My Year Of Less
Dear reader, imagine the following inner creative monologue:
Arrrgh! There's just not enough time to do it all! Too much to dooooo! Okay okay, stay cool - let's make the list here:
OK, so I'll do that opinion piece - I suppose I won't be so fresh in the
morning, but I'll catch up on sleep tomorr... wait, tomorrow is that
Steam sale, so... just add it to the list:
- there is this VN I'm working on, my current big project
- I need to catch up on the TV series I started, plus there is a new one that people are starting to talk about.
- I really need to update my site and fix all the broken links and downloads, check and approve the comments and answer questions
- art commissions, I ought to do them, I could use the money, need to prepare a post
- this person wanted to get back in touch regarding a possible
big project I could participate in, I wonder if I should contact them
- next month the new console comes out and people are posting
these cool screenshots of that upcoming epic RPG, I think I'll have to
just postpone everything when that happens, I'm so hyped up about it!
- but... I really need to write an opinion piece about what's
going on in the VN world right now, my Twitter is lighting up with this
one controversy and if I don't write something today or tomorrow, it'll
be pointless, so I have to do it with priority.
Aaaaand... I think that's about it,... it's not so bad... I'll just push
through this (actually, this would all be much quicker if I didn't need
to sleep, I mean seriously, sleeping takes away so many precious
hours), and in one, two... three months, at latest when the VN-making
jam is over, I'll be in a much better place, and will be able to focus
much better when all of these things settle down a bit.
- I need to check out the VN deals, I've been meaning to try that time
travel VN, and if I end up buying it (and I will, it'll be like 50%
off, I have to take it) that's like a solid week gone right there
- oh, and the VN-making jam is in two months, I have to start figuring out what to do soon.
- and of course my project backlog, I have one or two
semi-fleshed-out ideas, maybe I should consider doing one of those
instead of the main project, it's a bit too hectic these days, I need to
sort through my notes
Well, dear reader, you already probably know what will happen to this
person in three months. They will have just as much open projects and
upcoming cool games to play, series to watch or read, or controversies
to voice their opinion on as they have today. Additionally, they will of
course not manage to keep their 3-month plan, because unexpected life
changes and situations will happen - crunch times at work leaving them
with almost no energy, a new relationship that's now more important than
most things, a health annoyance that leaves them with less time to
spare or makes it harder to work, or some administrative nightmare with
lots of paperwork and errands hits their life. And that's before
we count the inevitable delays in the above mentioned projects, not
finishing the game jam on time, commissions by unexpectedly difficult
people, and of course hitting those walls in games, getting sidetracked
while watching a series by jumping on its spinoff... in the end they
will be - just like now - at full capacity. In fact, probably attempting
to do 120%, while being frustrated that they instinctively don't see
how to make work the 170% they would actually like to accomplish.
While not in the situation above, in 2016 I did nevertheless experience that same feeling of "if I push a little harder, I can fit it all in,
and then it'll be all over and I'll enjoy a slower pace of everything".
But just like in that example, that relief never truly came. In 2016,
inspired by having Aurora Fall done, I enjoyed randomly doing small
creative projects and treating myself to (also random) entertainment -
games I've been meaning to play "once Aurora Fall is finished". In other
words, a guilt-free creative and entertainment life. But as time went
on, as a human, I fell into some less-than-optimal patterns. I took on a
bit here, a bit there, and while fun, I did find myself at the end of a
seemingly "impressive" 2016. I released more VNs than any year ever,
with several running projects, many of which were longer term regular
commitments, a backlog of games I bought to celebrate my "freedom from
Aurora Fall", a hard disk full of "stuff I finally get to watch", and
last but not least - a note book of great little ideas that may or may
not potentially grow into something.
It was at the end of 2016 when I realized that now, almost two years
after completing my creative "life's work" in the form of the "Original
22" visual novels, the way I was making my small post-retirement VNs,
the way I was watching those series and movies, and how I was playing my
backlog of games was leaving me with a sort of disjointed sense of
progress and completion. Meanwhile, a difficult leftover project from
the old "Original 22" days (the SSV project) was still unfinished and
started to weigh on me... and so, after having the time and space to
think about it over the year-end holiday season, the idea of the "Year
of Less" was born.
