Deadlines are stressful. Here’s how to make them less so.
Everyone has felt the stress of a fast-approaching deadline. Maybe you’re a habitual procrastinator or maybe you took on more work than you could handle. No matter the reason, that stress is something everyone hopes to avoid whenever possible, so we’ve collected these seven tips to help you keep your projects on track and hopefully avoid the panic that sets in when you realize you need to deliver a video tomorrow.
Prevent last minute anxiety through good planning.
Overcoming the dread of a looming deadline starts with good planning. As soon as you know when your upcoming deadline is, start laying out a roadmap to the project’s completion. Breakdown the project into as many steps as you need to in order to make the task seem manageable.
Work backwards from your target completion date to set mini-deadlines to keep you on track as you move along.
Once you have your list of steps, try to estimate, as accurately as possible, how long each step will take. Work backwards from your target completion date to set mini-deadlines to keep you on track as you move along. Then, refer to this schedule often during production and post to make sure you’re adhering to this schedule.
Of course, things start to get more complicated as you add more projects — and more deadlines — to the mix.
Juggling Multiple Projects
You can use the same strategy outlined above to make a production schedule for your entire workload. Break each project into its component tasks and then work backwards from your deadlines to set target due dates for each step. The only difference when working with multiple projects is that you’ll have a lot more component tasks to account for.
When organizing your schedule, try to group similar tasks together as much as possible. If you need some nature B-roll for two different projects, schedule just one trip out your local park or forest. Shooting B-roll for both projects on the same trip will save you time in the long run — even when it means extending your trip by an hour or two.
A strategically planned production schedule will be enormously helpful in completing all of your projects on time without becoming overwhelmed by the numerous moving parts.
Time (Micro)Management Systems
Now that you’ve got the big picture laid out on a calendar, it’s time to buckle down and do the work. If you’re lucky, you’ve mastered the art of time management and focus and have no trouble staying on task and working as productively as possible. For the rest of us, we might need a little help in the form of a structured time management system.
There are lots established time management techniques, each with their own myriad variations — do some research and experimentation to find out which works best for your workflow. One popular option that you may have encountered is the Pomodoro method, which divides your working time into 25 minute chunks punctuated by five minute breaks. This might be an appealing method for editors having a hard time making progress on a project. Building breaks into your work time can help keep you motivated. You’ll need plenty of stamina to get through those long night of editing leading up to a tight deadline.
Keep Communication Open
All the planning and time management in the world won’t help if you’re waiting on someone else. Here’s where the importance of communication comes into play. Use your carefully planned calendar to anticipate what you’ll need when to be able to continue working. Then, start reminding your collaborators well in advance to help them get you that vital piece on time.
On the other hand, if you’re the one holding things up, be open and honest about what’s causing the delay and when you anticipate you’ll have what’s needed. Keeping a clear line of communication open at all times is sometimes all that’s needed to keep a project on track. If you need more time to produce a particular element, it’s better to let your client or collaborator know in advance so they can at least plan around the missing piece.
Make Do with What You Have
When all else fails and good communication isn’t enough to get the material you need to continue, it’s time to power through with what you have. Actor can’t make it to the shoot as scheduled? Think about what else you can do during that time to keep the project on track. Is there B-roll or product shots you can get instead? If you’re waiting for a graphic to come in from your designer, look ahead — maybe you can perfect your color grade while you wait.
Worse than waiting on other people is when you’re held up by your own mistakes. Say you missed an important shot while you were on location and now you don’t have time to go back and do a pick-up. Is there a shot from another section that could cover the gap? Or stock footage you could use instead?
Use Available Shortcuts
Speaking of stock footage, premade footage and motion graphics templates can save plenty of time to justify their added expense. If you need the project done yesterday, but you’re struggling with the opening titles, a customizable pre-built graphics package could be a lifesaver. Don’t be afraid to make use of all available shortcuts when you’re pressed for time.
You may feel like using a premade template is cheating, but professionals know that stock assets are a resource ready to be tapped when needed. Plus, if you don’t have a lot of experience with motion graphics to begin with, using a template may help you produce a more polished finished project on top of saving you time.
Finished, Not Perfect
We all want to do our best and present our best work, but when it comes down to it, finished is better than perfect. Perfection is an admirable goal, but in reality, nothing is ever really perfect. A high-quality product finished on time is more valuable than a perfect project delivered a week late. There will come a point in every project when it’s time to let go and move on to the next thing — hopefully, with some new knowledge and improved production scheduling abilities.
As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
Nicole works best under pressure. She’s also Videomaker’s Managing Editor.