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7 productivity secrets from stand-up comedian Quinta Brunson

The ‘Abbott Elementary’ showrunner and comedian focuses on expert-level communication. Rather than saying, ‘This is all wrong,’ saying, ‘Let me explain what I envisioned.’

7 productivity secrets from stand-up comedian Quinta Brunson
Quinta Brunson [Photo: Jen Garcia; Stylist: Janice Angelica; hair: Moira Frazier; makeup: Jamie Lobel]

Productivity to me right now is about communicating to create a solution. It’s about articulating my ideas to larger groups of people and companies who may not get it right away. That’s often looked at as a bad thing, like, “Oh, man, these people don’t get my ideas.” But what I’ve learned is that it just takes some expert-level communication to paint the picture for different people you’re working with.

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For example, in [the upcoming ABC series] Abbott Elementary, which is set in my hometown of West Philadelphia, we have a scene that takes place in a nail salon, and I really wanted it to look like a West Philadelphia nail salon. When I first saw the pictures, it wasn’t right. That’s another thing, knowing that it’s going to be okay. Your next step is to communicate in a real way. Rather than saying, “This is all wrong,” saying, “Let me explain what I envisioned.”

The salon couldn’t be too big because in West Philly, the buildings are small because it’s an urban area. The bowls you get your pedicures in looked too fancy. If something’s too fancy looking, I personally think it’s probably a bad nail salon. What’s in the nail salon? You [need] some earrings and stuff in the corner and some products you can take home. I wanted it to look a certain level of congested—that makes me know I’m going to get my nails done well. What does the art look like on the walls? Does it look faded? Because this isn’t a new place.

That was two weeks and four different departments of communication. What helped was having people around who want to listen, learn, execute the vision, and use their expertise to get a particular story told.

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I learned a while ago it’s okay to have limits. It’s the only thing that will keep me, me. There are projects that have popped up, like, “Oh, can you come act over here?” “Can you come do some voice work over here?” Hell, yeah, I’ll come do that. But how much of my time is that going to take? I sincerely mean it to be like, “Oh, that’s going to take two months of my life? Yeah. I can’t do that. Thank you for the opportunity. I would have loved to, but I can’t, and you should get somebody else who can.”

But then there are things where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll do that.” We connect a lot of our success, especially in America, to how much and often we can work. I have reevaluated my entire relationship with consumerism, with making money and spending money, and always [ask myself], “What do I need?” What I need more often than not is rest.

Time she wakes up

“Between 5 and 6 a.m., [if] I have to be on set. I usually wake up at 8 a.m.”

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First thing she does in the morning

“Have an anxiety attack. No, I’m just kidding. I shower. I brush my teeth. I dress. On set day, you go to set and so much is done for you—your makeup, hair, et cetera. On a day that I’m not on set, I’ll work out. I enjoy working out first thing in the morning. I have an exercise bike. It gives me a lot of energy for the rest of the day.”

How her routine has changed over the past 18 months

“I returned from Zoom to an in-person space, from working at home to working in the office again. I feel much more productive in an office. I like to be able to go to someone’s door and talk with them. When [we went to] the writers’ room, we really started cooking with gas because the energy just flows so much better in the room. [Also], over the past 18 months, I’ve had to get better about answering emails, writing emails. It’s the preferred method of communication, and I hate it. But I’ve had to get better with emailing.”

Best habit

“Compartmentalization. I’ve learned that about myself. I compartmentalize really well.”

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Worst habit

“That’s also my worst habit. Is that fair to say?”

Last thing she does at night

“I like to watch an episode of something like New Girl, 30 Rock, The Office—something in that range. And then I head to bed and just think about stories, storytelling. Whether it’s the show I’m working on currently or something that I want to work on, I do a lot of that right before I go to sleep.”

Time she goes to bed

“Around 11:30 p.m. But while I’m working on this show, I’ve been passing out at like 9 p.m. I don’t even have control. My body is like, ‘We’re going to bed.'”

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Read more about the secrets of this year’s most productive people.

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