I’m not a big fan of game prep, and one of the reasons why is because I have trouble guessing how long it’s going to take me. My personal Achilles heel is maps: I enjoy making maps, so I tend to get carried away (this is true for tactical maps as well as regional maps).
After two or three hours of work, I find that I’ve created one pretty nifty map for one section of the adventure…and nothing else. The real kick in the teeth, of course, is when I also guess wrong about my players going to the site of that map, and we don’t wind up using my three hours of mapmaking at all.
The best solution I’ve been able to come up with is to set a time limit for map creation. This helps me out for two reasons: it ensures that after the time is up, I move on to something else; and because I don’t want to run out of time without having finished a map, it forces me to create maps differently — sketching everything in first, for instance, so that even if I do run out of time I’ll still have a usable map for the session.
Your prep time sink might not be mapping, of course, but the principle should apply fairly well to other game prep tasks.
(I’m out of town on business from Tuesday, August 7th through Friday, August 10th, and I most likely won’t be able to check in while I’m away. There’ll be a new post every day, as always, and I’ll catch up on comments and the forums when I get back. See you in a few days! — Martin)