I’d had a pretty average approach to productivity and organization. I sat somewhere around the middle when it came to efficiency. Whether it was related to work or running errands for my own life, I was “organized” in the normal sense of the word.
That was until 2016 when I found myself working as the Director’s assistant on Game of Thrones. Suddenly I had to coordinate multiple meetings, across multiple departments, in multiple time zones. I was working 17 hour days that involved script meetings with Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington and I was responsible for keeping track of script amendments and updates for the Director. Furthermore, if I wasn’t organizing something with HBO executive producers, I was up at 2 am and ready for filming on an Irish mountainside. As you can imagine, much of the smooth running of things came down to me, and therefore, I had to become a black belt ninja of organization. And that’s exactly what I became.
When a feature film or large-scale series is being made, the time is separated into two distinct parts. Your average Hollywood movie takes around 3 months to film but there’s always a stage before shooting begins called “pre-production.” It’s here where all the basics for filming happen; hair, makeup, costume, set design, locations, lighting, stunts, special effects, etc.
It was my job to coordinate all these departments and arrange approval with the directors, writers, and producers. While in prep, I had my “Director’s day,” but I also had to plan for lunches, dinners, food allergies, and social events.
How did I manage it all? It’s annoyingly simple: Lists.
On this complicated gig, I kept meticulous daily lists. They weren’t sophisticated or electronic, just good old-fashioned pen-and-paper lists. I wrote everything down, and I mean EVERYTHING; every phone call, request, meeting, script change, storyline adaption, costume change, rehearsal, all of it. I developed my own system using post-it notes. I think I used close to 1 million of them!
I made a giant wall diary and stuck a post-it on for everything that needed to be done each day. As a meeting changed or was completed, I updated the note or put it in an “actioned” box. I never threw any notes away as each one retained information regarding a scene change or something that I’d later rely on.
I became a streamlined machine of efficiency. And this was what allowed me to engage more with the creative process. When I knew that I had all the nuts and bolts running in good order, I could devote time to learn from the meetings with David Benioff and Dan Weiss. I could observe the writing process, the fluid-like negotiations that weaved between David and Dan, the directors and producers, right down to the cast members, and how they interpreted the scene on set.
I saw and felt moments of magic. Whether it was eating breakfast with the Night King (even if he was in full costume which made it slightly difficult to enjoy my porridge) or watching the dramatic scenes being filmed on “frozen lake” (an episode I’d been working on for months), seeing it all come to fruition was really something.
Keeping lists not only helped me organize the biggest TV show in the world at the time they also helped me organize my own life. Keeping lists gave me a sense of order that I didn’t have prior to GOT. To this day, I have a daily list on rotation. However, the thing I love most about my lists now, is that they have a lot more items on them focused on my own life, goals, and tasks. This makes checking them off at the end of the day even more satisfying. I created a system to organize something much greater than myself at the time, but my lists have ended up organizing me.
It sounds so simple, but it’s so much more than that. Lists keep me focused. They’re my source of motivation. They’re what makes me do the things that I need to do. Lists encourage me to be a functioning, achieving, and even thriving human being.
In this fast-paced society, we have lots of things that need to be done and it can be hard to keep track of everything and prioritize our time. However, a robust “list” takes all of the noise out of your head, A list lays it out in front of you and clears space in your mind for fresh thinking.
So take it from me, if you’re looking for more focus, motivation, and organization in your life, create a list. You just might find yourself living with a little more order and a lot more efficiency.