Survival tips for facing long hours and huge workloads

It’s coming up to busy times again, so my entry this time is to do with that. During these busy times, I’d come across situations where I’d have way too many things to do, way too many computers running different things and projects, and not a hell of a lot of time to get it done.

There is something thrilling about these work-packed times. I know I’m getting my endurance and skills tested in many ways. And although I’m used to it (and I must add that I enjoy it too despite the stress), there are several rules I set for myself in order to get through it in one piece. Please keep in mind that I work in an office environment instead of freelancing.

So here are my survival tips for facing the ungodly work hours and work load based on my own experience:

1. Prioritize

This is important. If you need to, have a big calendar on your wall, mark it with deadlines. I aim to deliver a semi-final version (usually it ends up as the final version anyway) of the work early so I have time to fine tune if needed.

I prioritize by the deadline date first, then the type of work (animated/basic edit/etc), what is the final product and how it is being delivered (it’s important not to forget some authoring time for dvd, and some postage if item needs to be sent away, or some upload time if it’s being delivered digitally).

2. Create workflow

I tend to work on several things at once, and it can get rather confusing at times. I’d work on the project that would need most processing the most, because while that project is rendering, I can then work on the other projects. If that doesnt work, then I’d work from the most simplest to the most complicated. There are times when it seems to be more appealing to work on the hardest first and leave the simple ones til later, but having done it myself, I’d rather get the simple ones out of the way so I can concentrate on the rest. But there are exceptions, these are times when I just have to listen to my muse and work on things while I’m in the groove, because that groove can make a huge difference in how the final product would look.

3. Take a break

Feel like you need a break? Then do. No matter what others may think as you take a walk in the sun in the middle of a work hour, but if you’re having a creative block, take a break and do what you need to do to unblock it, or even when you feel fatigue settling in, take a wee break and freshen up. Get a coffee, or whatever that you’d normally do. If anyone complain, point out to them that they let smokers have their smoke break, this is less frequent than those smoke breaks (I used to be a smoker).

4. Share the love

Delegate work to another person (if available). In my situation, there are times when there are so much work on that I have to sing out to let people know that they are not possible to be done in time. There may be times when you’d need to remind others of what you can and can’t do with the allocated amount of times using the gear you have. In this case, I’d offload some work to another branch if they can fit it in, and/or communicate it with the managers and/or find an alternative. There is nothing worse than biting more than you can chew, because in the end it’s not just you who’d get your name tainted if you don’t deliver, but it’s also who you represent.

5. Create back ups!

For the love of God, please back up your work!!! I learned this almost the hard way when there was a power surge and somehow the UPS didn’t kick in or did its job properly (I didn’t understand what happened), but I lost a huge chunk of (at that time) current working files (in my case these are PremierePro/After Effects/Photoshop project files) on a high profile video job. It was on a final stage, and luckily I backed up the latest video export and earlier version of the working file (not ideal since I’ve done a lot more since then, but better than nothing), and managed to deliver as scheduled. Another time was when a jeep crashed into our office big window and sent a printer flying through the window between reception and my office, and landed on my desk, between my two machines. My friend who was at reception and I got out of the way and we only got a few scratches from broken glass, thankfully. That time I didn’t lose files and if I did, I had backups, so what I’m saying is, prepare for the unexpected no matter how bizzare it may be, and back up your work. I make a habit of backing up my working files at the end of the day, either to another hard drive or to a cloud storage. I get a lot of practice in backing up my work as I became more experienced in doing the 48 Hours Filmmaking Competition.

6. Ask for extension if needed

There are occasions when I have to ask for extension, because I came across unexpected problems I couldn’t fix, or something else, but whatever it is, I’d inform the manager responsible for that job that there are complication and that I’d need more time, because the sooner you ask for extension the better.

7. Re-fuel

Food: A lot of times I forgot to eat while I’m working… Yeah, it’s common to postpone food while working, and next thing you know you’re having breakfast at dinner time. I try very hard to avoid this, because my brain and body need the nutrition that the food will give me, so… even if you’d have to have it late, EAT.

Drinks: I personally don’t drink coffee or energy drinks even when I do long hours or the 48 Hours Filmmaking Competition – I used to though, and I found that the crash made me feel worse than before I drank them. How did I survive? I drank lots of water, lots of fruit juice and I had plenty of fruits. They are amazingly effective in giving me the refreshing push I needed. The point is, keep yourself hydrated.

8. Prep

I work on live events situations (I create contents for shows), and part of my job is to occasionally work on live shows. It’s a good thing I have OCD and a perfectionist, because I tend to over-prepare for these times. I carry my show files on a disc, I’d carry back ups on a USB stick and have another copy on Dropbox. I’d mark my scripts, colour code it if I need to. Over time I learn some MC’s tendencies, and know (if I’ve worked with them in previous shows) who tend to go off script. Usually I’d tab my script on each section for this case, so it’s easy to find my way around and put up the correct visual content on screen when the MC goes off script. This resulted in my script being so colourful, but it makes it easier during show when if something goes wrong I’d only have minutes if not seconds to fix the problem, or make changes during show.

