Q It Up: These days, it seems we are all being asked to do more in the same amount of time. The last thing you need is wasted time. What are some of the biggest or most common time wasters you’ve experienced in your work environment (answering Q It Up questions does not count!), and how have you dealt with them? What are some of the little and not so little ways you manage your time at work so you can get home in time for dinner?
Mike Johnson [mike[at]dakotabroadcasting.com] Dakota Broadcasting, Aberdeen, South Dakota: Being in a small market, I hold many titles in addition to Production Director, so I don’t have 8 hours a day to work on production… most days it’s about two hours.
Still, in the past three years, I have turned out an average of 1500 to 2000 spots a year, so using my available time efficiently is very important.
Since my current operation was a start-up company, I had the privilege of building the Production Department from the ground up. This gave me the opportunity to address any frustrations I had ever suffered as a Producer.
Such as: Time wasted producing un-approved copy. Time wasted waiting to get into a studio. Time wasted searching through book after book of CDs to find a music bed or effect. Time wasted explaining to the Client why they can’t use that Stones song in their spot. Time wasted on spec spots because some advertisers think small market radio production sucks, or all sounds alike, and they want to hear the spot before it airs to make sure they like it.
Addressing these time-vampires really boiled down to a few simple steps. Two really: #1 use rules. #2 use technology.
Commercial copy is written by the ARs, who undergo copywriting training. The time-saving measure is that they approve copy with the client before it is turned in to production. (Ever had to re-cut a spot because one line or one word was incorrect?)
All production carries at least 48 hours turn-around. This gives Production staff time to turn out some great sounding spots, while still leaving us headroom to address the last-minute stuff that pops up day-to-day. ‘Production Procedure’ rules and guidelines are provided to the Sales Staff, punctuated with: “when in doubt, ask Mike.” In this age of email and text messaging, asking the correct way to proceed with a project is almost always immediately answered.
We subscribe to music and sound effect libraries that are online, and searchable by category, genre, description, duration and other criteria. Audition the clip with one mouse click. If you like it, a second mouse click opens it into your session!
Finally, every Producer’s office computer is equipped with our editing software. Mine is on my lap-top. So, after a spot is voiced and the track is saved, I can produce virtually anywhere, at any time without having to wait for a turn in a studio. I can’t stress enough the cost-effectiveness of this measure! I have the ability to record and save voice tracks to my computer, then pack the computer up, go do a remote, or venture out to the transmitter site for maintenance, go home and start dinner, and then open the computer and finish up or even work ahead on tomorrow’s production while dinner is cooking! Just a couple of years ago, I would often miss dinner with my family due to the time I had to waste ‘waiting my turn’ in a hallway outside of a production studio just to get the ‘tomorrow’ spots in!
And finally, all of my ARs possess a 2 ½ minute production demo highlighting our production quality and styles. This has greatly reduced the number of specs that are requested by potential clients who really just want an idea of what we can do.
(Yes Ed Thompson.. Spec Spots DO Suck!)
Gary Michaels [michaels[at]wkoa.com], WASK Radio Group, Lafayette, Indiana: My biggest time wasters are spot revisions... revisions... revisions. It’s hard to keep those to a minimum when I’m always training new sales reps who are too anxious to please the client. I’ve actually heard them say, “Here’s the spot our production guys did for you. If you want anything at all changed just let us know and they’ll be glad to redo it... no problem”. This just sets the client up for an instant revision request... guaranteed. The trick is to try to train the reps to really talk up the spots and simply ask the client to verify that the necessary info is correct. For many of our sales reps, this job is their first in the field and they’re eager to super-please the client. They have to learn to enthusiastically sell our spots and trust their production people to deliver a consistently great product.
Chris Atkins [catkins[at]5starradio.com], 5 Star Radio Group, Clarksville, Tennessee: Boy, I am glad you through this in there as this month’s Q It Up question, with 15 sales reps, and a limited number of staff these days. The Biggest Timewaster I feel is sales reps with 3 to 5 revisions of 1 spot, when if they would’ve clarified the info the first time we wouldn’t be producing again and again.
I can understand a revision, but doing 3 to 5 revisions because of simple things like the wrong address was missed in the first two spots or something like that is ridiculous.
Jeff Berlin [jberlin[at]jberlin.com], www.jeffberlin.com: My biggest timewaster exists inside my head. Facebook, Radio-Info, news & info… general web surfing. If I can focus and shut out the distraction of the world wide web, I uncork a lot more time for more enriching activities (and work). The next biggest timewasters are meetings and phone calls: they’re necessary, but not efficient. After that it’s troubleshooting -- when the studio or internet acts up, it can suck up a big chunk of the day. You’ll notice my responses to Q It Up questions are always very short… trying to save time: mine and yours!
