4 Basic Techniques For Productivity In The Performing Arts

Productivity is one of the current internet buzzwords. There are lots of articles, videos, books and gurus saying that all you need is *(INSERT PRODUCTIVITY HACK HERE)* to get all your work done, clean your flat, pay your bills, see all your friends, solve a Rubik’s Cube and complete a quadratic equation. All this whilst still having time to cook, clean, date, sleep and catch up on the new season of Nailed It.

However, as we know, productivity in the performing arts doesn’t quite work the same.

Hacks and techniques are designed to help you manage your workload, lower the inclination to procrastinate, and help you feel good about your output, but this becomes difficult when ‘output’ becomes hard to define.

Our 4 techniques that work in performing arts

  1. Eat Your Frog
  2. Pomodoro Technique
  3. Time Blocking
  4. Get Things Done (GTD)

If I’m a playwright, how many pages a day is considered ‘good output’?

If I’m a producer, am I productive if I finish the risk assessment or just start it?

If I’m an actor without an upcoming audition or role, how can I feel ‘productive’?

This becomes even more difficult to define when you consider the larger proportion of neurodivergent people in the creative sector who may struggle getting into hyperfocus to actually set out these tasks in a list or priority matrix. Websites like Todoist encourage you to do 5 tasks a day, but those tasks are self-defined, so capturing the tasks and condensing them into a manageable list becomes a problem.

This article outlines 4 basic techniques for productivity in the performing arts, that I have found are most common in the sector, but they should not be taken as gospel. Some will work for you, some will not. And that’s ok. Use these as tools to start an honest conversation about your relationship to work, output and productivity.

1: Eat Your Frog

This is a good one for you procrastinators out there. To put it simply, EAT THE FROG says that you start the day by defining what is the most important task and do it first. Straight away. No messing about. No easy ‘warm-up’ task to start you off. Find the most pressing task and do it straight away.

According to Brian Tracey, the creator of this idea:

Green frog in Opeongo Lake, Canada. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

“In reality, your “frog” is your biggest, most important task. It is the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. This is another way of saying that if you have two important tasks before you, start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first. Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else.”

This takes the pressure off for the rest of the day, it’s simple to understand and starts your day off with a big win, so even if you achieve nothing else you know that you have done something important.

2: Pomodoro Technique

This is the one that the vlogger you follow on YouTube talks about. Pomodoro Technique does get some flak for having an almost ‘cult like’ following, but to be fair that is because it is incredibly simple and effective. The way it works is:

  1. Get a to-do list and a timer.
  2. Set your timer for 25 minutes and focus on a single task on the list.
  3. Then enjoy a five-minute break.
  4. After four rounds, take a longer, more restorative 15-30-minute break.

Benefits of the Pomodoro technique include forcing you to break down complicated tasks, gives thinking time and brain space between tasks and it’s easy to combat distractions when you know a break is coming.

3: Time Blocking

The main idea of time blocking is simple: control your schedule, so that it doesn’t control you. Other names include Task Batching and Day Theming.

Time blocking is where you divide your day into ‘blocks’ of time (GET IT?!).

Each block is then dedicated to a specific task or group of tasks, and only those specific tasks. Instead of keeping an open-ended to-do list of things you’ll get to as you’re able, you’ll start each day with a concrete schedule that lays out what you’ll work on and when:

10:00-11:00 – Character research

11:00-11:30 – Review notes on findings of research

11:30-12:00 – Discuss notes with director

The key to this method is prioritising your task list in advance, so a dedicated weekly review is a must. You could do this with a collaborator working on the same project or a mentor or colleague that you trust. Take stock of what’s coming up for the week ahead and make a rough sketch of your time blocks for each day. At the end of every workday, review any tasks you didn’t finish and adjust your time blocks for the rest of the week accordingly.

With days that are time blocked in advance, you won’t have to constantly make choices about what to focus on. All you need to do is follow your time-blocked schedule. If you get off-task or distracted, just look at your schedule and get back to whichever task you blocked.

Confused? Check out this great video from YouTuber Hannah Witton which has the best example I can find of simple, effective time blocking.

4: Getting Things Done (GTD)

GTD has one central idea: The more information bouncing around your head, the harder it is to decide what needs a focus. In turn, you spend more time thinking about your tasks than actually doing them. This then leads to stress, uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed. For those who are susceptible to Imposter Syndrome, it can also make the demon in the corner of the room louder and more frustrating than ever.

I see this A LOT in 3rd year Drama students and those who are just starting out on a career in the performing arts. They want to make a ‘splash’ and think they have to do it all but don’t know how to capture these quite big ideas into smaller, actionable goals. This leads to procrastination, which leads to more uncertainty and stress. Before they know it, they have a fog of concepts whirling around in their head and get lost in the fog of tasks to do.

GTD has 5 simple steps:

  1. CAPTURE: Write down anything that’s on your mind. Big or small.
  2. CLARIFY: Process these into clear, actionable steps.
  3. ORGANISE: Put these tasks into the right place by giving them a date, time, talking to someone about it as a collaborator and more.
  4. REVIEW: Look over, update and revise your lists. You can do this daily, weekly or monthly.
  5. ENGAGE: Get to work! Use the system to focus on the next priority.

Unlike Pomodoro Technique or Eat the Frog, GTD requires time upfront with the gains coming later. GTD does allow you to feel more in control of your time since you know what you’re prioritising and when. If you haven’t looked at that project in a while, that’s ok, because you know you will get to it on Thursday. This technique can work either digitally or just with pen and paper.

The main takeaways

And there you have it! 4 Basic Techniques for Productivity!

We have found that procrastination is most easily overcome when you understand what motivates you. Remember: the key to any productivity system is to keep it simple. As soon as you overcomplicate it, your brain will become muddled and you will abandon it.

This can be tough when working on multiple projects on different timelines simultaneously.

But that’s why it’s important to try these things out. Even if you don’t adopt any of them, you can use them as an opportunity for self-reflection, asking yourself:

  • What worked for me?
  • Why didn’t it work for me?
  • Could I change one aspect of it to make it work better?

The techniques and tools you use should be versatile enough to handle your most complex projects, yet simple enough to do on low energy.

Comment below with what tools you use or are starting to use from this article:

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