In general, if ever the "Year of Less" had a tagline, it would be "no,
you can't fit it all in". This was a key point in all my decisions, and
it addresses exactly that feeling which I described in the previous
paragraphs. The feeling you get that the overwhelm you feel today is
only temporary, that if only you get this current workload done, if you
just push through this time, that there is a peaceful, non-hectic
life waiting on the other end. That the games that will come out in 6
months will not be as tempting to me as the ones that are out right now,
and that I will manage my time and energy much better, and will not be
going to bed late just because I was so involved with whatever I was
doing and it felt like a good idea to stay up.
My heart was saying yes, it's true - I will definitely change how I
approach things in the future... just as soon as I finish what I have
going on right now.
But of course, today is the future of six months ago, and at that time I
was also saying the same thing. The conclusion is simple - the "calm"
future never comes. Which is why for the "Year of Less" I relieved my
delusional, optimistic heart from command - and decided to give the helm
to the analytical part of my brain - and let it run the show
this year. I was kind of hoping for a "new CEO" scenario - when a new
CEO is appointed at a failing company, often heads start to roll, and
instant changes are made. And as 2017 nears half-time, here is all that
my analytical CEO brain and I have done so far and how it's worked out:
1. Finished last long-term project (SSV)
By far the biggest reason to start the "Year of Less" was to finish my
screenshot project (i.e. converting all the visual novels from my
"Original 22" set to screenshots). This was a grueling and
time-consuming project that I was doing manually. Even in December 2016 I
still had the biggest visual novels yet to go, and I felt if I wouldn't
make this the absolute top priority, it would drag on for a year
longer. Add to that the fact that even though this was a monumental
undertaking, it was always just "creating new versions" of existing
visual novels, and so there would be no single "project" I'd be able to
claim to have accomplished.
And so, much like with my very focused first half of 2014 when I was
completing Aurora Fall, I decided to subordinate every other thing to
the completion of the screenshot project. It was too much on my mind,
too much of an unfinished business. And so I did. Save for "The Buzz", I
pretty much stopped all activities, and focused only on the SSV
project, still fueled by the rush of the glow of the New Year's
resolution (which it kind of was). But much like with Aurora Fall, any
progress was good, and if I should slow down after a month, I would have
at least made intense progress.
Did it work out? It did, and quite fast, it turns out. Not two and a
half months later, and it was done. And much like Aurora Fall, it wasn't
so much the time needed to complete it that was the problem, it was the
uninterrupted time I needed to focus on it, which, once I
managed to free, made the whole project possible. The problem was, that
in order to gain this focus, I didn't really have time to finish all the
commitments and projects I had going on - I merely ignored them. So
after I was finished, I had to call on my sense of discipline and NOT
say "mission accomplished".
Because this was not a sprint. Yes, I did want to primarily finish the
SSV project, but the euphoria about finishing should not mean I should
now forget why I did this in the first place - I wanted to have a slower
year, do things more judiciously. With the SSV project done, I now had
more time and less obligation, and I needed to spend that extra time to
FURTHER REDUCE everything.
If you are into cars, imagine the Rolls-Royce Wraith
(a luxurious and powerful car). Unlike many other cars, it has no rev
counter - instead it has a "power reserve" gauge. So while in other cars
the rev counter shows you how close to its limit your engine is, the
Rolls-Royce's power reserve indicator tells you how much power is still
available to you. "You have 80% in reserve, sir". And it's the same way I
wanted to think about my own "energy" as well - rather than measuring
how much I can accomplish, how "productive" I am, and making tweaks so I
could do and jam in a little bit more here and there (equivalent to car
that's being tuned to give more and more power), I wanted to focus
instead on increasing the margin - to get my "power reserve" as high as I
could, all the while still moving forward.
