Productivity Tips and Tricks from the Theatre

Productivity is a science, a market, a way of life… but ultimately, it’s a performance. You’re trying to manipulate your time and energy while using your skills to get stuff done. Like any type of performance, productivity has its own set of techniques that help shape your individual proclivities.

I think that theatrical performance is a great metaphor for productivity in general, and as a longtime thespian, I’ve also discovered the productivity lessons that we can glean from the art of the theatre.

After all, all the world’s a stage.

Stage your scene appropriately

While rehearsals frequently take place in large rooms ringed with chairs, devoid of scenery and costumes, the performances generally use a specially designed set. Why should your work performance be any different?

Establish a comfortable, clean working area with all the tools you need. I have worked with hundreds of actors and have seen how they’re much more able to immerse themselves in their characters and adapt to any snafus if all the elements are in place. Setting the stage helps you get into the proper mindset to give your best performance.

Make time to plan

A lot of productivity advice relegates planning, brainstorming, and reflection to lower priority tiers. However, proper preparation is essential to good performance. It drives me nuts when I hear productivity gurus instruct people to simply dive into their most important work rather than “procrastinating” by updating their bullet journal or to-do list. It’s not procrastination to do something that can help you shape your mindset for the day!

Actors typically spend a lot of time researching their characters, developing a backstory, and asking questions about their motivations. Your productivity scheme should be no different. Take time to set goals and reflect upon your accomplishments, and be sure that you have a clear motivation for anything you do. It’s especially difficult to get into gear when you’re wondering what’s in it for you. Even if the task came from someone else or is a “necessary evil,” find something to look forward to in it.

Understand your supporting roles

They say, “there are no small parts, only small actors.” This axiom communicates both the core theatrical tenet that all parts of a production complement each other and the expectation that everyone be supportive and professional, rather than small-minded or selfish. To boost your productivity, put those ideas into practice: Acknowledge the hard work of your supporting players, whether those are your coworkers or the various hats that you wear, and be understanding of their varied needs.

Set your ego aside. In particular, don’t let yourself feel compelled to take over the scene, i.e. stack your to-do list so high that you overwhelm yourself and end up underperforming Be willing to share the stage: Delegate tasks to your “scene partners” and eliminate anything that’s not necessary to the production. You wouldn’t adlib an entire monologue or bring on extra props that weigh you down, so don’t drag extra work into your to-do list.

Do things at the right time

Theatre is very specific and structured (except for some postmodernist plays). You have a script to follow, stage lighting to stand in, and a bounded area to move around in. You have a costume to wear and props to use. None of that matters if you miss your cues. If you come in at the wrong moment, it won’t matter that you memorized your lines or put your shoes on the correct feet.

Productivity is inextricably tied to time management, and proper time management relies upon your specific cues. For example, if you’re not a morning person, you’re just not going to be able to write your bestseller if you’re only working on it between 6 and 9 am. If you work in multiple locations, you’re going to stifle your productivity if you try to bounce between them.

And no matter who you are, you’re not going to perform your best if you’re multitasking. You wouldn’t say your lines from two different scenes at once, would you?

When you think of productivity as a theatrical performance, you’ll see how some of our worst tendencies, fueled by technology, are tripping up the entire production. You’ll also see how some productivity advice that encourages constant work is just bad for you. Like theatre, productivity is an art form. It takes time, proper technique, and special attention to make it work for you. Once it does, though, your performance will be amazing.

Originally published on Creative Juices, our Medium publication.

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