I’ve been trying to get a grip on how my IF support time is spent, because I feel like I’m working harder, but simultaneously turning down more requests and taking more time to get around to deadline-free requests. This is a post about how I spend that time. I realize this may seem a bit self-regarding, so please please feel free to skip on past this discussion if it grosses you out.
However, if you’re interested in community overhead and dynamics, I’m hoping that a little transparency will help — both help me figure out what to prioritize better, and help others understand either why I can’t handle their requests or where the community might bolster its resources to good effect.
So I went back through my email and social media contacts and did a little analysis on the following parameters:
- It covers only requests made in the past 3.5 weeks. It doesn’t look at things that people asked me to do prior to that window, whether or not I completed them during that time. (I made it 3.5 weeks rather than a month because during that extra week, I was traveling and my time use was atypical, including more student meetings etc.)
- It does include what you might call implicit requests, things that no one explicitly asked me to do but that are ongoing parts of my community role, such as Meetup organizing, or covering Spring Thing.
- It does not include regular client work or compensated speaking engagements.
- It includes only a very loose, rough estimate of requests for information on Twitter or through DMs — I get a lot of those, so I went with average contact numbers from Twitter’s analysis dashboard rather than trying to go through every single contact request and give it a time estimate.
- It does not include writing blog posts except the Spring Thing posts and posts that were answers to specific questions. I consider writing a certain number of analytical blog posts to be part of my job, because though no one pays me to do it, it raises visibility, and helps me record and think through knowledge I’ve acquired as career skills. So that work is accounted for separately.
For each line item, I recorded whether I had accepted the request, whether or not I had performed it already, and how many hours I estimate the request took (or will take when I do it). Hour estimates do include things like travel and prep time for speaking engagements, since that consumes hours that I am not able to spend otherwise.
Given how much is estimated and how much is left out, the numbers will be more precise than they are accurate, but I’m at least confident that they’re conservative: that is, I am seldom over-reporting the amount of time requested or spent.
I should also preface this by saying that this is not a complaint and it is also not fishing for thanks. I choose to spend my time this way, and if you wrote to me and I answered you, it’s because I wanted to do so and think it was worthwhile. I am just trying to figure out how to rebalance things a little so that the time I’m spending is as productive as possible and I can maximize the needs met as a result.
Here’s the breakdown from March 24 to April 15:
Hours of work requested: 184. (This would be equivalent to more than full-time employment for the period in question.)
Hours accepted and performed: 59. (A week and a half of full employment, though, as I in fact do have client work, it happens around the edges of that.)
Hours accepted and not performed yet: 58. Ugh. I feel like I’m on one of those reality TV makeover shows where the exuberant host is showing me just how bad my budget really is. This during a month when I’ve been intentionally turning stuff down. (It also does not account for at least another 16 hours’ worth of pre-existing obligations that are past due.)
Hours refused: 67. So I’m trying.
What am I doing with that time? That comes out roughly as follows:
Inform-related task management. Roughly 1 hour. Peter Pears is helpfully keeping me updated on what goes on at the intfiction forum, and I generally send technical support requests to that forum, which means that my overhead in this space is now fairly low. I used to spend many hours a week doing user support. If we were doing a new build with new features, this might spike since I might need to write new examples, but otherwise this is fairly typical for my current level of engagement.
Public appearances of various types. Unpaid speaking, teaching, and workshops go here. 11 hours this month, and I’ll be doing a London meeting of the IF Meetup on the 26th, which will run at least another 7. Since a lot of this happens in London, and it takes several hours each way to get to London, travel time is a big part of the time cost. There’s also prep. I turned down several requests in this space.
Event planning overhead. Exchanging email/messages associated with the Oxford/London Meetup and other events I’m involved with. I’ve estimated this at 30 minutes this month, but that represents a large number of fast emails or chat exchanges. 30 minutes may be an underestimate.
Providing feedback. Feedback on tools, on articles, on games, on design concepts or community organization ideas. This clocks in at 17.5 hours performed, of which a healthy chunk was the roughly 8 hours spent reviewing academic articles for the program committee of an upcoming conference. I’m committed to another such review cycle soon. The rest of the time corresponds to everything from spending five minutes telling someone what I think of a minor game design notion to emails that take multiple hours. I am more likely to give extensive feedback on things I think are promising and worthwhile.
Information requests. Roughly 6 hours performed. Providing recommendations of articles and games, answering questions of the form “once you blogged about X but I can’t find it on your site,” etc. Most of these requests are minor and can be answered within a couple of minutes, but this month there were two that struck me as reasonably important but that took significant time to answer: the request that led to the Brief Bibliography post, and the one about writing novice-friendly parser games. These were needed as background information for a class; in both cases, I didn’t have a good source I felt I could recommend instead.
When I get questions of that kind, I prefer posting the answer on my blog as a general resource rather than just writing back an email. (Here’s another one, but it’s from early March, so outside the timeframe of this analysis.)
Interviews. These fall into three categories: podcasts, interviews with journalists, and informational interviews for students doing research in interactive storytelling. I have one of each in this category for this timeframe; each of these is a 1.5-2 hour commitment. I’ve done one so far and the other two are pending. Journalist interviews are especially tricky because often the person needs answers on a very tight timeframe; but I’d prefer someone writing about interactive storytelling to be as informed about it as possible, so I feel bad about saying no. These numbers are typical.