So instead of having all those 15 projects and commitments kind of going
on at the same time, I wanted to have just 3, or 4. I wanted to have
the space, the buffer - especially because so many times I've been
operating on 95% capacity and when suddenly something unexpected is
thrown your way, you have to drop something else to deal with it. I
wanted my "power reserve" for this exact case, because in fact this is
what happens all the time. As an example, I really wanted to finish that
website update tonight (because tomorrow I must finish editing the
podcast so we can release), but my son woke up and I had to put him back
to bed, I lost a lot of time... and just hearing myself saying that
felt so stupid. I shouldn't be in a position where I'm stretched so
thin, that even a relatively small interruption causes a chain reaction
of missed things, and broken commitments.
That's why I had to remind myself of this - I have freed up this time to
continue the Year of Less, make more space, make the space nicer and
cleaner. And not to throw it away or fill it with more of the same. And
the next thing really helped in that:
2. Finished several small projects
One of the mottos for this year was "finishing, not starting", and this
encouraged me to officially end some of my ongoing smaller projects. For
example "Penshooter II", which was going on indefinitely, as well as discontinuing maintenance for some websites I ran, such as the list of VN podcasts.
I also rummaged through my archive of unfinished articles and
overviews, and put together a few "final lists" that I published as a
way of closing all of them. And after that, I deleted all the unfinished
stuff that remained (but more to this point later).
How did this feel? It felt kind of like when you tidy up and clean out
your house. It's not the most fun thing to do, but it feels great and
freeing when you're actually done. More to the point, getting small
projects out of the way feels like you're removing a lot of the
distractions and creative "mess". I was especially surprised how many
"unspoken" commitments I had, where I realized that something I had
somewhere was in fact kind of unfinished (like an article I took
screenshots for, or that website that I neglected for so long). There
were loads of things like that - small, seemingly insignificant little
pieces of silent guilt, failure or unfinished business.
Especially in the cases where I ran "service" websites, such as lists
that needed to be periodically updated, it was especially hard to take
the decision, because even though I know how very little traffic they
get, there was still a (disproportionate) sense of obligation from my
side towards their visitors. I felt like I was letting them down, but I
have realized that it makes a huge difference that I publicly
stop the commitment as opposed to simply letting it lapse and not update
silently. I am the kind of person who needs the closure to be public in
this way. So I announced the end of all those sites as I was closing
them down and formatting their data as "articles".
The result? Fantastic. To beat the house analogy to death, if the SSV
project was the old furniture that I finally threw out, these small
projects were all the "could-be-useful-one-day" type of clutter that we
hang on to. And much like with those things there is a bit of sadness
when we finally eliminate them from our lives, but that's the price. And
since the analytical brain was in charge, it helped to overcome a lot
of the emotional resistance to officially wrapping these projects up.
3. Said "no" to NaNoRenO 2017
Last year, I participated on a whim and released five NaNoRenO
visual novels. This year I publicly committed myself already in January
that I wouldn't join, mostly to counteract any last-minute impulses.
Last year I not only impulse-joined NaNoRenO, but also participated in SuNoFes (another jam), as well as the month-long art challenge Inktober.
Together with starting a year-long daily "365" photo project during the
summer, the need to consistently show up and/or deliver was starting to
eat away at my sense of calm.
Did it work out? It did. I never felt like I was missing out when I was
reading other people's updates, and afterward I had no regrets
whatsoever. Watching from the sidelines (and putting together a summary later on) was plenty.
4. Tracked stuff
Not in a very labour-intensive way, though. I found an app that suited me, and then set 11 parameters that I wanted to track every day - almost all of them were yes/no things. For example
And so on. All of these were things that mattered to me the most, and that I felt like I should always keep on my mind.
- "Did I play with my kids today?" Yes/No
- "Did I go to bed before midnight?" Yes/No.
