How to Maximize Your Time and Productivity as a Filmmaker
These tools can help you dramatically increase your filmmaking productivity and achieve more than you ever thought possible.
Much has been written about utilizing your time to the best of your ability, and I’ve tried most of it. So, I thought it’d be helpful to go over the things that have stuck with me, allowing me to run a production company and make over 200 YouTube videos — over the last two years.
Start with Where You Are
It’s hard to increase your productivity if you don’t know how productive (or unproductive) you currently are. So, for a week, just keep track of what you get done and how long it takes you, without changing your behavior. This will not only give you a baseline to start improving from, in accordance with Pearson’s Law, it will probably help you get more done straight away. Things to track include hours worked; tasks completed; and time spent planning, cleaning, or traveling.
If you’re a high-functioning person who just can’t help but do something, estimate the time you think tasks will take against time they actually take. If nothing else, you’ll gain some self-awareness.
Knowing how long things take can be a procrastination buster, all on its own. I used to hate setting up my YouTube recording lights and would put it off until last minute. Then, one day, I measured it. It took, on average, seven and a half minutes. After that, it didn’t seem like such a chore.
Find Your Golden Hour and Make It Shine.
Everyone has times of the day when they’re most productive. For me, it’s between 10:00 AM and noon, right after I’ve had my coffee. This time is gold to me, and I want to spend it doing my most creative, most challenging tasks. Don’t let your peak time of productivity get hijacked by other people’s needs or demands. Don’t major in the minors. Spend those hours as you would your most precious resource, because they are.
Leave the Shallows — Work Deep
This brings us to the next productivity tip that pretty much everyone agrees on. You can’t get anything of substance done while you’re multitasking, checking your phone every thirty seconds, or having to deal with everyone else’s requests.
Cal Newport wrote a book titled Deep Work. In it, he talks about how uninterrupted, focused work is necessary to achieve great things — and how turning off the internet and diving headlong into a task can unstick the most difficult creative blocks.
The Pomodoro Technique, named after the ubiquitous kitchen timers that existed before cell phones, is the easiest, most consistent way I’ve found to achieve focused work. You set a defined period, say fifteen minutes, and dive into the task at-hand until the timer goes off. You then take a five minute break where you take a quick walk, or do something to reset yourself, then go back into work for another fifteen minutes. At the end of the day, you record how many sessions you were able to do. As your brain gets better at this discipline, you can increase the focused time.
I love this because, even if the work doesn’t turn out as well as you had hoped, you get a sense of achievement because you were able to do some focused work, training your brain away from constant distraction. You build the distraction into your work so it doesn’t become a liability. I personally like to use the breaks to tidy up and clean my work space. I find that if I start another work task, it distracts from the distraction.
Once you’ve made improvements to how you work, it’s natural to look for a better way to decide what you should be doing.
David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is a great system for organizing your tasks and outcomes (though Allen himself says it’s nothing new). His main point is that the root cause of procrastination is a lack of clarity on the next task necessary to complete a goal. And, if we spend some time disengaged from our work to look at the big picture, we can work backwards from our desired outcome toward the individual steps that need to happen.
This kind of thinking is critical on any complex, multilevel undertaking — like a film project. Unless you can get outside of the rush and see the big picture, it’s easy to spend days chasing your tail.
Things don’t change overnight, but I’ve found that working in a more focused, sensible way has helped me immensely as a filmmaker.
Cover image via De Repente.
Looking for more ways to improve your filmmaking? Check out these articles.