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“It’s midnight and I’m still working at the church.”

By Adam Bush on January 17, 2018

Allow me to paint a picture. It’s Friday night. Everyone’s left the office and your spouse calls asking what time you think you’ll be home. “Shouldn’t be much longer. As soon as this render finishes, I have to throw this After Effects file into Premiere, render it out and upload it to production. 30 minutes tops.” Fast forward to three hours later and you’re on your third render fail, and the one that did finish had a glitch in the green screen and your only hope of project completion requires dumping the whole project on an external hard drive and finishing it on your laptop…which might not be the fastest. Your night’s just getting started. As if this situation isn’t frustrating enough, your spouse and kids are at home having a great time watching Spider-Man: Homecoming for “Family Night,” sans you, and they wish YOU were there.

It took me about 10 seconds to come up with this scenario because it’s real life. I’ve lived it, and if you’re working as a creative, so have you. So, what’s the fix? How do we avoid these late-night disasters that keep us away from our families? Let me challenge you and give you hope that there is a solution, and the best part is you have complete control.

1. Communication is About Expectations

Right now you’re saying, “Adam, you don’t understand what’s being asked of me. My projects are coming in on Monday (for the weekend), and I’m just being given these projects, no questions asked.” I get it, but I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding. No one can make you do anything. It’s not until you accept a project or an assignment that it is yours. Most likely your conversation goes like this:

Supervisor: Pastor has asked us to tell a story this weekend. So-and-so has a story and it fits perfectly with his message, so can you call them and set it up?

You: You got it.

The moment I say, “You got it,” I have not only accepted the project, but I’ve made a promise that I’ll do it. What if the conversation went like this?

Supervisor: Pastor has asked us to tell a story this weekend. So-and-so has a story and it fits perfectly with his message, so can you call them and set it up?

You: Oh that’s cool. I’d love to call them. That IS a pretty tight turn around though, especially with our other deadlines, so after I talk to them, can we have a conversation about if we can meet that deadline?

You’re not saying NO (which doesn’t work, btw), but you’re also not saying YES. An automatic YES is going to get you in trouble. A thoughtful, “I’m on board, but can we talk about this realistically?” says you’re on the team, but have some realistic views of the situation. The most important factor is that it happens in the first conversation.

2. Honesty is Your ONLY policy.

Right now you’re saying, “Ooooh. That seems uncomfortable.” It can be, but remember, being honest in that moment is about clarity, not confrontation. As long as truth is on your side, you’re solid. Truth has no ulterior motives. Truth is laying out the real, honest, happening-right-now facts, and that’s what you’re calmly communicating. This is not the moment to get defensive and attack your supervisor or co-worker because they should know how much you have on your plate. Yelling will accomplish nothing. Honestly and clearly communicating that you have some reservations, though at times awkward, is your only option.

Supervisor: Why would you not think we could do this project?

You: We might be able to do it, but we have two other projects to finish this week and I just need to make sure it’s doable.

Supervisor: What if you can get so-and-so to help you?

You: You’re right and that might be the solution, but could I have a few minutes, even 15, to think about how that will affect me (or the team)?

Supervisor: Sure thing. Let’s talk after.

3. The Rule of Improv

In classical, live improv there’s a rule of, “Yes, and…” In that moment when you’re improvising and you’re presented with a scene, you are not allowed to disagree. If the actor says, “Check out this banana peel,” you can’t say, “Nope, that’s a monkey arm.” Saying NO stops the brainstorm of solution-gathering and halts creativity. The same is true in production work. Instead of saying, “No, we can’t do that story,” why not respond with, “That sounds cool. What could that look like?” and then maybe transition to, “What if it looked a little simpler – like it was written or the person told it from the stage?” Now we’re getting somewhere! We’re still getting the story and not killing ourselves!

Look, I get it, these are not fix-all steps that’ll revolutionize your work and family life this week, but I do think they’re a beginning to understanding that we are all going to do what we want to do. If I want to work late on a project and not get home until way too late, then I know the steps I have to take to do that, but if I want to take my wife out and spend time with my kids and not end up burned out in the ministry, I can do that, too. I just have to figure out how to manage expectations, communicate honestly, and understand that I have a responsibility to the team to provide solutions. When those tools are developed and at my disposal, then here we go! We’re finishing projects and I’m on my way home to catch the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which (spoiler alert) will never end. : )

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