The winter holidays are fast approaching. Most of us are bound to take at least a few days off between now and the end of the year. Some of us will be lucky enough to take a week off or even more and travel. Whether you are taking time to visit family or using up vacation days before they expire, you don't want your vacation to get interrupted by an angry client or confused assistant editor.
After a little crowdsourcing and calling on some past experiences I’ve come up with some guidelines to making your vacation work- and worry-free without leaving your clients or co-workers in a bind. I’ve broken this up into three sections – Backing Up, Alerts & Hierarchy and Tying Up Loose Ends.
Whenever you are going to have an extended time away from your system you must always back up your media. I’ve worked in an environment where I had a media server and another where my media is located on portable hard drives that sit at my desk.
With a media server like an ISIS your media should be pretty secure. Check with your server person to make sure everything is working properly. If there’s something vitally important that you may need, then make a copy and keep it on a portable hard drive or in the cloud.
When working with portable hard drives make sure you copy everything (or at least everything remotely important) to a spare hard drive. I even suggest backing it up to two hard drives and taking one home, away from the office. This is for two reasons. First, something could happen to the office (a break-in, someone spills water in your edit bay, fire, etc.). The second is so you have easy access to your media in case there is a real emergency and you need to take care of something right before you leave or once you return from vacation.
Make sure to backup all of your projects and important elements along with your media as well. Put these on a secured server, another portable hard drive or the cloud. ScreenLight has another great post on backing up techniques.
Alerts & Hierarchy
Before bolting for the door and jumping on an airplane you need to write down everything of importance in relation to your projects. You do this for two reasons. First, you don’t want a producer telling a client something that isn’t accurate or a junior editor accidentally overwriting any files. Second is for you when you return. You want to be able to jump right back in to your projects once you return from your trip.
I’m a big believer in keeping a Current Projects Log. It’s a good habit anytime of the year, not just when you are going on vacation. The log should have the name of the project, the editor, the producer and a dated schedule of all the events that have taken place for each project. You can even take it a step further and have more information than that on it like the client’s contact information, due dates, etc.
To make it easy for you to get started, I've created a sample Current Projects Log that you can download and customize.
Who can do what
This step is very dependent on the type of work environment you are in. If it’s just you editing then you don’t have much to worry about. No one is going to go into your projects without your knowledge. But if you’re in an environment where other editors, less-skilled editors to be precise, have access to your projects, media and assets, it’s best to setup rules on who can touch what. Make sure they know your workflow and labeling structure.
Based on your Current Project Log or other status sheet, determine what editor can touch what project. Brief them beforehand on what they might need to do and how to do it. This may take some time and patience. It’s better than the alternative, which is coming back to something like a sequence that was overwritten, knocked out of sync and is riddled with tons of missing media (true story).
If there is any task that only you can do that is time-sensitive, train someone or write down a step-by-step procedure the best you can. I once directed, edited and posted a weekly video podcast. When I went on my first vacation after taking over the show, I received frantic calls and emails disrupting and utterly ruining an afternoon on the beach as I walked them through updating an XML file for iTunes. Lesson learned.
Who can buy what
If you are in control of purchasing decisions, set a price that certain employees can spend in your absence. Maybe one of your editors is desperate for a new piece of music. Give someone the authority to spend the $30 on a royalty-free track. You don’t need to be bothered with that while you’re on vacation and the editor doesn’t need to wait for the thumbs up. It depends on your business and employees but I would set this mark somewhere between $75-150.
Tell everyone you will not be available
The funny thing about vacations is that as much as we love them, a lot of the time we are scared to tell people about them before we go. Maybe it’s fear that a boss or producer might try to put his or her foot down and say no. If that’s the case you might want to spend your vacation looking for a new job. It’s more likely you’ll get in trouble or worse if someone needs you while you’re gone and haven't let them know beforehand.
Of course you can’t tell everyone you have dealings with. Make sure all the essential people know. Tell all the producers, other editors, your boss, close co-workers and clients you have direct dealings with. Tell them how long you’ll be gone and if you will have email or phone communications. Don’t tell them they can call if you don’t actually want them to. Setup automatic out of office messages. Make sure to include in these messages when you’ll be back, the best way (if any) to reach you and who to reach if it’s an emergency.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Before hitting the road try to finish up any small open tasks and answer any questions people may have. Clear out your inbox if you can. Make final touches to your Current Projects Log. Send out a final email the last morning you’re in the office to your producers and close co-workers reminding them you’ll be gone and how and the reasons why, if any, to get ahold of you. Do this with your clients as well. Check to make sure the most recent version of your projects, media and assets are backed up. Finally put on your out of office message.
Vacations are a rare treat for those of us stuck in an edit bay most days. When you want to get away use these systems so you won’t be bothered and everything will be in its place for you when you return. It’s okay to shutdown. Prepare for it the right way and you’ll be worry-free for your vacation.