How to Prioritize When You’re a Hyphenate

Hi Bonnie,

I hope you’re having a great week!

I really enjoy reading your perspectives in your emails and Actors Access articles. I was wondering if you have anything in your repertoire about managing and learning how to prioritize while being a hyphenate?

To clarify: I have about two million things I want to do, all of which seem to be of equal importance (not the highest of priorities), so I find myself kind of organically going from one to another on any given day. The things I want to do will ultimately benefit me, but they’re not incredibly pressing, so it’s really difficult to determine which path I should follow.

For example, I want to learn Spanish, learn the guitar, read multiple books, write multiple pilots, create webseries, create short films, travel, etc., etc. I’m working on all of these things a little at a time, here and there, and all of these things will obviously do me good in the long run, but they don’t NEED to be done TOMORROW. Do you know what I mean?

Acting and auditioning takes priority for me, and I find myself organically doing a lot of things on any given day, rather than totally checking one thing off at a time.

I know a few of my friends have the same “problem” (and what a good one to have: wanting to do a bunch of fun things), so I’d imagine some of your readers would as well.

Just throwing it out there!

Have an awesome rest of the week,
Ryan Kolbe

Awesome Ryan. As always, I love hearing from you. Rock on with your hyphenate self!

Here’s what I love about being a hyphenate: Every day is different. There’s a surprise around every corner. It’s up to me how I craft a good part of most of my days. Sure, there’s structure that’s not up to us, sometimes, but within that structure, there’s a lot of mystery and excitement if we’ll remember to observe it.

Time management is an issue for a lot of us because, well, if we’d wanted structure, we’d have gotten desk jobs that last for decades or we’d work on the factory line inspecting for the exact same features to verify quality control. Instead, we’ve chosen largely structureless lives, and that means it’s up to us to decide how we’re gonna spend our time.

Tip number one: Less Facebook. I’m serious. I killed off my “friend page” four years ago and it’s been delightful having “no friends.” I’m not constantly checking to see what’s up in others’ lives (seriously… I have enough to do to keep up with what everyone else is doing), I’m not influenced by the moods of others, and I’m also not missing anything, because I still have loads of other ways for folks to engage with me, should they really want to do so. I think most folks don’t have a clue how many hours are “invested” at Facebook. Not to say it can’t have positive effects on your career, but unless you’re using it mindfully, those positive effects are few and far between.

Tip number two: Identify your oxygen. I actually went way in-depth with this concept for this month’s SMFA Essentials and it’s pretty badass. Your oxygen is that thing you do (of all your hyphenate elements) that, if taken away, would feel like losing your oxygen. That should always get the majority of your time. That should be classified as “important” (in the Steven Pressfield “urgent vs. important” sort of way) and that means it should get time — no matter what.

Let’s talk about the other stuff (the non-oxygen, or as you called it, the “not the highest of priorities” stuff). It still should happen, sure. But here’s the cool part: You’re not looking to check stuff OFF a list; you’re looking to experience progress with some things you’re excited to add to your life. Your whole life. Your whole, long-ass life. 😉

You’ll never be DONE learning guitar, right? You’ll learn basic guitar and then you’ll try more intermediate things and after that there’s still advanced and professional levels of guitar proficiencies and that’s gonna take a looooong time, even if you devote a few minutes every single day to the practice. So, rather than looking at how you’re NOT checking something off, as you mentioned, realize it never gets checked off, but instead it gets progressed… a wee bit each time you invest a part of your day into it.

Should you pick up a guitar every day? Up to you! What I love about being a hyphenate is, ooh, let’s use my recent schedule as a very specific example: Friday morning, I spent hours teaching actors here on tour with the Australian Institute for Performing Arts, then had to hustle back over to the office to conduct the quarterly SMFA Tune-Up call, after that, a conference call with producers for a feature film to negotiate my deal memo for coming on to cast, Saturday was the SMFA Retreat… all day, followed by some essential admin work that had been on hold since Thursday due to all the busy-ness. Generally, I like to have Monday’s column outlined and the Your Turn selected before Friday… definitely by Saturday. Just didn’t happen. Way too much other stuff going on.

So here we are Sunday and I didn’t start my day with the column. I started with Tuesday’s POV. Why? Because I was more drawn to it, first. And sometimes just getting the gears greased on anything creative will then allow for more *efficient* creative flow on the next thing. It did, and that next thing was recording the Q&A MP3 for this month’s SMFA Essentials. Then I felt like cooking (and you know I burn water, so if the mood strikes for me to try out a new paleo recipe — my latest obsession — I do it). While working on a spectacular zucchini “lasagna,” I came up with two new ideas for column topics and podcast episodes, which I added to my “inspiration list” to open next time I have a block. Many hours later than I would like, I’m on to the column and there’s still much more to do for the casting breakdown we’d like to release on this film, not to mention answering emails and social media interactions about purchasing copies of that awesome SMFA Tune-Up call, setting up Tuesday’s BonBlast, and pole class. 😉


My point in sharing these specifics: Meandering from one thing to the next and then back to the first and on to something else should never feel unfocused or inefficient. As creatives, our brains love to send us off to new things. If one day you wake up inspired to learn Spanish, start in. Don’t judge yourself for getting 20 minutes into a lesson and then finding yourself eager to write a scene in your webseries instead. YOU are your boss and maybe it’s something in that 20 minutes of Spanish that got the scene ready to come together beautifully, and how wonderful that you allowed your brain the ability to take that ride! There’s no failure in changing up the flow of the day as the day goes.

Often times, we confuse structurelessness with lack of focus, and they’re really not the same. You’re totally focused on a bunch of things you want to do. Your list was very specific. Maybe revisit the “Actor’s Business Plan” part of the 4th edition of Self-Management for Actors and download those free SMFA Hot Sheets from the website to fill in your own calendar for what lives on your goal lists. See if having a plan for how to spend your next few hours feels GOOD… but always be flexible enough with yourself that you have zero problem if the day doesn’t come together as you had originally anticipated.

Move things forward. Pop in a little structure but give yourself creative space. Enjoy the process! 🙂 And lemmeknow how it goes for you. This is all such fun stuff, right?


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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