This article discusses what decision fatigue is and how to fight it as a video editor.
Introducing the Problem of Decision Fatigue
Wayyy back when I wrote a post called something like, “Done is Better than Perfect”. The TL;DR of it was that most of the time getting a video project out the door and delivered is better than having a perfect video project. Getting your video over to your client, director, producer, or audience is more important than having the video be 100% flawless.
The perfect video project simply doesn’t exist (unless you count Interstellar which by all accounts is the greatest movie ever made 😉). There will always be adjustments you could make. There could always be shots that need more color correction. More audio that needs sweetening. Different pacing, shot selection, etc. The thing about videos is that we’re making a 1,000-piece puzzle with 10,000 pieces while not being able to see the box to see what we’re supposed to be creating.
More importantly getting your video to the next step, whether that’s over to the client/director for review or published for your audience, is more beneficial for you than scratching your head over what you should be doing to improve the video. The client is going to have comments regardless. The director is going to want changes made regardless. And your audience just wants to see your work.
I’m writing this to you and myself. I’m constantly having to remind myself that I’m not going to make the perfect YouTube video. Or write the perfect blog post. I have to remind myself that the awesome people watching and reading my work just want to watch and read my work! It’s never perfect. It’ll never be perfect. Watch Casey Neistat. Even though he’s one of the biggest YouTube stars and is from the “biz”, his videos aren’t perfect. What people enjoy is his creativity, the way he tells a story and makes his point, the consistency of which he publishes, and so on.
The thing about videos is that we’re making a 1,000-piece puzzle with 10,000 pieces while not being able to see the box to see what we’re supposed to be creating.
What is Decision Fatigue?
When we’re editing videos the hardest thing to do is make a decision. But that’s literally our job. Make the decision. Decide what shot should go here. Decide how the sound bites should be ordered. Choose to use a cutaway or stay on the CU. That’s what we have to do.
Have you heard of this thing called decision fatigue? Basically the way I understand it is that the more decisions we make throughout the day the less wise decisions we make by the end of the day. So if we can automate some of those decisions (with things like routines) we have more mental capacity to make proper decisions later in the day.
If we automatically set out our clothes the night before, when we wake up and get dressed it’s like 6 less decisions for us to make since we don’t have to decide which pants, shirt, socks, etc. Our brains can’t completely see the different weight of decisions. Whether we should wear bring an umbrella with us is the roughly the same to our brain as whether we should send that super passive-aggressive email. (As a reminder: I’m not a psychologist. These are just my thoughts. I could clearly be incorrect about this.)
Anyway, back to editing. A video editor faces decision fatigue more often than most professionals.
I worked in a restaurant for nearly a decade growing up. A shift in a restaurant is without a doubt harder on the body than any day I’ve had in the edit bay. But on the brain, at least looking back with rose-colored glasses, working as a waiter / busboy / host / cashier / dishwasher (yes, I did them all) was immensely easier. The tables all got sat the same way. They all got cleaned and set the same way. I answered the phone the same way. The decisions I had to make were minimal.
Fast forward to my early 30s and I look at my daily work life as an editor and from the second I turn on my computer I’m being bombarded with choices.
- Do I respond to this email or wait until John gets him to ask him a question about it?
- Which project should I work on first?
- Am I going to ask my boss about that project I want to work on but don’t know how she’ll react?
- Which shot should I use? There are 5 to choose from. (And this one particular decision repeats about 750 times throughout the day)
Decisions. Decisions. I’ll be straight with you. The only way I know how to fight this are with these two simple tips.
How a Video Editor Combats Decision Fatigue
Tip #1: Routine.
The first one is routine. As mentioned above, we can fight video editor decision fatigue by using routines like setting our clothes out the night before. In the edit bay however we can fight it by being as automatic about things as we can. Use the same file structure, project layouts, presets, etc. as possible. That’s not to say every single project should look and sound the same. But they should all be set up and organized the same. This way you’re not having to think about where to find a file or decide where a file should go or decide what to name a file. Have a consistent pattern. And keep it.
I never ever ever have to think about how I name a file. Every time it’s [client]-[project]-[version]-[yymmdd]. Some people have super elaborate filenames which is fine for them and super interesting. But for me, I keep it like this and it works for me and I never have to think about it.
Tip #2: Make a Decision and Move on.
The second tip is to just make a choice and move on. Realize it’s never going to be perfect. I’m not advocating for sloppiness. I’m advocating for assertiveness. Once you get something that looks good and that works…keep it and just move on. You can come back later and rethink it if you must. But it’s more important to keep grinding away at the project.
The past few years I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with meditation. I use Calm (yes the app that is all of a sudden advertising EVERYWHERE!). One of the meditation practices is that when a thought occurs and you realize it, that you let it go and watch it float away. Then you go back to focusing on your breath. It’s kinda the same thing with editing. Thoughts of doubt are going to creep up. See it. Realize it’s there. Let it go. Watch it float away then go back to focusing on the next edit.
Realize it’s never going to be perfect. Be assertive about your decisions, not sloppy.
Summing Up How to Fight Decision Fatigue as a Video Editor
To wrap this up, because my steaming hot coffee when I began this writing is now ice cold, remember that getting a project to the next step is more important that toiling over an editing decision. Our videos will never be perfect. Each day we face an extreme amount of decisions and they take a toll on our ability to think properly. We can fight this by being regimented with some of our decisions and by just making a choice and moving on.
Editing isn’t for everyone. It can eat away at you. Maybe it’s because of decision fatigue. I’m really not sure. But hopefully this post was able to help shine a little light on this topic that isn’t really being talked about in our social circles. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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