Sometimes I have so much to do that I can’t see straight for a moment. This wave of overwhelm hits and I have to focus on what needs to be done right now in order to get to what needs to be done overall. I’m not the only one, of course. We’re all juggling so many things. As I reflected on my strategy for staying on task without losing my mind, I wondered what you fine folks would say your favorite actor-focused organizational tools might be.
So, as I sometimes do, I posed the question on Twitter and many of you tweeted back some tips I’ll be sharing in this week’s column. First, a few of my own.
Electronics, Be Gone
I turn off my gadgets. Yep. All of ’em. When it’s time to really focus on a task, off goes the iPhone, the iPad, even the email program on my laptop while I’m finishing a column. I find that many people have instant notification of emails as a setting. And the biggest time suck I’ve experienced is in the stopping of what I’m doing to check what that “ding” signified. It’s not just the moment to see what the email was about, it’s the answering it, or even if it doesn’t require an answer, it’s the stopping and starting of the task at hand. Much better to just check email once an hour or so (I mean, really, what’s so important that it’s coming by email and has to be dealt with in under an hour? Yes, I know we all feel as though everything is the most important thing, ever, but sometimes maintaining our productivity on another task is what’s important, and I’ve found the silencing of the “noise” for a few dozen minutes at a time is very helpful).
This is probably what I do best. I really do go into a zone when I’m working on one thing and I don’t hear the monkey mind trying to remind me of the three thousand other things I also have to get done. When I’m focused on writing this column each Sunday, that’s what I’m doing. That’s all I’m doing! Yes, the TV or iTunes is providing background noise, but there’s no phone, no email, no multitasking on other projects. I actually don’t even have the iPhone I take out of the house set to receive calls. So, when I’m in a meeting with you, I’m in a meeting with you, period. I can check emails if I’m early (and I’m always early, so I do), but when you arrive, I power down and you have me all to yourself. I compartmentalize. And I have email rules and color-coding of messages and contacts and appointments on the iCal to help with that. I don’t look at the “noise” of items on my “writing” calendar when I’m in “casting” mode. And vice-versa. You won’t hear me talking about Your Actor MBA when it’s Somebody’s Basement time.
Sure, sometimes I get to just go have fun and I don’t think about anything else. At least once a year, I try to get away and do the spa thing, spending as many hours in massages as in the hot tub. I do take my gadgets but they stay in the room and are only visited when I’m not otherwise being indulged. What I’m talking about with pleasure timers is the setting of a timer when you’re working on something you’re so excited about and inspired by that you may forget to do the things you actually have to do to get the rent paid. This comes into play for self-producers, many times. You’re so inspired by your work on the webseries you’re creating that you forget you have to invoice some clients for your survival job, and you have to do that by a certain date in order to get paid before bills become overdue. So, when I’m in zones like that on a project, I set pleasure timers. I give myself two hours on my passion project and then I have to take a break, return phone calls, open mail, pay bills, whatever. No, I don’t like it when that timer goes off, but it’s important sometimes. So, I set the dang thing.
Rewards for Efficiency
I’m already the most efficient person on the planet. I get more done in fewer hours than most folks, and if someone I meet looks to be as productive as I am, I get competitive and become even more productive somehow. It’s a sickness. I don’t recommend it. But I do recommend, if you have the compulsion to be über-organized, you provide yourself with treats for taking downtime sometimes, for reaching benchmark goals and then taking a break: having a nice meal out, going for a walk, playing on the Wii. Because if you’re trying to condition your own efficiency, knowing you will be rewarded for being organized — especially if you’re not inherently organized as a person — can really help motivate you to become more organized.
Support and Sleep
I’m a big fan of surrounding myself with the most wonderful people on the planet and making sure they know one another and work together to create fantastic things. Usually that means I’m incredibly lucky to have a support team of folks who inspire and encourage and empower me to create even more cool things than I may have dreamed possible, previously. You need a support team. Whether that’s friends or family or an intern or business partners, it’s important to 86 the poison playmates and stay positive about all you can achieve. Oh, and sleep. I don’t get a lot of it. That’s okay. What I do — which is so much more important than the fact that I simply do not require as much sleep as most folks may — is sleep when my body tells me to. This means I’m as likely to be up and working at 3:30am as 3:30pm. And it means I’ll take a nap as easily at 7:30am as any other time. I don’t set my schedule by anything other than what my body tells me it needs, outside of — of course — the meetings and sessions and actual appointments that happen on “normal people” schedule. No, not everyone may have that luxury, but it does add to what keeps me so organized.
