Jodie Foster was the reigning queen of Hollywood when she began directing films in the nineties. As an actress, she’d been a child prodigy, booking her first commercial for Coppertone when she was just a toddler. By age twelve, she’d famously earned an Oscar nomination for her controversial role in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. By twenty six, she’d won two of them.
In 1991, Foster made her directorial debut with the box office success, Little Man Tate. Though acting had provided a thorough film school experience for Foster, she still felt like a fish out of water. She credits her youth and audacity for the decision to jump right into directing. “The good news about being twenty seven years old is you’re pretty unconscious, and you don’t think about how hard it is what you’re undertaking,” she told Buzzfeed. Leading up to this experience, what acting perhaps, hadn’t taught her was the extreme attention to detail it took to build a timetable for a full cast and crew. In addition, she’d have to learn how to effectively build storyboard sequences, and construct scenes that visually worked on camera.
Things looks quite different from the other side of the lens, and she knew she’d have to pivot quickly to build a system for herself. One of the top lessons she immediately picked up was the beauty of scheduling everything. Some creative types see the breakage of time into slots as a limitation that suffocates their muse and prevents a free flow process, but Foster says it’s quite the opposite for her. In fact, she’s relied on a strong agenda and rigid deadlines for her best work. “Always be aware of scheduling, and don’t feel that it’s not creative,” she said, “you’re actually protecting your ability to be creative by making sure that you have your parameters nailed down.”
Though most of us aren’t shooting big budget films, chances are that our roles still require creative thinking, tight schedules, and the expectation that we’ll achieve a lot in a small window of time. By instinct, most of us want to attain a certain level of freedom, and figure that we’ll deal with things as they come up, especially where creative thinking is concerned. The concept of reducing life’s details into time increments may sound boring and tedious. Yet, many of us rely solely on to-do lists or crossing bridges when we get to them, and consequently, beat ourselves up when we’ve failed to tick off every item.
Sometimes we stick with outdated tactics because they’ve worked in the past, but if we’re honest, they’re not ideal in meeting long term potential. As a movie star, Foster may seem a world away from normality, but her simple approach in navigating projects with many moving parts is as down to earth as it gets.
Preplanning Nurtures Productivity
As people, we’re complex creatures. To feel alive and inspired, we crave options. Yet, reserving a part of yourself to be that Type A person who commits to schedules, and has everything nailed down doesn’t have to take away from your fun.
In fact, all it takes is a few tweaks. The traditional to-do list can be lifesaving for running errands or packing a suitcase, but having one as a sole navigator causes balls to drop and confusion of priorities. All it takes is a small amount of work to plan a time-boxed schedule to run our lives and slot things in a way that makes the most of our day. Of planning your schedule in advance, Foster advises, “If you make the time to plan ahead and prep, you’ll save time and energy, you could save money, and you’ll always have more to work with.”
With free online resources like schedulebuilder.org, there are a number of accessible choices in setting up a template to run your day. When sitting down to build your timetable, look at your most prominent tasks and consciously decide when you want to do them, based on their length of completion time. Each time block should act as a distraction-free slot that helps you focus on one task at a time.
Having a built-in timetable doesn’t just benefit your career. “Keeping a calendar is not only useful for work-related tasks,” says time management expert, Nir Eyal, “We can hold time for our important relationships and for investing in ourselves too.” You can benefit every facet of your life by additionally creating time slots for work outs, walks with friends, and even your weekly bubble bath or face mask.
Release The Past
In creating an airtight schedule that aligns with your objectives, recognize the difference between tasks that hold value and chores that simply kill time. We tend to hold onto what feels safe. Sometimes we hide behind what’s clearly not working, because it’s familiar or comforting. Foster explains, “We want to make decisions and we hold onto them, despite the fact that we start seeing that they need to evolve and change as they hit air and the other people who are part of it.” Begin questioning the tasks that may be slowing you down. Consider brushing up weaker skills or migrating to platforms that could add value to your process. Life is trial and error, and as humans, we must always consciously avoid the slippery slope of complacency.
In closing her emotional acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award at the 2013 Golden Globes, Foster made a vow. “I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved,” she said. “Jodie Foster is here, and I want to be understood deeply.” In baring her soul this way, and being able to add Director to her job title, Foster created a process that focused on the details that mattered and provided space for a vision to grow. Regardless of what you create in life, organization feeds ideas and provides them the support they need to flourish. Foster’s common sense tools of a tight schedule and thinking ahead have been the backbone of her expression and helped build the legacy she holds today.