In fact, it wasn't as much about tracking, but more about reminding
myself every day what is most important in my life. Spending less than a
minute to check off (or not) a few boxes on my phone has done wonders
to my awareness of what actually matters. I would also export this data
into a spreadsheet and make monthly "reports" on how I did. The results
didn't really surprise me, except one which was a simple question of
whether I achieved what I planned for that day - here, courtesy of the planning fallacy,
the logs showed that I did really badly. The only remedy was to just
plan less, or plan more realistically, which helped, and I came to
around 50% plan achieved versus not achieved in a month, which I was
quite content with - especially when I often miss a "plan achieved" by a
single simple todo, which means that I still managed to do most of the
I also found it helpful (another practice I borrowed from the
"productivity" world) to define my "MIT", most important task for the
day (best determined the night before, maybe as a part of the daily
tracking process), that if I finished, it would already be a success.
These aren't necessarily "important" tasks, but they are important to
happen on that day for practical, but also emotional reasons. Sometimes
it was important to me to change a light bulb that started to annoy me.
Sometimes it was that we have a nice dinner. Other days it was a phone
call that I have been putting off for too long... and sometimes it was
as simple and non-negotiable as "tomorrow the kids have their play in
the kindergarten" - there is nothing more clear about what's most
important for me to do on that day... (it's being there, in the
audience, of course).
The thing is, as silly as it sounds, we don't seem to distinguish
between the importance of todos very intuitively - and having a constant
reminder or a very simple way of quickly find your bearings during a
busy day adds a huge sense of control and confidence. I even have a
sticky notes app with a single item on it, the most important thing to
do on that day, but one tip - if you are going to do this, don't put
vague things on it - just really specific things. I remember back in the
days when I wanted to motivate myself to work on Aurora Fall, I would
have something similar on my phone, but it would just say "Aurora Fall".
And that actually achieved the opposite, because it just reminded me of
this big obligation to myself. So best to define your MIT as something -
as they say - "actionable".
5. I started to reflect regularly
One significant system improvement that I did in the Year Of Less apart
from tracking things was also to regularly (once or twice a week) review
all my "life administration" tasks. If you're into Getting Things Done
(conceptually best explained via the audiobook), this is pretty much
the "weekly review", though I also included reminding myself of my
personal mantras (to keep doing what helps me) and cautionary tales (to
stop myself from doing what never goes well for me). The whole process
about 30-45 minutes to do for me, and its components are:
Firstly, the regular review of all administrative tasks and general life to-dos
is immensely helpful. If nothing else, I am at least able to see the
entire pool of my problems, tasks and obligations, determine what has to
happen to move each of them forward (creating the actual to-do's), and
update any corresponding lists. This simple exercise alone takes away a
lot of the stress and helps me feel confident that I'm doing the right
things. And the fact that this sounds like the teachings of a
productivity guru should not detract from the fact that it truly helps
your psyche to calm down and feel in control.
- review of all of my to-dos and problems
- go through personal mantras
- reminding myself of my "cautionary tales"
Secondly, in the same session, I will also go through my personal mantras,
and remind myself of the things I value, my priorities, all mostly
boiled down to short little "do's" and "dont's" like for example "don't
write after midnight", or "family comes first, not only on weekends".
Finally, I found it especially helpful to write out more detailed
accounts of things I disliked in a particular project, and created short
"cautionary tales" to remind myself of the negatives I often
kept forgetting once the projects are done, and which makes me
susceptible to engaging in something similar again - and I desperately
want to avoid that. I wrote these things down as if speaking to myself -
warning myself, in a way. For example: "Hey, remember how much of a
pain it was to maintain this one list up to date, how you made website
crawling scripts and how you spent hours formatting it, checking and
verifying the information, every week, and it took almost an entire
evening, and for what? In the end no one really cared, no one noticed
when it was not updated for a month? And then you had to migrate it to
another site? Do you remember that it took three evenings to find a new
theme and format that you were happy with, and move all the metadata?
This was fun for the first few months, but then it became just awful,
wasted time - you should never do this kind of thing again".