Now, for the tools. I use iCal (and about eight different color-coded categories for appointments within that) and a good ol’ fashioned notebook with many different colored pens. My to-do list items are written down and then, if they’re time sensitive, put into my iCal with reminder alarms, so I get a little break from anything I’m working on, reminding me it’s time to work on something else sometimes. The color-coding helps me a great deal because I tend to budget a certain amount of each time toward each sort of activity in my life, weekly. If someone asks me to schedule a casting meeting when I have my allocated number of casting hours already on the books for that week, I’ll ask if we can put something in next week’s schedule. This not only helps me keep lots of projects active at once, it helps me balance my work with play. Nothing ever gets too skewed.
Readers who tweet with me suggested web-based tools like PerformerTrack (Amy Harber: “…when I actually remember to use it.”), CastingAbout (Brandon Morales: “I find castingabout.com to be very helpful.”), and Mint.com (Amber Rose Plaster: “fav organizational tool: mint.com! It’s saved my finances! Really easy to use and free.”) Derek Houck suggested a bunch of goodies: “Gmail, Remember the Milk, Evernote, 30 Boxes.” I hadn’t heard of Remember the Milk before, so this set me off down a rabbit hole as you can imagine.
Far too many fellow Twitter-users to count declared love for iCal, sharing the myriad ways in which it helps them stay organized and on-task. And in two tweets, Caroline Sharp covered a bunch of goodies she can thank her iPhone for helping her access: “honestly, my iPhone! The other day I found a casting notice, went to @TANHWD website, got contact info & submitted in 60sec. it gets me to LA Casting, Actors Access, IMDb, Variety, Actor Genie, @SAGFoundation. You name it, I can do it!”
And then there’s the new- plus old-school tool lovers: Jen Ponton (“PerformerTrack, spreadsheets, and my good ol’ crazy schedule book, highlighted up the wazoo. :P”), Killebrew-Mason (“my old fashioned audition book! Love it!”), Lauren Dobbins Webb (“Excel spreadsheets! Budget, audition log, mailings log, list of who I’ve met & where… I’m keeping MS Office afloat. :)”), and Carolina Bonetti (“My dry erase board w/ color coordinated marker = My HERO! Lol”).
I’ll never forget the first time I heard the phrase “option overload.” I was a senior at the University of Georgia, participating in a handpicked honors group called Leadership UGA. Forty-five students who led the campus of tens of thousands were brought together for regular leadership retreats and mastermind meetings with political, corporate, educational, philanthropic, and civic icons, making sure we were poised to lead whatever community we would enter upon graduation. One of our guest speakers talked about “option overload” and said it was what was making decision-making so hard for our generation. We have more options than ever (and that continues to be true) and when faced with too many decisions (many, equally wonderful), we often will choose inaction.
So, my final recommendation is this: Do something. Take a baby step in the direction of where you want to be. So, you’re not organized by nature. No biggie. Do something slightly more organized today than you did yesterday. Make a list. That’s a start. Don’t try to jump from a baseline of zero to master usage of 43 Folders. Take small but measurable steps in the right direction, always staying mindful of the fact that you are making progress. And that means you’ve earned a reward, right?
Sure, we’re all looking forward to the day when a team of folks works for us, managing our schedule, appearances, auditions, bookings, press, and meet-ups. ’til then, just start by writing some things down, downloading a handy productivity-based app, and sharing a tip with someone less organized than you are. (Yes, I promise, that person exists.) Mentoring always helps. Try it!
Obviously, this column was written a while ago (if you’re just finding it today), so let’s jam in the comments below about the newest and greatest organizational tools for actors that are currently rockin’ your world!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001219.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.