So I hit the wall today. Sooner or later, everyone comes to a point where they realize they are doing more harm than good. It's that point where you realize that everything you're doing is sub-par and will just have to be redone later. I'm in a good spot for it, because I'm ahead of schedule on my current project. I can afford to walk away from it. I've only an hour left in my actual work day, and it's Friday. Plenty of time to recharge over the weekend (despite the fact that I have different freelance work to do).

It got me thinking though, "What if I wasn't in a good spot?" Say you're under a tight deadline, and you hit this point. What would you do to recover? I haven't encountered that situation before...a hard deadline and fear can be great motivators ;)...but can only assume that someday, sooner or later, if even only once, it could happen.

Anyone have any strategies for working through the wall?

Edit: I'm referring more to a lack of energy and focus in this question than I am to aesthetic choices. It's less of an artistic viewpoint and more of a critical faculties issue.

  • I was beginning to wonder if you even had a wall to hit... ;) Sep 10, 2011 at 1:42
  • Thanks for asking this, Shaun - running into similar troubles myself lately and didn't think to pitch to SSD for advice.
    – lucafusi
    Sep 10, 2011 at 3:29
  • @Steve Urban - Oh! I've got a wall; in fact, I've got multiple walls. I just turn and face one of the others when I get too close to one. ;) Sep 10, 2011 at 12:12

12 Answers 12


I find the fear of missing a deadline is a great motivator. If you're in not danger of that, take a break. I realize this isn't very helpful. When I full on hit the wall under deadline here's what I do.

  • Have a meltdown. This usually happens at about 3am with a 9am deadline usually after several late nights, and I'm no longer able to produce anything worthwhile and it still has to get done. So I pitch a little tantrum in my head, and think of all the awful things I want to do to everybody involved with the project. I then take a deep breath, lie to myself that this will never happen again and push on. It's not pretty, but it works (sort of).

  • Assuming you're working with picture, add a fart. Somewhere that it's visually supported. The idea here is to give yourself a much needed giggle and put the gig in context. Whether the fart ends up down the line for the client to see is up to you.

It's better when you can see it coming (ie 14 hours to do in 8 hours - you're gonna hit the wall). Here's some tactics I use.

  • Internet off. Disable Airport, unplug the Ethernet cable, lock the damn modem away if you have to. Phone only and only for emergencies.

Play beat the clock. I like to divide the amount of minutes of program I have left by the amount of time I have left and then halve that. So if I have 8 minutes of program to do in 12 hours, my goal will be to do it in 6. I'd drop a marker for every hour (spaced at every 1min20sec here) and race the clock. This prevents me from dawdling in light sections. I find that this tactic keeps me on track, with little time left over. Any extra is spent on a another pass.

When working late at night, resist the urge to fuel up on fast food if you can. I love me some grease, but it will make you crazy tired. Veggies are key.

Alternate between coke, red bull and espresso. Pour espresso into coke only in dire emergencies.

  • 1
    A fart, that's amazing! I put a squealing pig into a scene in an animation for similar reasons and was told by everyone it was the best sound to work in that scene. I didn't giggle but it cleared up my frustrations at the time.
    – ofa
    Sep 10, 2011 at 7:30
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    Hilarious. Forget sound design and become a comedian! Sep 10, 2011 at 8:11
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    I do use a lot of the same techniques. Wanted to get 12 minutes done in 8 hours yesterday, got 15 done in 7. The fart idea is great! lol I've considered the idea of "breaking" a design for the purposes of creativity, but I wonder if it would work for breaking a mental funk as well. I'll have to try that out next time. Thanks for sharing. Sep 10, 2011 at 12:04
  • @Jay - thanks, I'll be here all week, try the chicken @ofa @Shaun - Once during a dlg edit I transformed an tender but awkward kiss that was broken off by an OS phone ring and followed up by profuse apologizing into the gassiest romantic encounter ever.
    – AdamAxbey
    Sep 10, 2011 at 13:47
  • Drop the coke. Drop all high fructose corn syrup beverages, they are unhealthy and can make you fat. I would suggest hot chocolate. Chocolate has the effect of making people happy. A mocha if you can.
    – ChrisSound
    Sep 11, 2011 at 19:03

Initially its good practice just to have your body tuned and working well as often as you can.

this means sleeping and eating well when you're not crunching at the end of a project. Proactively taking care of one's self helps tremendously with endurance and focus.

when you're there at the wall though, I think you've already gotten some very good advice.

