Lessons on productivity, creativity and work from Beat Saber
I made it to Expert on a few levels on Beat Saber this week. As I reflected on how I got here, I realised how much I can put into practice at work too.
Laser focus is critical, especially as the task gets more complex. Any distraction, no matter how small, always snowballs into something bigger and I fail the level. The physical stuff — a cat walks in the room, I tread on yesterday’s socks — is annoying, but not fatal. I’ll go from x8 to x2 perhaps. But the mental stuff — a worry, an idea — is all-too-often devastating. I was x8 and suddenly I’m missing blocks and I’ve failed, again.
I’m learning to put aside the thoughts that creep in while I play. It’s tough for me to ignore even the most minor interruption. I get distracted so easily. But I now see the negative effect it has on the task in hand, and so by consciously trying to prevent it, I’m nailing the Expert level more often than not.
I’m holding things a little more lightly — and taking in the bigger picture.. For the first few months of Beat Saber, I’d stare hard at the arrows to make sure my arms were primed to move in the right direction. I assumed deep concentration and focus on the detail was the right move. But, while this tactic had got me past Easy to “Hard” on a few songs, it never helped me go further.
So I tried focusing less on the details, trying to take in the whole scene rather than individual blocks. Rather than seeing “red block, down”, I’d see “four red blocks, three blue blocks, with multiple directions”. I started to trust that my subconscious would make sure my arms were in the right place at the right time. And it did.
I stopped biting off more than I could chew. When faced between a big challenge and a bigger challenge, I’ll always take the latter. Always have been. The minute I nailed a few Easy levels, I moved to Hard level. The minute I nailed a few Hard levels, I moved to Expert. But the last jump didn’t work. On Expert I failed after 15–30 seconds every time. And I almost quit the game.
Until I found practice mode, where you can slow the speed down. I tried 70% — and bossed that pretty easily. 80% was easy too — 85% felt like a challenge, but do-able. And I stayed here for a few days til I was completing the level every time. I’m now at 90%, and failing every other go. But I know with practice I’ll make it.
I’m hacking it to make it more interesting. Ultimately, I’m playing music and rhythm games on my Oculus to stay as active as possible, and 30 minutes on Beat Saber (or FitXR or Synth Riders) is far better than 30 minutes watching TV. The novelty of these games was enough to keep me engaged for the first couple of months. But as time went on, I’d find myself less excited about strapping on the headset. So I started orchestrating it for myself. I caved in and bought the Linkin Park bolt-on for Beat Saber. I’ll probably cave again soon and buy the Green Day one too. Because having music I love makes it 10x more sticky for me. I’ve started adding challenges too. Sometimes I’ll whack the heating up higher to make it Hot Beat Saber. Sometimes I’ll play with 2kg wrist weights too. Even at 85% speed, completing Expert with my made-up challenges feels like a bigger accomplishment.
Writing this all down was an act of selfishness. I wanted to understand what I’d learnt because I had a hunch that the natural tendencies I’d had to overcome in Beat Saber were the things blocking me from progress in work and life too. Now I read this all back, of course that’s true. Limiting distraction, not getting blocked by the details, trusting my subconscious, making tasks more engaging and not taking on too much — they’re all things I know I should do, but all-too-often forget.
Fortunately, I’m getting better at doing this in Beat Saber, and I’m progressing up the levels. And, brilliantly, there’s an unexpected side effect too.
When the music is on, when my brain is being tricked by VR into thinking blocks really are flying at my head, and my arms are flailing everywhere to defend myself, I’m deeply focused on the present and in a gorgeous state of flow. My natural through-timer tendencies — to spend more time thinking about the past or future rather than truly being in the present — are slipping away, allowing space for novelty and creativity. Annoyingly (for my Beat Saber progress) and wonderfully (for work progress), this is when some of my best ideas for work and life have slipped into my mind. So I’m now in the habit of pausing after every level — about every four minutes — and jotted down anything on my phone for later.
This piece was one of those ideas, and my hope is that it gets me back into a hobby I love but have lost over the last few years — writing.