We all have rules. Or at least we should. Rules for successful actors. Rules for life. Rules that aren’t for rules sake.
I won’t drink at home on three school nights of the week.
Or – I won’t sleep in on a Saturday.
Or – I will exercise three times a week.
(The sleep one isn’t mine – who sleeps in with a toddler anyway! Pullleaseeeee)
If you are currently self employed, or want to be in the future, and if you want to stay in the acting game for the long game, you need to know boundaries. You need to set yourself up with some hard and fast work and acting rules that you don’t break so you can ensure you stay at your optimum – both during the up’s and the down’s.
I am a firm believer that some rules are made to be broken. But some aren’t.
For example, I say cross the line if you have to when you’re making a film if you can justify why you need to do it. Another example is don’t rely on anyone else to do your stuff for you. You can hang that painting and open that pickle jar. You don’t need a big strong man (or woman) to do it for you.
But, if you are like me, and a late afternoon coffee can keep you awake all night watching paint try, you might try my hard and fast coffee rule that I NEVER break – I don’t drink coffee after 3pm. I don’t ever want to have one of those nights again where caffeine has me staring at my ceiling until dawn.
Some rules should be firmly fixed in place and not get tampered with. Because rules and boundaries are there for our own benefit and so that we don’t mess ourselves up. At some point in the early days, probably just around nursery and kindergarten time, we started to learn the rules about lunch, and play, and sleep and other relevant school rules. Then when we got to university or college we learnt the rules about cheating on exams. Then when we became grownups we started to make our own rules, because we actually had the pre-thought to realise some stuff just works better with rules (I cringe when I think about my share flat toilet cleaning roster).
And that’s not a bad thing. Those rules helps us survive. If anything, I don’t think that people spend nearly enough time actually dissecting their lifestyle and working out good practices to live by, or what is good for them, what’s not good for them, and what may or may not increase their productivity*.
And furthermore, for the actor, or anyone who is self employed, I think these five little rules can triple a person’s productivity and well-being.
Did I really say triple?? Yes triple.
I am running three separate businesses while auditioning, doing voiceovers and working from home. And I also have time off with my family and away from social media. But it wasn’t always like this, trust me. I used to be a hot mess and jump about from task to task, do the cleaning when I should do a self tape, and look at social media when I should be applying for auditions. But now, most people say ‘how do you fit it all in and stay so positive’. Well read on if you want to know how!
Anyone can be a time machine. Anyone can be a craic machine too (thank you Irish flatmates for that pearl of a line).
Permit me to offer my 5 rules for a productive actor (slash creative freelance person):
Do your gratitudes as soon as you wake up
If you are a gratitude, affirmation kinda girl, you know how wonderful they make you feel. But they also have awesome scientific powers too. Gratitudes shift mindset and behaviours. From helping you sleep better, to stopping you from overeating, they’ve been scientifically proven to be most excellent for your well-being. And let’s face it….In an industry that is all about professional rejection, you want to feel great.
Gratitudes also fill you with completeness and help you appreciate everything you have today, and right now. Not things you are wishing for in the future.
Make it a rule that you must do your gratitudes as soon as you wake up, and if time permits, also right before bed.
A note on that: I know for me personally I must remember to write in my 5 minute Journal as soon as I wake up or I WON’T DO IT. Because if I don’t when I get up, suddenly it’s night time and I’m about to go to sleep, and I realise when I go to write my night gratitudes that I completely missed my morning ones.
And do you know what? My recent (last few years) daily gratitude habit has been one of the key reasons I am living the life I am now – i.e. being a working actor and not having to rely on an “office day job”. Gratitudes and affirmations and meditation shifted my life in the most extraordinary way. So I know I must keep doing it. But back to you…
I encourage any and every actor to have a daily gratitude, affirmation or meditation practice. Or all three if you have the time.
2. Don’t eat at your desk
If you are working from home – perhaps writing a script, learning lines, working on a self tape, or even looking for auditions – make sure you eat away from that place of “work” for at least 15-20 minutes minimum. That time out will make you more productive when you return to your desk, so in actual fact it’s a time saver later. Plus you’ll actually enjoy and savour the food you are eating. Food is one of the wonders of our world. Why waste an awesome daily ritual of enjoying a lovely lunch by scoffing it down, or worse, take no notice of it because you are so busy focusing on your acting work and not allowing your body to enjoy the sensory pleasures food provides.
