OmniFocus is generally considered the most powerful personal task manager on the Mac and iOS. Despite its bulky capture process and confusing projects types I want to give this venerable app the time it requires before passing judgment. I’m approaching OmniFocus as I would the new version of Avid Media Composer; writing it off too soon would say more about me as a user than the software itself.
I’m still struggling to create meaningful tags. Adding items without tags makes it difficult to use OmniFocus’s standout feature: Custom Perspectives. This block convinced me that I needed to expand my learning beyond the app developer’s resources.
I came across the recently published Build Your OmniFocus Workflow. This excellent book does a good job of explaining the software’s plethora of settings in the context of real world productivity workflows. But it’s also filled with advice that can be applied to any productivity methodology such as:
Write [titles] as though you were leaving instructions for someone else.
A good rule of thumb for creating actions is to remember that it’s an action. This implies that something is going to be done and as such the action title should begin with a verb (write, download, buy, make).
There’s also a category of task we all have: the one we will never complete. … With the last group of tasks I often try to make myself do two minutes of work on it, if after those two minutes I decide this task is still not important enough for me to complete it then it gets removed.
That last bit of advice “if after those two minutes I decide this task is still not important enough for me to complete it then it gets removed” has been a game changer for me. As I previously mentioned, I have about 2 – 4 projects that I can’t decide whether to quit or not. Instead of giving them up entirely I’ve broken them down into the smallest very next step I could complete and decided that if any of these zombie projects staled I would ok to finally give them up. Instead the opposite has happened, and like Lazarus these projects are newly revitalized!
Anyway, our journey into productivity will continue soon as we dig into Contexts and knowing which tasks to work on next.
Great event at Key Code Media Burbank last night. Avid gave a 30 minute presentation of the new Media Composer interface, Tridib Chakravarty of StorageDNA gave a (too brief) presentation on the different Nexis cloud storage options, and there was a brief panel about the ‘reality’ of reality television post production. You can watch a stream of the event with my thoughts below:
I’m excited to work with the new Media Composer interface. Full stop.
…but I firmly believe that Avid needs to open up the “.avb” Bin file format. The future of the NLE is extensibility. One look at Premiere’s integration with Frame.io or Transcriptive is enough to show you how far behind Avid Media Composer is. This gap is only going to accelerate as the practical application of AI/ML increases.
Even if Avid Technology opens Media Composer up, it could already be too little, too late. The editor who only edits is becoming rarer and rarer these days. The new generation of editors are fluent in the peripheral tools like Photoshop and After Effects. Adobe clearly has the advantage here with their Creative Cloud offering. Premiere is the Final Cut Pro 8 we wanted but never got. The financial equation is very much Adobe + Avid. So what is Avid really bringing to the table?
The storageDNA presentation was much too short, but clearly described the differences between all of Avid’s Nexis cloud offerings. Avid really needs to make this stuff clearer if they want to help migrate our workflows into the cloud.
Finally, the panel discussion evoked the following thought: scripted production is the triumph of production management, reality production is the triumph of post production management.
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:
understanding what is your responsibility and what needs to be delegated.
writing actionable next steps for the things that are your responsibility.
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.
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 a try!
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”
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 Interview Podcast”. (That last one is going to happen one day!)
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 the 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 later 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 reminded to followup and 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.
Clarifying your responsibilities requires you to see the forest (Your Projects and Areas of Responsibilities) and the trees (Actionable tasks for you and your team). In the next post we’ll dig into Contexts and knowing which tasks to work on next.
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 the clarifying stage because I suddenly realized that the person I was when I started practicing GTD didn’t resemble the person I am today. In the last three years I’ve become a husband and a father; my improved productivity has enabled me to take on more producing responsibilities and become a more efficient delegator. But even the best system has its limits.
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 father 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 refreshingly self-explanatory in my opinion. You can nest projects within these areas if you’d like.
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 you’re honest with yourself and thorough you will probably realize that some of the things occupying your mental space probably don’t fit into your life.
While working through Getting Things Done 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 need 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 re-implemented this methodology in my own life. Clarifying my responsibilities has been eye opening and challenging; and we’re just getting started. In the next post we’ll shift from Projects to Specific tasks.
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.