Even Superheroes Need Their Rest: 5 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance in the Production World
By Nik Bars and Emily Winters
Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, Batman has his Batcave, Wonder Woman has the beaches of her homeland Themyscira — even if you have superpowers, you need to take time to rest!
Just like superheroes, production professionals battle good and evil on set every day, rescuing department heads, talent, and producers from terrors large and small — all at the speed of The Flash.
Because physical and mental exhaustion increase stress as well as the chance for mistakes, they can lead to serious dangers on set. If you don’t take time away from your work, your social life and mental health will suffer.
Inspired by the work-life balance of superheroes, we asked members of the SetKeeper multiverse for their tips on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
1 — Keep the battle where it belongs: on the battlefield.
“I try my best to leave my work at work… I will usually monitor my phone if something comes up that can’t wait until tomorrow. If it can wait, though, I’ll let it wait.” — Edward, SetKeeper User
For all of their benefits, smartphones are time management kryptonite. The ultra-convenience of being able to reach anyone or check your email at all hours of the day — while certainly a benefit on occasion — destroys all chances of maintaining work-life boundaries.
You can set the tone for your production by making work-life balance expectations explicit from the beginning. A quick email setting your expectations will empower the rest of your crew to establish their own boundaries. For example, you could say “3 hours after calling wrap, I’ll put my phone on Do Not Disturb.”
When you’re off the clock, try your best to actually step away from work. Everyone needs time away from their work in order to unwind, be with their loved ones, and catch up on their personal life. Deal with emergencies as they arise, but guard your time wisely. Just because you can send that email, doesn’t mean you should!
2 — Stay in touch with your Avengers so they don’t assemble without you.
“It’s important to have open communication with your family and friends in this line of work. You can easily form a habit of disappearing for months at a time, which will sometimes make it hard to reintegrate when you find yourself with free time.” — Amry Landsberg, UPM
Like the heroes saving planets in galaxies far, far away, working on a film or series takes you away from your loved ones for months — maybe years — at a time. When you can’t rely on a familiar routine to stay in touch, you have to get creative.
2020 forced us all to come up with creative new ways of staying in touch, so use it for inspiration when you’re away on set. Schedule a time to play an online game with your friends (Scribbl and Among Us are SetKeeper favorites). Use the “watch together” feature of your favorite streaming service. Create strange new rituals; every time you see a yellow car, you’ll text them a picture of it.
The nature of production work means you may not be available for a lot of quality time, but there are plenty of small ways you can stay connected — no bat signal required.
To learn more about other fantastic communication tools check out our article 5 Tips for Transforming Your Production Office from a Three-Ring Circus into a Green, Efficient Workspace.
3 — Follow in Doctor Strange’s footsteps and take control of your time
“As the UPM a lot of people are asking me questions all day, interrupting me. I’ll do my best to say, ‘Hey, let me finish this,’ and I’ll quickly finish what I’m doing before I can give them my full attention.” — Claudine Marrotte, Producer
If your crew regularly asks you questions throughout the day, it can be hard to maintain focus on your tasks and also give your crew the attention they deserve. You don’t want to become the kind of leader who simply shouts “yes” or “no” to their minions without listening to the question or respecting their needs.
To calm the hurricane of questions and give your crew your undivided attention, don’t be afraid to activate your force field and ask them to send their questions via email or text; or to schedule time with you if they need to have a quick conversation. This way you can focus on every question one at a time and have dedicated, respectful conversations as required.
Google and Outlook Calendars are the old standards but, to make things even easier, check out free solutions like Doodle or Calendly that share your availability so people schedule a meeting themselves with just a few clicks.
4 — Prepare your utility belt in advance — you won’t regret it!
“Every day the first thing I do is make a list — or a to-finish list — depending on what got done before.” — Joshua A. Friedman, Assistant Director and Founder of Crew Me Up
Whether you’re leading a multi-million dollar production or an imminent galactic invasion, taking the time to get prepared will keep you organized and focused for the battle ahead.
Create a ritual at the beginning of the day (or the night before) to get back into production mode:
- Do a “brain dump” of tasks you know you have to do that day.
- Review urgent emails
- Visualize how you want to feel at the end of the day (accomplished? powerful?)
- Something fun, funny, creative, or silly, like dancing to a high-energy song
Once you’re in the zone mentally, make sure you’re prepared physically: pack some healthy snacks (or make sure they’re available at craft services), do some stretches, and make sure your schedule gives you enough time for rest! Sleep isn’t sexy or exciting, but if you’re not getting enough your performance will suffer. The last thing your team needs is for you to “Hulk smash” your way through the day!
5 — Take advantage of your Fortress of Solitude
“Every now and then I take a ‘me day.’ I don’t do any chores, don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at my phone, email — anything that could be work-related. I don’t even cook and will order something instead. I have a miniature vacation in my home, do whatever I want to do without worrying about work or social obligations.” — Jordan, SetKeeper User
Ever wonder why Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is out in the middle of a desolate frozen tundra? It’s because even people stronger than a locomotive need some “me time.”
If you’re on a stressful show and have a day off, make a point to do something that you — and only you — want to do. Do something or go somewhere as a treat for yourself and enjoy it to its fullest.
You could go to a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try, catch a movie, go to the spa, spend some time on your passion project, or even just sit on the couch. What’s important is that you distance yourself from the obligations of your day job. We work hard in this industry and everyone deserves to reward themselves every once in a while!
The Avengers, X-Men, and Justice League… Superheroes are amazing on their own, but when they team up, their powers leap to an extraordinary level. This is a good lesson to keep in mind for the production world: the individuals who make up your crew keep the ball rolling. Line Producer, Jarl Devine explains it as, “The reality is people make this industry go… [Technology is] there to support what we do but, fundamentally it’s a meeting of the minds from every department that comes together to make this product… There’s no heavy machinery that does all the heavy lifting for us and to get to the end of something is quite rewarding.”
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