And yes, that's worded quite harshly, but in fact that's the point - I
do want to keep myself from doing this, so I intentionally speak of the
lowest lows in the given project - it's a warning. And there's a reason
why warnings always shows the worst case scenario.
Anyway, a mild example of something that I would like to stay away from
for at least a while could be my 365 project, which you can read about
in the next point. Though I will be much kinder in my wording this time.
As with any of these productivity methods, it's the underlying thought
that is most important. Whether you follow the "GTD method" of a weekly
review, or simply sit down and look at some giant list of everything, what matters is that you reflect on the past period of time, and plan the next one.
The fact that this is a very important habit to try to form may also be
underlined by my experience with it which was that it's not easy to
build up and keep. It takes quite a lot of mental energy to do this, but
on the other hand it does provide a lot of benefits. I can say that I
have so far this year not missed a single week, but a few times I was
close to skipping the weekly reflection, which is why keeping this
process is now a part of my to-dos.
It's just too valuable to let go - chiefly because if you have the total
picture of all your obligations and tasks, you will (especially if you
have it on paper) visually see just how much there is. And that's the
thing - it gets easier to say no to new things once you know of every
one you already have. I have of course always had the feeling I have "a
lot going on", but it wasn't until it was actually quantified and listed
that I realized the extent of everything. Reflecting on everything
periodically is one of the toughest things I had to do in my "Year of
Less". But I do feel that without it, making a lot of the positive
changes wouldn't have been possible.
6. Finished the 365 Kei project (kind of)
This project (taking a picture of a toy car I had every day, for a year)
was more of an artistic challenge than a personal one. Still, I've
always wanted to do this, and so I started it last summer (along with
some friends, including the owner of this site), which meant that at the
beginning of 2017, I still had roughly half a year of daily pictures to
How was it? Well... generally it was great, but then... not so great.
Actually it was quite fun close to 80% of the way, but in the last two
or so months (which I will focus on, but which should not detract from
the overwhelming net positive) too many small annoyances have piled up
and the project turned into a bit of a chore.
The breaking point however came when I forgot to take a picture one day,
roughly two months before the end. It wasn't a big deal at the time, I
took a picture straight away the next morning
with the argument that "technically it was still yesterday's date in
America" (I live in Europe). I even turned it into a feature when I took
when it was "already the specific date in Australia". In hindsight, I
can say that it was then, that internally the project lost purpose for
I of course understand that for many photographers a 365 project does
not fail if they miss a day (and they either catch up the next day or
skip that day), but as this process showed me, I had a very personal
definition of "daily". And no matter what I did, there was no convincing
my inner self that skipping a day was okay. Conclusion? I have failed
in the daily photo project, and almost from one day to another, the
project got incredibly frustrating, amplifying all the small nagging
irritations that I was able to overlook when the project was still
giving me joy.
For example: I recalled how on a few occasions I have missed photo opportunities, and had to settle for less interesting themes - be it because I forgot to always have the toy car on me,
or because taking a photo in the particular situation would be socially
inappropriate. All this is eating away at me, and yet it doesn't
matter, because if I just took the same picture of the car every day,
I'd complete a 365 project. So why was I even worried about what the
photo looked like when it seems like deep inside the day-specific nature
of the thing is more important for me?
There were more troubles, too. Even without the missed picture, many
days I just felt uninspired to compose a picture, and that should have
tipped me off that the 365 was (if I'm honest with myself) more about
the gimmick to me. I also often felt I was spending way too much time
mentally scanning my surroundings for a unique shot, and my frustrations
rising as it became obvious that I'd have to settle for a sub-optimal shot.
And many times I'd be out with my kids, and I'd have to stop and take a
picture of the toy car, not because I wanted to, but because I knew I
wouldn't get a nicer opportunity that day. It kind of took the fun out
It was on Day 312 that I missed the shot, and after two weeks of
increasingly demotivating photo taking after that "failed day", I
admitted failure, and decided to end it at 333. On that day, I had 3
pictures left. I announced it on Twitter, and - quite surprisingly - at a
stroke, everything changed.
The moment it was "official", I felt like I had to make the most out of
the last 3 images. And no, in the end they were not all that
spectacular, but the process and the pictures felt genuine and
fun again. It was almost like a bittersweet ending - the good kind, much
more sweet than bitter. I even ran out of work earlier to buy the car
some "friends" with which I ended the set. And then, gave the cars to my kids, because they weren't "subjects" anymore. They were toys again.
So in the end, I had a positive experience, and when all was said and done, I decided to call the project 333 Kei.
That also contributed greatly to all the frustrations and resentment
towards the project being gone, and I was reminded of how wonderful it
was that despite the failure to complete the project, I managed to
capture (almost) a whole year going by, and inserted symbols of things
that happened or have been at the front of my mind into some of the
shots, a few of them even representing personal things, friendships, or memories.
It's nice as a record of things, and even visually I think it's quite
diverse and interesting. Even the uninspired photos now symbolize those
emotions now, and I'm glad they are there.
And if you wanted to shoehorn this into the concept of the "Year of
Less", I'd say the decision to stop it was the link. I was ready to
accept it as "cutting my losses", and not engage in an activity just for
the sake of completing it, making it a case of sunk cost fallacy. That
it ended up feeling like an accomplishment was a nice bonus I didn't
7. Killed my creative notes periodically
If this sounds cruel, it kind of is. This year I have decided that the
collections of notes, ideas, partially complete things and inspirations
that I have been keeping ever since I started to creative stuff was also
a form of baggage. And last year I finally found the trust that even if
I deleted all my stuff, I would come up with new stuff that would still
feel like it was "me", just expressed through different ideas.
I do want to acknowledge however, that most people might think this is
too radical. After all, what's the harm? So I keep my old notes
somewhere in the cloud - they are my inspiration, and I never have to
feel anxiety over ideas that I lost. Except that while I do feel like
this works for your todo's (always write all your tasks down in the same
place), with creative ideas it's a bit different.
In April, I made a short visual novel, Oliver Renhelf.
It was a "fresh" idea, I was happy with it, and it felt just as "me" as
any of the other ideas I had archived before. And it just confirmed to
me that our ideas and concepts don't really define us - they don't own
us, because they are not what's important - what's important is that we
express ourselves through them, no matter the form.
Crucially though, Oliver Renhelf could never have been done had I had my
old notes - I would rummage around in them, synthesize from them, and
never really experience the fresh mindset of a truly blank slate. For
me, it's like when I began creating stuff. It's a happy process that
lets me experience the freedom of being able to imagine anything I want.
And knowing that it's not the idea, not the story, not the design that
matters, but rather that it's what the work expresses (or how it
expresses you) which gives it soul, has given me the confidence to throw
away ideas, because I now know they are not what really matters in my
I continue to periodically delete all my notes and incomplete projects now.
8. The end of The Buzz's run
Strangely, the second reason for my "year of less" was so that I'd have more time to focus on The Buzz
- a podcast which I was a co-host of. At the beginning of the year it
turned out however, that it was kind of naturally slowing down, and so
we all agreed to end the run with Episode 30 (where around 1:27:40 you can also listen to us talk about this in more detail).
So I don't actually see this as a year-of-less-accomplishment in that
sense - but because The Buzz was a very demanding project and
commitment, wrapping it up in early 2017 freed up yet more mental energy
for me. The "power reserve gauge" was now at a reassuringly comfortable
50%, since together with completing the screenshot project, I had no
large projects and no major creative commitments anymore. Yet again
though, there was a trial to be passed before the gauge really settled
You see, there is this instinctive reaction I seem to have whenever I
finish a project - I feel like whatever "void" was left, I need to fill
with something right away. This doesn't just happens with
creative projects, though. Also in the area of entertainment, when I
finish a game, I feel the need to start a new one right away. It's sort
of a creative / entertainment inertia thing, and I try to remind
myself about it whenever I am about to finish something large - and in
this case, I kept telling myself - "hey, when you release the last
episode of The Buzz, you will probably want to start another podcast.