The point is to prep as much as possible so the job can be done with ease.

9. Protect your station

In an office environment, I’ve had some occasions when someone else jumped on my machine to do something, not realizing what they did disrupted the rendering process (despite the fact there was the rendering process bar staring right back at them). So I’d password lock my computers and left a big note on the keyboards telling them to bugger off because the machines are working.

On another note, protect your machine against viruses. Always scan USB sticks and portable hard drive before accessing it, and perform a virus scan regularly. In conference situations, I hold the fort for incoming presenters with presentations to load, and that means I don’t just check their presentations, fix problems and load them to the correct rooms, I also I create a safety net by scanning all devices that come to me so viruses do not spread.

10. Have a “me” time

Others may say put work first, but I’d say put your well-being first as much as you can. Because if you’re not well, you cant do the job properly. I go to the gym, I exercise at home, and I go to training to de-stress and have fun, it’s my self maintenance, something I require in order to function properly. I understand and accept that sometimes I can’t make it to these things because I need to do work (especially when there are shows), and sometimes it’s because there are so much work to be done prior to the show, and these are the times when I’d put work first to some extent. But there are times when I have to draw the line and go to training anyway (not when there is a show going on that I need to be on, obviously) because if I don’t, I’d burn out, so know your limit. Balance between work and play is needed. Just remember that you work to live, not live to work.

11. If you’re sick, stay home

You’re not doing anyone a favour by coming into work while you’re sick. You may think you’re being a martyr, sacrificing your health to do work, but in truth, you’re spreading the sickness to everyone else in the office, and during busy period, this is a problem. On top of making everyone else sick, you’re also straining yourself and not getting proper rest, so you are delaying your own recovery and you’re less efficient in doing your work in these condition!

12. SLEEP

Seriously, get some sleep! Working while sleep deprived is not helping anyone. Yes, I found it very hard to abide to this rule myself, but I try to get as much sleep as I can whenever possible. Lack of sleep also weaken your immune system and make you prone to sickness… that and you’d look rough, which is not a good look when dealing with clients.

13. Be Nice

You’re not the only one doing the ungodly hours of work, so don’t act like you are the only one doing so much work and being sleep deprived. True, the type of work required may be different, and other’s standard of long hours/heavy workload may be different than yours, especially if it’s a different type of job, but chances are, other people are putting as much work as you are without your knowledge – at their own standard – and in need of sleep and rest as much as you do too. So hearing someone complain or pointing out that they have been working oh so hard, implying that you haven’t worked as hard is unpleasant to say the least. Advice? I’d ignore them because who has time for a pissing contest when there are work to be done, really?

It is highly possible to have conflicts with others during these highly stressful times, and let me tell you, I’m patient when dealing with this, because I believe in Karma, but there were times when people really test my threshold. So as a rule of thumb, be nice. Treat others as you would treat yourself (c’mon, I shouldn’t need to say this, it is common sense).

14. Give credit where the credit is due

Sometimes things are so hectic that you’d need to share parts of your work with others before you put it all together as one complete project. So don’t claim that you did it all. It was a team effort, thank those who help you, because they’ve set aside time to help you out so you can finish the project. This is very important because who knows, one day you may need their help again, or maybe you’d be in their shoes and helping them out instead. How would you feel if you help them out and they don’t show appreciation or give you credit?

15. Treat yourself

I got myself a treat once I’ve achieved substantial progress in my projects. Doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a drink, could be chocolates, could be clothing or DVD or gadget, anything… The point is, reward yourself. It would give yourself motivations and a sense of satisfaction.

16. Take negative feedback gracefully

So your clients don’t like your work, one that you’ve put your heart and soul into it. Yes, that hurts, I know how it feels, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not good. Often it just means that you’ve miss the mark and not produce something that they’re looking for. So get out of that little sorrow hole of yours and get back onto the drawing board, there’s no time to sulk because you have plenty of work to do. Take the feedback, take more notes on what they’re looking for and do it again. You can file the rejected design for another project in the future.

17. Last but not least: Grow thick skin

It’s nothing personal, seriously, swearing is an everyday and normal thing around this kind of work. Don’t get easily offended. As long as the person is not swearing at you, you shouldn’t get up in arms about it.

Out of everything, I find that food and sleep shouldn’t be the ones to be sacrificed, because I need them to function. So when I pushed myself hard, I may have postponed meals by an hour or two, had less sleep than usual, but I know my limit. In the end you just have to do the best you can in the time you were given.

It’s actually everything you already know. Common sense is the word. Unfortunately stress can impair one’s judgements. So take care of yourself :)

UPDATE: perhaps I should have mentioned that I am lucky that my partner is in the same industry and understands the workload, and do similar if not more hours (but different type of work). I’m too used to people knowing what my partner does and don’t ask me how we handle each other’s hours that I seem to forget to metion that these long hours and stresssful times can put a strain to personal relationships, and it could be a very tough situation to be in.

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