The Curse of the “Free” Day


ErinHenriques new bio picI had finally gotten what I wanted.  After a busy month of juggling my survival job and personal commitments, I finally had a “free” day where I had nothing to do but focus on my creative work! It wasn’t a day off because I had a ton of work to do:  I just didn’t have to be anywhere at any specific time or meet any specific deadlines.  I had a writing project that I’d been neglecting for several weeks so I told myself I would work on that – not with any particular goals in mind – I would just “work” on it….in its entirety.  I was certain that by the end of the day, I would have pages of pure GOLD.

That morning I optimistically opened the project on my computer, took a sip of my coffee, and….IMMEDIATELY felt overwhelmed and anxious! I then proceeded to:

– Watch You Tube videos of dogs dressed like humans.

– Google everyone I went to college with.

– Eat half a loaf of bread.

–  Think about taking a shower but decide against in order to “save time”.

–  Reorganize my closest (but only half of it).

–  Eat the rest of the loaf of bread.

– Google everyone I went to high school with.

–  Do extensive internet research on “cat cafes” in Japan.

–  Call it a night and watch hours of Bravo while feeling like a total loser

Now, I may not be the most structured person in the world, but I have a feeling I’m not the only self-employed, creative type who’s had a day like this.  When it comes to doing artistic work on your own time – especially on those “free” days when you don’t have meetings, auditions, or a survival gigs to go to – time management can be a huge challenge.  This is something I continue to struggle with, but here a few things I’ve found that help.

1.  Waking up in the morning like a normal person!

Okay, this may seem obvious, but I promise you I’ve had way too many “work at home” days where I’ve slept in a little too late, stayed in my pajamas a little too long, and ended up having “lunch” be my first accomplishment of the day.  When I start a day like that, it’s really hard for me to get any momentum going.  BUT, when I set my alarm for the morning and get ready (as if I were going to a 9-5 job), it sets the tone for the rest my day.  I’m more productive, I waste less time, and I have more follow through.  PLUS I know I don’t have to worry about something silly like “not having time to shower” or “forgetting to brush my hair” if I have to leave my apartment for a medical emergency and/or last minute audition.

2.  Thinking of a few goals the night before.

I try not to go crazy writing to-do lists because I inevitably make them too long and daunting and THEN ignore them because I feel overwhelmed.  That being said, I find it super helpful when I give myself a few goals.  I like to think of these goals the night before because it helps me to wake up and start my day with some sort of direction.  I try to keep the goals specific and bite-sized so I don’t freak out.  For example, one day’s goals might be to order more headshots, edit three pages of writing project, and rehearse with scene partner for acting class.  Sometimes I’ll accomplish more and sometimes I’ll accomplish less, but just having a game plan to begin with is what saves me from those three hour Facebook/cat video/looking-up-any-ailment-I-could-possibly-have-on-Web MD binges.

3.  Remembering that no action is too small.

This kind of goes along with #2, but since I constantly need to remind myself of this, I wanted to give it its own number.  If a job seems too big, sometimes I have a hard time even starting it.  Like if my apartment is a total mess, I’ll avoid cleaning anything because the effort seems futile.  But that’s not true.  Every little step has value.  I have to remind myself that if I only write a few words on a page, I’m still better off than if I hadn’t written anything at all.  Sometimes you just have to take baby steps and keep on going!

4.  Diving into my creative work…even if I belly flop.

Even if I’ve set achievable goals for myself, I can still hit a brick wall when it comes to actually sitting down and doing my creative work.  I find that I procrastinate, become indecisive, and get in my own way when I’m being too precious about a project.  I’m more productive when I just dive in headfirst…even if it’s messy.  So, I try to give myself permission fail.   For example, I’ll do a vomit draft of a piece I’m writing, or I’ll make an acting choice for a scene I’m rehearsing that might not work.  I can always do a rewrite of the piece or try out a different acting choice.  I can’t make adjustments to my work, however, if I don’t actually start it.

5.  Giving a shape to my day.

Having twelve free hours without any structure can make me crazy, so I like to schedule a few things to give a shape to my day.  For example, I’ll meet someone for coffee, reserve a spot in an exercise class for a set time, or plan on going for an evening walk with a friend.  When I know I only have a certain amount of time to work on something before my next obligation, I’m more focused.  Sometimes I’ll set timers for myself, but I find I have more accountability to stay on schedule when I make plans that involve other people.  I love having evening commitments because that forces me to find an end point for my work day.  (And THAT makes me much more pleasant to be around.)

So there you have it!  Like I said earlier, staying productive on those “free” days continues to be a challenge for me, so if you have any additional tips you’d like to share, please comment below!

And one last thing….If you do happen to have one those crappy, procrastination-filled days…just let it go!  We all have bad days.  Shake it off, laugh at your internet history, and start fresh tomorrow!