  • internet off, phone in the other room
  • no fried food
  • 5 minute breaks, maybe push ups or stretches
  • playfulness is good.
  • cover basics as quickly as possible, then tweak and fill in details
  • if you have someone you can call in for an opinion, that can be the biggest lifesaver ever
  • maybe watch it down once with the sound off, then watch it again with the picture off

after that, it's all about you. (ignore the horrible music edit)


  • 1
    Very important point about keeping in shape and exercising regularly. I was going to mention this but I obviously misunderstood the question. This is especially true if you're sitting at a computer 12 hours a day and eating fast food for lunch.
    – Utopia
    Sep 10, 2011 at 2:53
  • good call on exercise Sep 10, 2011 at 12:06

Establish what is the absolute minimum that needs done, and then complete it.

After that, if there is any time left, choose the bits that annoy you the most and then improve them until you run out of time.

Phone my wife for a quick chat, she always puts everything into perspective and cheers me up.

Lastly fresh fruit in fresh air, natural sugars in the real world.


Happened to me just yesterday: Last minute crunch, no time, and a sub-par library of effects available. I had about a 10 minute window to design a sound, so the only thing to do was summon all my strengths and power through it. I think you also have to put some of your 'perfectionist' tendencies aside in times like that because it's unlikely you will be able to satisfy yourself in that way under duress.

  • I've got to admit, it is very hard to turn off the self-critique mechanism. It's good to know how to pick your battles though, and that applies in a lot of other situations too. Thanks for your thoughts. Sep 9, 2011 at 21:55

Broad strokes first, refine later if there's time left over. Work in multiple passes to get something at least barely passable first, so if you run out of time at least you have something that's completely mediocre, instead of partially excellent and partially horrible.

Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick two. This is physics. If you're going really really fast to beat the clock, the quality is going to suffer. If you were being paid by the hour, it would be more expensive (for someone else) too.

It reminds me of a saying from the film industry regarding production schedules: It's Gone With The Wind in the morning, and The Dukes of Hazard in the afternoon.

Also, planning three moves ahead from the beginning can prevent you from ever being in this spot in the first place!


I had it just yesterday and today. 2 months ago or so, happened to have promised a friend to handle the sound for her graduation project, an approx 20 mins short. all dialog edits, sound design, mixing and what not. did the set sound recordings myself as well so I was convinced that it would go smooth, it was a very tiny project after all... then, she ended up taking new shots without proper sound equipment, and using those in the actual edit and I ended up with nothing but bad camera sounds mostly.. everything got delayed... the picture wasn't locked until a week ago, and I only had 3 full (12+ hours non stop) days to work on it from scratch.. whats crazy is that still today she talks about changing the final edit, and getting new music in. wanted to back off long ago when the delays got introduced but couldn't. so stupid. by the time I got the exports and raw materials, it was too late. it turned out the fcp project was all messed up. all kinds of sync problems. manual adjustments on my side before even being able to work on the sound.. finally finished a mix an hour ago (if you can call it one) and sent it in. but I can assure you the only time I felt this much fed up, tired and so terribly frustrated was 2 years ago, during a 1 year project where all the team members got burned out. anyhow, premiere is tomorrow. I should be relieved but I dunno what to expect. somehow survived but got damaged both physically and mentally... oh and did I mention that this was for free.....?! never ever again.

  • 2
    The projects that I do for free are always the worst. I find that the more you are getting paid, the better you are treated.
    – user80
    Sep 10, 2011 at 6:14
  • So she's re-editing her final project at the last minute? Is George Lucas teaching Film majors now? Sep 11, 2011 at 15:04
  • eheh yeap.. I "like" indecisive people... =)
    – audiLe
    Sep 11, 2011 at 20:21

I have the good fortune of working unsupervised 95% of the time. So I'm usually in a good position as well, I hardly ever have to stay past midnight. :)

What I'll do is get away from the desk for 5 minutes. Walk around the building (if there isn't a monsoon), stretch, push-ups, some kind of physical activity to get your blood pumping, heart-rate up and a little life in your legs. In dire situations of dual-ended-candle-burning 5-hour energy is my drink of choice. In extreme situations, just set an alarm on your phone and take a power nap. Losing those 20-25 minutes of productivity will always win out over having to redo the past 3 hour's work. Although I don't recommend trying that during your actual shift.


I've hit the wall several times over the years, once in the beginning of my career near-well sending me to hospital, and has found several things to keep it at bay. First of all, the sentence "I will not do this, it's unrealistic." was a good thing to learn, but of course that only applies when the project is truly unrealistically scheduled, not if you want more out of the project than does the director.

