Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mailbag: Time expands to meet its needs

Hey Grape,

I'm working my first job as a reporter and I think I've conquered all of my plateaus and walls, as well as my style. I've been here for about 10 months and feel more than ready for the next step. I have one problem that I'm afraid will set me back -- time management. I'm a one-man-band and I may be assigned 1-3 VoSots and one package a day but can't quite get it all done in time. I haven't had a problem with deadline for a while, but all of a sudden in the past couple weeks I'm just making it by the skin of my teeth or miss deadline by 2 minutes. I'm afraid this will really hold me back, and I don't want start the job hunt until I have this issue resolved (although it's tough not to look and dream about bigger markets!).

Do you have any tips, tricks, or time-saving advice that can help?

Well, this question jumps to the front of the line because we have just witnessed a great example of pushing the time envelope in Congress. Let's face it, if the drop dead date on the budget crisis was August 9th, we'd be watching them work till midnight tonight. If it was September 1st, they would have taken that long.

As a newsroom secretary once said of a reporter who always barely hit deadlines, "In his case, time expands to meet its needs." That means you'll take as long as you're allowed to do the required task. If you're given more time, you'll take more time.

Suppose you were headed out the door on your story tomorrow and the News Director said, "Hey, we're starting a four o'clock newscast today. I need your package for four instead of five." You'd get it done, right? Because time can also contract to meet its needs.

In my entire career I never, ever missed a deadline. One factor in this is I'm an extremely fast writer, and I'm able to write in my head. Another was that I could work on a package while the photog drove back to the station. Another factor was that I always had a photog who contributed both video and ideas.

Ah, but many of you don't have those luxuries anymore. You can still write in your head on the way back to the station, but you've gotta pay attention to your driving, so you really can't concentrate.

Back to the original question. How does a reporter manage time in a news business that demands multiple live shots, web updates and Twitter feeds?

The answer is that you have to backtime your day.

We've talked about backtiming before. It's an old term that originated in radio by which you could have a song end exactly at the top of the hour. You start where you want to end up and work backwards.

Okay, let's assume you have a five o'clock deadline. You've got a live shot, a package, a few vo/sots, and something to do with the website.

First, eliminate the biggest time waster of your day. Personal stuff. Phone calls, emails, Facebook garbage, etc. Do that stuff when you're done. It will still be there.

Now let's work backwards. And psychologically, you need to move up your deadlines. Set your mental clock ahead thirty minutes. And here are the deadlines you need to hit:

4:30 pm: You're at your live location, set up and ready to go. Rehearse what you're going to do with the photog. While waiting till five, go ahead and update your web stuff.

4:00 pm: Package in the can, vo/sots edited.

2:30-4:00 pm: You should be done shooting. Start writing and editing.

1:00-2:30 pm: Shoot the rest of your stuff.

12:00-1:00 pm: Lunch. Don't laugh, this is very doable. Even a half hour is doable. This gives you time to write in your head and think about where your story is going. Creative people can be just as productive while relaxing.... that's something management never seems to get. Our wheels are always turning.

10:00-10:30 am: Your story (at least part of it) should be set up and you should be out the door.

9:00 am: Morning meeting. Get your assignment and start setting up your story.

You can really save time by setting your stories up a day in advance, then you can hit the ground running when you get to the station. But it's really imperative that you eliminate all those little things that waste a minute here and there.

Planning your day like this also has another benefit... you'll be a lot less stressed.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


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