Learning to take a break before breaking down

2014-11-21 20.05.37At the start of the year its a good time to make a plan of attack for the year to come. Of course it helps if your plan is realistic. Making films can be an exhausting process, particularly when you are doing it on top of paid employment. One thing I have learnt the hard way a couple of times is that burning the candle at both ends does actually lead to burn out. Recovering from burn out is always tough but I have learnt a few things that help me to balance things a little better.

You cannot do everything – Try not to feel guilty

I had this terrible habit of feeling incredibly guilty when somethings not done not matter the reason. It is not healthy, particularly if it was keeping me from getting the precious few hours of sleep that are required to function. The only way to get around this is to let go. If your not in the middle of production then there is really nothing so important that it needs your instant attention and taking a day to think it over will not kill anyone and will probably lead to a better result. On shoot, 99% of the time there is nothing so urgent that you can’t take a 5 minute break for coffee whilst thinking it over, and again most of the time taking the time to think it through will work out better for you.

You are also not the only person on the shoot (or at least you shouldn’t be unless your ultra low-budget) sometimes the best way to let-go is to let someone else take on some of the work load. Yes they will make mistakes and it will never be done the exact same way you do it, but you can’t continue to work your way up the budget levels if you continue to do every single thing yourself, it is just not possible (unless you are not human).

Your friends and family are priorities too and should be treated as such

One casualty of the filmmaking game is your social life. Friends, family, partners, they all suffer from your long hours, snappy moods and absenteeism. Without their support though, I for one certainly would not have got where I am because they keep me grounded in reality, they give me time out from the world of film, they support me through the numerous rejections, the moments of panic and the moments of joy. I have however, been guilty of sacrificing a number of relationships for my passion and as the years wear on you start to realise that although your passion is important, it certainly should not be the only thing in your life. So, prioritise the people that are important to you in your schedule – it doesn’t have to be every man and his dog, but make sure that you allow enough time that those around feel that they are important to you.

Schedule time out and stick to it

I am a huge fan of lists – I have to write things down because other wise I will lose track of everything – and I probably couldn’t remember all of my appointments without my phone calendar. Having time out is incredibly important. If your really busy sometimes you actually have to schedule this into your week (literally add it to the calendar). Having at least a few hours where you plan is to do absolutely nothing related to film and that is not dictated by someone else is incredibly important for sanity reasons, for me at least. It doesn’t matter what you do – read, watch a movie, a TV show, go for a run, nap – just take sometime to do something that is non film related for yourself to recharge your batteries. For some this might be related to the above – seeing friends and family – which is also totally okay, the important thing is that when your making your plans using up every inch of your time is not actually appropriate which leads too…

Learn to say ‘No’

Sometimes the biggest cause of stress comes from taking on too much and not wanting to let other people down. This was definitely one of my biggest learning experiences, learning to say ‘no’ to projects. You only have so much time in the week and it is actually not possible to do everything. Especially when you are just starting to gain momentum you don’t want to say no to anything because any one of the projects could be the break you need, but the further you go along the less sustainable that idea is and the more you have to focus on projects that you are genuinely passionate about. Of course you want to have more than one project on your slate, but the order that you work on things and the number of projects that you are actively working on each week should be monitored regularly and kept at realistic levels. Also you will find that different people have different demands, some of which are more time consuming than others, or collaborators that are solely focused on one project and want you to do things more quickly. Learning to manage other peoples expectations is an important part of the process, you can only do so much at a time, and learning to say ‘No’, and ‘Wait’ will likely be the best tools you have in your arsenal.

Health Matters – A little bit of stress is good for you but too much can kill you

Everyone knows too much stress is not good for you. Having reached the point where I could not physically do anything a couple of times, broken out in stress rashes and various other stress related medical conditions and knowing others that have pushed themselves to the same limits, I can say that focusing on your health is important. Exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep and taking time out is incredibly important. I know the response is generally “but I don’t have time” but it is amazing how much you can fit into your busy schedule just by rethinking things. Walking the long way to get somewhere or taking stairs instead of lifts is non-time consuming exercise. Buying fruit and nuts as snacks doesn’t take that much extra planning. Taking a break can be as simple as closing your eyes and taking 3 deep breaths in out. Sleep is one of the harder ones, as most of us end up insomniacs at some point, but if you do the other bits it should be easier. Stopping work before bed and doing something relaxing (watching TV, reading etc) to take your mind off things helps me. I also like playing console games to stop my stress spirals as they keep my mind engaged enough that it can’t really focus on anything else thereby stopping it from thinking about film. Whatever you need to do to stay happy and healthy is important, and nothing is more important than that. You can’t have a career from the grave.

Did anyone have any other tips for how to handle a busy lifestyle?


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