Review requests. 8+ hours performed. Spring Thing is a subcategory of this for which the request is implicit (see above); the other six requests I received were overt requests, in some cases to cover multiple games. I turned down several of these, amount to an estimated 15 hours of work, but from the handful I did accept, I nonetheless owe people probably 10 hours’ worth of reviews, not counting Ice-Bound Concordance because that’s been on my to-cover list for longer than a month. These numbers are typical or low. In Comp season I can easily put in 100 hours.
Social engagement. Roughly 10.5 hours, and this is the most hand-wavy estimate of the lot because it’s based partly on looking at my tweet-and-reply stats and multiplying. Answering questions and pings on Twitter, meeting up with people on request, interacting on forums, mentoring, and social credentialing. By mentoring, I mean answering questions about pro or semi-pro IF writing and freelancing, about community dynamics that are affecting the person in question, or about educational opportunities — things that are more about life-management than about specific projects people are doing. (Those would be filed under “feedback.”)
Social credentialing is a weirder category and probably the least visible from the outside: this is what happens when someone writes me an email (or asks a Slack question, or DMs me on Twitter, or whatever) saying either “can you recommend someone who is good at X?” or “I have just been contacted by Y; would you say that they’re a promising/competent/safe person for me to work with?”
I get this kind of question from both prospective employers and prospective employees. I take it quite seriously, because I realize that it may have important effects on people’s future opportunities. So I try to be thoughtful and exact about my answers, but this makes it time-consuming.
Notionally there are social media ways of achieving this, but does anyone take LinkedIn seriously? I didn’t think so.
“Social engagement” does sound a bit nothing-y, and perhaps our hypothetical reality-show time-budgeters would tell me to cut this category. But I worry that an accessible Twitter presence is important particularly for newcomers and people socialized to feel that email might be too much of an intrusion: younger people, marginalized people, or people suffering from anxiety and/or impostor syndrome about their place in the community.
Meanwhile, here’s the stuff I’m mostly turning down or not doing:
Writing requests. 0 hours. Articles, book chapters, columns, et al. appearing in other people’s publications, not on my blog. I’ve been asked for a couple of book chapters this month but turned them down. I estimate that the smallest of these would have required at least 24 hours of work (3 full work days) to do the appropriate research, write, submit, proof, etc. These would have been unpaid, or paid at a very low level, in the “you might get a $10 royalty check someday” category. I don’t object to that in the right circumstances, but with present time availability, it isn’t workable.
Bug resolution and hint requests on my own games. I’ve spent ~30 minutes replying to questions on this, particularly about the unavailability of Bee and a game-breaking bug in the latest version of Counterfeit Monkey. I hate having that bug out there: I don’t like that players have a bad experience, I don’t like how it reflects on me, and I wince every time someone recommends Monkey given that this bug exists. I’d love to fix it, but at a conservative estimate fixing it would be 8-16 hours of work, possibly more. The bug itself would take just a few minutes to fix — I know exactly what’s wrong and why — but I would first need to roll back my version of Inform and then afterwards do a whole bunch of tests and updates. So it’s a full weekend, probably.
A possible solution would be to hunt up version 4 of CM, which predates this bug, and put that up on IFDB until I have time to do a more comprehensive fix.
Invited freeware games. 3 hours this month. Client work doesn’t go here, obviously. This is for cases where someone writes asking me to submit to their zine, comp, journal, jam, or anthology for the fun of it. I have done exactly one of these this month. That is a huge fluke. Almost always I do zero. It took a few hours, mostly because I needed to teach myself enough Harlowe to do it. This was the result of Cat Manning campaigning… aggressively would be the wrong word. She made a strong argument that since the theme of this jam was my idea, I should really have something in it. That was a very tiny piece. Often people are asking for larger projects that would take at least 20 hours to complete to my satisfaction.
Writing my own games for free release. I am doing R&D in my own time. This means writing prototypes to solve some conceptual and design issues I think need to be resolved to build the kind of engine I’d like to see next. It’s following up some ideas from Versu in a different form.
However, I’ve cut to pretty much zero the amount that I write unpaid games as a mode of personal expression. (Again, the tiny jam this month was exceptionally high participation in this area, rather than exceptionally low.) There are a lot of reasons for this: partly that the community already has loads of my games; partly that it’s important to me to support other people; partly that I feel the weight of the argument that, for the marginalized voices to be heard, the less-marginalized need to be quiet sometimes; partly that I feel like I should put the energy I do have for game-writing into contexts where it might pay (which in turn gives me more resources to put into the community).
But since a couple of people recently have asked me about this: no, I don’t have any freeware games of my own currently nearing release. It is unlikely that I will in the near future, and certainly not works of any large scale.
Final note: the fact that I can put in this many hours doing these things is itself an expression of extraordinary privilege, and I’m aware of that. I’m putting the information out there because I’m hoping it will be useful. I recognize that most people have more external demands on their time than I do, given that I have no commute, no children, no ill relatives to look after, and so on.
Anyway. I generally don’t put parameters on comment replies, but I’m hoping that in this particular case, any responses people might have will take the form of constructive critique such as
— suggestions about how some of this work might be made more efficient or else delegated
— thoughts (which I absolutely do not guarantee to follow, but I’m interested in the data) about the relative priority of these tasks
I am not seeking thanks/reassurance/comfort or other forms of emotional labor from readers: it would be in my view actively counterproductive to add to the Total Community Workload by requesting that kind of input. Also, unappealing.