Time management can often be quite tricky for visual and performing artists. Achieving success and the stability that comes with it is difficult, and unlike other occupations, that success can be fleeting. More often than not, artists are juggling the job they love with one or more other careers that make it possible for them to eat and keep a roof over their heads. The ability to focus on several simultaneous jobs must be developed quickly, or it is quite easy to feel overwhelmed. In order to “keep all the balls in the air”, artists must remain focused, calm, and above all else, organized. A great deal of this organizational ability must revolve around time management.

For the average working actor or dancer, no two days are ever the same. The average working actor plays smaller roles on sitcoms or dramas, appears in commercials here and there, and works onstage on a regular basis. In order to obtain those jobs, usually at a rate of one per week, an actor or dancer may audition as many as five times per day. If they book a job, they often have less than a week’s notice between the audition and the shoot dates. If it is commercial work, the time between casting and shooting may be as little as 12 hours.

Auditions are scheduled one week to one day before the actual casting session, so on any given day, an actor or dancer may wake up, go to three auditions in the morning, run errands, shoot a print campaign in the afternoon and evening, run to their “day-job” and work a shift, all the while answering phone calls throughout the day with information about the next day’s auditions. If one of those phone calls is to tell them they’ve landed another job, they then have to reschedule or cancel any auditions which they’ve already confirmed. This fluctuating and unstable schedule has resulted in actors and dancers being branded as “flaky” and “unreliable”. In reality, those performers who can handle the constantly shifting requirements of the job are actually anything but flaky. Instead, they are almost ruthlessly structured, so that they can continue to function relatively sanely, in an insane work environment. The only place that a performer has any real control is in how they approach the ever-shifting work landscape. For any working performer there are three keys to successful time management:

1. Keep an easily accessible calendar at hand, always. This seems like a fairly straightforward tip, but there are a number of performers who are still scribbling notes to themselves on the back of napkins while standing in line at Starbucks, using a borrowed pen. Always keep a calendar, whether paper or electronic, in your pocket, purse, or bag. If you are using a paper calendar, make sure you have a way to write in it. More important than simply having the calendar is actually consulting it before you say yes to a job or audition. No matter how amazing the director, the audition, or the role, saying yes, and then having to call back and reschedule (or cancel altogether) because you forgot about the day player gig you had already booked, does not make a good impression. If you have a manager or agent, they will often keep track of your schedule as well, but not always, especially if you are “freelancing” with more than one representative. Maintain good records on your own, so that no matter how many jobs or auditions are flying at you, you appear calm, collected, and prepared.

2. Create shortcuts. Since so much of a performer’s life is about running from one thing to the next, having some routines set in place can mitigate the “quicksand” sensation that can sometimes occurs internally. Choose two or three outfits that you can always wear. If you know that you are often auditioning as a young mother, or as a handyman, or as a stockbroker, then set aside two or three outfits that suit those types of characters. Rather than digging through your closet frantically every time the phone rings, you know that you can wear “Outfit A” for your audition tomorrow. When the audition is done, you can clean the clothes, hang them back up together, and get ready for the next day.

If you freelance with multiple agents, print out sets of your resumes with the various agents’ names and numbers on them and keep them in a folder. Rather than having to print out a new resume every time you are called in for a job, plan ahead. If you have a hairstyle in one of your photos that is difficult to duplicate without many hours notice, have a wig made in the style so that you do not find yourself frantically blow drying, straightening, curling, etc., ten minutes before your audition. Find ways to make auditioning seem like less of an emergency, and more like a job. The same is true with booking work. Keep some comfortable clothes set aside for early morning calls. Keep a little travel bag packed in case you have to fly somewhere unexpectedly. The more preparation you do beforehand, the less time is taken up with making decisions in a panic.

3. Structure the rest of your life. Since auditioning and performing can often make it hard to schedule the rest of your life, find ways to create routine. Many performers find themselves suffering from a slight resentment of the fact that their plans with family and friends are often interrupted by their work. Their family and friends often resent it as well, frankly. It is imperative for a performer to create routine in whatever way they can. Get up at the same time every day, as many days of the week as you can. Get coffee at the same shop each day. Make a habit of reading a book that is unrelated to performing or the arts for at least a half hour each day. Take the same class each week as much as possible. Meditate or do yoga for 30 minutes each day. Structured activities act as “touchstones”, so that when your work life appears to be flying all over the place, you can take a moment at your favorite coffee shop, get centred, and then step back out into the storm.

Author's Bio: 

Internationally known professional organizer, author, and speaker Sue Becker is the founder and owner of From Piles to Smiles®. She enjoys helping people from around the world live better lives by creating customized systems to overcome their overwhelming paperwork, clutter, and schedules. She specializes in helping people who are chronically disorganized - those for whom disorganization has been a lifelong struggle that negatively impacts every aspect of their life, especially people with AD/HD. Her hands-on help, as well as her presentations, have helped thousands of individuals create substantial change in their lives.

Sue is Illinois’ first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization. She co-authored the book Conversations on Success, and has appeared as an organizational expert on NBC News and the national TV show, Starting Over. A CPA, Sue has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.