Lessons from 2015 – 4 – The Awesome power of Checklists

OK, geek time! This is perhaps a very y-chromosome thing to get excited about, but this year I’ve really benefitted from using checklists in several areas.  At least in my work life – I don’t have one for getting dressed in the morning or going to the bar to order a round of drinks.

Despite being a bit (!) of a perfectionist, and quite technically minded, I’ve always shied away from being quite as organised as this when it comes to work and technical issues, preferring  to muddle through.  This has, predictably, lead to a few headaches in recent years.  The days when I could pick up or rent a new piece of kit, take it straight out of the box, figure out how to use it in 30 seconds, and then just get shooting, are now few and far between.  So much kit is now so complex that not only do I actually need to read the manual (no, really) but having used something successfully once, there’s a massive benefit to making a checklist of what I did right, so I can repeat it the next time.

DSLR Shoulder Rig
I’ve rented this video rig from Calumet once, and it took ages to get set-up right. I made sure to take notes for future use, and save them as a checklist. Because I’m exciting like that.

This sounds super-geeky, I realise, but let’s be honest, if it’s a bit of equipment I don’t rent or use very often, or a procedure I don’t do on every shoot, am I really likely to remember every intricate detail?  I know from experience that the answer is a resounding “no”, and all too often I’ve made this discovery far from base, in inclement weather, under a time-pressured situation.  Not fun.  Since I regularly work with other personnel like assistants, being able to hand off information like this and leave them to get to work with minimal guidance is quite handy!

Here are just a few techy checklists I’ve created over the past 12 months:

– Correct rigging for tethering the D4/D800 to lightroom
– Correct mounting of cameras to shoulder video rigs
– Packing lists for various equipment cases.
– The right way to wire up my Tascam sound mixer.

The best solution for creating and using checklists is Evernote, which I’ve become a massive fan of in the past 12 months.  Checklists can be shared and synced across all my devices – not least my phone – and can be printed out if it’s easier.  The basic version is free, although after a few months I shelled out for the premium one as I tend to upload a lot of images and the extra space is handy.

Besides cold, technical matters, a checklist can be very handy in more esoteric areas.  I’ve always had a pretty efficient workflow, created by necessity due to shooting so much.  However, one area where I’ve always fallen a bit short is in making the most use of my work.  In previous years I’ve been so busy that all I care about is simply getting each job out of the door as soon as possible.  Commendable from my client’s point of view, but from my end it can mean that not much happens to work once it’s been delivered.  I’m very slack about updating my portfolio, website, and posting things on social media – and I’m missing out.  I now have checklists for each job, which not only cover the basic stages of downloading, processing, archiving, and delivery, but also the next steps of pushing the work out via social media channels, creating versions for my printed portfolio and website and so on.  The observant stalkers amongst you might have noticed how much more active I’ve been on all these channels in the 2nd half of 2015!  It’s yet another thing I worked on with Ebonie Allard over the summer, and very worthwhile it’s been too.

Checklists - What fun!
A completed job – it gets quite satisfying to tick the boxes.

So swallow your fear of geekiness, and embrace the power of a simple checklist.  Start simple, with something like “how I pack my camera bag”, and then progress to more complex matters.  Before you know it you’ll be unable to work without a tick-box sheet in front of you. Yay for anally retentive perfectionism!

And have a very pleasant few days off.  I thoroughly intend to!

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