Not everyone is constantly balancing a blistering amount of creative projects at any one given time, like I tend to. That said, knowing time management, not only at the micro level but the macro level, is a fantastic tool for moving forward on projects without losing track of work you’ve tossed on the back burner.
Keep It Organised: At the moment, I have 32 project folders, all with documentation about a different creative project. How do I keep myself sane and balanced? Those folders are sorted by when I plan on working actively on them, allowing me to focus on my current projects while being able to easily flip through, and arrange, my plans for other upcoming time periods. Because it’s folders, it’s easy to shift folders from one section to another as I revise my plans for the next few months based on opportunities and creative energies.
Normally I sort said folders as seasons. For example, my focus between now and the end of November is my Fall 2012 Projects folder, with 13 project folders inside it. I don’t expect to finish all thirteen projects by end of season, but I’m working on all of them at the moment, even if its only the occasional brainstorming session to flesh out an outline. They’re at various stages of development, from basic pitch documents, to in-progress outlines and scripts, to finished scripts currently in production and largely out of my hands. I probably make some degree of progress on 4-5 in a given week, though only one or two will seriously move foreward, given my chances to sit down and write. As projects are finished, either scripts placed in the portfolio or filmed scripts completing production, I shift them into my Completed Projects folder, though occasionally projects return to my active folders for edits. And once the season is complete, I go through my folders and retitle them to push the seasons forward – last time Summer 2012 Projects became Fall 2012 Projects, and Fall 2012 Projects became 2013 Projects.
Be Realistic: I try to be honest with myself when planning for the future. If I’m not actively moving forward on a project, I have to decide whether it’s something I’ll work on in a few months, or the season after that, etc. I’m concerned about the long game, and I’m not worried about putting off a project if I feel it’s the right thing to do. Projects often take a year or more to get from idea to completed script, not because I’m a slow worker, but because so much of it depends on timing and time organisation. I’ll keep an idea on the back burner for months until the time is right. For example, an idea I’ve had for two years are longer is still in the works; I wrote a pilot in the winter of 2010/2011, reworked the outline and wrote half in summer 2011, and only got back to finish the first draft this month. The script has followed me the entire time, demanding attention, but this was my first opportunity to give it. And now the pilot is coming together nicely for a portfolio piece.
Let Some Projects Die: I have folders for Completed Projects, Stasis Projects (for projects that have some creative spark but that I’m still not 100% sold on) and Inactive Projects, for projects I’ve decided won’t be moving forward. There’s some chance a ‘dead’ project will come back to life, but most times they just hop back into activity for a month or two before going back in the drawer. Despite giving chances to dead projects to try again, I’ve developed the ability to drop an idea or a script if it just isn’t working and move on. You have to be able to say goodbye to projects that won’t work, even ones that ache to leave behind. Having that dead projects folder, and flirting with reviving them every six months, might be a good way to keep the wound from hurting too badly.
Get It Done: Obviously, this whole system is moot if you don’t get work done. Decide how many projects is right for you to have on your plate at any given time, and figure out which projects those will be. Myself, I’ve got 13 projects technically on the go, which feels right for me; they’re all at different stages, so no matter what I’m feeling like, I have something to work on. Of those 13 I’ve got 3 features, 5 dramatic pilots, 1 dramatic spec, 1 short film, and 3 dramatic webseries. And they’re at different stages too, to keep variety cooking: 2 projects in production that I largely don’t touch, 2 ‘complete’ portfolio pieces needing edits, 1 complete script in midst of rewrites, 4 in the middle of first draft and 4 on their way to a completed outline. This means that I can pick out any given flavour depending on my mood. This is important, because I’m just as likely to feel like working at a specific stage of a project – rewrites, pages, outline – as I am to be picky about genre or format. The list of candidates to work on is different depending on if I want to open Final Draft or work on an outline. This allows me to be flexible and work on whatever project I really feel like working on, allowing me to constantly be pushing forward on something. Of course, what works for me won’t work for everyone. The most important thing, though, is do the work. Finish projects, no matter what. A system that helps you do that is a good system. A system that doesn’t, isn’t a good system. That simple.
How do you organise your projects? Does it work for you?