Capture (Producers Productivity Series)

One of the core tenets of GTD methodology is to stop wasting mental energy thinking about unnecessary tasks and Capture anything on your mind into a trusted system. While David Allen doesn’t prescribe any specific tool (he values pen and paper, just as much as an iPhone) it being 2019, most of us are going to be looking for an App. Therefore it’s impossible for me to talk about productivity without also writing about software. And those of us in Apple’s ecosystem have a bounty of excellent options. I’m going to talk about three: OmniFocus, Things 3, and Todoist.

Wait, but what about paper?

I’m glad you asked, because everyone who’s worked with me knows that my number one totally immutable rule is:

My primary requirement for my team is that they carry a notebook and pen at all times in the office. Too much gets thrown at us too quickly to rely solely on electronics. More often than not, on my way to the water cooler, I’ll be confronted by an editor who experienced a payroll problem, a producer who needs a multi-group looked into, and the E.P. telling me that a cut delivery is going to push. All of these items get written down in the notebook immediately, or otherwise they’d be forgotten.

What about Apple’s built in Reminders app?

Reminders is hugely popular because its free, works across all of your devices, and it’s fast. It’s also very popular with our group:

The problem with Apple’s built in app is that Reminders can’t create Projects. It lacks basic task management features like putting things on hold, creating or deferring dates, and has no ability to create contexts (We’ll dig into the contexts monster in a later post). Unfortunately, it’s not up to the task of a serious workflow.

#SpoilerAlert OmniFocus, Things 3, and Todoist.

Since this series isn’t meant to be primarily about software let’s just cut to the TL;DR chase and tell you what I think about these apps, so we can focus on the process.

  • OmniFocus is the most powerful app.
  • Things 3 is the most beautiful app.
  • Todoist is the triumph of function over form.

The Feel of the Speed of Thought

When a task that you might have to do comes to mind capturing it quickly is paramount. OmniFocus‘s power is its hindrance in this area. Yes, OmniFocus enables you to create defer dates or set an estimated duration, but look at all of those options:

I found myself spending way too much time thinking about the tasks, instead of getting it out of my mind.

Things 3 has a nifty “Magic Plus” button on its iOS app that looks and feels beautiful:

But its Todoist‘s natural language parsing that wins me over in regards to Capture. What that means is that if you type “Update the family budget Every Wednesday at 8 pm” Todoist is smart enough to create a new task titled “Update the family budget” with a deadline of 8 pm every Wednesday.

As a producer I find myself living and dying by the date of things. So being about type “Follow up with legal by Thursday morning” and having an event created with a 10 am deadline is just so fast. It makes working with OmniFocus and Things 3 feel primitive by comparison.

But wait you don’t use the ‘calendar‘ the GTD way!?

Yes, this is true. While not prescriptive in his recommendation of tools, David Allen takes a hard line approach to the calendar:

No More “Daily To-Do” Lists on the Calendar! … This might be heresy to past-century time-management training, which almost universally taught that the daily to-do list is key. But such lists embedded on a calendar don’t work, for two reasons. … Trying to keep a list on the calendar, which must then be reentered on another day if items don’t get done, is demoralizing and a waste of time. … Second, if there’s something on a daily to-do list that doesn’t absolutely have to get done that day, it will dilute the emphasis on the things that truly do. … The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all.

This makes sense logically, but as I mentioned in my last post, I’m having difficulties structuring my tasks around contexts other than due date. And I’d wager that most of you producers will feel the same way. The idea that certain apps are more oriented around your “day” was most full expressed on the r/productivity subreddit here:

I think OmniFocus is more useful than Things 3 if you’re set on doing GTD: … the way the app is structured you aren’t so much focused on your “day” but what items you have available to you to do. The custom “perspectives” you can use with the pro account is extremely useful for this: at work I use a perspective that narrows down to a work folder containing all work projects and that also only shows me items that I can do while literally at work.

Things 3 is more centered around what your “day” looks like, more like a traditional to do list app. You can star tasks or add dates for it to show up on your “today” list. It has tags that can be used like contexts, but using tags as contexts is a little difficult because it takes a few taps to narrow down to what you want. And since the focus of Things is working down a “Today” list you sort of end up not using Things [tags] the way it feels like its designed, going the GTD route.

Todoist is similar to Things 3 in this way. You create and work down a date based task list because it’s so easy to organize them on the calendar.

There is much more to productivity than efficient capture. Contexts and regular reviews are pretty critical too. But this exercise of working through the strengths and weaknesses of these different apps has made me realize my own over reliance on the calendar. Can I start to think about my work in non-time based ways? In the next post I’ll dig into my roles and responsibilities as a producer and consider how that might be affecting my workflow.

What the heck is GTD? (Producer Productivity Series)

As I mentioned in my last post, it seems like a lot of Producers don’t know about David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system for managing personal productivity, so that seems like a good place to start our journey.

The best way to think about GTD is as a decision making system for all of your tasks. The core components of the system are actually covered in the first three chapters of the book. The system emphasizes a few simple points:

– 2 minute rule: if you remember to do something and it takes you less than two minutes to do it, just go ahead and do it now.
– don’t keep “open loops”: if something’s on your mind write it down in a trusted repository so that it doesn’t float around your head and nag at you all of the time.
– review your lists regularly: then “do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it” otherwise you will lose faith in the system and it will never work.

