Does this seem familiar? Maybe it’s already become your philosophy. As I’m sure you’re aware this is an exceedingly common phenomena in professional media, and many other fields for that matter. I’m not interested in saying one approach is right and one is wrong, and know from experience where working through the weekend was positive and the right choice. But there comes a point where choice seems to disappear from the equation. And this happens for many.

The “no weekends” phenomena seems to unfold in stages. First, it may be “I’ve got to stand out, push harder, be the best.” Then later a shift, and it becomes reflective, like a voice saying “If I only worked harder I’d be able to go to the beach with Jenny.” Then over time, even this voice fades, and weekendlessness becomes or occurs as normal, really ordinary, and “How life is.” Still there are moments, when someone says something which reminds us of who (or where) we are, and we awaken. It has us look around, reflect and reassess our effectiveness in and enjoyment of our work lives. I have myself produced a dramatic shift in certain areas in the last two years, which came out some new personal practices, but only after a clear and thorough look at contributing factors and potential solutions to this experience.

There are five primary areas which I want to highlight for this article, though there may be others. I have selected these as I am writing primarily for media professionals, but this could apply to anyone.

  • Planning

This is big. A good plan is a framework for success on all levels. Well architect-ed and thought out, a good plan can affect just about everything positively.

Deadlines define the timeline in a plan and can determine whether or not you’re working this weekend. Deadlines usually come from a producer, EP, or CEO type – someone with profit and loss responsibility. This will vary by situation, but f you see something in the planning process of value, speak up. By sharing your experience (rather than your opinion) you can have an influence and contribute to effective planning.

Veteran Feature Film VFX Artist Billy Brooks, now VFX Director at Otoy (well-known for Octane Render) had this observation: “Sometimes it’s not your choice to work weekends. Many bigger companies require that you work weekends if they are behind schedule. So even these best practices may not be effective if you are not in control over your participation in a project. Sometimes it’s mandated by your employer in production.“

Chris Tomberlin of Outpost Pictures adds: “In my world, it often just comes down to poor planning – usually on the part of the agency or their client but sometimes it’s on me. Other times it is due to the inevitable software or hardware glitch that throws things off a day. That one makes having reliable gear very important.””

  • Your Work Habits

I put this above #3 because it is something you have a direct say in and can do something about. Here are the questions I think are helpful to answer:

  1. Are you focused? If not, why? What can you do about that? A big factor in this: Listening to that little voice – you know the one – that says “You should figure this out yourself

[you idiot]. You can ask for help – the internet is a treasure trove for this stuff, from everything Getting Things Done by David Allen, to the old school on paper Emergent Task Planner by David Seah, and many others. You can also ask yourself “Do I have ADD?” There are tests for this, and it isn’t the end of the world. I have it. So did Mozart and many, many other amazing people. So you can have a look, and look at doing something about it if need be. And no I am not equating my brilliance or creative capacity with Mozart’s. We’re just in the same paragraph.

  • Diet and Exercise. Enough said – but I’ll add something. You don’t have to be a triathlete. You do have to eat good food and get some exercise. Maybe you like the gym and 4-5 days a week, but you eat crap all day. Stop it. Start asking yourself “What does my body want right now?” And good brisk 30 minute walks 3 times a week will have your mind and body thankful for the care.
  • Sleep. So I already hear people saying “Sleep? SLEEP!!?? Totally overrated” Sleep is for wimps.” You know, maybe you’re not even verbalizing it – but this is exactly what you are thinking. Talk it over with a close friend, maybe your partner if you’re married, or a professional if you think you need to. Chris Tomberlin again: “More WORK does not equal more PRODUCTIVITY…. This one is a real problem in our business as there’s this perception that if you can’t pull week of 12-18 hr days you must not “have what it takes” or “want it bad enough”. Nonsense. Another angle on that one is that if you’re a freelancer or a small shop, you’re cheating your clients by coming into a job tired. They are paying for a creative, sharp, fast and talented “you”, not a grumpy, sluggish and tired you.” Don’t dismiss the value of sleep – it is deeply regenerative for mind, body and spirit in deep and ways you probably do think about or expect.
  • Emotional sobriety. Do you have resentments? Does it feel like you have three brain cells operative, and two are arguing? Do you have lots of “I hope that son-of-a … “ type thoughts? Or do you burn silently about 20 different things all the time, or live in constant fear? There are solutions (meditation is a great one, which helps focus, too). You can also take stock of these emotions and go over them with a professional therapist or counselor to address. Bottom line: being emotionally “sober” can have a huge, positive impact on your productivity.
    • Your Team

