What miniatures have taught me about pacing

Being obsessive, but over time

meta wargame

Like a lot of (or all? is this a defining trait?) geeks, I'm pretty obsessive by nature. I focus on things intensely, and work in sprints so I can concentrate my current obsession into productivity (by some definition of "productive"). I work in the tech industry, which also works in sprints, so I've luckily managed to [mostly] make my obssesive personality into a super power for myself. Similarly, I've found hobbies that hold up well to obsession but, as they say, sometimes when you look into the void, the void looks back at you. Much to my surprise, I've learned some new lessons about life from building and painting miniatures.

Epic scale sprints

When I have an idea, I usually focus all my efforts into making it happen. I do that until it's done, and then I wait for the next idea to come along. It's a variation on the work hard, play hard ideology, except it's more like a play hard, relax hard. When I follow through on a fun project idea, that's fun for me. Between projects, I relax. I might spend a few days reading a book, or playing a video game, or just sitting out on the porch thinking. Then I have a new idea, and I start the cycle again.

I enjoy this, so it's by no means a "vicious cycle" I'm trapped in, it's the system I've developed for my life and it works well for me. There are probably arguments that by focusing on exactly one thing, I'm "unhealthily" neglecting something else, but in my experience and for what I do both in my work life and hobby life, it all evens out in the end. There may be a scary week or two where there's apparently no progress being made on project Y because I'm obsessing over project X, but once project X is complete I'm sure to give just as much dedicated attention to project Y and get it done so I can move on to project Z. I'm not inflexible, and there are exceptions. Sometimes things have to happen in parallel, and I'm fully capable of doing that. All things being equal, though, I prefer to work in sprints.

And then I started building and painting miniatures.

When you're working on models, there's a lot of drying time involved. Glue, primer, paint. It all has to be applied, and then it has to dry. It's a sprinter's nightmare. Luckily, for wargaming you're often not just building one model, but an entire army. So you start with soldier 001, glue its torso onto its legs, and then move on to soldier 002, and so on until you reach soldier 032 or so. By that time, soldier 001 is ready for some arms, so you repeat the process in sequence.

However, the reality of miniature model armies is that there are a lot of them and each model takes time, and time adds up. In other words, there are only 24 hours in a day, and Rome wasn't built in 24 hours. That's not just a turn of phrase, but a relevant example, because it took me days and days to paint my Roman army.

It's been a novel experience for me to look at my gaming table and to see a half-complete army, and to consciously decide not to work on it because, for instance, it needs to dry or I'm just tired of sitting hunched over my workbench. Gradually, that aspect of the wargaming hobby has become a suprisingly comfortable ongoing activity.

But I don't have ongoing activities. I work in sprints!

Roundabout wargaming

Concurrent to my building and painting, I've also been playing wargames, because that's what you do with an army once it's done. I've gotten some small teams completed, so I've been playing scenarios with them by setting up a battlefield on the end of my desk and then playing one or two rounds each day. For a simple game, that might be 15 minutes of play, while for a complex game I'm still learning it might be an hour, but it's a reliable way to make progress at a game as a sort of ongoing activity.

And there's that term again: ongoing activity.

Ongoing activity

I did some research on this apparent disruption in the time continuum, and apparently the concept of an "ongoing activity" is a known phenomenon. It's like a sprint, but slowed down and extended over a long period of time. Or, seen a different way, it's a sort of drop-in sprint. You set a thing up on a table, and then you ignore it for most of the day. For an hour in the evening, though, you go over to it and work on it. And then you go back to ignoring it.

Much to my surprise, I've enjoyed my discovery of an ongoing activity. I've always loved the idea of having, for instance, a chess board set up over in a corner, like in the movies, making moves by saying "rook to king's knight" and things like that. For whatever reason, it never occurred to me to try it. But now I see how that can happen, and it's functionally what I have with my wargames. I don't think I'd care to try it outside of wargaming but as a way to integrate my hobby into my normal life, it works really well.

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