6 Ways for Sound Pros to Get Things Done


courtesy Jeremy Brooks

In the last month I’ve been writing about productivity and sound effects pros. Why?

Well, I’ve been getting more done lately. I’ve been working differently. It’s been a surprising revelation. It made me wonder: what if we all had more time to record sound fx instead of sitting behind desks wading through admin?

There’d likely be more field recording blogs created and more meaningful sound effects gathered and shared.

So, here’s the idea: productivity is tough for sound pros. As creative people, we’re often caught between the practical side of getting things done and expressing creativity.

I believe getting work done for sound pros is a mix of focus and action. These ideas aren’t new, but the way sound pros resolve them is unique.

Last week I mentioned six tricks to use focus to avoid distractions. This week I’ll share some tricks I use to help with action.

They actually help me get more done than I should be entitled.

Like I mentioned last week, these tips work for me. Use them to generate your own ideas so you can create and share more inspiring sound fx.

  1. Batching
  2. courtesy abolotnov

    Batching is completing similar tasks at once. How does this help field recordists and editors?

    A sound pro is creative in ways that are actually quite different from each other.

    When field recording you must be aware, interpret, adapt and express your ideas well. You also are performing physically.

    When mastering or editing, analytical and problem-solving skills in an isolated environment are important.

    Just getting into the sweet spot recording ambiences when you’re called to attend a playback?

    It’s jarring switching between these very different ways of working. Instead, maintain similar tasks to help your technique become refined.

    With creative work it’s even more important. Ideas may feel like they simply appear. The truth is they evolve subconsciously. Spending more, uninterrupted time indulging in creativity will allow your ideas to flourish.

    Creativity isn’t a science. You can’t schedule it. But when you’re in the zone, embrace it and let it evolve.

    I do all my mastering at once. I usually write articles over a few days without other work in between.

    Other ideas? Want more high-quality sound clips? Batch them. Rent six cars and record them during an uninterrupted week. Navigating complex vehicle recording sessions will quickly become second-nature. This allows you to focus on recording creatively instead.

    Communication is similar. A small idea: let all phone messages go to voicemail, or email collect in your inbox, then answer them all at once. Read other ideas about filtering and batching communication.

    Batching is helpful for technical, methodical tasks. It’s like the assembly line for sound pros. Do similar work at once when you’re in that mind set. You’ll get more done.

  3. Using efficiency tricks
  4. courtesy dlofink

    Time is finite. Waiting and poor technology drain this precious time away.

    Efficiency solves these problems. Efficiency saves time so you get more done. That’s not a new idea. But how does it help sound pros?

    Sound work is interesting because we express creativity with complex equipment and software.

    In a way, this is a gift. We have opportunities to bend these tools to do more work and be creative instead of slaving away pressing buttons and moving levers.

    How do you do this? Use automation whenever possible. I already wrote how Gmail filters automate communication. Other ideas:

    • Use macros. Macros repeat elaborate, multi-step computer actions with one keystroke. Launch your favourite suite of apps when your computer starts. Open scores of plug ins and change settings with one button. Transform typed abbreviations into long strings of text.
      I use Startly’s QuicKeys to import files onto airbornesound.com, switch between plug in suites, bounce tracks, format metadata and more. This app alone has saved me six months of manual labour (well, computer labour). Similar apps are TextExpander and Spark.
    • Launch applications are macros for programs, browsers and files. LaunchBar and Quicksilver are popular on the Mac. Launchy is an option for Windows.
    • Use Google Voice to transcribe voicemail to text so you can streamline communication.
    • Use Hootsuite to schedule tweets.
    • Use WordPress plugins to update your Facebook status or Tweets.
    • Use thoughtfully-made gear and software. Choose tools that help you work swiftly and transparently. Avoiding cumbersome operating systems and apps frees you to get meaningful work done. This is why I like minimalist field recording: less time fussing with gear, more time experiencing sound.

    The point of all of this? Use efficient apps, software and gear to offload admin and simplify convoluted processes. You’ll get more done and have abundant mental space for creativity.

  5. Disengaging
  6. courtesy aspheric lens

    Everyone I know in sound has worked inhuman hours to complete a gig. Audio schedules are often collateral damage of last-minute broadcast deadlines or game release dates conjured by the marketing team.

    Sound professionals are creators, not factory workers. Some facilities where I’ve worked think differently and want editors to perform like drones. Not a good idea. Why?

    Studies show that productivity drops after a certain amount of hours are worked. An article in Inc. elaborates. A study shows that:

    …the “sweet spot” is 40 hours a week – and that, while adding another 20 hours provides a minor increase in productivity, that increase only lasts for three to four weeks, and then turns negative.

