A little post from Neil Shuck at the Meeples blog has had me thinking recently. Neil was talking about motivation to paint, but I guess it goes for any hobby project.

Another delivery of miniatures arrives for my lead pile

It’s accepted that we’ve all got a Lead Mountain we struggle against (vainly?). Painting is pretty labour-intensive, shopping is quick and easy so it’s not hard to see where the backlog comes from. And when we put down the paintbrush and do other things we often find ourselves reading books or other gamers’ blogs and getting inspired to jump into yet another game in another period (in another scale!).

Getting Organised

The guts of what Neil was talking about in his post was breaking a big scary, unassailable task down into bite-sized chunks, and building in a system of rewarding yourself as you complete each chunk. For Neil that meant painting small numbers of figures in a batch, so that he ended up getting the buzz of finishing them regularly. I think even for big projects you can do that, but it involves getting organised.

I use an online tool called Trello. It’s a workflow tracking tool designed for teams to manage their workloads. I use it at work and for studying, and find it works really well for keeping my hobby stuff organised too.

I started out creating a board each for my miniatures and terrain projects. Each board tracks my progress from buying to finishing a job. So  a miniature job will start “on the shelf”, then jump from list to list as it gets worked on. On each individual card you can list the individual jobs (base coat, details, highlights, etc) and check them off as you go. The whole reason I do this is to make myself feel like I’m constantly making progress and achieving something. Checking that little box feels good. One step closer to conquering Lead Mountain!

What I realised after a while was that I actually needed a THIRD board, which ranked sorted everything not by how close to completion it was, but by how urgent it was. This is for a couple of reasons:

  • Things sometimes jump to the top of the priority queue, and need to leapfrog ahead of stuff that’s actually closer to being finished. How many half-finished jobs do we all have that have been usurped by some young upstart?
  • I had projects that I needed to lump together miniatures and terrain.

Doing it this way also allows me to see how certain projects are going overall. I might need to do sort miniatures, terrain, write lists and/or playtest things. For me being able to visualise all this and break it down into bite-size chunks and prioritise them really helps me feel like I’ve got everything under control and will actually achieve it. I find nothing as motivation-destroying as the feeling like the job has got away from me.

Another thing that being able to visualise everything helps me to do is stop taking on new projects. If I look at everything in front of me and it looks like it’s not going to be finished for months or years, it’s easier to be disciplined about taking on new stuff. I know that if I collect something new it’ll affect my current projects, and I’ll have to pick one to shunt down the priority list. Doing that in a visual way instead of just in my head makes me think twice about it.

Productivity: it’s about being the tortoise AND the boy. Pic chosen because I’m such a slow painter, by the way.

Mind Hacks

Essentially it’s just about playing little mind games with yourself. For some reason I really enjoy putting photos of my projects onto the Trello cards, it makes moving them around connect to the physical object more and makes it more satisfying when I tick off tasks or move the card from one pile to another.

Another thing I find myself doing is avoiding long dull jobs that might be a high priority (painting loads of infantry) and instead wanting to do short fun jobs (converting something, assembling a tank, painting an unusual miniature). So I often pair up a dull job with a fun one and do both simultaneously. I don’t allow myself to complete the fun job until the dull one is done as well.

How do you do it?

My system isn’t right for everybody, it’s just the right one for me right now. The actual tools you use for tracking your work could be anything, but I think at the heart of it my system is about:

  • Break big jobs down into lots of little steps so that you get to feel like you’re constantly making progress.
  • Visualise your progress. Use photos, colours, lists that you can check off.
  • Group tasks into projects.
  • Make it fun, you know what you like so build in rewards that will keep you motivated.

Got any tips that work for you? Drop a line in the comments below and let us know how you do it.