Like most professionals, email is the biggest – yes, you read that correctly, the biggest – time professional time suck in my daily slew of activities. It’s not our clients’ fault, actually. How are they supposed to know?
I mean, how are our clients supposed to realize we PMDs often receive over 300 pieces of work email daily which all demand prompt responding? How are they supposed to know that not every email can be replied to in as fulsome a manner as they send it? That any reply beyond a few perfunctory paragraphs and checking off a list of deliverables is oftentimes not possible? They’re not. That’s not their job, it’s yours.
It’s your job as Producer of Marketing and Distribution to manage expectations and to organize the workflow so that not only you, but your clients, aren’t blown away by a deluge of correspondence. A flood yanking them away from their their primary task of making the best film for the money, with all supporting materials and required backup infrastructures. The director sets the course, but the PMD and production team keep the vessel afloat.
My general approach is to collect emails from a particular source, then channel the creative juice to a more collaborative workspace, like Google Drive where everyone – who’s anyone – who owns a Gmail address and a universal Google profile can avail themselves of any Google-based tool. Rather than be “polite and comprehensive,” my approach is instead to keep things highly-spartan while simultaneously being highly-organized. Rather than hammer through a shopping list of one sentence “Okay, thanks, got it” or “thank you” messages with similar one sentence knockoffs, or firing back voluminous salvos just like the ones you received from your sender, treat all messages as one massive digest.
Once you see the issues laid out on a massive document – or spreadsheet, but preferably a document – it’s easier to attack the list, one battle at a time.
Email typically adds little value to the creative process. It can tie you down in hours of so-called “work” while appearing to be highly productive and busy while the truth is usually far removed from that.
There have been past attempts to curtail email abuse like mandating three sentence replies – no more – or various email manifestos, but the beast keeps sprouting up like weeds.
Don’t get me wrong
I am not anti-email.
In fact, I admire email for what it’s designed for: laying out complex thoughts in a convenient manner, wherever, whenever, and however the sender deems appropriate.
I desperately need email to push certain tasks though or get at certain people who don’t publish phone contacts, for instance, or who are not phone people (I’m one of those). With the growth of the PMDing movement since 2008, my workflow has become 24h-around-the-clock, so I do have the odd workday where I fire off a 3am reply. In the real world, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. In fact, it would be seen as bizarre.
The other thing I appreciate about email: I can conduct simultaneous conversations with different clients groups around the continent. I can lasso geographically-dispersed people with a simple message (don’t abuse the cc:ing function, since not everyone needs to be in on every conversation).
Email off of different platforms:
Another thing that’s contributed to the email deluge isn’t mobile technology, per se, but smartphones in particular. That email is now “always-on” means that senders have no qualms about whipping off one-liners or replying via disorganized formats.
To wit, I’m known for slicing and dicing my emails efficiently.
I precede all comment sections with a clearly highlighted and bolded “ADM – ” and I snip away extraneous bits so the thing doesn’t look like a nuclear testing ground. I keep the language to the point. Threads don’t go beyond an “ADM2 – ” and my rule is if it starts to get unwieldy, either compose a new message or take things to the Master Deliverables List.
Another thing I observe: emailing from a PC with rich functionality when the recipient checks it off an iPhone, the whole edifice comes crumbling down. Formatting is not compatible between platforms even the best-laid plans to keep messages organized are obliterated once the message gets adulterated by “Sent from my iPhone” signatures (you can actually toggle those off) and everyone’s competing formatting protocols. For example, some of these use “ > ”s, others use spaces, others use italicizing. It can get really tricky.
Don’t be afraid to use codes like “NNTR,” meaning “No Need to Reply.” Certain things are “read only,” and your use of NNTR as sender signals your intention to keep people in the loop with no need for a time-consuming answer.
“EOM” in the subject header means “End of Message” – that there’ll be no further dialogue about this subject. Period.
Sure, it’s making an executive decision of sorts and definitely a ring of finality to it, but that’s why we’re hired as PMDs. To make those sorts of decisions.
The aim of the above approaches ostensibly is to make email a more fitting, more efficient communications medium and to use – not abuse – it for what is was designed for.
Firing off messages like expendable shells from a Gatling gun do not serve the cause of your film properly, because time is money. Also, multiple replies – and especially smartphones miscues as glass buttons are accidentally flicked – make you look bush league-y. You don’t want to leave that sort of impression with your interlocutors: neither your investors, nor your cast, above-the-line crew, nor others.
Since we all get too much of the stuff, my approaches help me keep it all in place. I am today master of my own Inbox, not vice-versa. Bringing down some of these techniques into your life – in addition to not checking your box first thing to start your day(that’s their priorities, not yours!) – is a way to bring order into the chaos.
And, just so there’s no confusion: EOM.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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