Frank Scales [fscales[at]kloveair1.com], K-Love & Air 1 Radio Networks, Rocklin, California: My biggest time waster has been letting the proverbial in-box pile up. Whether its copy approvals, production assignments, cart checks -- no matter how much I thought I could take on, there was usually something that caused a bottleneck (late orders, revisions, a new promotion).
I’ve learned two important production lessons. Don’t sit on work, and keep track of what you are doing.
The first bit of wisdom I learned working for Bill Young Productions. (Picture Lucy and Ethel on the candy factory line... the line speeds up and they end of eating a lot of the product to try to keep pace). Working at BYP could be like that at times if you weren’t on top of your work. BYP’s “you’ll have it in the morning” mantra for nearly 10 years certainly gave me a whole new perspective of the importance of not procrastinating!
Number two: Keeping track of the pile. I track our work (actually, we track -- at K-LOVE Air 1 we’re a 10-person department with an average of 80 stations being scheduled at one time) with a central database that I custom designed with Filemaker. I was introduced to Filemaker several years ago by Jim Kipping (Emmis Austin Radio) and have relied on it since. Basically it’s a hub for all things production -- from order entry and auto-cart number assignments to copy and various approval and status indicators. We also produce video, so it’s used for that as well. Plus we’ve developed several auto email functions that send out various pieces of each order to appropriate parties (scripts to talent, advisements for revisions, when artist visits are going to happen). Plus we can display lists to various parts of the Programming department with production and approval status indicators of upcoming work. The cool part is that Filemaker is cross-platform on PC, Mac, web (and now iPhone and iPad with Filemaker Go).
Craig Jackman [Craig.Jackman[at]ottawaradio.rogers.com], Rogers Media, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: My biggest time waster is... me. I get distracted fairly easily, so I can go off in directions that really don’t help what I really should be doing, and usually that means cruising the ‘net. Some of the ways I combat that is to try and get any Internet grazing done early in the day. I use Outlook to set hourly reminders to check my Inbox to grab and distribute the workload. I have an alarm set on my watch to go off when I should have at most an hour left in my day. Lastly, I have a long suffering and very understanding wife and daughter who don’t moan about me being late for dinner, so long as I phone home and tell them what’s going on.
Ric Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez[at]CoxRadio.com], Cox Radio Group, San Antonio, Texas: Time wasters: These are usually the result of someone else taking a shortcut. Simple and short that is it. A rep who tells you the script is approved by the client... but it wasn’t. A rep who assumed that was the correct spot but it wasn’t, now you have an emergency replacement and pissed off client. Last minute-emergency-got-to-get-it-on-now so stop what you’re doing and handle this project... that later turns out to be a new client who bailed at the last minute. But nobody told prod and we got the script written, voiced, produced, etc. Another time waster are client’s who think they know what voice or music is best for their commercial. Few are qualified for this. Since I don’t have time to help a client who won’t let me help them, I just have my assistant send them 8 to 10 cuts of music so they can pick what they like. This saves having to remix the spot several times.
How do I manage my time? Wisdom is sometimes described as the capacity of the individual to adapt to his environment... or to adapt the environment to himself. Sometimes the latter is not possible. Especially in an economy this tough. We need to get spots on the air. Deadlines are not broken... they are simply bent.
For years, I’ve known several production folks who try to get in super early and try to manage the day to leave by 5:30. Rarely happens, and they are always anxious and frustrated. Some burn out and quit.
I found a way for balance in my life. I may be in at 9 am. But I realize I may also be working passed 9pm. It happens often. I voice for over 80 stations, write for all six in our cluster, and others. So... if I need to leave at 7 to make a tai chi class, I leave. Then finish from my office at home. If I need to leave at 6:30 to make Tae Kwon Do with my son, I leave. Then finish from home. If I have a TRX class at 6:30, I leave but come back to the office. Some days, rather than run to McDonald’s, I run 3 miles in the sun, shower and change and come back to work. I have a stocked fridge with veggies and snacks. Find your balance.
A wise friend, Peter, told me once, “People work to support their lifestyle. Why would you ask them to sacrifice the very thing they are working to support in order to support it.”
Steve Lushbaugh [stvlush[at]gmail.com], 93.3 WMMR, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: My biggest time waster; the never ending stream of producers flowing through our cluster, learning the basics of Pro Tools from me or 2nd- or 3rd- or 4th-hand from people downstream from those I taught over the past 13 years calling me every time they are unable to figure out how to do something. As the Pro Tools/Mac administrator for 5 stations, I am all too frequently interrupted by people too lazy to read the supplied PDF documentation on every workstation, visit the Digi/Avid site or even Google their question.
I learned Pro Tools by reading the manuals and then opening the program with that big, heavy pile of manuals always at my fingertips. I had nobody to teach me. I also did a lot of experimenting.
I think this is indicative of decay in our society. It’s rare to find a newbie, or even an employee with several years experience demonstrating any ambition, follow through, problem solving skills, work ethic or pride. More and more, people give up at the first difficulty they encounter without ever trying to find a solution, besides dialing my extension.
