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by Kaitlin McManus | May 28, 2019


Map of Westeros

WARNING: Season Eight spoilers below. Show’s done, people, it’s all fair game.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve signed the petition, you probably know that the general response to the final season of Game of Thrones has been … lukewarm. Character arcs took some sharp turns, there are plot holes galore (Why does Bran need a Master of Whisperers if he can see everything that happens? Who even was the Prince(ss) Who Was Promised? Who’s littering all these beverages across Westeros?), and the pacing was absolutely bonkers.

What the heck happened?

You may remember back at the premiere, George R.R. Martin said, “I wish we had a few more seasons.” I laughed when I heard that. Martin has been writing The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in A Song of Ice and Fire, for more than eight years. The series was originally planned as a trilogy; now it’ll be at least seven books, plus two Targaryen history books. Of course he wanted more seasons.

I recant all my laughter, George. You were right—Game of Thrones could’ve used another season or two. The showrunners had approximately 1,001 plotlines, and six episodes in which to tie them up. That’s an impossible task. Yet, they managed to finish the show—I don’t believe it was done as well as it could’ve been done, but it was indeed done.

So how did they manage it? Below are three time-management tips based on the final season of Game of Thrones.

Assess what you’ve got; use lists to get organized.

Part of time management is knowing what you need to accomplish and how much time you have. Taking GoT as an example:

  1. Choreograph two wars.
  2. Have at least two usurpings of the Iron Throne.
  3. Have satisfying deaths for a dozen beloved characters—all in six episodes.

Knowing where you stand at the start of a task is important—which is why every season premiere of Game of Thrones was a place-setting episode, so we remembered who was where and what they were up to.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount you have to accomplish, make a list of everything you need to do:

  1. Kill Lyanna Mormont in the most badass way possible.
  2. Turn The Breaker of Chains into The Mad Queen.
  3. Decide whether or not the Scorpions burn in dragon fire.

Break complex tasks down into smaller parts when you list them—to make things that are huge and unwieldly seem less daunting. Then, make a rough guess as to how long each of these tasks will take you. Do you have enough time to do everything you’re supposed to? Quite simply, does the math check out? If not, try speaking to your manager about priorities or asking your professor for an extension.

Pace yourself.

Now that you know what it is you’re doing, how are you going to approach your task? Maintaining a consistent workflow is a lot easier to plan for than a feast-or-famine situation. Think about it—would you rather have about the same amount of work every day, or spend part of your week doing nothing much and the other part frantically churning out work product? Maybe you thrive off the energy of the second scenario, but you have to admit that it’s tough to sustain.

Game of Thrones had one heck of a pacing problem in its final season. For reasons unbeknownst to me, very little actually happened in episodes one, two, and (to a lesser extent) four. Meanwhile, episodes three, five, and six were jam-packed of rapid-fire plot points. I mentioned in my last point that very little ever happens in a GoT season premiere, but to follow that place-setting episode up with one mostly about giant’s milk and Podrick’s audition for Westerosi Idol rather than something substantive was … an interesting choice. A choice that necessitated the substantive plot points be crammed into later episodes and perhaps not get the screen time they merited. Wouldn’t the season have been much more engaging and satisfying if it was organized in such a way that something truly meaningful to the overarching plot happened in every episode? And wouldn’t your work week be more productive if you took the time to move forward on your project day-by-day—rather than stressing yourself out by putting it off some days and overworking yourself on others? Not to mention that taking the time you have to meaningfully address your tasks can mitigate the problems that arise if/when you have to troubleshoot down the road.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase, “I work best under pressure,” I’d be the Iron Bank. But there’s a difference between pushing yourself to meet a deadline and setting yourself up for last-second disasters with a disorganized workflow. Don’t do that to yourself—or to your coworkers. Make sure that you make full use of all the time you have.

Weed out what doesn’t matter.

Full disclosure: I don’t like the things that showrunners Weiss and Benioff decided did and didn’t matter. A lot of characters seemed to come down with a fatal bout of “I didn’t feel like addressing that plotline we set up.” (See: Varys, Euron.) Other characters were tucked away assumedly to save screen time. (See Bronn, Yara.) But the writers had a few scant episodes to show us not only the Great War, but the Last War—the decision not to show whatever Bronn was doing to become a qualified Master of Coin was one of economy. The writers spent the season pruning things back so only the most critical characters of an ensemble cast remained: Dany, Tyrion, and the Starks.

When considering how to proceed with a very full to-do list, we must also be economical in our choices. What has to be done? What projects are you working on that, uncompleted, would hold up someone else’s work? Which projects have a firm deadline that absolutely cannot be pushed back? These are your Dany, Tyrion, and Starks. You have to address these tasks, or everything else falls apart. Bronn—or putting a pic on the company Instagram—might be kind of fun, but there’s definitely more important stuff to deal with in a time crunch.

I’m not saying that I outright hated the end of Game of Thrones. But, as a writer, I could see exactly what happened when the writers’ room was faced with an insurmountable amount of work and not enough runtime in which to do it all. Choices were made that got the show done. I believe better choices could’ve been made but, alas, HBO never replied to all the ravens I sent about letting me in the writers’ room. But whether you’re show-running a years-long epic on premium cable or undertaking a big project at work or school, time management is an invaluable skill to have. Game of Thrones gave us a lot to think about when it comes to story structure and character development, but I’d also urge you to consider the show when framing up your own projects: organize your tasks, pace yourself, and prioritize.