Act Smart!: 5 things you can do in 15 Minutes or Less

Summer is upon us: that great season of lounging, playing, and not feeling like doing your work at all! Fortunately, you can accomplish meaningful things in just a few minutes, and still have plenty of time left for sun and fun.

30 seconds: Sign up for Bob Lefsetz’s newsletter, the Lefsetz Letter. You may not need to read every one of these sometimes-lengthy diatribes, and you’ll have to do some translating–his background and expertise is in the music industry, not acting or entertainment. But the core issues he returns to over and over affect all creative artists working today. He illuminates the opportunities and the fallacies of the current marketplace in a way that’s easy and enjoyable to read.

3 minutes: (and an iPhone, as of this writing—hopefully, Android to come) Download the Vine app to your phone and make your first micro-short (seven seconds!) film. If you want to make movies or even just be in them, you need to understand how they work: story, angles, editing, the works. Vine is a social app that makes telling little stories in motion as easy as placing your thumb on your phone’s screen. My first Vine was a car wash story. Not very emotional, but lots of action! As with most social apps, you’ll find a leaderboard of sorts with a curated best-of-the-best. Watch it and learn, but don’t just watch—doing it yourself is the the best way to learn, always!

5 minutes: Write. Because writing allows you to create your own material for you to act in. Because writing gives you access to your truest self, which every artist needs. Because writing well allows you to communicate well. Because you can do it anywhere, anytime, with nothing more than a piece of paper and a pencil. Start with this incredibly small increment of time, but do it every day at the same time. Keep your head down for the five full minutes—set a timer, or, if you’re writing on your computer, try one of the settings on Write or Die, a free, web-based program that offers you nothing but a blank space to write in and a siren that goes off if you don’t. Build that writing muscle at five minutes a day, the same time every day, for a good, long stretch of days. Then bump it up five minutes, until you can manage that much every day. Lather/rinse/repeat.

10 minutes: Go for a walk…every hour, if possible—even if it’s a quick run to the mailbox or down the hall to pee. [link] Sitting is the smoking of our time. If you kill yourself with sitting, how are you going to act? As actors, we have to keep our instruments in some kind of working condition. Not perfect condition, but reasonable condition. Besides, walking is great for loosening up the logjams of your mind and psyche. And if you can build up your tolerance for walking, you lessen your dependence on vehicles–always a good thing. (For inspiration and ideas on walking–and biking–as a lifestyle choice, watch this excellent panel discussion on people-powered transportation held at the SAG Foundation a couple of months ago. Three of the five panelists are car-free…in Los Angeles!)

15 minutes: Plan a trip out of town. It doesn’t have to be way out of town; it just has to remove you from your environment. And it doesn’t have to be a long or expensive trip: it can be as short as a half-day and as close as two miles from your usual daily radius. Buy a light rail ticket and get off in a town you’ve never seen. Or drive somewhere you usually blow past on a long commute, but pull over and look around. When I lived in New York City, sometimes just jumping on the Staten Island ferry would be enough, but a few times, I actually (GASP!) got off and explored. My point is two-fold: (1), it’s really easy to get in a rut (bad for artists!); but (2), it’s really good to get out of one (good for artists!). And the Internet makes it easy to do a little advance work, so use your 15 minutes to hit Google maps and explore there first. But set a timer so you don’t find yourself taking a four-hour exploration down Internet rabbit holes.

Want more? Try…

* * *
BOOK OF THE MONTH: As a lifelong self-improvement junkie with more ambition than time to realize it, I was thrilled to get my advance reader copy of Josh Kaufman’s The First 20 Hours: The Toughest Part to Mastering Anything. I’m only halfway through the book as I write this, but I’d recommend it on the strength of the first three chapters alone. They outline the nuts and bolts (and RESEARCH) behind rapid skill acquisition, your best strategy for tackling the steepest incline of the learning curve. The rest of the book documents how he used rapid skill acquisition to learn six new things: yoga, programming, touch typing, a complex board game, windsurfing, and ukulele. Kaufman’s writing is brisk and lucid, and his stories inspire on their own. An absolute pleasure to read, and useful, to boot.