I’m still not satisfied with what I know. I’m still learning how to get more from my tools through webinars, newsletters, video demos and even the dreaded manuals (now in handy PDF format). Maybe I’m just old and forgetful, but I don’t remember broadcast school teacher being part of my job description. I have held periodic seminars and I don’t mind showing somebody the basics but that doesn’t come with lifetime access to my teat.
My best solution so far: install Timbuktu on all the DAW computers. It doesn’t fix the problem but is saves me a lot of time and footsteps fixing the problems or demonstrating the solutions remotely without ever leaving my chair to traipse to the far corners of capacious facility. Other options include opening the PDF manual on the screen in front of them and referring them to the index or just ignoring the voice mails.
David Bannerman [David.Bannerman[at]nscc.ca] NSCC, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada: This is easy... for me... it’s E-mail, hands down! Nothing slows down my day faster than having to clear my Inbox and respond to 60+ e-mails a day. To cope with it, I’ve had to adopt help from Twitter, and yet I still refuse to become a Tweeter. E-mail is bad enough. To help cope, I try to limit my e-mail responses to 100-150 characters or about 2 short sentences max and that has really helped a lot. I also found that turning off the monitor of my Internet screen display is a great trick. It simply allows my visual focus to remain on the studio task at hand and generally everything else falls into place. Years ago I would have said the phone… but strangely enough it doesn’t seem to ring anymore, or at least not like it used to. With each passing year, as we fall further into the clutches of new and smarter communication technologies, I have found it’s the simplest of methods that are often required to get yourself back on track.
Dave Spiker [davespiker[at]aol.com]: Great question! Top of the list would be meetings, but I guess they’re a necessary evil. I’ve often wondered how much quicker meetings would go if everybody had to stand instead of sitting in nice, comfy chairs sipping cappuccinos.
But I’m learning the perils of answering the question “which workstation software do you use?” I’ve found that it leads to an ongoing thread back and forth about why such-and-such is better than so-and-so. And if the person inquiring actually buys the software I use, guess what? I’ve become their trainer for life! I’m actually happy to help, but it is a definite time waster.
Mitch Todd [Mitch.Todd[at]siriusxm.com], Sirius XM, New York, NY: E-mails. People are too casual with them. I get 200+ daily and want to respond to all relevant inquiries, but too many e-mails are unnecessary or redundant. And most are WAY too “wordy”! Word economy is something most of us should have learned by now… so apply it to your e-mail compositions!
“Short & potent” should apply to all radio copy & e-mails — Don’t you love those 5 sentence e-mails… on a hand held device?
Andrew Frame [andrew[at]bafsoundworks.com], BAFSoundWorks, Lehigh Acres, Florida: Avoiding things like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or similar time vampires is a big plus. We have a very busy producers’ e-mail mailing list that really will chew up time if you let it.
The biggest time waster, though, is daydreaming. Staring out the window can be a lovely habit, unless you’ve been doing it for too long, and supper has gone from “cold” to “refrigerated.”
We make use of time management tools like Evolution or Lightning so we can keep a running “to do” list of calls that need to be made and other follow up work.
E-mail is the primary time management tool. It gives us the ability to prioritize work, track what is coming in and going out, etc., all in one place.
Every job gets tallied to a master spreadsheet when it is uploaded, so at the end of the month we cut and paste into a billing template and send out invoices.
Taking advantage of time zone differences for ordering voice work allows us to use talent outside of USA east coast, and it’ll be in the mailbox when we open up the next morning.
It also brings additional help if we get overloaded. I can send notes to a colleague and get a script back next morning - just like voice work.
Being organized, being networked with like-minded producers, and using the web for work and not extraneous surfing are probably the most important things for good time management we use.
Buzz Calhoun [buzzcalhoun[at]clearchannel.com], KNFX-FM, Bryan, Texas: Our staff is very small and there are actually three positions right now we need to fill. I just try to prioritize: does it need to be accomplished today? Right Now? Can it wait? My list used to be blank at the end of each day, now I resign myself to the fact that I should simply focus on what I can do at the moment, and plan ahead those tasks that can be accomplished later.
Brian Wilson [wizman440[at]hotmail.com], Citadel Media, Dallas, Texas: By far the biggest advance in the production room was a decent internet connection. If I needed a sound effect of a frog, type “frog.wav” and search. Sometimes that would return a wave file of Yves Montand which would lead to a whole new direction in the promo copy! The internet is great for idea starters, actualities, downloading songs and charts, and news. News like, Sofia Vergara is a natural blonde with a 19 year old son according to Esquire magazine featuring her latest photo shoot in sexy undergarments what’s that web address esquire dot com and damn they don’t have the pictures posted yet or do I have to subscribe first but there’s an ad for B&H photo with those Lite Panels I wanted to get oh that’s crazy to pay $1799 for one set of those wait what was I talking about?
Oh yeah. Internet = Timesuck. Proceed with caution.