The time between gigs
Every once in a while you’ll get a moment to breathe between a few projects. These moments can feel few and far between and you may want to try to catch up on sleep. If you have enough energy, there are 4 powerful things that you can do that might help you relax and simultaneously level up your abilities. That’s a good combo!
The easiest thing you can do after a project is take a moment to revisit the whole thing with a clear head and hindsight. It can be easy to fall into traps while working on a project under the gun and without much sleep. Once you’re finished a project, you often want to get out of there as fast and possible and we often overlook the benefit of post-mortems. A post-mortem is a process where you examine how a project went after it’s finished. A post-mortem can be a handful of things including:
- Looking at what went wrong during the project and how it could have been avoided
- Thinking about how you could improve the same project with your new experiences if you had to do it again
- Making note of the really successful elements on the project so you can create best practices that you can iterate on
- Finding elements of this project you can move forward into new projects, such as reusable code
Even thinking about one of these items at the end of every project would give you measurable gains in your performance and abilities. If you were to answer all 4, you would see a night and day difference between your current abilities and the future you.
We always try to incorporate something new on a project. It could be a new technology or a new process/pipeline. Working these into a new project means you have to have a certain amount of apprehension because you don’t want to incorporate something that could destabilize the entire project and cause chaos. This means you can only introduce a certain (small) amount of new technology per project.
This isn’t the case with downtime between projects though. This is a time of free experimentation and no limits and nowhere to go but up. You can play with new sensors, new software, new APIs, new OS, new tablets and gaming devices…you name it. You can run these technologies for days on end to burn them in without worrying about needing to service them quickly. You can try to push them to their limits and see how many possible API calls or processor cycles or CUDA cores you can squeeze out.
Buy some new stuff and mess around! It’ll increase your arsenal and allow you to take bigger risks on the next gig because you’ll have already done some tests with your new technology.
I mentioned catching up on sleep and getting some rest is something we all do between gigs. Another thing that can be refreshing is giving yourself a chance to do something else creative. It might sound silly but it’s easy to get caught up in interactive this and immersive that. Sometimes it can be just as relaxing to do another creative activity such as making music, painting, reading, etc. As a workaholic, I have to consistently remind myself of this, so I’m noting it down here to remind you. Do something else you like! It’ll keep your brain fresh and even expand your skillset. I’m always surprised at new ways I can approach technology problems after having spent some time being generally creative with other activities.
Make educational materials
I end up teaching and writing extensive documentations and educational materials. I can attest to the fact that the best way to really know something is to teach it. There are concepts that I’ve kind of had a grip on but which were only solidified in my mind after I had to explain them and teach them to someone else. The practice of having to break a complicated series of actions down to its most basic elements and then transmitting that to someone else through text, video, or examples, forces you to have a strong foundational knowledge about that topic. It forces you to have different attack vectors when you explain it and the person gives you a blank stare. You can’t make a good analogy for a concept if you don’t really understand that context.
I go so far with this that when I want to learn something new, I start by trying to teach someone it or writing some educational materials for the concept. This forces me to understand the technique on a fundamental level from day one.
Getting a bit of downtime between gigs can feel like heaven on Earth. The urge to sleep is high and doing anything work-related can feel like a drag. I urge you to give these 4 things I do between gigs a try. Making educational material, stepping away to do other creative activities, experimenting with new tech, and holding post-mortems are great ways to get away from tiring client work while simultaneously leveling up your skills.