But there’s also a bigger truth to observing your eating. Mindful eating means you won’t overeat because you are focusing on what your body needs as you take each bite. When you take notice of what you are eating and take notice of when you are full, you are paying attention to the cues your brain is sending your stomach. However, when you munch down a sandwich or your leftovers while being completely distracted on the task at hand, you can overeat and this will just contribute to an unhappy downward cycle.
Mindfulness is always good practice.
3. Focus on one task at a time, wholeheartedly
Sounds easy right? Wrong.
It is likely that you will have about 10-20 jobs you want to get done in a day. And each of them will have varying levels of importance depending on how much you enjoy them, whether they’ll make you money, and the likes.
Unfortunately, if you flick through your tasks at hand like you would your twitter feed, you will not progress very quickly, and you’ll also train your acting brain to be scatty.
On a work day, begin with your list (on Trello if you’re a techy kinda person or a written list if you’re old school like me) and then systematically prioritise them from 1-10. If the number 1 task is too large to do in one day, then break it down into smaller chunks and put a 1 next to the part of the job you’ll work on today.
Once your list is numbered, begin at 1.
I REPEAT, BEGIN AT 1.
Not at 4, because you love line learning. Not at 5 because you want to update your website. But at 1. There was a reason you gave it the highest priority, so begin with it.
An organised practice of working systematically through your to-do list will increase your productivity because you won’t be jumping about from task to task. Your mind will be able to focus on one thing, and give it the full attention it deserves.
And if you’re like me, and sometimes your mind loves a little wander, jot down the thing it wandered off to so you have it on record, and then promptly keep cracking away at your number 1.
Just make sure you take regular breaks if you’re on a roll, even if it’s just to walk to the kitchen to take a quick sip of water and back.
4. Don’t schedule coffee catch ups with mates on your ‘acting work days’
In my early days of going into full-time actor mode I used to schedule in coffees and meetings and time out with friends. It was bliss. But before I knew it, I was time poor and also coffee money poorer. See I was spending so much time with friends enjoying my newfound freedom, I forgot that self employed people need to be exactly that – self employed and self employing. I must find my own work. Therefore, all that time I was out hanging with mates talking about auditions or discussing this film or that (or nothing in particular), was time I wasn’t spending on my acting business.
Instead, if you want to meet up with friends, or even take meetings with directors and producers that don’t need to be set in stone, work them around your auditions. You’ll be making one trip instead of two, thus saving time and money. And really, your acting friends should be working as well.
You are better off inviting said friend over to yours to work on a duologue or to do some self tape practice, and then allow 30 minutes on either side for your friend catch up time. This way, you are still working on your craft, and you’re getting a chance to see your mate. Plus you can put on a fancy pot of tea or a cafetiere and you’ve likely spent half of what you would in Venice Beach, Surrey Hills or Soho.
5. Get enough sleep, water and exercise
You may think I’m cheating putting all three of these little items into one hefty rule title, but I’m not. These all relate to your general well-being and actually tie in beautifully.
If you drink lots of water in the first half of the day, it lowers your central core and means you spend the afternoon going to the toilet and flushing out your system. This lowers your body temperature which means you’ll sleep better at night.
As well as this, exercise will work your body causing you to sweat, and you’ll need water for that. But exercise will also mean you’ll be more tired later, and will have released lots of good endorphins, and this too will promote a good night’s sleep.
And what does sleep do – makes you look better, means you are more alert, less cranky, more able to remember your lines, and on the whole, just makes you a happier human.
If you are going to skimp on something don’t let it be water or sleep. Skimp on your Netflix consumption or the time you spend on social media. Trust me, less social media time will not change your life in a negative way.
So there we go… five important rules for ensuring you are successful being self employed and working on your acting. Gratitudes, eating, meetings, task focus and making sure you’re fed, watered and snoozing. I make it sound easy don’t I!
I welcome your thoughts as you try these and I can’t wait to hear if they have a positive impact on your self employment.
*Read that link for the most wonderful article on how to increase your personal productivity. By Ben Hardy. Here is the link again.