    Also, it’s especially important for creative professionals to take breaks. This may seem counterintuitive. We were talking about action, right? How do you get things done if you take breaks?

    Well, this step isn’t so much about getting things done as it is about refreshing creativity. That’s essential for sound pros. If you work unrelentingly you clutter your mind.

    Take a step back. Time adds perspective. It will help ideas percolate and new concepts develop.

    How do you disengage? That’s up to you. It should be something different, though. Engage your mind in a new way. Doing anything physically or mentally different helps. Work out. Play sports. Speak with someone with different views. Indulge in art. Get out of the edit suite and work in a cafe.

    A different environment is refreshing and helps you work better when you return. Breaking for moderate amounts of time rekindles creativity, motivation and effectiveness.

    Read more ways to recharge your creativity here.

  7. Using pomodoros
  8. courtesy epsos de

    Many productivity gurus swear by the Pomodoro Technique. This idea is similar to disengaging with a more focused perspective.

    In the late 1980’s author Francesco Cirillo suggested a technique of working in fixed intervals, regardless of the task. The technique suggests you work in 25 minute intervals (termed “pomodoros,” the Italian word for tomatoes), then break for five. Every four pomodoros you take a longer 15-20 minute break.

    The effect? Your focus and action is enforced in small, manageable chunks of time, paired with a reward principle: a five minute break. The idea is that getting work done seems less of an endless slog.

    Whether you adopt exactly 25 minute pomodoros or not, the idea itself is valuable. One way I do this is that I limit how much I cut. On my first pass mastering sound clips I trim, edit, normalize and name the regions. But that’s it. I walk away and don’t return to the work for a couple of days. When I cut again I have fresh ears and a new perspective. I make better judgements on the work.

    You may think it’s not hard to work for 25 solid minutes. You’re right. But the idea isn’t how long you work, it’s the time you commit to refreshing.

  9. Following the steps

  10. David Allen, author of the seminal book Getting Things Done, has a rule I like: immediately complete any task shorter than two minutes.

    The idea is that finishing these things instantly liberates mental space and simplifies tasks lists, regardless of other priorities. It’s especially useful with email.

    Getting Things Done popularized the idea of breaking jobs into lists of ‘next possible actions.’ He believed these lists freed the mind from remembering and allowed one to concentrate on the work instead.

    The book is dated by its methodology but the principle is sound: list then diligently finish each step.

    When Sound Ideas hired me to record sound effects across Europe for four months they only did one thing: sign the cheques. I was responsible for everything else: booking flights, hotels, scheduling and travelling as well as researching good, distinctive sound in twenty cities I’d never visited. It was incredibly complex, interlocking project to plan in advance. At first it seemed overwhelming. Then I broke the trip down by country, city, flight and culture. It became far easier.

    I owe much to Mr. Allen. The book’s advice has been the biggest factor helping complete large, complex tasks.

    By describing every step, no matter how small, a huge task becomes manageable.

  11. Doing incremental work
  12. courtesy A Magil

    I’ve written earlier about the problem of perfection when field recording sound effects.

    It’s the same with other work. Ever have sound design ‘writer’s block?’ Can’t pull anything novel from your suite of plug ins? Bored with the way they sound?

    I know the feeling. Often I struggle starting articles. To get around this I do incremental work. I write only the introduction, then return and complete other sections later.

    Field recording is hard work. It often seems like a lot of effort to get geared up, trundle around searching for ideal sound fx and then wait for a quiet time to record them. Break it down instead. Research on the Web. Set aside a day only to scout. Then, once you’re prepared and are feeling creative, strike.

    The idea is this: getting anything done, no matter how small, is better than waiting for perfection.

    If you wait for perfection work won’t get done. Aim for excellence. Just make sure you get started. Begin any way possible then work toward your creative destination. Refine and polish throughout.

    As sound pros we’re lucky that much of our work is digital. In the digital realm, nothing is undoable.

Productivity and field recording

Productivity for sound pros is difficult, yet absolutely critical. They have three unique challenges to productivity: the nature of sound, the reliance on creativity and the methodology that sound pros are forced to use.

To get around this, we can use focus tricks:

  1. Choosing viciously narrow goals
  2. Pruning
  3. Smothering intrusions
  4. Embracing rhythms
  5. Crafting tasks lists
  6. Tricking yourself with rewards

…and action tricks.

  1. Batching
  2. Using efficiency tricks
  3. Disengaging
  4. Using pomodoros
  5. Following the steps
  6. Doing incremental work

Use these tricks, or variations of your own to write about field recording, gather more sound effects and share clips with others. We all need you to create more inspiring sound!

Start small and build.

Me, I’m currently using them to fight the biggest threat on my time: the temptation to watch Euro 2012.

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