Indie filmmaking is a unique challenge in time management, as an unpaid second job with thousands of moving parts and far too few coworkers sharing the burden. This article will hopefully serve as a way of alleviating some of that burden to help you manage your precious free time more efficiently.
Appoint an app. Figure out what progress-tracking method works best for you and your team, then insist on it, because half of the time wasted during pre-production is figuring out where everyone else is on their tasks. I use Google Drive and tell collaborators to
strikethrough or check off to do list items in a shared document, but there are millions of options out there.
Filmmakers Arthur Vincie (@avincie) and Sarah Hawkins (@Sarah_Hawkins) (of Three Trembling Cities and Or Die Trying, respectively) suggest Todoist, a website/app where you can organize and share custody of digital to-do lists that alert collaborators when a task has been checked off. I’ve also used Trello before, a site which allows you to assign tasks to different team members which can then be moved around to different progress categories- in progress, in review, completed, etc.
The important thing is that you find a system and stick to it, so you’re not wasting time on fifteen websites and texting everyone involved to keep track of everything.
Everything in email. Stop doing major pre-production work in Facebook chat or text and start transitioning your whole team into using email, similarly to keeping your team on a particular app or organizational website. That way, if you’re at work or in class and can’t respond right away, you can star or flag the email to check later. You can’t as easily archive and organize random text or IM conversations.
Bonus tip- if you’re using Gmail (and probably other email systems), you can star things different colors on the desktop site, adding a whole new level of organization. Yellow for low priority, blue for high priority, red for evergreen posts (like passwords to social media accounts, team schedules, and more), etc. I use this system to differentiate between Stareable emails and my project emails, so when I go back through my starred category, it’s easy to see what needs doing for my both jobs, separately.
Mail merge. When sending out press release emails or any other announcement that requires you to send a single message to more than ten people, it can be tempting to throw everyone into a BCC and just send one message to everyone at once. However, this is incredibly impersonal and will often yield fewer responses overall (not to mention less favorable responses) than if you took the time to email everyone individually.
Enter: mail merge, a tool that allows you to easily mass-send emails with a click of a button yet still make each recipient think they’ve been emailed personally. I prefer the Google Drive add-on, since I work mostly out of Gmail/Google Drive anyways. It’s incredibly simple to use and saves time while also giving you insight into which email addresses have opened your message or clicked on a link! That kind of data will allow you to refine which people are worth reaching out to in the future without having to keep track yourself.
Most email clients and word processors have their own mail merge function, so figure out which works best with your existing workflow.
“Take a day off (maybe two) to sit down with a spreadsheet and a notepad to estimate how much time you spend doing anything in a given week. If you can see what one week of your life looks like, broken down into how many hours go towards which things, then you can start to think about why that is, and start to get a handle on where you can make more time, change your priorities, etc. It helps you ask important questions and see what your creative goals will really cost you, in terms of the parts of your life you’ll never get back.”
This makes your commitments concrete and allows you to trim or redistribute depending on the needs of your day job and your creative efforts.
I would also add to this a categorization for what hours of your day you can be doing more than one thing. For instance, if you know you have an hour’s public transit commute, what can you do with that time? If you’re an actor, practice lines. If you’re a producer, draft emails on your phone or tablet. If you’re a director, mark up your script and start brainstorming a shot list. Don’t overload yourself, but be mindful of the potential of every part of your day.
Structured sprints. When you have a billion things to do and you’re exhausted after a full day of work or classes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and do nothing at all. Been there, bought a condo. One way to alleviate this mindset is to do structured, scheduled sprints of work, sticking to a predetermined timeline so there’s always a light at the end of the workload tunnel. If you’d like to prioritize more specifically, for instance by doing 30 minutes of social media planning, 30 minutes of writing, and 30 minutes of catching up on emails, that’s up to you. The point is to set boundaries for yourself in order to maximize your efficiency.
Sitting down and saying “I have to finish all of this work as soon as possible” is not only an unkind thing to do to yourself, but it’s also far less efficient than sitting down and saying “for the next two hours, I’m going to do X.” And when those two hours are up, stop working. Trust me- it’s not going anywhere, and burning out makes time management impossible.
Set reasonable deadlines. When I say “reasonable,” I mean deadlines that a human being can meet, not deadlines that would make The Flash sweat. It’s easy to get swept up in the magic of being an auteur, impressing friends, family, colleagues, and loved ones alike with your epic productivity. But if it’s not sustainable, it’s not real, so cut it out. Setting deadlines that align with your time budget and your actual human limits will not only give you benchmarks to stay on track with your goals, but it’ll also ensure that you don’t waste time having those pesky mental breakdowns from being overworked. The only thing more unproductive than a mental breakdown is the depression-spiral of guilt you experience after blowing past a deadline you shouldn’t have set in the first place.
Take breaks. Maintaining a creative project in addition to a 9-5 or school is all-consuming, but the best advice I can give you about time management is to know when to call it a night. You’re not doing yourself any favors working while exhausted and strung out on a frankly life-threatening cocktail of coffee, Red Bull, and anxiety. Set yourself up for success by being realistic about your own limits, and stop looking to others, be them friends or celebrities, for models of how much you should be able to do in a single day. Everyone has a different work style, and none is better or worse than the other as long as work is getting done. So give it a break, read a book, and get some rest. Those spreadsheets will still be there in the morning.