Episode 214 — How to Win the Day


Episode 214 — How to Win the Day

Hi, everyone! This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 214! I’m going to be talking about Productivity, but more importantly — about How to Win the Day! This is something I’m really passionate about. So many of us say, “I wish I had more hours in a day!” or “I wish I could get a lot more done.” Whatever your obstacles are, I wanted to help you by sharing a lot of insight on how to be more productive.

Let’s dive in!


[53:41] I have a new VFX Training Course on how to become a Technical Director available right now at www.VFXCourse.com. This is a massive Course and you can download all the assets! I’m not sure how long I will have it available, so take advantage of it now!


[02:13] What I want to get into is around the subject on how to win the day: In other words, how to get the most out of your day, whether it be your freelance, your work, creating more time for ourselves. Most of us want to grow in our careers, we want to get the most out of what we are doing. On the other hand, we don’t always have time. We’re exhausted from work, there are other commitments, there’s Call of Duty to be played and all the other distractions. I find that in my Mentorship: From early on, I hear, “I’d love to do it but I don’t have time.” The times when I put out a short 4-week course, I hear the same thing: “I’d love to do it — but I don’t have time.” We’re always going to be making those excuses and time is finite. If we have free time, we don’t look at the way to be more productive. We look at how to use it to watch Instagram or Netflix.

[03:25] I look at the most successful people and what they do. With my Podcast and the Mastermind Groups I’m in, I get to be around people who are phenomenal at what they do. It always blows my mind how they use their time: what they prioritize and what they dismiss. So I think it’s a really critical subject that a lot of us overlook. If there are any questions you have, feel free to post them in the comments.


[03:57] The biggest pain point for a lot of us — is just not having enough time. And I always think: What would we be able to do if we had an extra 10 hours per week? I’ve got so many friends who have these brilliant ideas: “I want to start my own restaurant.” “I want to switch careers.” “I want to make a short film.” “I want to do photography.” When I ask them why they aren’t doing it, it always comes down to, “Well, I don’t have enough time.” [04:30] And for me, the question is: Where are your priorities? You’re looking at your work load and you don’t have the extra time for something that you’re that passionate about. Most of us just don’t have enough time for growth — yet we want to have that growth. I want you to remember that!

[04:55] I think that the key thing to think about is: One of my students in the Mentorship was supervising on Independence Day (which was in Pasadena, which is 2 hours with traffic in LA!) So he had a big commute and he had a really big responsibility in CG, and he had to commute back at night. Yet, he still found time to do the Mentorship. All he would do is get up an hour earlier! It allowed him extra time to invest in himself and look at the big picture (rather than think about sleeping in a bit more). He would look at where he wanted to be a year from then; and going through the Course would get him there. From there, he ended up becoming a VFX Sup and working at a big studio. Now, he is completely in control of his career.

[05:59] I look at myself and realize it’s all about prioritizing. We all have plenty of time but we all find distractions to fill that time. If you’re at a bar waiting for your friends, for example, most of you start flipping through Instagram. Instead, you could check in with yourself: How could you prioritize your day? I’m constantly scheduling my day and prioritizing things as much as I can. One way to prioritize things is during the hour lunch break, at work. Most of us go out and hang out with our friends. I always looked at my lunch as a reason to go for a walk and think about things; or use it as a chance to sit down and read a book or work on contracting stuff. You have an entire hour to disrupt your day and do something that’s important to you. There would plenty of times when I would be going through a course, one hour per day.


[07:40] And we all have those distractions around us. Part of what I’m going through now is how to handle your distractions and be in control of your time. I want to give you 9 Productivity Tips. You’re always going to have distractions. When I was 23, I had a relationship and we were drinking a lot [together]. When I mentioned to her that I wanted to drink less, she flipped out a little because for her, it meant that she would be alone in this self-destruction party. When you mention that you want to get better and do something out of the norm, a lot of people don’t react to it well. You may have experienced that when you mentioned that you want to work in visual effects to your friends or your parents. A lot of people want to shut you down. They’ll communicate their insecurities and project them onto you. While they’re bumming around, you’re working on a course to better yourself or learning a new skill. There will be people who don’t like that. They want to have your attention. It’s important to identify that.


[09:35] I always think that the easiest thing to do (be it dealing with clients or friends) — is to hear them out. People will voice their opinions, but as long as you hear them out and acknowledge them, you can carry on with your stuff. I had clients say, “I want this building to blow up into five billion pieces”. Then, I’d say, “Great! I’ll see what I can do.” All they hear is, “Great!” and they feel acknowledged. You can still go do something more reasonable. So when friends are asking you to go get lunch, it’s important to be able to say, “I can’t make it today, but how about Friday?” As long as people get acknowledged, they feel heard. But what’s more important is the more people come to you, the more you can delegate. When Friday actually comes around, you could go all out and do it up big. I do this all the time! If I told someone about reading a book or learning a new skill [during my lunch break], people don’t like that. But as long as you give them that reaction, [they feel heard].

