Clarify Part 2 (Producer Productivity Series – article 4)

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 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”

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 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.

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.)

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…