I'm an inveterate note-taker. I have note taking utensils on my desk, my nightstand, in my pocket, and in my car. I even keep a pen on my keychain. Once I decide to do a project (or even consider doing a project), I create a new folder on my hard disk for it. (I usually put the folder right on the desktop for convenience, but that's just my personal preference.) The folder helps keep everything, or at least all the digital elements my notes, materials, files, movies, pictures, scripts, and so on in one place throughout the production. Some projects also require a physical container, like a file folder or envelope, for non-digital documents, paperwork, and other stuff I can't store on my hard drive.
I know the checklist at the end of the chapter like the back of my hand. Whenever I think about any element of any project, I jot it down immediately. If I'm at my Mac, I type it into my project overview document. If I'm away from the computer, I write a note and stuff it in my pocket. When I get back to my office, I empty my pocket onto the desk and transfer my notes from paper into my project overview document.
Make an outline
I almost always start by creating an outline for the project. I like outlines. I've been using an outliner on my Mac since ThinkTank 512 for Mac in the late '80s. Almost every project I do writing, video, DVD, presentation, whatever starts as an outline.
Outlining lets me easily hide and show levels of detail in my document; move chunks around quickly, easily, and visually with drag and drop; and organize the order and grouping of elements and sub-elements painlessly. The outline metaphor works for me when planning and managing projects and it always has.
Microsoft Word has an outline mode, and that's what I use to plan most writing projects. It's not the most intuitive outliner I've used, but once you get the hang of it, it's quite powerful. Since I use Word all the time anyway, I use the Word outliner a lot. (See Figure 2.1.)
Figure 2.1. I used Microsoft Word v.X's outliner for the master outline of this book.
If you're not a Word user, another nice outlining solution is the inexpensive ($29.95) OmniOutliner, a gorgeous and easy-to-use outliner. OmniOutliner was developed exclusively for Mac OS X in native Cocoa, so it takes full advantage of everything OS X has to offer and is Aqua-licious as well. It's well suited to the type of project outlines you might create for a DVD. (See Figure 2.2.)
Figure 2.2. The same outline, imported into OmniOutliner.
Before I leave the subject of outlines and outliners, some people are more comfortable with a visual approach instead of outlining. If you're not hip to outlining, there's another Omni program, OmniGraffle, that you might prefer. It's another Cocoa/Aqua-licious offering for creating diagrams, family trees, flow charts, organization charts, layouts, and graphs, as shown in Figure 2.3. You can download a free demo version of this $59.95 program at www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnigraffle.
Figure 2.3. A small part of the same outline, imported into OmniGraffle.
The bigger the project, the more helpful and timesaving a good planning and tracking system will be. And I've always found that you'll save time and effort later if you organize all the disparate parts of your project in one place sooner.
It really doesn't matter if you use Word, OmniOutliner, OmniGraffle, Stickies, the Finder, or even your memory if it's good enough, to keep track of the elements that make up a project. What's important is that you keep track of them somehow.
Define your objectives
I try to start every project regardless of its nature by asking myself the Five W Questions, before I invest any more time in it:
I admit it's a journalism technique, but it only takes a few minutes and it can help define the project more clearly. A lot of later decisions will be based on the answers to these five Ws, so I usually put this at the top of any project checklist and work through it first.
Next, I create a "one-sentence pitch" for my project. I try to describe what I want to do in a single sentence. This helps tighten my focus even further.
"This DVD will be sent to Mom, Dad, and Aunt Shana so they can see how big the kids have grown since last summer."
"This DVD will contain a product demo for potential investors."
"This is an instructional DVD to be sold through direct-response advertising."
"This is a music video to promote my band's new recording project."
And so on.