There’s an ongoing debate between the artistic right and logical left halves of my little brain. Righty wants to make stuff without being hampered by structure and discipline, but Lefty is quick to remind that things get forgotten or lost, and that especially in film, a collaborator has to come in behind me and make sense of everything.

Here are some tricks I’ve developed over the years to stay organized without bogging down my flow:

Make a To-Sort bin:

I borrowed this trick from the MythBusters, believe it or not. Jamie Hyneman is known for being very strict when it comes to his shop. His labeled bins span floor to ceiling in the background of every MythBusters episode.

One day, though, I noticed something interesting. Near the shelves was a large bin with a sign that read something to the effect of “If you don’t know where it goes or don’t have time, it goes here.” It was a to-sort bin! Brilliant! You can work at any pace, toss stuff in the bin as you go, and sort later when you have time. Nothing misplaced, nothing lost.

I keep a to-sort folder on my desktop (which presently has 121 items in it), and a space in my closet for the odd item.

Keep a journal handy and take notes:

Like a to-sort bin for your brain, this is by far my most frequently used tool; my little black Moleskine notebook is always at my side, ready for whatever note or doodle springs to mind. I make it a point to date and label the pages so they’re easy to find later.

I’ve started to use Evernote for the same reasons on my computer. It’s a repository when I can dump ideas, web-clippings, pictures–whatever I want to make a note of for future reference.

Aside from just remembering things, a journal is a powerful creative tool. Your creative ‘spirit’ wants to run and play, but if it’s worried it’s cleverness will be forgotten, it shuts down. Writing ideas and thoughts down frees your mind to wander without the stress of lost ideas.

Clean-up after play time:

This is more of a discipline than a tip, but it bears mentioning. Much like the sort-bin, schedule your clean-up for AFTER your work is done, but be diligent to do it. When you stop for the day, you’re not done. Take the 5-10 minutes it takes to clean up and re-organize everything and empty your to-sort bin. You’ll be able to dive back in the next time you sit down to work (and more importantly, FIND THINGS).

Keep non-essential items out of sight, and frequently used objects nearby:

I don’t remember where I picked this up, but there’s af Japanese workflow philosophy called S5 where infrequently used tools are organized and packed away, while frequently used tools are kept at your fingertips. I follow this principal as much as possible and the rewards are a clutter free mind and workspace.

Yes, structure and organization schemes are the antithesis of free creativity, but with a little inventiveness and discipline, you can open yourself up to freedom you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Questions: What tricks to you employ to stay organized? What doesn’t work for you?

Dan Baker

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Dan works out his social anxieties by producing and directing films. He's a proud New Mexican, and prefers green over red.

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