• Chalkboard

Finding focus and balance as a freelancer

When you are your own business it can be tough to maintain focus and balance. Slow weeks filled by cleaning your skirting boards are followed by weeks that so busy you feel like you might just burst into flames. Being bombarded by thoughts that everyone is working harder and more regularly than you.

As an actor or any kind of performer, this can be particularly tricky as you are the commodity. Finding some separation between your work and your rest can be tough. If we have learnt anything from working freelance, it’s that burning out (Running out of steam, lacking in motivation and losing focus) is never helpful.

So, how to do we make it work? We have found that through trial and error, and the help of Liv's wonderful mother Sally Foan (owner of People Tree Training – a coaching and personal development business) that a few simple principles can really make a huge difference. Here are a few tips we came up with together.

1. Wear a uniform on your “work” days

This is such a simple one, but it really changed my “self-employed days”. This may sound ridiculous if you are planning on squirrelling away on your laptop all day, but trust me it works wonders. Find a uniform for yourself. For us, it’s baggy jeans, trainers and a white top. It’s simple, comfy, quick to put on, and means we don’t procrastinate the morning away deciding what to wear, and subconsciously we feel like we are in the zone.

2. Working from home? Probably don’t!

Working from home, especially when, if you live in a big city like London, you’re probably working in a space not big enough to swing a cat – where you live, eat, breathe, cry to Netflix and try to relax. Not to mention the plethora of distractions like the washing you should be doing, the plant you forgot about that’s definitely dying and those damn skirting boards. Try and take yourself out of the house to work. Find a nearby cafe that’s quiet, or liven it up by trying a new one every week. There are some other great spaces like The Bush Theatre, which has a library area to use free of charge. Or, if you really can’t leave, have a designated work area that is quiet and can be covered with a blanket or somehow separated when you finish working, so you can be productive when there and have it out of mind when you are done.

3. Plan your time.

What are Chalkboard office hours? 8am- 1pm. During this time, We may take small breaks for some coffee or a little leg stretch, but knowing that this time is my work time has boosted our productivity no end. We stole this from a playwright I heard on a podcast recently, who said this is their dedicated writing time. It means you are doing that bit every day to work productively towards your goals, without guilt or confusion. After 1 pm we can do all the little things that jump into my head when we are trying to work on a script or plan a workshop. After 1 pm we can schedule meetings or video calls. After 1 pm we can meet a director for a coffee. But until 1 pm we stay focused on what I am working on and try not to have this time broken if at all possible. These hours can be flexible, these are just when we feel most productive. It could be 12-6 or 4-11, just choose what works best for you and your schedule.

4. Finally, and most importantly, take a f***king day off.

Liv's mum does this great thing where she blocks out a day in her diary and writes “Project P”, sounds super exciting I know, but it is in fact Project Pilates –  a day designated to rest, recuperation and some feel-good exercise such as meditation or Yoga.

For us, as actors, this can obviously be difficult, as you never know when work or an audition will come in, but if you can try to provisionally book out just one day in your diary, in which you take a “real” day off, it will be so beneficial.

You can always swap days around that week if required, just don’t find yourself without a single day off. Forgetting to decompress can be a dangerous spiral that it’s hard to get out of. Ignore the Instagram posts telling you about how your competition is “grinding while you sleep” – it’s nonsense. To perform at your best in a high-pressure situation – that all-important pitch, that big audition- you need time off. If you don’t have time off you can’t perform to your best.

Practice taking control of your diary and get a Project P in your week. Try your best not to look at Spotlight, or analyse someone else’s CV that day. Instead, go for a long walk. Take a book to your local coffee shop, do some restorative yoga, see your friends. It will mean that when you do need to kick into gear, you will welcome it rather than cry into your 5th cup of coffee.

For more little tips on wellbeing, work and usually some nice elephant pictures check out People Tree Training’s website: