Organize Stuff: The Game

According to my receipts, I’ve been playing Minecraft since about October of 2014. My friend Ken started playing right around the same time. Neither of us play multiplayer (on a server), or with other people. In fact, even though Ken was my roommate for almost a year and a half I think we looked at each other’s Minecraft games maybe five times combined over that time.

Now Ken, he’s been to every kind of biome, and he’s been down into the Nether. He’s caught every kind of animal. He’s farmed mobs. He’s found giant mushrooms and rare metals and log cabins and all kinds of other things.

I have dug holes. I have lined those holes with polished stone, and then I have dug more holes.

Now, one might be thinking that’s the point of Minecraft but here’s the difference between how I play and how Ken plays: Ken digs holes to get resources to go do things with those resources. I dig holes to get resources to organize those resources.

What are Minecraft materials, really, other than content? We’ve got different kinds of content: granite, diorite, andesite, some various ores, sand…

Each of those content types have their own behaviors. Some will stay wherever you put them. Others are affected by gravity. Some are fragile to Creeper explosions and some are more resilient to them. (In that sense, Creepers are essentially online trolls.)

Some content types in Minecraft will kill you if you get buried underneath them. They’re like keeping up with the current news cycle.

Some content types will set you on fire. They are also just like the current news cycle.

Ultimately, what I discovered was that every Minecraft world is like a giant poorly-organized SharePoint intranet site: it has veins of quality content surrounded by unappealing stone that someone piled in there without reason. The goal is clear: dig out the quality content, organize it until it can be used to create greatness, then create greatness.

Y’all, the world of Minecraft is a mess, and I set out to clean it the heck up, underground anyway.

In my first world, I was quite satisfied to dig things up and sort them into boxes.

A very large room in minecraft, containing a few dozen two-block chests, each of which is labeled by the block of stone next to it.
A long-distance view of one of my warehouses
A room with about a dozen single-block boxes containing food and supplies, one type per box
Sometimes I even add signs

The problem with that approach was that some of my rooms underground got too big for the system to handle. Instead of displaying the far wall, the system would just draw sky, and I saw some spectacular sunsets from way underground. But hey, it was organized!

The view of a room that has four or five levels of glass rooms below it. Aboveground one can see a pyramid and a skyscraper. Straight ahead is a thin blue line where the system drew the sky instead of the far wall, because it can't calculate the wall's appearance.
Also, I like to make floors out of glass.

So about a year or so into this one, I decided that, while it was nicely organized, it wasn’t organized enough, so I started over in a new world.

In that one, I decided, I’d keep everything organized and neatly structured. I colored each floor by rock color, and each room was 8 blocks by 8 blocks (10 by 10 if you counted the walls).

And that was all well and good, except (don’t laugh) all the rooms look the same, so I kept getting lost. I turned to Omnigraffle to track my work.

A screenshot of the application Omnigraffle showing that the lunatic author has made a layer in the diagram for every floor of her Minecraft world, and mapped each floor in a different color, and added labels and grass areas and all kinds of other things. All rooms are square. Stairwells are represented as well.
Every room’s interior is 8 blocks by 8 blocks, unless I merged up four rooms to be 18 by 18 instead.

That’s right, in addition to a content strategy for the content I was discovering buried below the grass in my minecraft world, I was now building a site map.

Most people would’ve reconsidered their life choices at this point, but I am not Most People, I am an Information Architect.

Folks, this is what I live for.

The way I relaxed between big projects at Vanguard was by inventorying incredibly large SharePoint sites.

The way I relax in the garage or the kitchen is by reorganizing the cabinets or the wood shop.

The way I relax on my phone is match-three games, or logic puzzles, or Solitaire (which is ultimately just a big sorting exercise).

And apparently, the way I play Minecraft is to organize the world.

We make the world into the things we enjoy, as much as we make what we enjoy into the world. If after a long day of content strategy, what you want to do is organize even more content, Minecraft scratches that itch quite nicely for me — even if it means you don’t play it like most people do.

