Episode 57 of Scott Swenson’s A Scott in the Dark podcast focuses on time management. Scott shares his thoughts on finding the right timeline for your haunt planning. By working “time smart”, your event won’t creep up on you.
- Create a timeline and identify your milestones so you can tell whether you are ahead or behind on accomplishing your tasks.
- Create a master calendar that includes both haunt-related and personal life-related obligations and important dates.
- Breaking down your to-do list into specific tasks helps to provide a sense of accomplishment and lets you decide based on your schedule what you can accomplish with the time you have available each day.
- Cater your plan to your personality and work style.
- If you have to do the work by yourself, take time to commit to each task. Multi-tasking works best for teams where tasks can be delegated to specific team members.
- Periodically check for content shift. Make sure your team continues to remain on the same page towards your original goal.
Time to Start Planning
As of this episode, we just recently passed the halfway to Halloween mark for 2021. Having just come from the Transworld trade show, I know that everybody is either crazy eager to buy stuff and get stuff going, or in some cases still hesitant because they’re afraid of what the ’21 season is going to be. So, I figured now would be a good time to talk about time management and figuring out, what is the right timeline?
Some organizations out there have not opened the checkbooks yet; they’ve not decided to commit to the ’21 season. I’m just going to be blunt right upfront: if you haven’t committed to the ‘21 season yet, you’re going to either spend too much money because you’re going to have to do everything faster than normal, or you’re going to get stuck, not getting stuff complete and working towards a really low quality product. So, my suggestion is make the decision one way or the other now, and start investing the time, the effort, and the money now.
Be efficient with your time so you can get the most bang for the buck, or the most bang for your time.
Identify Your Milestones
The first thing I would suggest is figure out a timeline, identify your milestones. Unless you figure out by such and such a date, this has to be accomplished, and by such and such a date, this has to be accomplished, you never know whether you are ahead of the game or behind the game. That’s not to punish you for being slow or praise you for being fast, it is to help you recognize, “gosh, I need to put a fire under my butt,” or “I need to find a way to bring more help in,” or “I need to spend more money on this particular area because we’re running behind.” Or, if you’re running behind in one area, but running ahead in the other, you can shift some of the resources from the area where you are ahead over to the thing that isn’t going quite so smoothly.
Create a Master Calendar
Make sure that you have a schedule in place. When I say schedule, I’m not necessarily saying that on such and such a day do this, on such and such a day do that. If you want to get that far into the minutiae, go for it. What I’m suggesting is a milestones calendar. So basically, you know when things need to be done.
I would also make certain that on that calendar, you include things that aren’t necessarily related to the haunt. My business calendar is really just my calendar. It includes all those things that are part of my personal life, it includes all those things that are part of my business life. I also actually block out time in my calendar, and on my checklist, which we’ll talk about in just a second, for things that are just pleasurable. Schedule them in there so that you recognize, “Oh, okay, I need to reward myself, I need to do something I really like.” That way it fits within the schedule, and when it’s done, you can check it off and feel real good about it.
Make sure that whatever you do with your milestones you include family birthdays, include holidays, because you know, you’re not going to be able to get away or work on those. If you are married, make sure you at least cross-reference it with your spouse’s schedule and some major things on their plans. I think it’s important to include that kind of personal life reality in there as well, so that you don’t get pulled away from the important jobs when you have to do something equally as important, but certainly not as important to the haunt; little things like taking care of your kids, your family, your job, those kinds of things.
So, create your milestones, create a plan, and write a plan upfront. That doesn’t mean that this plan can’t change. It can always change. In fact, it’s better to have a plan and change it than to not have a plan and not know what the heck you’re doing or where you’re going.
Have a Checklist
Earlier I mentioned a checklist. The other thing that’s nice about having a plan, and in turn a checklist, is you get a feeling of satisfaction of finishing something. So in addition to my milestone calendar I also have a list of all the specific tasks. This is where you get into the minutia a little bit more, and that is the specific tasks that you need to accomplish. You can break this down as small as you want. It could be “write the venue flow for haunt number one”, or it could be “write the first room to haunt number one, the second room, the third room” and so on.