When I feel too exhausted I have a couch (it can be folded into a bed, but I've never actually tried it) in my studio (not used for casting whatsover ;-)). When the head feels like an over-ripe melon I often takes a nap for about 90 minutes. It's normally 90 minutes as the body works in cycles of near well exactly an hour and a half, waking up in the very beginning of the first phase in the next cycle normally gets you the most well rested and gives energy to deal with the rest of the day.

If sleep's not what I feel is what's needed for the moment, I often take either a break on the cargo-bay (I share house with both some bands and some kind of wholesale dealer) with a cigarillo and something playable on my iPhone, or a long nice walk around the area with only the world to listen to :-)

Actually, the thing about one and a half, sometimes hours, sometimes minutes, actually applies to many things concerning the human being and spirit! It's no fluke most movies are about 90 minutes long ;-)


No sleep 'till it's done.

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    I always find that's exactly opposite of what I need to do when I'm exhausted or suffering from ear fatigue. When I hit that point, I always end up EQing things that are barely perceivable to anyone, thinking I've made the most monumental change of the day. Sep 11, 2011 at 15:06
  • @Dave very true, I suppose I was coming at it more from a musical perspective (and the writing only). I've made the mistake of mixing on tired ears before and have not done so since. I'll have to remember not to do the all nighter when working with SFX.
    – Julian
    Sep 11, 2011 at 21:40
  • Oh that dreaded ear-fatigue! I second that :-) One thing that also makes me call it the day is if I get an accidental blast of something transient on high level and realize things are beginning to sound too fuzzy. With regular ear-fatigue you at least might get something usable (though not very likely), losing the high spectra is a very serious thing and must be taken seriously if we're to remain in the industry whatsoever as it might very well become permanent... There is NOTHING that would scare me as much as losing my good hearing! Sep 12, 2011 at 19:03

I believe in synergy and I either show it to a co-worker who has nothing to do with the project or bring the other editor or editors up and show them what I've done and we bat ideas back and forth at each other. Sometimes their idea isn't used but a combination of or a bright idea is created out of each of our opinions or ideas.

Otherwise, I take a walk for 5 to 10 minutes or do something dis-related and come back to it refreshed. I also refresh my memory of the purpose and idea the director is trying to communicate because sometimes you can lose sight of that.

  • While what you're saying could help in the situation, I'm not necessarily talking about having issues knowing what to do. I'm talking about finding yourself with a profound lack of ability to do the work, a total dearth of energy and focus, regardless of how well you know what needs to be done. Sep 9, 2011 at 21:50
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    @Shaun Farley You're otherwise referring to exhaustion, right? See the second half of my answer - that's the cure for exhaustion. Extrovert.
    – Utopia
    Sep 10, 2011 at 2:24
  • Wow, I posted my answer and realized you said exactly what I did. Sep 11, 2011 at 15:00

Because you have the time to walk away, do it. Get outside, hit up a library or something, or take a nap.

I've hit that point more than a few times doing 48-hour game jams, and the absolute best thing I can do at that point is walk away for a bit.

At the 2010 Global Game Jam, it meant taking a 2 hour nap in my car, followed by a McDonalds breakfast run; in 2011, it meant trying my hand at the visual art for the game (which wasn't used, but it gave my ears a welcome rest).

If you don't have the time to walk away, bring in a fresh pair of ears. Even if it's not someone who is sound-oriented, just asking them for input helps a lot.

Also, a trip to the restroom can rejuvenate your mind in ways that nothing else can.

  • Hah! Nice! Exactly - great answer.
    – Utopia
    Sep 11, 2011 at 19:25
  • oh! my solution to that was to grab a nerf gun and run around shooting at other teams! haha worked like charm!!! can't wait for this year!
    – audiLe
    Sep 11, 2011 at 20:23
  • I can't wait for the next one, either; It's way too fun. You'll have to post what you did so I can see it. Sep 12, 2011 at 3:23
  • you mean the game? stack.nl/~vdz/photom/photom.html here is the online version however I'm not sure if this is the final or the buggy version.. in any case the game rules are (at first) too complex to grasp I think & you need 2 people, or ambidexterity +10 eheh.. can't say I was lucky with the team I ended up with either (this one might come back and bite me in the ass =P ). but who cares it was so much fun!
    – audiLe
    Sep 12, 2011 at 15:46

Strangely, once I hit the wall, and before I got to the point where I wanted to shoot myself, I just sat back and relaxed for half hour, an hour (or depending on how much time you actually have left).

Getting stressed out will only cramp your workflow but you will more than likely miss things and or overdo things, as your ears get tired. Just chill out for a bit, then get back into the swing of it.

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