[11:17] The same thing goes for when people stop by my desk and ask, “What are you up to?” The minute I get into work, there is so much work to do that I just want to get it done and just get out of there. I want to make sure my responsibilities are completed. Once those are done, I can screw around. [The people who come up to your desk] are the people who will take up your day and soak up your time. You need to be conscious of that and of how to delegate your time. When people come up to you, you could say, “I’m under a deadline right now. But how about we go to Starbucks at [4:00]?” Everyone is going to be cool with that! You aren’t saying, “I don’t want to talk to you.” You’re saying, “Let’s hang out later”. At [4:00], you can go out for coffee with 5 people. Same thing goes for friends who want to hang out. You can say, “Let’s hang out Friday night, altogether!” The cool thing is that they will invite their friends, and it can turn into a networking event.

[13:04] These are just simple concepts that I wanted to point out. I‘m not trying to push everyone away, but I do want to give these people time and energy. But I am at work and I don’t want to be stuck there all night. I see that as a producer all the time: I see artists dick around until late at night and then they still have 3 hours of work left. As an artist, I’ve also done that! So it is important to delegate your time. I have parties all the time: Twenty of us will go out all at once. But if you’re going to have distractions and you have to acknowledge that’s going to happen.


[14:11] The other important thing you can do — is track your time. Peter Drucker says, “What gets measured — gets managed.” It’s so true. [12:16] The more you can do that for a week of two — where every day you go to work and you write down everything you get accomplished — the more you can identify where your time goes. I always try to do that at the end of my day. The more you’re conscious about where your time is going — the better you will understand where your distractions are. If you start tracking every hour, you will notice the times you go on Facebook, or when someone stops by your desk to chat. You might think a task will take 3 hours [but it takes much longer]. The more you track your time, the more you’ll become aware of where your time is going and how long tasks take. I used to be terrible at this when I was 19: I would underestimate on how long a task would take; it would take longer and, of course, create friction. I started to get more confident about my promises and it became a lot easier. A producer isn’t going to get mad at you if you’re honest about how long a job will take. Their job is to manage time and assets. When those things are incorrect, that’s where everything gets thrown off. As long as you’re aware and accurate about how long a task will take, it’s not like you’re making it up. If anything, it allows you to deliver ahead of time.

[16:45] The more you track your time, the more you become self-aware of how long tasks take and where the problems are. The more I started doing that, the more aware I became of my distractions and began anticipating that. I always say: “Anything in 3D — 2X it!” Two weeks ago, I said I would launch a training. Of course, I’ve spent 14 days back to back, on my own time, full-time, to get this done! It took a lot longer than expected. I was still naive. Things happen and you run into problems. I hope this makes sense.

[17:50] By tracking everything, it becomes very obvious where your time is going. The other thing is when you start tracking that, you may notice you’re spending 90 minutes a day in meetings. You may earn respect from managers when you tell them you have a deadline and you can attend the meeting for a few minutes. You could say, “Would it be cool if you came and grabbed me when you needed me in the meeting?” I found that to be really efficient in dailies reviews. Some of the smoothest shows would have the Sup and the Coordinator in the room and they would bring the artists as their shots went up. That way, every other artist was saving an hour at a time. It’s fun to see the dailies together; but in terms of efficiency, that’s the best way I’ve found. In addition, if you aren’t working late, you’re less likely to be exhausted. Meetings can be a huge time drain. At ILM, we all called [the company] “I Love Meetings” because we’d be sitting in meetings all day long. That became a notorious thing! It’s frustrating when you just want to get your shots done.


[19:50] I don’t think there is anything wrong with wasting time. You just want to have control over it though. If my phone is constantly buzzing, it’s taking me out of what I’m doing. [20:19] As creatives, we want to get into that Flow State where we’re nailing everything we’re doing. But to do that, we have to be focused and not get distracted. You could put your phone on silent. You could only respond to emails a couple of times a day. In other words: Be in control of it! You could step out at 2:00 p.m. and respond to all the calls and texts. Same thing goes for emails: You could handle of them at [4:00]. If there is something that’s really important, people will find you at your desk, “Hey! Did you see that email?” When Blackberries came out, this is where this began to happen where employers started expecting you to be available 24/7. But if you want to make that short film or change careers, it’s important to have time for yourself, to get that growth.