Don’t be afraid to make the tasks small, because that way you can see forward progression. Also don’t be afraid to make a few of the tasks gigantic. The nice thing about having a variety of sized tasks on your checklist is, you can decide based on what your day is, which ones you can accomplish. For example, if one of the things on my checklist is to email some of the clients that I met at the Transworld show – which was a legitimate, actual thing on my checklist – and I know I only have 20 minutes in the office, that’s a perfect task to accomplish. I actually broke it down by client, I had three meetings that I took, and just in case I didn’t get all three responses done I would know where I was just by looking at my checklist. Then sometimes it’s much larger things. I have one right now where I have to do some music editing and that’s going to be a big thing. So I know that’s going to take a much longer period of time. The nice thing is about having these different sized chunks is you can right-size them to whatever time you happen to have.
Cater Your Plan to Your Personality and Work Style
Another thing to consider is different people like to work differently. Some people like to focus in on one task from beginning to end and not be distracted nor disturbed by it. They just say, “okay, today I’m working on this and everything else goes away.” For me, and it’s probably because with multiple clients, I very rarely have that opportunity. So, usually what ends up happening is, I need to say “from this time to this time I’m going to do this, and from this time to this time I’m going to do that, and from this time to this time I’m going to focus on this.” Now, does that always work? No, it doesn’t, but decide what works best for you, both your personality, your work style, and your lifestyle. Figure out, at the very least, how to break your time into chunks so that you don’t have to work on five different projects all at the same time.
Quite often people will recognize that ADD can be very beneficial, and they talk about the benefit of multitasking. I’m all for multi-tasking, especially in the haunt industry – we know that we all have to wear many, many, many, many hats. But I will caution you, that if you were trying to, design lights for one room, finish the costumes for another, and figure out the marketing plan all at the same time, you’re going to get distracted and you’re not going to do any of them particularly well.
So, take the time to commit to each individual task. I realize there are people who can make that whole juggling act work and just do everything all at the same time. I am not one of them, and I don’t know many people who actually are. The people who are, to be honest, have great staffs. So if you are a haunt owner and you have this huge team of people that are working on stuff, and, you can just turn and go, “okay, let’s turn that light to blue, let’s change that from orange fringe to spiderweb material, and let’s make this our icon character,” and then go and let the teams do it. That’s great. That’s management. If you are lucky enough to be in that position, then yes, you can be as a Jack of all trades as you want to; you can multitask as much as you want to. But if you actually have to do the work, I would suggest that you take some time to just focus in on it and make sure that, that stuff’s getting done in the proper order.
Check for Content Shift
So, we’ve made a timeline, or a milestones list, we’ve made checklists, and we’ve committed specific time to specific topics. The one other thing that I would recommend when it comes to time management is to do those checks of, “are we still on track to where we thought we were going from the beginning?” Because what happens – especially when things get crazy and when time gets crunched – is it’s really easy for a project to have what I call “content shift”. This is where you get a little bit off track from the original design or idea. If you’re working with a team of even three people and one person veers off in one direction, and the other person veers off in the other direction, the third person is stuck in the middle on the original plan and nothing comes together. If you’re a one person show, that’s less important; although, I think you’re going to end up with a watered down product in many cases. So, take a moment to just stop, look at everybody on the team, and say, “all right, we still headed in this direction? Everything’s still passing our litmus test so that we’re all still heading towards the same North star? Okay, great back to work everyone.” I think that’s really, really important.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Up in the Middle of the Night
With creatives, there are times where I will wake up in the middle of the night and I will either have just had a revelation as to a problem I was trying to solve when I went to bed, or I will wake up not able to forget a new problem that I just thought of, or just discovered. I will lay there and I will say, “okay, I will fix this in the morning,” and I lay there and it rolls over in my head over and over and over again. I’m still not sleeping, and then when I do finally fall asleep, 20 minutes later, the alarm goes off and I wake up. So now I haven’t solved the problem, and I’m still really sleepy. If you are that kind of person, my recommendation is: don’t be afraid to get up in the middle of the night, go solve the problem, work on it, and then go back to bed. I realize we all have commitments during the day, but if you’re not going to sleep anyway, you might as well get something accomplished and then you’ll feel better and be able to sleep.
Specific Tips for Preparing for the 2021 Season
Finally, I just want to put this warning out there: be prepared for the ’21 season. It is going to be big. It is going to be busy. One of the things that you need to start working on right now is staffing. Make sure that you’ve got enough people to make your haunt run. The sooner you can get those folks locked up, the better.
Alright, enough of me rambling on, I want to make sure that I continue to be time efficient and make certain that your time is used well. So I’m going to stop rambling until next time. This is Scott Swenson from a Scott in the Dark saying Rest in peace.