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Balance, Motivation, & Self-Employment

January 30, 2013

Many of the bloggers & readers here are well versed with the challenges of balancing an active Thespian workload with inconsistent offers or non-industry side jobs.  But what about the other end of the spectrum: if you’re lucky enough to get consistent work, how do you maintain any grasp on reality while juggling the amount of projects necessary to pay your bills?

Recently for me, the ratio of Stage Management offers to Production Management offers have completely flipped.  I’m comfortable in both positions – but the lifestyle change that accompanied this was unanticipated; though in hindsight makes complete sense.

As a Stage Manager, during rehearsals my “process” is to respond to email work before I leave for rehearsal [about 1 hour], attend rehearsal [6-8 hours depending on contract], break down rehearsal room, answer all time-sensitive emails, & type reports before heading home [about an hour or so].  Days were scheduled, set, predetermined by rehearsal room availability or the AEA-allowed schedule.  Sure, there were odd-hour questions and work, but the bulk of my day time-wise was in the rehearsal room.

As a Production Manager [or Technical Director or Designer, there’s a few that fall in this category], there are no set hours.  Sure, the Producer’s emails come in during business hours, and the dialogue created can give the illusion of a “work day.”  But, ultimately, outside of Tech and a few choice Production Meeting dates, you’re kind of on your own to get the job done.  The ultimate telecommute.

When I first looked at my January calendar – usually peppered with obligations to be at this place & that – I was shocked at the 6 lonely dates that were blocked off  [of course my luck would have it, 1 of these dates was when a bunch of the Greenies were meeting in-person… alas, next time].  My reaction to the seemingly sparse work was “oh shit, I have no work this month,” and I began scrolling the pages of Playbill & BackstageJobs.  The more I thought about it and laid out my projects’ to-do lists, the more it was apparent that I really did have a month’s worth of full-time-plus work. But with the seemingly void calendar and the distracting and dangerous telecommuting lifestyle, I knew I needed to realize three necessities in getting through this career-curve: BALANCE, MOTIVATION, & SELF-EMPLOYMENT.

BALANCE.

I’m a workaholic.  I’m as bad as they come [no really, during tech my husband has been known to unplug my computer keyboard so he could replace it with a hot meal].    Sustaining a career as a Theatre/Film Freelancer while maintaining my own Company   requires workload hours I’d rather not count.  I love what I do, my motto in life has always been, “nothing is really work unless you’d rather be doing something else.”  But, we all need breaks.  Life needs balance.  A few days of “just wake up and sit at the email helm and put out fires until emails stop coming in” made it clear that this wouldn’t work.  Emails never stop: FACT.  It’s important to set “office hours” for yourself, and even “days off” if your project isn’t in crisis or tech.  While maintaining several projects for several producers, it’s necessary to set work times for each individual project – and not allowing yourself to neglect one project for the other.  Just remember that it’s just as important to make that second cup of coffee, take your dog for a walk, read a book, and do household chores.  Working from home presents a ton of challenges, but time management and allowing yourself to have breaks will provide your life with great BALANCE, making your “office hours” that much more productive.

MOTIVATION.

The opposite trap working from home can spring is that of procrastination.  Any little thing starts to look like an excuse to not  read those piling up emails: laundry, facebook, baking, reading the archives of The Green Room Blog… Only you know what motivates you.  I’m a sucker for the simple schedule vs. rewards program – i.e. respond to all starred emails while maintaining incoming emails for 2 consistent hours without opening multiple tabs of social media sites = one chapter of my book with the phone on silent.  I lay out a detailed schedule – breaks included – the night before [::cough cough:: STAGE MANAGEMENT IS A WAY OF LIFE  ::cough cough::] and do my best to stick to it during the day, forgiving myself for any adjustments and mildly chastising myself when I am sucked into distraction.  Find your own recipe to cure procrastination and be sure there is plenty of motivation stored up when you need an extra boost [motivational quotes, or a 10-minute workout help for me].

SELF-EMPLOYMENT.

“Isn’t that what we’re talking about?”  Yes, I am an Entertainment Freelancer, a fancy name for “Self-Employed in whatever type of job I book this month.”  There are months when I’m mostly a theatrical electrician or film PA, and have very little telecommuting jobs.  There are months where I have one day of field work and spend the rest telecommuting.  That’s my life.  That’s what it means to be a Freelancer.  And, Self-Employment is a reality [sometimes amazingly surreal; sometimes terrifying depending on the month]. Especially if you cross departments or mediums like I do, you should be completely aware of the time & effort required at any given time in the process for a gig you accept [the “Gig Arc” as I call it].  It’s important to know when the downtime is for each job, so you can line up that next job in a timeframe you can handle it [while maintaining BALANCE].  Remember to set up that next interview, next job, next contingency plan – or you may find yourself unemployed when you’re ready for a celebratory drink at the end of a difficult month.  Remember you are Self-Employed: if you don’t find the work, you get a vacation… only Freelancers don’t get paid time off.

Do you have any secrets on maintaining Balance, Motivation, & a Self-Employed lifestyle?  I’d love to hear them.

Kelly Sig

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2013 6:06 pm

    Good post. As a lifetime freelancer I can say that after 15 years of filing schedule Cs, I’m finally getting the hang of balance. But it’s not easy. (PS more on Schedule Cs in my upcoming post about my IRS audit….) but anyway, as for balance, I do think that when working at home, for me, at least, it’s very important I don’t take breaks to do laundry, wash dishes and other “home” things. I take work breaks where I might shift gears to another work project. But my home duties have to stay during “home” hours. At the same time, it’s important to actually set those hours!!

    I also agree that like you, I’m more likely to overwork than to procrastinate. But lately I have found a good day off watching movies is sometimes really what you need to start fresh, as long as you take that day off with intention.

    Overall, I can say that I’m glad I’ve been self-employed all these years. For me, whatever downside there is in terms of no security, holiday pay, sick pay, etc is all worth it when I can look ahead in my schedule and say, “oh, hmm, I think I’ll mark half of April off and go to a theatre festival in Brazil…” and I don’t have to ask ANYONE’S PERMISSION to do so!!!! 🙂

    Good luck with your continued success!

  2. March 22, 2013 12:21 pm

    Great stuff to keep in mind, esp BALANCE!. As a TV freelancer learning to say ‘I have a Wedding / Christening / concert booked for that day, so won’t be able to do the weekend’ and sticking to your guns is important. Sounds simple, but in the early years it can be scary to say no. It’s never a deal breaker unless it’s actually show day, of course…

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