[21:53] Being aware of where your time goes is a critical thing. I write everything down on paper. I’ve done that a lot in the past: I needed to finish the Thanos training, and do the Podcast, and all these meetings. I would start writing down on the side of the page because I’d run out of space. That shit happens to me all the time! The more I am aware that something is a 5-hour task or a 10-hour task, the better. For me, it’s always been the 5:00 a.m. life. I try to get up at [5:00] in the morning. Some of us might say, “I’m just not a morning person!” and that’s fine. But if you want to be a morning person, it just takes a couple of days to transition. I have a few hacks to help you:

I make sure to leave my phone across the room; so when the alarm goes off — I have to get up to turn it off. By that point, I’m up!

I have a UV lamp that adds light and tells my body to make up. It’s the same thing like sitting by the window. It’s part of my morning ritual to turn the lamp on.

[24:22] Getting up early in the morning has been great! First of all, you can get to work early and beat traffic. More importantly, if you get up at [5:00], it gives you 4-5 extra hours to be awake. (Most of us start work at 10:00 a.m.) If you wanted to work on a course or learn a new skill, having the extra 5 hours allows you to do that. This is a chance for you to leverage that time! Also, at 5:00 a.m. there are no distractions. I found that when working late, after all the managers go home at around [6:00], it becomes a giant slumber party. People start joking around, playing games. It’s more of a party than work. It’s hard to focus. I want to be out of work and maintain a normal life. It’s hard to maintain a healthy life when you’re pulling those hours. That is the thing with visual effects! By getting up early, I can crush the day by putting in 2-3 hours without any distractions. That’s quality time! More importantly, at around 4:00 p.m. every night, the render farm starts getting lined up. By if you come in early, you can have the entire render farm to yourself for about 5 hours! I love that because I get so much done! By getting there early, you get to check your work and tweak some newer versions. You can do 4-5 new takes. You have time to actually work on your work.
[28:04] I think in general that schedule is great because it allows you to maintain a normal life! Whether you’re married, dating or just hanging out with your friends, you don’t want to be the downer by telling everyone you have to work. [28:22] But like I said, more importantly, if you’re focusing on growth, this is an important factor for you because it gives you a chance to do new courses, learn new skills, look for work, etc. There is no excuse of “I don’t have time” — because you can free up 3, 4, 5 hours of free time!


[28:41] Another thing for me that’s a game changer — is the Pomodoro Technique:

  • Set the timer (traditionally to 25 minutes) to work on the task.
  • End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  • If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes).
  • After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

My version for this was something I called Stress Focus (which may sound less elegant). I basically trained for an hour as if I had a gun to my head. It’s pretty amazing how much we’re able to get done when the stakes are high. When the deadline is tight, how we are able to get something done in a day that should’ve been done in a week. [29:48] It’s called Parkinson’s Law which states: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. If you have a month to do something, you will spend a month. If you have a day to do it, somehow you’ll get it done in a day. Even though we may work for 8-9 hours per day, if I could have 2-3 of those Stress Focus times, I will get a lot done. In other words, I’ll go in [to work] with my commitments to myself that I will give myself time to get settled, get coffee, shoot some shit with my friends — but then it’s game time! I will sit down with that gun to my head; I will put my phone on silent, close Facebook, get rid of all the distractions and pop-ups — and get in the zone. And that way when someone comes to your desk, you can say, “Starbucks? Friday! Go the fuck away! I’m getting my shit done!” So having an hour in that Flow State — with zero distractions — is work 2-3 hours of distracted time.

[31:17] There is a website called Focus at Will (www.focusatwill.com). I am thinking of getting their CEO on the Podcast. He created this website where you can choose the music and the tempo you want to play [while you are working]; and then you can even measure how productive you were. I will usually put that on, choose the sound or music that I want — and just get in the zone. [You can have] that quality hour and then screw around at a slower pace, if you want. You get hit with that high intensity training which allows you that massive gain really quick. [32:34] That’s the same with productivity: You want to have an hour of focus time then move on to the next. Crappy distraction time is always going to win. But having 1-2 hours of that productive time — is already a win.


[32:49] Batching your tasks is important. There are all these things throughout the day that are disrupting what you’re doing (going to the post-office, returning phone calls). If you have a lot of phone calls to make or emails to respond to, it’s a lot quicker to get them done all at once. That will cost your 15-20 minutes rather than wasting an hour. To apply to what we’re doing: Let’s say you’re working on a show with fire works, sparks and then a scene with a T-Rex running. It’s a quicker to get a shot of sparks done and then move onto to the next one. That way you get into the rhythm. I have my assistant file my emails away by subjects. That way my head is in it and I’m able to flow through them. It’s about compartmentalizing them. So batch everything you’re doing.


