Sunday, August 12, 2018

When There's Nothing But The Grind

First off, I want to make sure that this doesn't come off sounding wrong. The title is accurate, but perhaps not for the reason folks might suspect.

As the Producer and Editor of The Testing Show, the heavy lifting of getting a show finished and up on Apple Podcasts is done by me. Yes, when we schedule the recording the panel and guests are all in on it together. When I deliver it to QualiTest, they take care of posting it so it's available. At times I am able to outsource the transcription process, but not always. This episode, it's all in my wheelhouse due to vacation an unavailability of my regular transcriptionist (who does a fantastic job, I might add and worth the price to have them do it).

There's no easy way to say it; to produce the show to the level I want to have it, with as clean audio as possible, grammatical edits and a full transcription so those who are hearing impaired can follow along, there are no time-saving shortcuts. Every second of the audio needs to be examined, edits made, transitions cleaned up, and waveforms spliced so that there is a minimum of intrusion. If I've done a good enough job, the end listener should just think it's a seamless conversation. For anyone who has actually done editing for podcast dialog, you know what I mean when I say, as soon as you've done these kinds of edits, you forever hear them in other podcasts, too. Perhaps I'm a little too aggressive in this process but since I do it this way, it takes quite a while to edit each show. The tricky part is (since I'm dealing with edited audio and transcribing edited audio), this is the literal definition of an extended monotask. When I write code, test, or write these blog entries, I can have other things going on in the background, take little detours, let my mind idle for a bit and then pick up again. When I'm editing the podcast, I don't get that break. I have to be focused and nothing else can be vying for my attention while I do it. For veteran podcasters, this probably comes as no surprise, but I can (and frequently do) spend about six hours per episode from completion of recording until handoff for posting. It can really chew you up some days but there is no exhilaration quite like when it's all finished and the email goes out saying "It's all ready to post, have at it!"

To relay this to testing and the oft-heard fact that monotasking is the best way to accomplish a goal, I both agree and disagree. Having to switch contexts from one project to another frequently does make for inefficient work and I have plenty of experience with that in my everyday testing life. However, too much focus on one thing, even if I am "in the flow", will physically chew me up and fatigue me fast. Still, there's no way around it. The show needs to be edited, it needs my undivided attention and that undivided attention can easily spread to six hours per show. What to do?

This is where I have to exercise supreme diligence if I don't want to drive myself crazy. Was I a smart individual, I would block out the track immediately, determine where I could perform rough cuts, do them within the first hour, and then approach a fine tuning on subsequent days, spending no more than an hour at a time on any given day. Of course, that doesn't often happen. What typically happens is I find myself coming up on a deadline and then the sense of "compression" takes over. With that sense of compression the "procrastination adrenaline" kicks in. From there, I move Heaven and Earth to get it all done in one Herculean shot and, once I do, I feel both joyous that I have finished it and absolutely mentally drained at the sheer volume of the process. This, of course, lingers in my memory, but for some strange reason, it doesn't make me any more likely to be more diligent the next time. So many times, it really does come down to "Dude, this is the last day before the deadline, now you have to do "The Grind" all in one day!" For a long time I thought I was just insane, but as I've talked to many creative types in various capacities, this approach is way more common than I thought. In a way, the combination of "time compression" and "procrastination adrenaline" all come flooding in at once, and that sense of terror is both motivating and, again, exhilarating. It's terrible on the nervous system, though. The hangover that comes after completion is rough and I literally feel like I need days to recover. Yet time after time I find myself doing it again. It's as though there is a form of "project amnesia" that creeps in. Either that or my amygdala just craves that terror state and tricks me into doing it again and again.

Question for those out there reading this... how do you deal with a project that demands sincere monotasking? Are you measured and deliberate? Are you a procrastination adrenaline junkie? Somewhere in between? How do you deal with it? What are your approaches to making it more manageable? Don't get me wrong, I love producing the show and will continue to do so. I'm just looking for better ways of keeping what little of my overall sanity I have intact ;).


MrsVJW said...

Yes, audio edits take full concentration. You can do what you can to put out all the DO NOT DISTURB messages.

You can also realize it is NOT as serious an edit as a blockbuster movie... we do a bit of Pluralsight training at my work and I've come to notice ever "um" and "ahhhh" and word stumble - they leave them in. Actually makes it seem more like a real conversation/experience.

And take the words of seasoned old technical writer... let it go. It's okay to release things in to the world that are not 100% perfect as long as you put as much effort as your could in to it, within the lines of keeping a work/life/sanity balance.

Karlo Smid said...

Hi Michael, I am glad that you are back on this blog!

Recently, I got task to write detail documentation in markup for REST testing framework. It is a long and tedious task. To keep it sane, I decided to learn new editor and all its shortcuts. In this case, this is spacemacs (emacs). I also learn to type without looking at the keyboard, and I use this task as a typing exercise (not all the time).