Here is a handy flowchart that shows you the GTD ‘algorithm’:

By SageGreenRider – Own work, Public Domain,

I read David Allen’s book about four years ago and when I put his methodology into practice I immediately saw my own productivity double or triple. In addition, I felt less reactive and more in control of my day. Having more control of my work also increased my job satisfaction and reduced a significant amount of stress and anxiety. This is no small achievement. As a Post Producer it often feels like I spend all of my time fighting fires. Anything that gives me the ability to be proactive is a gift. So what’s changed that I no longer feel as effective as I did just a few months ago?

My role. I’m not the same Producer I used to be. Having more control over my environment means I’ve been entrusted with responsibilities that previously weren’t in my purview. My increased efficiency has also enabled me to undertake projects outside of work. Therefore, one of my first stops on this journey is going to be reevaluating my commitments and defining my desired outcomes in each area.

My goals. As people evolve, it is only natural for their goals to change too. Recently my goals have developed from being the best producer I can be, into sharing what I know with my peers and helping the whole industry be better. This evolution means I need to be mindful of my output as well as my intake.

My tools. I used to work exclusively on my MacBook Pro and iPhone, but last year I was given a top-of-the-line iMac at work. Between the enormous 27″ 5K screen and screaming performance the iMac is my primary computing device (Well maybe second after my iPhone). But using the work iMac means that I’m not able to use apps from the App Store and sync with iCloud, such as Things 3 and Bear (We’ll dive deep into software in a future post).

My contexts. In GTD terminology a context is “either the tool or the location or the situation needed to complete” the task. For example: a context called “Avid” which would allow you to toggle tasks that require Media Composer. The idea being that if you’re not in front of an Avid, and you can’t complete certain tasks, then there is no point considering the task. The problem I think I’m having is that most of my tasks are calendar (i.e. need to be done at a specific time) or ‘Waiting For‘ (i.e. deferred to someone else and my task to check-in with them sometime in the future). Thanks to the power of the iPhone I’m able to get so much work done wherever I’m standing, the boundaries of my tools erode more and more every single day.

This contexts category is real nitty-gritty GTD stuff that we’ll dig into later in the series. Espcially as we look at the extremely power app OmniFocus. In the meantime, the next post will start to dig into the my capture process in greater detail.

Introduction to: Producer Productivity Series

I consider myself a highly effective person. I’m a GTD adherent. I practice Inbox Zero. I manage multiple projects efficiently and without much stress. But over the last few months I’ve noticed an inefficiency creep into my productivity; a friction where there used to be none. 

Productivity experts define friction as an inefficiency in knowing what you should be working on. Wasting valuable mental energy figuring out what work you should be doing, instead of actually doing the work. Some people have said that in the in 21st century, under a constant barrage of information, knowing what to do is the work

Alternatively, if you find yourself reacting to things all. of. the. time. Then your personal productivity system could probably use a tune-up (or overhaul) as well.

I’ve decided to completely review my personal productivity system and I’m taking you along for the ride. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing a series of posts around productivity. Many will be more like journal entries as I describe my thoughts about my work, my professional aspirations, and how I’m managing these areas of responsibility.

I recently posted a three question survey to my peers about task management and none had heard of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) so we’re going to start there. If you haven’t read Allen’s book I highly recommend it because Allen’s work is simple and foundational. If you start now, you’ll be poised to understand the concepts I intend to touch on in more detail.

In the next post we’ll dive into personal productivity systems and the GTD methodology.

NAB 2019 Wrap up

Oliver Peters wrote the NAB wrap up I wanted to write. I completely agree with his assessment of this year’s show overall:

This year the NAB Show seemed to emphasize its roots – the “B” in National Association of Broadcasters. Gone or barely visible were the fads of past years, such as stereoscopic 3D, 360-degree video, virtual/augmented reality, drones, etc. Not that these are gone – merely that they have refocused on the smaller segment of marketshare that reflects reality. There’s not much point in promoting stereo 3D at NAB if most of the industry goes ‘meh’.

Like Peters, I was also very impressed with Cinamaker and hope to use their product for one of my upcoming presentations. I think they need to offer a turnkey kit that includes everything (tripods, cables, travel case, etc) to further simplify the process. But they were definitely one of my favorite booths this year.

I was also impressed by how far all of the cloud service providers have come. Make no mistake, the future of collaboration is going to be software run in the cloud. I think the biggest short coming is that these services don’t know how to speak to Producers. It’s great that Sony Animations is partnering with Google Cloud Platform, but as an independent producer I’m used to working with a post house and saying, “I need five edit bays for six weeks.” None of the cloud providers I spoke with understood that … by a mile. I think the next step for these companies is going to be some User Research into this area.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The Birds of a Feather ACES 2.0 event was aces all around.
  • My thoughts about Avid’s huge changes to Media Composer remain the same since my “Opening Salvo” live post.
  • Resolve 16 looks sweet but that keyboard…

look at the data — but not too much

Great interview with AMC’s Josh Sapan at Recode about the benefits and limitations of using data in the creative process:

This mirrors what I’ve been saying about using data to inform the creative process, not decide. Too bad we don’t have the tools we need yet.

Further reading: