You Only Got One Shot (Actually That's Probably Not True)

I sit down at my computer and stare at the brief. A bead of sweat makes it way down my right temple. In the background, a familiar beat starts playing. Eminem asks me a question:

If you had one shot or one opportunity…
to seize everything you ever wanted…
In one moment…
Would you capture, or just let it slip?


Okay, maybe I’m being overdramatic, but creatives have a penchant for theatrics when it comes to work. It's easy to view every project as the be-all-end-all when you’re passionate about what you do. Every brief that comes across your project management dashboard is your next Grand Prix or chance to move up the ranks, right?

While your ambition is admirable, it’s not sustainable or helpful. If everything is a priority, then nothing is, and the outcome of that thinking is burnout.

So, how do you manage #agencylife to create your best work, without resorting to cocaine or quitting altogether? Here a few field-tested thoughts from the trenches at James & Matthew:

Prioritize based on potential.

Every project has a box to create in. This includes scope, budget, deadline, desired results, etc. When your passion gets in the way of recognizing those limitations, you miss out on putting more into the projects that are a better fit for pushing boundaries.

Simply put, projects are like relationships. You should treat them all with respect, but learn to identify and invest more in those that are likely to flourish and grow.

Be brilliant at the basics.

Prioritizing projects doesn’t mean that those items that are allotted less energy get less quality on the execution. The fundamentals should be mastered and expected. Having these principles as reflexes will allow you to create quality work at speed.

Beyond the individual level, you need to agree on the minimum viable product as an agency. Every piece of work, even the smaller projects, represents your and your client’s brand. Create standards that are reasonable for every project to meet.

Set the project vision up front.

Once you understand your minimum viable product, you can spend more time identifying which projects deserve more energy.

I can remember being on set after a 16 hour day, with one last shot to capture. The framing we needed proved difficult to capture because of a restriction with our location. There was a moment where we could have taken the easy way out, and left with a shot that was just okay. The longer you’re on set, the easier that decision becomes.

However, we set a vision for what the project meant before the brief ever hit Basecamp. This was a critical opportunity to move the client forward, and create work for our agency that reflected the best of who we are, and where we are headed.

Because our team understood the vision — and the priority of this project — they pushed past “okay” at the expense of staying even later. All of us understood the vision, and our passion for our craft was channeled in a way that was productive for both client and agency. The key is making that decision before passion or exhaustion have opportunity to take hold.

Craig Birchfield is the creative director/agent of chaos at James & Matthew. He’s a transplanted Floridian in the frozen wonderland of Massachusetts and enjoys the little things in life - mostly scotch and cigars.