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How I work: Ryan Freng

Current Position: Co-Founder and Creative Director
One word that best describes how you work: Patiently
Current mobile device: iPhone 6 (although the screen was just destroyed so I’m waiting to upgrade to X!)
Current computer: MacBook Pro (from 2012 but it’s still hanging in there!)

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?

Basecamp, DialpadFrame, and OmniFocus (discussed below) are my most used tools these days.

We’re managing dozens of projects at a time and keeping it all straight over email was a nightmare! With Basecamp I can keep track of multiple projects with multiple clients and team members without playing the ‘which email chain’ game. You can use just the features you need, while disabling those that you don’t. My head would explode without Basecamp.

Dialpad has simplified our phone situation so that no matter where you go, your desk phone is always there. It’s also helped me separate work and personal contacts so they’re not all mashed together in my cell phone. With Dialpad, I get all the features of a robust cloud voip system on my computer/phone/tablet/deskphone. It’s sweet and it’s from the guys who originally developed Google Voice.

Last but certainly not least if Frame. Frame is to review and feedback as Basecamp is to projects. Frame helps us manage review and feedback on video projects. It is a video review tool that keeps our internal and external feedback organized. You can watch a video and create timestamped comments for the editor to reply to. This allows us to give very specific feedback to a location in a video.

What’s your workspace setup like?

John (other founder) and I shared an office space for around four years. It was helpful when we were getting started because we could talk about everything. Now that we manage different areas and projects, separate offices are more appropriate. I’ve had my own office for about a year and a half.

I have a sit-stand desk because apparently sitting is killing us >:). It’s really nice to have the option to sit or stand since on shoots we’re on our feet so much and we don’t want to get too used to sitting. At my desk I have three monitors: one sideways for email/social/phone, the laptop screen for slack and the occasional second browser, and my primary monitor where I do all my work. It helps me keep distractions on separate screens in order to better focus on tasks.

In the back of my office I have a work bench and equipment shelving. If we had a CTO or primary cinematographer it would be me. I get to figure out what equipment we need, how to configure what we have, and to fix what isn’t working. I regularly have several projects going in various stages so my office is pretty cluttered.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

I am engineering minded so my brain is always going a million miles a minute. To help me focus I regularly use DND settings on all my devices as well as task lists. I also manage my task list regularly so that when I get home I can turn off the business brain for a few hours so I can have quality time with my family. Here is how I do it:

  • Wake up, DON’T CHECK EMAIL
    • Nothing can derail the other important things of the morning than email which can wait until office hours
  • Pray/exercise or otherwise do something good for my body, mind, and heart
  • Get the kids around for school and talk with them
  • Get to work
  • Review todos and set priorities for the day, DON’T CHECK EMAIL
    • Remember how that can derail you?
    • Set your priorities based on what you didn’t get done yesterday and what you have to get done today
  • Read Email – get to inbox 0
    • Once you’ve scheduled your day, it’s ok to read email
    • Reply quickly to everything you can
    • Create tasks for anything that requires other work
    • Defer the remaining email for response later (most email clients let you defer email now)
  • Turn on DND on devices and get started on tasks (although I mostly have DND always on on my computer so that I only get my messages when I want to check them)
  • Check your messages infrequently:
    • email every four hours or so
    • slack every hour
    • do not let these tools distract you from your actual work!
  • Reassess tasks at the end of the day
    • check off everything you’ve accomplished
    • assess what didn’t get accomplished and why
    • move tasks to tomorrow that are appropriate
  • Go home with the confidence that you didn’t miss anything

Often, after the kids are in bed, and I’ve done something useful around the house, I’ll jump back into a task or two before I go to bed. My goal is to get the business to a place where I can get everything done during the day that needs to be done.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I’ve just started using omnifocus and I love it! It has the complexity and simplicity that I need. I can create basic tasks, or very complex and deeply linked tasks. It works extremely well as a personal organizer and it can connect with any services that I would like it to.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

This is an interesting question. I could live without my phone and computer =) My third most used gadget or tool though, is probably my notebooks. I have a lot of technology that helps across the board but sometimes a good ol pen and paper work best. Because I’m such a technophile, I use the Rocketbook notebook and pen.