On the other hand, if you tell me that your favorite thing to do is organize your video game materials into varying boxes, friend, let me introduce you to a career in taxonomy. You’ll be fine.

A Mood

Music sets the mood: I’ve been writing fiction again lately, and I have a playlist full of music that helps me get into the right headspace.

On the bus one day recently, I had paused in between thoughts and looked down at my phone. Huh, Spotify added lyrics using Genius. That’s pretty cool. (I’ve appreciated the lyrics feature in Amazon Music.) Sometimes that’s an interesting extra inspiration.

But. In a repetitive bit, or a bridge with no vocals, they’re adding factoids about the band or the song.

And this song? Love Will Tear Us Apart. So all those “facts”? A story about how Ian Curtis’ marriage went wrong and how he killed himself and how this song became a hit after he was dead. All of which is true and fascinating, and if I’d been in the mood to go looking for the history of the song, I’d’ve been moved by the story.

But I was in the mood for music that has an emotional resonance for reasons that have nothing to do with the tragic end of the singer’s life, and everything to do with characters I want to write and a mood I want to achieve. Which maybe is tangential to the history of the song.

Consider then, when providing extra detail: is there a chance that you are destroying what that person is here for? Are you about to tell a story that could derail someone’s day? Maybe don’t. Or at least make it take a little extra work so you know they want it.


Our False Enemy, Time

In the tech industry, we act like time is our enemy. But time is a constraint – a necessary one. It means you can’t do everything, and you are going to have to choose battles.

If you treat time like an enemy, like something you can only fight by throwing yourself at the problem until you’re exhausted, you will not achieve what you want. You’ll just get sleep deprived, emotionally short, and physically exhausted. And all this while you’ll be chiding others for not working as hard as you.

After all, the premise of Silicon Valley work — the “hustle,” the “grind,” is working beyond 9-5. It’s a practice encouraged both by corporate leadership that wants more from less and by a culture that prioritizes the “hustle” over what makes great teams.

Scope. Efficiency. Balance. Pace. Rest. Feedback. They’re what make great teams. Great teams obsess over a problem and fall in love with it. But they also understand the need to step away and reconsider, to be retrospective and combine a steady march with an occasional sprint.

I’ve seen a lot of startups fail despite the number of hours they throw at a problem. The first one I worked for failed in the dotcom crash, despite my 90 hour weeks. The one that burned me out would succeed despite my 90 hour weeks there. They installed a team that worked hard, but also worked smart and maximized their 40 hour weeks.

I’m not one who tells people to “follow their passion,” but I do think people don’t have to hate their work. A job you don’t hate includes not feeling like you’re in a drug shooting gallery looking for the next rush. It’s one where you push hard, then stop pushing.

We think in these post-blue collar days that perhaps 40 hour week is a lie. After all, white collar work won’t kill you if you’re scattered or sleep deprived (I mean, who’s ever died because they didn’t strap in a saftey harness before working on a spreadsheet?)

But you can get brain-tired from too much creative work. And the idea of resting from work is ancient. Religious sabbaths existed to get adherents to stop working. Weekends exist because labor unions demanded workers spend time with their families or on leisure. Vacations exist so people can do something else besides obsess with work. Sabbaticals exist so brain workers can rotate their mental crops and try doing something else.

We can choose to work for better places where smart work is more important than time logged. It’s up to us to choose sustainable work over the lie that time is our enemy and can only become with crushing superhuman effort. And yes, not every company with a good culture survives, and a lot of places with terrible work cultures live on. But in a world where luck and smart work are as important as effort, supporting sane working cultures helps increase the odds the good cultures will survive — and transform.

It’s not worthwhile to work long hours on an ongoing basis — one study showed working more than 55 hours a week greatly increased health problems in workers. Choose to work smart, to focus on delivery on sane timescales, on regenerating your creativity. And choose work cultures that treat time not as a thing to be fought but as a constraint, a precious resource to be used wisely.