Phillip Luther’s Frontend Developer Experience Blog

Find More Free Time With This Dungeons & Dragons Mechanic

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Life is busy. Free time comes in few-and-far-between spurts. I stole a trick from D&D to optimize my free time. It's worked well and I'd like to share it.

Unlike a particular 70s progressive synth-rock band, I do not have Too Much Time on My Hands. I face the opposite problem. I’m too busy.

Most of us are too busy. Free time is hard to find between work, school, kids, relationships, and all the trappings of modern life.

Good D&D groups are hard to find, too.

That’s a segue.

I want to mention Dungeons & Dragons because it has a mechanic called “readied actions.” For the last 8-ish years, since my first kid was born, I’ve applied this readied action mechanic in real life to make the most of those unexpected bursts of free time.

I want to share it.

Also, Styx rocks.

What’s a Readied Action?

In Dungeons & Dragons, a readied action is just what it sounds like. Your character is literally ready to take action. It’s a reaction to a trigger. It has two parts:

  1. A set of circumstances, and
  2. What you’ll do if those circumstances happen.

”If anything comes through that door, I’ll fire an arrow at it” is a classic example.

The reaction is instant. Setting up a readied action takes your turn, too, so it’s an action unto itself. It’s effortful. That’s important for the metaphor.

For deeper detail on readied actions, check out the basic D&D rules.

Using Readied Actions to Optimize Free Time

Life’s rife with semi-predictable circumstances. I have a slew of things I wanna do, too, so I’m constantly readying actions.

”If this meeting ends early, I’m making a coffee run."

"If my kid goes down for a nap, I’m writing a blog post."

"If I can’t shut my brain up at night and fall asleep, I’m catching up on Succession.”

I’ll ready actions in bulk, too, to have a few contingencies. That’s against D&D rules. As a real boy, though, I am not bound by the rules of D&D. I can’t sling spells and don’t roll dice to hide. So yeah, I ready multiple actions.

I keep a few key considerations in mind when readying.

Be Specific When Creating Your Readied Action

I get specific with my readied actions. “Watch the next episode of Squid Game” is a good action. “Watch Netflix” is a bad one. If I don’t have a particular show and episode defined, I’ll burn all my free time trying to find something from that godforsaken sea of tiles.

Practice Durational Awareness

I’ll ready actions for varying time durations. What I can do in an impromptu 10 minutes differs significantly from what I can do over a lunch hour.

I usually queue things up for a quick 10-minute break, an hour, and a block of hours. Those are my temporal sweet spots. Your mileage may vary.

Ready Your Readied Actions

I always have one action for creating more readied actions. Just like in D&D, creating a readied action is an action. If the day’s particularly kind with tiny slices of free time and I burn through my list, I’ll use a readied action to create more readied actions.

Readied action inception.

The Real Trick? There’s No Real Trick

There’s no real trick to readied actions. The metaphor would’ve worked with IFTTT integrations or webhooks or any of a million other cause-and-effect sequences.

Having a plan is the crucial bit. It doesn’t have to be grand; mini-plans are good, too. When faced with an unexpected pop of free time, I don’t have to ask, “What am I going to do?” I can spring into instant action.

”What am I going to do?” carries tremendous mental overhead. It’s a question that is too open with too many inputs to answer quickly. How much time? Work or leisure? What’s available? If I don’t have an action readied, I’ll waste my free time thinking about how to use it. Callback to the Netflix sea of endless tiles.

I bet many of us are doing this, if not deliberately. Try it deliberately. “When [some set of criteria] is met, I’ll [some specific action].”

Lemme know if it helps or makes you feel silly.

I’ll have actions readied for either response.