Clarify Part 2 (Producer Productivity Series)

If you’re anything like me, you probably find yourself taking on a lot of responsibilities. It’s part of being a Producer. The combination of starry-eyed dreamer and super ambitious administrator. Therefore one of the most important parts of implementing a personal productivity system is taking the time to figure out your areas of responsibility and projects. You can’t really be productive until you know what you’re saying “Yes” to.

After you’ve captured everything on your mind into your productivity inbox, the next step of GTD is to clarify what all of the “things” mean. Producers can think of Clarifying as three components:

  1. understanding what is your responsibility and what needs to be delegated.
  2. writing actionable next steps for the things that are your responsibility.
  3. creating reliable nudges for your delegated tasks.

One: Roles, Responsibilities, and Delegation

You’d think it would be fairly straightforward to know what is your responsibility and what is someone else’s responsibility. But our industry notoriously lacks standardization. Therefore every show requires a little bit of ‘reinventing the wheel’.

Effective productivity requires clear boundaries and that’s why I spend a lot of time with my team at the beginning of every shows discussing roles and responsibilities. Make sure everyone on your team has a clear understanding of their responsibilities. An added benefit of taking the time in the beginning is that people will spend less time ‘searching’ for the right person (“Who handles the music cue sheets?” “Who sends audio out for transcription?”) when things get busy and time can least be spared.

As a recent example: on my current show both the Production team and Post Production team order expendables from the same vendor in Burbank. The Line Producer will approve all of the invoices created by the Production Team and I’ll approve all of the invoices created by Post. What inevitability happens is that production wraps and a silly $10 dollar invoice will slip through the cracks, and I’ll have to handle it. It’s not a big deal, but I just have to make sure that I remember to keep in mind that after production wraps an unfamiliar invoice will probably cross my desk that I’ll have to research and approve.

If you want to ‘Productivity Together’ then Todoist is worth a try.

Todoist has a leg up on the competition when it comes to delegation because it has collaboration built it. If your production springs for the business plans, Todoist enables you to create tasks that can be assigned to other people. I’ve used similar systems in the past with mixed results, but your results may vary so give it shot!

Two: Writing Effective Next Steps

“Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined”

David Allen

Once you’ve divided tasks into your tasks and delegated tasks, it’s time to think about what you’re doing. If your lists are anything like mine they’re filled with incomplete thoughts like “Update Driver’s License” and “Create Gallery of my Sketches”, or the deeply unhelpful “Producer Podcast”.

A good productivity system is one that propels action! And all of your tasks need to be actionable. Before I can “Update my Driver’s License” I need to: gather all of the necessary paperwork, find the location of the nearest DMV, and find a day when I can be out of the office for most of the morning. The process of breaking down your goal (“Update my Driver’s License”) into discrete actionable tasks is a practice. And I was surprised to see how much of my productivity inbox was unactionable.

The more I practice writing actionable next steps. The more fun it becomes. I keep thinking about them as story beats of the screenplay that is my life.

Three: Creating Reliable Nudges

If you’ve delegated a task to someone else, you have to remember to followup. (“Did my coordinator get that release form?” “Did the legal team review that contract?”) A key component of delegation is creating a reliable method of nudging yourself and your delegee. And this is where all of the softwares goes to die 😦

Except Gmail! Google recently implemented a snooze feature into its email clients and I think it is the least worst option. I feel this way because my primary method of delegating tasks is via email anyway. When I need to get something done, I send an email; and followup with a phone call or in-person conversation. But email almost always because CYA.

After I send an email I’ll snooze it for two or three days, or when I want to be reminded to followup. Then at the predetermined time in the future, the email will pop up in my inbox and I’ll be prompted to nudge. It’s not a perfect system, because now my tasks are split between my email client and task manager. But it’s the best method that I’ve found so far.