[35:11] Another thing that Ash Thorp and I talked about a lot (www.allanmckay.com/70): “Eat that Frog”. The concept is to tackle the stuff that you don’t want to do — first! Because what happens when you go into work, you know you have to get some tasks done tonight. It’s that one task you don’t want to do. There’ve been days I’m so proud of myself: I’ve accomplished 30 things on my to-do list, but that one thing that needed be done — I didn’t get it done for days. When I finally do it, it pisses me off. I put it off for so long, it becomes a problem. If we go in and if there is that nagging thing — you eat that frog and you’ve already won the day. Don’t create busy work when the things that move the needle get avoided. I’m not the best at this: I know what I need to focus on, I let it become a problem.


[37:54] I’m putting a tutorial tomorrow on how to write tools and how to create your own playblast tool. You will name it how you want to and store it in the right directory. This skill came from working on a film. I would store all the playblasts and then I was able to measure the progress. I could go back to the better versions and those time stamps. There is a lot of benefits to that. The more important thing is to automate your tasks. Whenever I learn scripting, usually a person teaching it says, “It should be really easy. It’s the stuff we’ve done in high school.” I quickly realized that it has nothing to do with math. The problem is with the people teaching it: They’re programmers teaching it to other programmers. If you grew up doing math, you will learn quickly. I dropped out of school in grade 9. If I’m able to code, anyone can!

[40:32] But more importantly, the way I teach how to code — I teach it as an artist. The way I teach it in my Mentorship is by learning to automate. Then it becomes easier because we do it as artists. [41:25] My whole philosophy is that I don’t want to do the same task more than twice. It usually takes some time to write a tool, but once it’s done — you never have to do it again! You hit a button and it’s done. And it removes, the element of human error from it. I don’t want to be setting up folders and spitting out renders one at a time. On Transformers, I automated everything. I had 16 characters, 256 passes. After I figured out what I wanted, I automated it and let the computer do that work. I want to do the work as an artist; I don’t want to do all the crappy stuff. The more you do that, the more time you’ll free up. It takes minutes to write a script. I will write bits and pieces and copy and paste. All the buttons in Maya and Python are build for everyone. But what if there were tools just for you? What if there were a program just for your project? All the things we waste time for you, you could have a program that works for you.

[44:06] I say all that because automating what you do is so important! It’s not as hard as you think. It’s just that the training out there is created by programmers for programmers. They aren’t taking into account that artists are more visual. If I look at someone else’s code, I have no idea what’s going on. I look at my own code and I get what I was writing. But I’m writing it as an artist.


[44:53] We all have finite energy. I’m conscious about my own energy. I sometimes have to make a decision on what I need to do. [45:27] We all have so much we can do. When you start to become conscious where you dip, you can start to utilize your energy better. We have decisions or brain calories. There is only so much measurable energy. You might notice at [10:00] in the morning, after all the meetings, you might already lack energy. You’ve been running a marathon in your brain. The most successful people say the same thing: They plan their day the day before. [46:40] That’s why building habits is the most productive thing. If you have set habits, it’s all on default. Making decisions the night before — what you want to accomplish — in the morning, you can just start doing them. You aren’t worried about all this stuff. You get right into it. Planning out what you need to do the night before is so important.

[47:23] Same thing with emails and shit like that! For me, I do my email at 11:00 a.m. If I open my emails first thing, I’m marching to someone else’s drum.

[47:42] I drink lots of water. I stopped drinking soda at work. Soda is a common thing we slam down which means we’re downing sugar. So I drink water all day.

[48:18] I’m notorious for doing ice baths. I started it when working on Transformers. I remember being so exhausted. The next day, I got big bags of ice and drew a bath of cold water; and did an ice bath with just my head popped out. I had so much energy that day! I literally ran to work and felt like punching everyone on the street. I started doing that twice a day. It fights depression and gives you energy. Find little hacks like that!

[48:17] Managing where your energy goes as well as finding more energy is important. Maintaining your energy is important as well. I’ll tell a quick story: I had this character animator who did polyphasic sleeping. It’s when you sleep for 20 minutes and then stay awake for 4 hours, then sleep for 20 minutes and stay awake for another 4 hours. It was hilarious because he needed to take naps on the couch. I didn’t want people sleeping on the couch that the clients were walking by. It totally backfired if he didn’t get his sleep. He’d get so angry, he’d lose his shit. People try different things and some things are very drastic.

[49:49] The more you experiment, the more hacks you find out. You might tap into something that works for you. I tried CBD oil one day. There are some drugs I take for focus (artichoke oil, etc.) I find it hard sometimes to focus on one thing. Those are the things that help. So experiment and have fun and see what works for you. [52:44] When you become aware of where your time goes and how to make more time — and what you’re going to do with that time — all the excuses you have about starting a company or cutting your new reel, all those excuses go away and you go do it. If you want to learn more, I have a Productivity Guide called The Productive Artist (www.allanmckay.com/productivity).

I hope you enjoyed this Episode and got a lot from this content. If you could take a few seconds to share this Podcast — it would mean the world to me.

I appreciate you! Until next week —

Rock on!


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