thing? I provide daily or weekly links to my github site that show me the last time I committed code. A nice nudge if I haven’t done something for a while.

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I’m kinda the opposite. My natural tendency is to constantly fiddle around with things. I’ll randomly think of something involving something-or-other I’m working on, and I’ll open it up to “just make this one change” and then poof it’s hours and two full refactors later.

Really the thing that I end up having to force/schedule for myself to change my “intuitive” workflow is taking a step back.

You know that thing where sometimes when you repeat a word over and over it becomes a meaningless sound/shape that suddenly seems weird and meaningless? I think code/design decisions can end up like that as well. When I’m fine-tuning something I usually have to set it aside at some point so I can (after a couple days) “come back” to it and look at it with something like fresh eyes to get a “feel” for it.

I also have a tendency to engage in these brief, wild game design fandangos where I’ll think up some elaborate new gameplay feature/narrative set piece/whatever and sit down and pound out all the necessary “stuff” for it…only to later decide that no, bad idea, need to take that all right back out.


I definitely do this too when I get the chance, @jbg.

You know, in a way, this is kind of like a “macro” Pomodoro technique. Have you heard of this technique? It has you set work aside, too. Except you come back after about five minutes instead of a couple days.

Ha, me as well! This is a real problem with my writing! The consequences usually lots of of missing or repeated word or letters.

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Time to start another timer…

This is a great idea! If the voice in my head ever stops screaming at me to get it all done, I’m definitely giving this a try.

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Generally I pause when I have a coding issue, and put my mind off from the coding problem; often in 20’-half hour the solution suddenly came to mind. It’s one of the few traits of mine I can’t really understand, that if I don’t think about a problem, the solution came of its own.

more generally, I have long pauses, from days to months, in coding on specific works (hence the long dev time…)

of course, when inspiration strike, I can code hundreds of lines and Kbytes of text in few hours.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

ps. for Dorian: I now know another of the many about Italian invention, thanks.


I’m quite frankly impressed by how much can be done if I get a bit done. Since you mentioned the Pomodoro Technique, I’ll mention the Pareto Principle, which you and others have almost certainly heard of. Where 80% of the meaningful work is done in 20% of the time? With computers it can be 90% and 10%. Small nudges can work, and you worry about the detailed stuff, or what does and doesn’t work, later.

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Me too! That describes my “process” perfectly. I don’t need help maintaining momentum; I need help remembering that there are other things (work, food, sleep, etc) in life besides a current current project!

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You are presently working on a game all about copper wires and the jittery movement of electrons and ions inside them? The player needs to help the PC build a steam engine to power Dr. Frankenstein’s machine? Someone fell off a boat and is being swept to a waterfall, necessitating the player to rescue the poor soul in 15 turns or less?


Ah, I see that my sly subtle joke didn’t get by you! Everyone else probably just thought it was a typo.

Actually, it’s a historical game about the rivalry between Edison and Tesla. There is a zombie in it, but it’s more of a TWD zombie than a Frankenstein’s monster. And that’s all the teaser you get.


Does it feature Ben Franklin flying a kite?

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I think after a while we develop intuition for when we’re on the wrong track, and if we know we are, we step away for a bit and do something else. That’s what happens for me. I know at first I didn’t have faith I’d come back to things. Or I’d get distracted with certain things that were too much. For instance, if I played an intense game, the idea wouldn’t come, but if I read a book, it would pop up later. But it did, and that gave me confidence going forward that I wasn’t procrastinating when I put something off.

I just know there’s something that will derail me if I think of it right now, and I’ve learned how to let it sit without exhausting myself actively avoiding it. Maybe I need to put it in a daily file that pops up saying “Hey! Did you think of anything to do?” But avoiding an extended downward spiral is a good thing to learn to do, even if we don’t know exactly how we do it. We just learn how not to mess up totally.

It’s funny, as I reply to this topic or think of replies, I’m finding ways to go back to stuff I’ve put off for a while. So I think participating in this sort of thing, trying to describe what we’ve learned, etc., regardless of how successful we are, is important. Sometimes it reminds us of stuff we meant to do.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of forcing it and thinking you tried everything and later having some perspective saying “You know, I tried everything” and being able to talk yourself out of that and say “Wait, but I didn’t quite/really try idea x…” and perhaps it isn’t so much about putting things off as about trying a bunch of different offhand ideas that have a low chance of working, and you know it, but when one does, it feels like you had a long wait.

I don’t know. I may be looping around here. But I see parallels between this and getting into arguments where you know nobody’s going to change anyone else’s mind. and knowing when to pull back or maybe even see how to compromise later.

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When I don’t feel like doing anything, I set a timer for 5 minutes. Then I assure myself that if I still don’t feel like continuing after 5 minutes, that I’ll stop. This almost always gets me over that procrastination bump. And those times that I do stop, then at least I had some relief from all that pent-up procrastination guilt.


I bought a few Datexx time cubes to help me with this. They come in a bunch of different time intervals, too. Now I remember to at least occasionally drink water and get up to stretch my legs out. I work for 25 minutes, then I get up 5 minutes. I also feel less like a zombie at the end of the day.


Yes, now this is an interesting parallel. I feel like we could all benefit by talking about this more openly! When I fail to get through a difficult situation, I implement a 24-hour wait to try again. But this only works if there isn’t a window of opportunity attached to the retry. Otherwise, I do not have a strategy other than hoping for the best.

I use an app to do the same thing. The one I use on the Mac is called Break-Reminder. It counts down the chosen time unobtrusively up in the menu bar, then when it runs out, I set it to take over the screen. It dims it, plays a small alarm and puts a continue button in the middle. It’ll then count down 5 minutes before it undims. Or you can click the button. The main thing is that it’s essential it gets my attention and forces me to take an action if I want to skip it, so that I can’t just keep typing when the time runs out.



This dates me, but I still use delay N; xcowsay -t 0 “msg” to this day. Extremely flexible tool, I should say. Run it in background if you want multiple timers.


Now THAT would get my attention! I like the time cubes because they force my attention away from the screen, but this app shuts down the screen altogether. (Should I combine them? Or should I just find someone to spray me with a water gun? :gun: )

Actually, I just found an app that disables the screen (like Break-Reminder), but it also works for Windows and Linux (and it’s open-sourced): I love it so far — thanks, Wade! I think it’s just as effective as a water gun!