“Know how to live the time given to you.” -Dario Fo
I thought it appropriate that, as a writer of things theatric, I start this entry on time management with a quote from one of our greatest ever writers.
The “bent” of the pieces that I’m contributing to Art Of Hustle typically will focus on how to balance the ever-challenging pursuit of entrepreneurship/professional careers and creative expression. One of the reigning themes of my life has always been: How can I remain an artist (in my case, namely a solo performer and writer of all sorts) and avoid, as a friend of mine once defined it, my “allergy to poverty”? I tried living hand-to-mouth as a freelance writer when I was in my 20s, putting all of my emphasis on writing and writing alone (and even feeling guilty when I made money doing anything else) and I sucked at it—emotionally, I mean. I survived (sort of) but I couldn’t deal with the ongoing stress of being that close to the financial bone. Thus, as I got older, I worked on my resume, becoming a reasonably successful marketing professional while maintaining my creative career on the side.
I wanted to write about this dynamic because I find that it is true for most of the artists that I know. (Tony Kushner has a day job, people!) There are two things that I find about dyed-in-the-wool creative people—there are those that can cope with the financial realities of being full-time artists and those that can’t. People who are committed to the arts as a profession and learn how to deal with extremely low income levels, and artists who have secondary careers that tend to make more money, but also understand inherently that they will be less prolific creatively. Both represent people who are accustomed to dealing with compromises on all levels. So, for this third post (Already? Can you believe it? It seems like we just met, right?) I want to be clear that I’m representing the latter; specifically, those of us who opt for self-employment (or meaningful day job/career) and who refuse to stop creating because…well, we’ve learned over time that not creating is not an option.
In order to remain both a consistent professional AND artist, setting schedules and priorities is the beast with which you must constantly wrestle. This is hardly a secret. I don’t nail it all the time**, but I do all right. It’s a necessity to manage the little time that we do have to create. So, I made a list, in order of importance, of how to stay productive with little to no time. I like lists. Print this one out and hang it somewhere. It will help. Really.
That’s a line from song Nothing Was Delivered by The Byrds and it’s the best advice in the world. So, do that. You have to start there. All the time, now, forever, for the rest of your life. The yogis have a term called “shakti” which refers to your creative or divine spiritual energy. The more we work, the more we deplete our shakti. Think of it as a battery. If you don’t have a healthy lifestyle, your battery will be low. (Read Anthem’s post about self-care for pointers.) Nothing can be delivered when the battery is dead.
What is it that inspires you? Write it down. Schedule it! Remind yourself that taking time to see or consume work that inspires you is part of the creative process. This will recharge your battery, too! (Oh, and theater people: if you have a choice between going to a show that your friend is in or a show that you really, really want to see because it’s about to close and you only have one Saturday that month available, please, for me, just go see the show you WANT to see. You’re busy. It’s life. Your friends will understand. Really.)
Make dates to see live music, see live theater, go to museums, take dance classes, whatever it is that gets your creativity all frothy. Go!
For me, I can’t do anything until I have a to do list in front of me. First, I HONOR my stressful deadlines and take care of the most urgent matters so my mind is freed up. Then, I take a break, and then, I write. This, by the way, always happens after I’ve done yoga in the morning or I’m useless. We’re all different, so embrace your methodology and then exploit it.
The above quote is credited to one of my mentors: award-winning writer and theater artist Heather Woodbury. The first step to productivity is a deadline. Respect the deadlines you set for yourself. Commit to a date for a show or a deadline of any kind. And then…
I’m going to quote one of my favorite yoga teachers on Earth, Erich Schiffman. During one of the many dharma talks I’ve heard him do, this is what he said in response to being asked how much yoga we should practice daily: “As much as you can.” He also said (and I love this too) “It’s better to do a little bit every day than it is to do a lot every once in a while.”
Once you have the gig, know that it’s the 30 minutes to an hour a day that’s going to get you to the finish line. Circle this. Embrace it as gospel. It’s how I wrote, rehearsed and memorized a 60-minute solo play in 2009 (25 pages of single-spaced text) while also working a job at a start up as their marketing director. It is amazing what even a little time a day will produce.
Many of the people that our culture avidly looks up to—the Oprahs, the Steve Jobs, the Spielburgs, etc.—are all admittedly workaholics. It’s how I’ve seen them describe themselves during interviews, like it’s normal, healthy and praiseworthy. (If you’re a workaholic, you’re probably not reading this article, but if you are, good for you! The “First Step” and all that.) Anyway, in order to lead a balanced life, you’re not going to be as prolific as a workaholic, so just stop expecting that you will be. If you have a spouse/life partner, children, a house that needs caring for, and decidedly normal things that need to be done, you’re probably not going to have the time to start your own T.V. network or produce two or three films a year.
Embrace what is possible. Stop shaming yourself when you can’t accomplish the impossible. Set reasonable expectations for your own life. This goes double and triple for people who are raising kids. Frankly, if you’ve got a kid or two under five-years-old AND a job, I’m shocked you have time to read this post. That’s really, really impressive. Now, go take a nap.
I put this last because it is the key to opening every door in your life that really matters. Let’s say that you’ve done everything I’ve outlined above, and you realize that you can only allocate 15 minutes a day to your creative “thing.” 15 minutes will feel like a lifetime if your mind is really there while you’re doing it. Savor everything that you can. Embrace every moment of every task—from washing your hair, to making coffee; from setting up automatic payments so you stop getting nasty letters from your car loan (because you were too busy writing this post to remember to send the check,) to walking the dog; doing the grocery shopping to reminding your sick boyfriend to take cough syrup so he can just sleep already—and I promise your life will blossom with productivity.
**I’d like to point out that as I was editing this piece, which was 100% in line with the schedule and to do list I’d composed for this fine, rainy Monday morning, I missed calling into a conference call that I’d rescheduled from Friday. I trust the irony isn’t lost on any of you.
BIO: Rachel Parker has been involved in the media industry and start‐up environments for over 15 years. She has worked in numerous fields ranging from film production and touring, to marketing and media relations. She has penned a screenplay, performed her solo work at the Brava Theater Center for Women in The Arts, and started her own business in the renewable energy space, Solar Energy Worx. When she’s not educating the masses about the benefits of solar energy (and trying to wean everyone and everything off of coal and fossil fuels), she’s usually writing something, laughing out loud at something her boyfriend said or enjoying the view from her downtown loft in Los Angeles, CA.
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