Backtiming: Producer Tip for a More Productive Day

In television news – timing is everything. Producers, anchors, reporters, videographers and editors work on very strict deadlines. Sometimes stories have to come together quickly – this makes time management one of the keys to success in this business. Working in TV news for over a decade has conditioned me to use this skill to be more efficient in everyday life.

Time Management

One of those time management skills is called backtiming. It’s a technique used to make sure all the stories fit into the show and you can get off the air on time. A line producer assigns a time estimate to each story depending how important it is. All those time estimates add up to fill the newscast. You have to make all the news of the day, sports, weather and entertainment fit in that timespan.

There are a lot of moving pieces in a newscast: live shots, in-studio guests, video from various sources, numerous reporters, anchors, soundbites, etc. Getting everything to work together is a challenge night after night. But if you’ve watched a nightly newscast you know it can be done.

The Benefits of Backtiming

Backtiming is a way of counting backwards. What I mean is if you have an hour to fill – you start at the end of the newscast and work your way backwards to the top of the newscast filling in your time cues.

As the live newscast is on the air – you have to hit specific time marks – if you don’t, you know you need to make adjustments like taking some time back from sports or “killing” a story about a cute bunny. You must be flexible to be able to keep the newscast running on time.

Luckily there are computer programs that will backtime for a producer. But when I first started – this technology didn’t exist. So I would backtime by hand. I hate math – but it’s a useful tool.

Backtiming Your Life

So how does this pertain to everyday life? Well – you can essentially backtime any task or event. I did it with my wedding ceremony, everyday errands and when planning trips. Here are the steps:

  1. Think about how much time you have to fill for your task or event
  2. Start from the end of the event and work your way backwards
  3. Estimate the amount of time it will take for each task
  4. Adjust those times if you find that you won’t be able to accomplish everything in that time period
  5. Stick to your rundown

This comes in handy when you’re trying to get out of the house with small children who come with a lot of stuff. If you plan ahead and think about all the things you need to do to get out of that house at a specific time…then think backwards to how long each task will take you. That way you can get out the door on time. Backtiming can be applied to just about any task or event and also business to help you be less stressed, save time and be more efficient. It’s all about finding productive ways to spend more time on what matters.

Can you think of any timekeeping tips of your own? We’d love to hear them.

1 reply
  1. Ed Tate
    Ed Tate says:

    Wow! This is a great idea. Recently, I had a major deadline. I got the job done, but it was not my best work, and I’m completely stressed. I use the work in radio as a disk jockey, and we used back timing the same you did in a newscast. We calculated this manually. I can see how this application in my everyday life can remove the stress and procrastination, and increase the quality of my work and life. Thank you. Ed Tate.


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