I'm working on a pretty long shot right now on my own time, and I just wanted to talk a bit about getting into character, and how important it's been for me lately. I've seen people who don't use reference and tend to struggle with what's going on in their shots, so I thought I'd share some thoughts.
I've found that getting into character can really cut down the amount of time you spend actually animating. I know it may sound weird, or hard to believe, but think about this...
When you shoot reference for a shot you're animating, and try to get in all the character details in your performance, you'll have all the information in front of you to go off of! Of course you'll still find areas to play with timing, and maybe add some secondary action you didn't think of before, as well as spending some time polishing details you didn't even see in your reference etc. But, you can explore several different choices when you're planning your shot with reference, and seeing the action in front of you, in context. In the end, you basically see how your shot's going to look (for the most part, lol). If it doesn't match up with what you see in your head, do it again, and again, and again, until it's RIGHT.
When I shoot reference for things, I try to leave my own gestures, and my own feelings aside. It's REALLY hard not to resort to typical things I would do. But that's the fun of it. Think about who that character is, why he/she/it is in the situation they're in, and how they'd actually feel and react in that situation.
Acting stuff out is a lot quicker than animating different ideas!