This One Thing Can Devour Your Creative Process

As the leader of a media strategy and production team, I have learned a lot about working with other creatives, as I have gone about the process of working with a number of them.

Ready to flex your brain muscles? I’ve got a riddle for you.

It’s based a classic, but I’ve given it a new twist.

This thing all things devour:
Creativity, Energy, Excitement;
Gnaws on passion, drains fulfillment;
Saps joy and grinds progress to a crawl;
Slays projects, ruins momentum;
And beats the fun out of all work.

Answers in? Okay, here it is:


Managing your time is one of the most important aspects  of a successful creative project.

I was in high school when I edited my first ever video project. I spent around 4ish hours on it, and by the time I was finished, I was tired of it and ready to move on!

I wondered, “How in the world do people sit down to edit an ENTIRE feature film!?”

Fast forward 15 years, and I have spent more than 7,000 hours editing and can focus for considerably longer.  I now often measure timelines in months instead of hours. However, I am still drained when a project drags on for longer than I expected.  

There’s one project in particular that comes to mind. It all started in October of last year. We knew it was going to be a big project, so we brought on contracts to help with the workload.  

Things were exciting as we made progress and started cranking out drafts of the videos.  But somewhere during the process the client stopped responding on time.

We ended up having to redo a bunch of animations because the right person wasn’t weighing in early enough.  We had a few other projects come up during this time and our client didn’t seem to have a very clear deadline.  Progress slowed to a crawl.

Finally, in May, we finally had some concrete deadlines and the client reengaged with the project.  But by this time, all of the excitement and energy I had back in October had completely drained out of me.  It took time and energy to reorient myself to the project and I forced myself to wrap things up, but I was miserable every step of the way.

This has happened countless times when a project takes way longer than it should, which made me realize...

The art of managing timelines is critical if you want to enjoy the creative process.

Looking back, there have been times where we established a timeline as an ideal, but it wasn’t thought through very carefully.  It’s easy to establish a timeline, but the hard part is knowing how to enforce it when delays start happening.

There have been times where we didn’t outline consequences for missed deadlines in a contract and a client would take three weeks to get back to me instead of two days.

I never felt comfortable telling a client, “I’m going to have to charge you more because you took a while to respond to my email.”  But that’s the view I have realized I need to start taking.

Producing creative work takes a combination of time and effort.  Spending 8 hours over two days is not the same as spending 8 hours over three months.  

By the time you refocus in on a project, and load your mental RAM with the content, you have already chewed up a bit of time.  

It is always nice having work that can be done with a flexible timeline, but I have realized an important rule: Make sure you know when you will finish a project, not just when you will start.

We recently produced a fun short piece titled “EXIT”, which you can see here on Vimeo, which you can check out below...

Logan had a cool idea that he wanted to shoot, so we decided that on Wednesday at 4pm we were going to travel to the MGM and film on location.  

The hard start motivated Logan to start planning a shot list.  We had a fun three hours of filming the project, and only got stopped by security guards once to ask what we were doing.  They graciously let us continue filming.

But then, most importantly, Logan was able to spend time the next several days working on the piece.  By the weekend he had a great draft and we were posting the video online a week after we starting filming!

Everyone enjoyed the process and we concentrated the right amount of energy and time in order to finish the project.

Several years ago I went on a birding trip to Costa Rica with Houghton College.  While I was there, I spend time enjoying nature and filming with my camera and drone.  It was a ton of fun. But I knew that if I didn’t complete the project by the time I got back to the US, I wouldn’t do it.  So every day while I was traveling I was editing the daily footage and I wrapped the video up on my flight from Costa Rica to Atlanta.

In contrast, I filmed a vlog style video in Sierra Leone, but didn’t have a set time to edit it.  10 months later (and after having paid several people to work on it during downtime), we finally wrapped it up.  

They did a good job editing it, but I know that it would have turned out better had someone tackled the video with more intensity.  For one, as the project changed hands, people had different ideas and the last person editing it hadn’t actually watched all of the footage.

So the question is: how do you set good timelines and stick to them?

The first step is to talk about your deadlines.  Make sure everyone involved in the process is ready to not only start with gusto, but has time to finish the project.  If you can’t start with the end in mind, consider holding off on your start. You will be glad you waited.

Clearly spell out your realistic timelines.  Allow yourself enough time to actually complete a task.  But then most importantly, clearly spell out what will happen if the timeline gets pushed back.

Whether you directly measure it or not, timelines that drag out cost resources, whether that’s time or money.  When managing a project there are two options: either I am going to cover the cost of a project taking longer than expected, or a client is.  

In general, I think the one who causes the delay should cover the cost.  But in order for a client to cover that cost, I need to clearly outline the deadlines and the consequences of missing them in a contract..  

It’s really uncomfortable if you need to convince someone halfway through a project that they should pay for something because they are being slow.  If they are behind on a project it’s probably because they are overwhelmed with other things and adding an unforeseen stresser of a higher cost certainly won’t help.  But if I have spelled things out beforehand in the contract, that is much easier to do.

Managing timelines, whether that’s for work, or for personal projects is important.  It’s not an easy skill to master and takes years to perfect.  However, if you can bring concentrated effort to a project over the right amount of time, everyone will enjoy the process more and your final product will be much better.

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