9. Implemented a "weekly watch & play list"
One of the feelings I had last year (and some years before that,
actually) was that I was doing a lot of half-conscious bite-sized
watching. I felt like apart from going to the movies, rather than watching I was more going through
series, videos or movies. Every experience felt very fragmented. I also
felt like I was doing a lot of "aspirational" watching - things I
wouldn't choose myself, but which were talked about at the moment, and
which I ended up being mostly underwhelmed by.
Well, no more. I wanted to get more deliberate in what I'd watch, and
make sure what I watched was not driven by other people's opinions or
recommendations. And so I implemented a simple rule - Sometime during
the weekend, I needed to write down what I'd be watching the next week
and could not deviate from that plan.
At the end of the week, I'd see what I watched and what I didn't, and
make a new plan for the week ahead. And if I got the urge to watch
something that wasn't on the list, I hoped that the knowledge that I'd
be able to put it on the list for next week would suffice - after all,
it was at worst just 7 days. I could wait that long, right?
Yes, it turns out.
In fact, I can't sing enough praises for this decision - this method is
something that has worked wonders for me. In practice I would typically
The first few weeks I kept ending up with unwatched movies (or movies
which I skipped around in), but come the second month, I was really
picking only the things I actually ended up watching.
- two movies and a TV series to watch (e.g. XYZ Season 1)
- some bookmarked videos
- maybe a game playthrough (downloaded offline)
- or larger events (these days I enjoy pro wrestling, for example)
- and one game (sometimes one game per console I own - 3DS and PS3/4)
In terms of numbers, compared to often 10 different entries on my
to-watch list in January, my to-watch list in the following months was
just around 4 items, into which I quickly started to include video games
as well - one game I was actively playing, one movie and one TV series.
While we were on skiing vacation for instance, I only had a single item
on the list, and I really literally only watched a single TV series for
the whole week (I left my 3DS at home, so I really had nothing). The
whole system also helped cut down on random Youtube watching, too,
because it was unrewarding and bureaucratic to watch short videos (I had
to in some way bookmark or download them for later), a perfect
side-effect, because short-form or non-continuous entertainment was the
main reason I felt my experiences were so unsatisfying and inconsistent.
No surprise then, that will continue to use this approach, probably
indefinitely. I've even been able to make this into some kind of a
habit, in that I now find it "barbaric" to just randomly watch
something. It's kind of funny, but actually, it's exactly what I wanted,
and I'm really happy to have brought back watching from being something
to pass the time to feeling special again.
10. Locked down news and social streams
Two things were frustrating me with social media last year - on one hand
it was the various types of re-postings of other people's content by
the people I followed. Often not filterable, and not well marked, it
contributed to the confusion - was I seeing original thoughts and
content by this person I followed, or were they forwarding me this
information that someone else I don't follow has produced? It was hard
to determine at a glance, and I felt like much of the personality of the
individual people has been lost - my timelines have felt like streams
of stuff people I followed were kind of associated with - a far cry from
what I really wanted, which was their thoughts, their things.
My second frustration is related to this, too, as in recent times social
media has moved to the idea that your stream / timeline will not
necessarily show you all the content by people you follow. So if I make a
new post, well... there is no guarantee that people who follow me will
And all of this demoted social media in my eyes to more or less a
shoutbox. To be able to still use it though, I implemented a lot of news
filters, spoiler filters and generally shielded myself from opinions on
most hot topics and news. And so, together with using thirdparty
clients, I have still managed to make social media work for me, mostly
as a way of keeping in touch with what people I like are doing - either
by directly following them, or having quick searches saved when I want
to see what they are up to on my own terms.
It works quite well, and on any given day my pared down, filtered social
media stream produces anything from 5-30 messages, all from people I
care about and with information I want to know. It is "less" than the
average 300-500 messages that I have been receiving before I radically
cut things down, but it has made social media enjoyable again, so much
so that I now have notifications enabled to tell me people have posted,
because I'm looking forward to hearing from them.