Do you find yourself always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take time to let your mind wander without concern for what’s next?

I’m always working on something. Not only do I have to run a business and continually develop it, but I get to work with clients creatively as a director and cinematographer. Whenever I finish a huge project I still have two other ones to work on. I’m constantly switching my business and creative hats. But I also regularly take breaks and relax. Without my hobbies or family time, I’d probably burn out pretty quickly. I love movies and technology so I created a youtube channel where we do lots of fun stuff. I’m also always involved in creative film projects, and I regularly play volleyball.

Something else we’ve started doing at home is going on Dad adventures. I take one of my kids and we spend about two hours doing something we don’t normally do. It’s great for special one-on-one time amidst my intense work schedule.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

Hmmm, hard to compare. Here are some things that I think I’m pretty good at: task management, responsiveness, and technology.

What do you listen to while you work?

I listen to podcasts and books while I drive, but when I’m at work you’ll often hear electronic or folk/acoustic genres coming from my office. I love the headspace that electronic can help me achieve, but sometimes the beautiful voices and instrumental of the indie/acoustic/folk sound make me feel energetic.

When I’m playing music for a group, though, I’ll regularly play “Oldies but goodies” or a “90s” playlist from Spotify. Those are songs for groups.

What are you currently reading?

I read a lot of fantasy and Sci-Fi. I’ll read anything Orson Scott Card as he is a brilliant writer. His characters have a depth like I’ve not found elsewhere. The Ender Quartet (Enders Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind) is quite possibly my favorite books of all time.

This month I’m reading The Core by Peter V. Brett, and next month it will be Oathbringer by another favorite author Brandon Sanderson.

Business-wise I also read a lot. I’m working on several books: Start With Why by Simon Sineck, and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson are currently on my desk.

Spiritually, I read a lot of Catholic theology and philosophy. Right now I’m re-reading Discernment of Spirits by Timothy Gallagher which is based on St. Ignatius.

Oh, and I read a lot of comics. Growing up I was (am) a giant geek and comics helped show me that being good and intelligent was a kind of strength. As we all know, with great power, comes great responsibility.

How do you recharge? Do you ever play console/board/mobile games?

I have two ways to recharge, the first is probably more healthy. The first way I recharge is through intentional time with my family and friends. Sitting together and talking becomes something I treasure since i’m so busy! Likewise, the Dad adventures are awesome. And if I can swing it, a date with my wife where we just go somewhere, have some coffee or food and just talk.

The second way is watching content and playing games. Since I’m a director I also consider it work to watch the latest and greatest content, but at the same time it can be extremely relaxing and fulfilling. I love a movie that can take me to a place emotionally that I don’t regularly experience. I also play video games regularly. I’m often seen playing Overwatch and Diablo III (I grew up on Diablo games) on the XBONE. I also love playing Zelda Breath of the Wild on Switch, and Mario Kart 8 with my kids. We also love to play Minecraft and Knight Squad together.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I sleep easily. #blessed… But seriously, I could fall asleep driving after dark if I didn’t fight it with sunflower seeds and energy drinks. As a kid I was even able to sleep through a hurricane when we lived on the east coast! It’s because of that that I’m able to stay up late as needed. My wife is often up late working during busy season (she makes wedding gowns) so I’ll stay up to play video games or watch something. I’ll also regularly work after the kids go to bed because it’s a very undisturbed time. Between kids and work, though I go to sleep when I need to and wake up when I need to.

I’d like to work towards a more normal schedule of 10-6 though.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I don’t know who said it or where I saw it, but lead a life worth living. I don’t live so that I can work, I work so that I can live. Everything I do, spiritually, mentally, physically should all lead me towards that goal.I’m religious so my responsibilities are ordered: to God, to my wife, to my family, to my neighbors. I fail at this often, but I have hope and continue to strive to fulfill these responsibilities. It helps keep things in perspective. I can handle the most difficult days at work because those in my life who love and support me, keep me focused on leading a life worth living.

Professionally a director once said: early and on time, on time and behind, late and fired. I love that. Not only does it apply to production, you have to be early to have a chance of sticking to your schedule, but to all areas of life.

Check back monthly for more in the ‘How I work’ series and learn more about the Backflip team.