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What I Learned in 2013: “I Had to Become More Efficient Creatively” What I Learned in 2013: “I Had to Become More Efficient Creatively”

What I Learned in 2013: “I Had to Become More Efficient Creatively”

by Tiffany Shlain

December 26, 2013

“When the door opens, go in.” - African proverb

I was working happily on a new film with my team and out of the blue I received a call from AOL to do a new original series of films.

I said, thank you, I would love to, but my plate is very full. I also had never made films for other people or companies. I was skeptical. I had heard countless stories over the years of filmmakers who have had their vision changed, trampled on, truncated by “notes” from layers of executives. No thank you.

However, the offer kept getting better and better… complete creative control, whatever I was interested in, being part of a new era and platform of making and distributing films in a new way.

In my 20s, time was endless and I was immortal. But; I am married now and have children and didn’t want to work more hours. I had spent the last four years really focusing to maintain a schedule to create films but also spend more time with my families, unplug on Saturdays (for our technology shabbats), get more sleep, exercise, and enjoy life. I value these changes. 

I talked to my family, I talked to my team, I talked to my mentors….I will never forget one conversation with a mentor  who said, “You always want elevate the conversation. Go out there and elevate it to a bigger audience!!”

So if I wasn’t going to work more, I had to scale and become a lot more efficient creatively. 

I needed to set boundaries so I wouldn’t become mentally, physically, and emotionally depleted. I bought books about artists and writers creative rituals and organizing time. I tried to think of my creative time like an athlete -- to put more out, you need to take more in (more sleep, more rejuvenation). And which hours would I be most creative in? And which hours would I need to be most with my family? How could I work more but not during the hours I am with my children.

I also realized that scaling wasn’t just about bringing on more people. It was about finding partners that truly compliment my team’s skills.  I called a filmmaker, who I had great respect for who ran a production company in SF….and after a request that sounded like one to be in a relationship... they were in. 

Here was the scaling strategy:

  • I awoke 2 hours before my children at 5am when I was fresh, and when I could still resist the Facebook, Twitter, and email bombardment to work on scripts.

  • I put a firm block in my calendar for creative time with my team from 9am - noon (no calls, no emails, no interruptions) and blocked off family time with the kids 3 - 6pm, 3 days a week (no calls, no emails, no interruptions). 

  • I put an auto-responder on my email that let people know I was very behind in email and focusing on a film series and my family, and how to reach me if it was a time-sensitive matter. 

  • We researched tons of productivity tools to manage so many moving parts and settled on the cloud-based Asana. (Highly recommend it.)

  • My team worked late at least one day a week (more during crunch time) so that we would always unplug Friday afternoon and take the weekend off. 

  • We made sure everyone (from my team and our partnering teams) focused on the skills they were best at so that we could maximize both time and creativity. 

Now this isn’t to paint a picture where we had the most perfect production for 5 months. We’re making movies, which are messy, with moments of darkness, breakthroughs, laughing until you cry, and edit sessions that run past 2 am. But all-in-all, it was perhaps the most prolific period of creativity I have ever had and the most fun. 

So this year I learned, in a new way, when a door opens, check out the door, ask the people you trust to help you access what’s on the other side, then, if all that checks out, you walk through it.

  This piece is part of a series sponsored by The GAP in which members of the 2013 GOOD 100 share important lessons they learned this past calendar year. Subscribe today to GOOD Magazine and receive the 2014 GOOD 100 edition this coming Spring.
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