Prep is a hairy bugaboo for a lot of us. Martin wrote his famous phrase “I’d rather rake leaves than do prep” way back in 2005, three years before the Stew even existed, it’s a persistent topic here even without a specific article dedicated to it, and it’s been an Issue I’ve personally struggled with for ages.
Recently however, I discovered the Egg Timer Prep System, and while I won’t say it’s made prep a joy, it’s been a great help to me. And the system isn’t just for prep. It’s for anything you’d rather not be doing, from homework, to e-mail, to TPS reports.
To use the Egg Timer Prep System, just go get your egg timer and set it for 5 minutes, then get to work. This five minute period is actually the hardest part of the whole system, but push through it and prep until the timer dings. Once the timer goes off, set it for another 5 minutes, and go goof off. Play a rounds or two of Bejeweled, read a few pages of a book, check Facebook or your E-mail, or whatever you feel like doing. Once the timer goes off again, set it for 10 minutes and get back to your prep. Keep going with chunks of prep that are 5 minutes longer each time, with a 5 minute break in between each one. That’s all there is to the system.
Sounds easy, right? It is, but there’s at least one important thing to remember. Only be a slave to the timer when it’s time to go back to work. You’ll quickly build a list of what you can and can’t do in your five minute breaks. Don’t get mired in something that takes more than five minutes and then fall prey to the “just one more minute” game. The system only works when your 5 minute breaks aren’t an hour long. On the other hand, don’t let the timer going off stop you if you want to finish up the section you’re working on or are “in the zone”. The startling revelation The Egg Timer Prep System brings to the table is that prep actually isn’t all that bad. It’s overcoming the resistance to prepping and building momentum that’s the hard part. Once you get rolling, you’ll be surprised how often you’ll think “But I’m on fire! Don’t stop me now Mr. Egg Timer!” or even “When is this five minutes going to be up? Isn’t it time to get back to prep yet?”
Another good tip that can help you prep, regardless of what “system” you use, is to isolate and remove your distractions. I have the Digsby gadget, which sits on my desktop and keeps all my social networking contacts and sites at my fingertips. That’s great for making sure I check the Stew’s Twitter feed and Facebook page now and again, but when I’m trying to prep, the constant activity does nothing but distract me. Once your momentum is lost, you’re stuck fighting the uphill battle to get rolling all over again. No thank you Digsby. I’ll re-start you when I’m done. So if you find yourself sidetracked by the same distraction time and again, find a way to get rid of it while you’re working. Don’t worry. We’ll still be here when you’re finished.
So next time you have prep to do, or your tax forms need to be filled out, grab your egg timer, turn off your cell phone, and you’ll find yourself done in no time.
This sounds vaguely like the Pomodoro Method–essentially, do work in 25 minute spurts with 5 minute breaks. The Pomodoro Method has been insanely helpful to me in getting my work done.
But why in the name of Pelor would I do this for my hobby? I have enough work in my life! I do precisely as much prep as it takes for me to have fun. Sometimes, this involves writing dozens of pages of history (that are never used), often, it involves dreaming up some catchy NPCs while driving to and from work.
Maybe there are people who don’t mind letting a clock rule their life when they’re out of the office–I’m not one of them. I suppose if I got paid to write gaming material, I’d use a system like this to keep me honest. But for now, I’ll stick with doing prep when it suits my mood, and ad-libbing a game when it doesn’t. Really, in my experience, the ad-libbed games are better, which only further reinforces the notion that, for me, prep is actually fun. And it is with this in mind that I do not mind one bit throwing out 90% of what I’ve prepped.
You are right on on the no cell phone/IM/texting/Facebook thing, BTW–heck, keeping up with THOSE things feels like work! Maybe the timer should be reserved for those 🙂
OK, this sounds like EXACTLY the structure I need for prep! What a cool idea!
Like you said, I can think of plenty of other applications for this, too.
This reminds me a lot of productivity guru Merlin Mann’s (10+2)*5 system. (10+2)*5 was actually designed as a procrastination buster, though – the idea was that you work for 10 minutes, no goofing off – then you goofed off for 2 minutes, no working. Repeat for an hour. Eventually you actually find yourself working through the 2 minutes whether you intended to or not, thus beating procrastination.
I credit this system with keeping jobs, prepping games, and passing grad classes; I’m a terrible procrastinator, but I can trick myself into doing nonstop work with this.
@mougoo – Can’t rightly say why, but some of us like being GM but hate doing prep. I love GMing but put off prep until I find myself in a mad rush the day of the game, putting the finishing touches on things as people walk in the door, or winging more than I’m comfortable with, and I’m certainly not alone.
…goes looking for a timer gadget for his computers…
That sounds like a great idea. I tend to be a procrastinator until I get into the mindset of whatever I’m doing, but then I tend to overstress myself by focusing on that one thing too intently. Sometimes I do it to the point that I mire my mind and can’t get problems solved. I think I’ll have to steal the kitchen timer now . . .
Reminds me very much of the Flylady system for housework. Set the timer for 15 minutes. You’d be amazed how much you can actually get done in 15 minutes (and I often am). For housework, you set for 15 min, then set for 15 min for a different task/chore, then 15 min for a different task/chore (could be the first one again, just so it’s different from what you just did). And then the final 15 minutes of that hour is REST (free time to do whatever you want… and drink water!)
I’ve never thought to try to use it for game prep… but then I have a 2yo & 4yo distraction that are hard to “turn off” 😉
Is it odd that I don’t really have this problem? I do have issues in prepping the correct material, but actually doing the prep work is something that I enjoy.
Sometimes I enjoy prep work, and other times I loathe it. I’ll give this approach a shot next time I’m not feeling the love for prep work.
And might I suggest the following site to all who are interested:
I use the site for my workouts at home, and the downloadable versions are good too.