    This could actually go in #2, partly because if you have a team of 4+ members and more than 1 is dragging for whatever reason it can really impact productivity. If deadlines are being missed a good producer will suss this out and address it. A not so good one, this will may manifest as the Friday team meeting with the producer and “What kind of bagel do you you want Saturday morning?” question. If it’s just you or you and 1-2 others, it may mean skipping Jimmy’s soccer game. Something to free from regret: counting how many you have games you’ve missed so far this year, then acknowledging this and cleaning it up with Jimmy. It may not relieve you of guilt 100%, but it will give you some breathing room with it and a new perspective.

    • Your Hardware

    Yep. This matters. So you’re on a 2011 Mac Pro. Or Quad-core i7 PC of ANY year. These can be prescriptions for no weekend. The top Intel CPUs provide 100% greater processing power than models just 3 years ago. GPUs processing power has increased 200% in the same time period. What can you do? Start by listing your top 3 applications and percentage of time in each, roughly. Use a single 10-12 hour day for your framework, or week if better for you. Then calculate the time savings over a month if you have even 50% faster CPUs, or 100% faster GPUs if you are regularly in a GPU-accelerated workflow. You probably know by now that GPU acceleration in pro media applications is one of the hottest areas of development for all ISVs including Adobe and Autodesk for a simple reason: with a GPU you can have thousands of cores on the job vs. tens. Graphics cards like the GTX 980 Ti, Titan X, Quadro K5200 and Quadro M6000 can have a decisive impact on how fast your work gets done.

    GPUx - 4-x-Titan-X-24-SSD-mediaworkstations.net-644x420

    A 36 core Mediaworkstations.net GPUx with 4 x Titan X GPUs. It can be configured with up 7 Geforce, 8 Quadro or 8 Tesla GPUs.

    • The “X” Factor

    This may be the most potent factor of all. Inspiration is perhaps the most magical and sought after catalyst for productivity, but it can also come with commitment to a goal, a response to your current situation or a project which stands for some cause that’s important to you, or a single person for whom your are naturally called to be your best. Whatever the case, the “X” factor can carry you into performance realms you or others can’t really know. It is, in experience and often deed, transcendent. It is certainly not a requirement for good work and being productive, but it carries the possibility of lifting you out of your current operating plane, to an elevated one free of the normal conversations you have in your head and with others about you, your life, your work and others.

    Simon Sinkek’s TED talk (and book) Start with Why, with 23 miilions views, is a testament to the “X” factor, which he articulates as Why. Maybe can also look even closer to home – right where you are now – and ask “What gives me goosebumps?” There are ways we all as homo sapiens respond to stimuli which are indicators of what inspires us and will catalyze the “X” factor.

    The point? Take action. Take 30 minutes to assess your performance in each area, and list one thing you can do to improve it. Just one – simple is good. We all work in different ways, respond to the world in our own way, and carry stories with us from our past which impact our productivity and enjoyment of our work life. It must be that some of the great moments of satisfaction come when we transcend the conversations we’re in about our life, our work, and the tools we’re using, and be open to a clear and sober assessment of what works and what doesn’t. It’s the kind of work on work that can transform the way we relate to ourselves, our life and others.

    Christopher Johnson is the President of mediaworkstations.net.