Clarify Part 1 (Producer Productivity Series)

After you’ve captured everything on your mind, the next step of GTD is to clarify all of the “things” in your productivity inbox. If you try to tackle as much as I do (Of course you do, that’s why you’re reading my post!!) this is much harder than it seems because clarifying requires you to have a grasp of your responsibilities.

This series was coming along swimmingly until I reread what David Allen had to say about clarifying because suddenly I realized that the person I was when I started practicing GTD didn’t resemble the person I am today. In the last three I’ve become a husband and a father; my improved productivity has enabled me to take on more responsibilities and become a more efficient delegator. But even the best system has its limits.

Projects ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Let’s just get this out of the way, I don’t like David Allen’s definition of a project; and I think OmniFocus errors by following GTD methodology here. Things 3’s application of “Areas of Responsibility” is the more sensible decision, but we’ll get there.

David Allen defines a project as: Any multi-step outcome that can be completed within one year.

At first glance this seems innocent enough. That screenplay you’re writing: project. Gathering your S-Corp receipts and filing your taxes: project. Even your current show is just one giant multifaceted project.

But I’m a dad and I often have things that I need to do for my daughter, and I HOPE that the gig will last much more than one year. Being a father is on-going job. But at the same time, I need a place for my fathering tasks to live.

If you use OmniFocus you’re SOL. Ok, not really. OmniFocus has different project types, but I find them deeply unhelpful…

I mean really? It took me a while to realize that the areas of my life that didn’t feel like projects (Family Life, Self-care, Career) were considered Single Action projects in OmniFocus.

Things 3 has projects, but also has the organizational concept of “Areas of Responsibility” which is refreshing self-explanatory in my opinion. You can nest projects within these areas if you’d like too.

Learning to say, “No”.

Implementing a personal productivity system requires you to take a long hard look at all of your temporary and continuing commitments. Some of these commitments will end and you’ll call them projects. Others will be ongoing and you’ll call them “areas of responsibility” (or Single Action Projects). But whatever you call these commitments, if your thorough you’ll probably realize that some of the things occupying your mental space probably don’t fit into your life.

While working through GTD Chapters 2 & 6 I had to admit a hard truth to myself: I needed to let go of at least two projects. And if I’m honest with myself, two more are hanging by a thread. I needed to cull the herd so my other projects can flourish. It’s been emotional.

When I set out to write this series, I envisioned rereading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and sharing my experience of working through how I’ve implemented this methodology in my own life. Clarifying my responsibilities has been eye opening and challenging; and we’re just getting started.

The Soul of Nonlinear Editing

I keep thinking about Tom Ohanian’s series on the State of Digital Nonlinear Editing. Specifically these paragraphs in Part 10:

Content that is recorded will then be processed by a variety of AI application suites. Each suite will provide different functionality (e.g. tonal analysis, speech-to-text, etc.) based on the characteristics of the content. … Very rich, detailed, and comprehensive metadata about that content will result without the large number of humans currently associated with these tasks.

At that point, the user will be presented with the text associated with the content. Each word, with exact reference to its precise positioning within the data stream, will be indexed. Manipulation of text (e.g. cut, copy, paste), will, in effect, be the method of editing that content. Picture and sound will follow along. [Emphasis mine]

Readers of my blog know that I think machine learning is going to revolutionize the edit suite; mainly by reducing the need for Assistant Editors to perform ‘mechanical’ tasks like Ingesting, Sync-ing, and Grouping. But I don’t agree with Ohanian here. And I think his point of view, that editing is basically mechanical, represents one of the problems we face when trying to discuss the future of nonlinear editing.

Editing is a visceral experience. Full stop.

Editing will never be as easy as cutting and pasting text because what’s being said is often secondary to how something’s said. Think about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. You could read transcripts all day long, but his anger is what left its lasting impact.

The primacy of subtext is applicable to all genres of editing, from the biggest tentpole blockbuster to most corporate HR training video. Anyone who’s listened to multiple reads of Voice Over will know firsthand that the same words spoken differently feel very different each and every time. What makes every editor unique is how these subtle differences inform their creative process.

The source/record metaphor is probably a dated way to interact with audio/video media; and smarter tools that assist the editor in finding and selecting media are needed. But I think “Marking IN and Marking OUT to create edit points” is going to be with us for a while because Marking IN and Marking OUT is editing. The problem isn’t the model, it’s that we need to expand our definition of literacy to include video.

What the Roman Empire taught me about the importance of Diversity! (review)

I love learning about ancient history. So I am delighted to recommend Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete’s The Great Courses on audible: Rise of Rome and From Augustus to the Fall of Rome. But what truly surprised me about Dr. Aldrete’s thoughtful lecture series were what they taught me about the importance of diversity in today’s society.

It’s easy to think that we know so much about Roman History because so much of its history survives in the written form. From Julius Caesar’s account of the Gallic Wars, to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (a favorite of leaders from Churchill to Bill Clinton); it seems like every word Cicero uttered was written down, and even Rome’s poets like Ovid influence our ideas about art today.

Featured image by Mauricio Artieda on Unsplash.

But in reality our knowledge of the Roman Empire is limited to the extremely narrow focus of (1) Roman Citizens, who were (2) wealthy, (3) political active, and (4) men. A group that represented less than one half of one percent of the most diverse Empire of its time.

During his lectures, Dr. Aldrete brilliantly uses the few sources we have – tomb stones, graffiti preserved at Pompeii, letters from a Legionary found in Egypt – to try and tell us the stories of the rest of Rome’s citizenry. And through his grasping we feel the true tragedy of that lost knowledge.

Marble portrait bust of the emperor Gaius, known as Caligula, A.D. 37–41 Roman, Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian Marble; H. 20 in. (50.8 cm) length 7 1/16 in. (18 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.37) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/248851

It is easy to be cynical about Vice Presidents for Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives. And we are right to be cynical! (I’ll let a much smarter man, David Foster Wallace, explain) But it’s a start; and if humanity makes it to the year 3,000, or 4,000, or beyond, it would be a real tragedy to deny future generations humanity’s collective perspectives. I’d even argue that the only way we’re going to make it there is by including everyone’s diverse points-of-view.

Recorder. A perfect Machine Learning use case.

Atlas Obscura and the New Yorker report on a new documentary about a remarkable woman, Marion Stokes, who recorded 70,000 (!!) hours of television on VHS tapes from 1975 until 2012.

Marion Stokes was secretly recording television twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It started in 1979 with the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Marion passed away. In between, Marion recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, and commercials that tell us who we were, and show how television shaped the world of today. 

From the documentary’s website “RECORDER: The Marion Stokes Project”.

The 70,000 VHS tapes are currently awaiting digitization by the Internet Archive to be made available to the public. But these tapes also represent the ideal use case for Machine Learning technology like Google Vision to make it all searchable.

This also clearly demonstrates the need for a new editing metaphor, something like Tom Ohanian wrote about on his excellent State of Digital Nonlinear Editing series on LinkedIn.

Because a massive amount of people can read. And if they interact with content not first and foremost via video and audio, but with words, manipulation of content becomes really easy and very accessible. And it will / should work along these lines: Content that is recorded will then be processed by a variety of AI application suites. Each suite will provide different functionality (e.g. tonal analysis, speech-to-text, etc.) based on the characteristics of the content. When a live or recorded stream of content is digitized, it will be subjected to a variety of these suites.


At that point, the user will be presented with the text associated with the content. Each word, with exact reference to its precise positioning within the data stream, will be indexed. Manipulation of text (e.g. cut, copy, paste), will, in effect, be the method of editing that content. Picture and sound will follow along.

Tom Ohanian’s State of Digital Nonlinear Editing and Digital Media 10

(Note: Linkedin’s poor formatting makes these articles more difficult to read than necessary, but stick with it, his series is very insightful and thought provoking.)