Shonda Rhimes is a busy woman. So much so that for an entire year she challenged herself to say yes to things out of her very busy comfort zone and wrote the hit book The Year of Yes while doing so. In a recent interview, the author, CEO, mother, a show runner to hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and The Catch, spoke about staying balanced, being a problem solver and the benefits of getting out of her comfort zone. Peep some excerpts below.
On staying focused and setting boundaries:
Yeah, I look at it this way. I work for ABC. If the thing that ABC is paying me for is storytelling—not to make sure that a costume is exactly right or all those other things—then it is up to me to find the most creative space possible, so that that function of my job can happen.
And at work I have a rule that you’re not allowed to come into my office unless you’re coming into my office with a solution to a problem, and not with a problem.
Well, we have four shows shooting at once at this moment—Grey’s Anatomy, The Catch, How To Get Away With Murder, and Still Star-Crossed, which is an untitled Shonda Rhimes project shooting in Spain right now. And we’re also double-shooting episodes of Grey’s. So for instance, we have a scheduling problem where actors have [to appear] in several [concurrent shoots]. Does it mean I need to change a story to accommodate that? Or does it mean the story is more important, and we have to change the booking?
I want you to come into my office with some plans for what you think can happen. Don’t come in with a fire that’s already lit—I want to know how you think the fire is gonna be put out, and then we can talk.
On how she balances everything:
I try really hard to do two things. One, I think it’s really important to be surrounded by people who know more stuff than you do, and are better at it than you are. I didn’t bring on Peter Nowalk and have him create How To Get Away With Murder because I thought he didn’t know what he was doing. What’s wonderful is that I can say that’s your show, go, come to me if you have a problem. I don’t have to stand and look over his shoulder. I didn’t give The Catch to Allan Heinberg because I thought I was gonna have to hold his hand. I could hand it to him and then breathe a sigh of relief because I knew it was being well taken care of.
Two, I try to focus on thing that’s right in front of me, because there’s always gonna be more work tomorrow. My first year doing Grey’s Anatomy, I would be at work at 10, 11 at night, and one of the executive producers, James Pariott, would go home at 6:30 or 7, and I would look at him with such rage. And he’d say, “Shonda, this work will always be there tomorrow.” Now I understand. You’re never going to cut down the mountain [of work] to make it flat. It’s always going to be a mountain. I try to focus on climbing this piece of the mountain, and then think about climbing the rest of it later.
On spending a year saying to yes:
What was great about saying yes to things was that it made me realize that I was a workaholic. I was completely burned out and had reached a place where I was probably not that productive. When you’re suddenly say yes to things and stepping out into the world, you’re getting a whole new viewpoints on things. If you’re a creative person, that’s exactly what you need. It showed me there are so many things outside the four walls of my office that I need to spend time doing. And so that’s what taught me how to decide to manage my time. I became 10 times busier but 10 times more effective.