11. Continued with "solitary enjoyments"
Related to the above point is also the idea of "solitary enjoyments", which I also talked about
in an episode of The Buzz. In essence, from time to time I try to have
watching or gaming experiences purely for myself, not sharing them with
anyone. So I may read a manga, or watch a movie and not talk about it. I
may play a game, and keep my opinions on it to myself. Or I may do
something fun, but not tell the entire world about how I'm enjoying it.
Keeping stuff to myself.
I still continue to do it in 2017, but it's not officially a part of my
"Year of Less", mostly because the realizations that my opinions or
thoughts on things will end up partially disregarded by social media
algorithms has made it less appealing for me to share them. Which is,
weirdly, a positive thing - I will now just enjoy something and then
enjoy something else, without explicitly having to tell myself that this
is one of my solitary (or "silent") enjoyments and I must resist the
temptation to share it. That temptation is often not even there anymore.
The memories of it will just be mine, and actually, there is a certain
romance about not having it publicly documented. It's like one of those
gentlemen art thieves who steal a beautiful painting so that they can
enjoy it alone.
12. No VN collaborations with anyone in 2017
The last point is something that has organically developed in 2017,
rather than me coming up with it as a restriction beforehand. And it's
that in 2017 I want to make all projects purely by myself, with no help
This came about when I first thought about making a visual novel this
year, but just wanted to do something simple, and on my own schedule.
And since I can basically do everything I need to make a visual novel
except the (character) art, for Oliver Renhelf I looked at some
free-to-use sprites over at the Lemmasoft forums. I wasn't ever a huge
fan of taking "readily available stuff", especially not when it came to
characters, but then, as I've pointed out already, I consider myself
retired - and kind of free from any philosophical constraints I might
have had when I was working on the "Original 22" set of visual novels.
So, you know... why not? Why not take an existing sprite,
especially if it hasn't ever been put into a VN that was actually
completed, and why not do it? It's less stress for me, because I don't
have to coordinate, and the sprites find their purpose. And no, they are
not bespoke, but again - the 2017 version of me isn't one that's
bothered by this. And much like I used to be protective of my scripts
and would always use the packed and scrambled Ren'Py files, post
Aurora-Fall-me just releases all the game's assets open and for everyone
to see. It's therefore not really surprising to me that I've come
around to using pre-made sprites, too - and that I'm finding it to be a
really creatively rewarding thing to do.
Which is why this works so well for me, and why I've later formalized it
for this year, too - taking a break from aligning, organizing and
collaborating on creative projects. It's definitely a change of pace
that I can appreciate and enjoy now. Again, a more inward and in a way
solitary way of doing things this year.
The "Year Of Less" is still going on, and it confirmed to me once again,
that change doesn't just happen overnight - and that's fine. It took
time, but it's worth being more resilient towards impulse creativity and
impulse entertainment. For example, having bought a Playstation 4, I
now have the ability to easily make gaming videos, which has tempted me
to make and release something like a video review.
But seeing how much work would go into it, the (thoroughly non-monetary)
"return on investment", it is more clear to me that as fun as that
would be, I couldn't afford to do it, making me less frustrated that I
just can't do everything I would like to do.
In fact, I almost feel like "I have more say in what I choose to do",
that my choices are more "me", more honest. And that I have much more
time as well as mental reserves for unexpected problems down the line.
Implementing my own "Year Of Less" isn't really fun, but... in a way it
makes up for it by being very personal and inward-looking process.
I guess at this point you may expect me to recommend you do the same, or
urge you to think about these things, but that's not what I want from
this, because this isn't a manifesto, or a primer on mindful engagement.
What I'd actually like to achieve is that if you ever come to a
situation where you feel like it's time to re-think a few things in your
life and that a general idea of slowing down, being more deliberate and
doing or engaging in less activities to get back more of the depth of
these experience occurs to you, that you will remember this article and
read it again. And I hope it will speak to you much more than it
probably does now.
And when that day comes, I do wish you the best of luck with your own "Year Of Less".