Alright, folks! Are you tired of opening up my blog only to find words, words, and more words yet? ;) Well, we’ve reached the end of this week-long mini-series on what I’ve learned as a photographer and small business owner this past year, and today’s topic is productivity. (If you want to read the previous posts, click here for thoughts on confidence and here for thoughts on creativity.)
(If you’re a client or have no interest in my blabbering and want to cut straight to the photography, please use the menu up top and the buttons on the sidebar to the right to explore my portfolio! I’m so glad you’re here and I hope to hear from you! :) )
I’m not going to lie… self-employment can be really hard. As much as I love being able to call all the shots and not having a boss to answer to, there are times when I just want someone to tell me exactly what to do. And as much as I love being able to run errands on a Tuesday morning if I feel like it and have “office hours” at 10:00 pm if that’s my best working time, sometimes it would be nice to have someone give me some structure and a list of things that must be done before the day’s end or else. That’s why I’ve had to learn a lot of things I’m sharing in this series by simple trial and error, and hopefully some of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way will help someone else avoid that part. :) But also keep in mind that I don’t have all the answers, and these aren’t hard and fast rules for a super productive and successful plan for running a business. Everyone has different preferences and different strengths and weaknesses, so take what I say with a grain of salt. What I do know is that once I started getting really busy, I was both thankful and incredibly overwhelmed, so I had to develop methods for managing my scary to-do lists. They may not work for everyone, but they work for me (when I have the good sense to use them, that is). So read on, and if you’ve got any tricks up your sleeve, be sure to share them in the comment section! :)
1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF (AND YOUR SURROUNDINGS).
Maybe this is something only I’ve struggled with, but I have a sneaking suspicion some of you have found yourself in the same place. Working from home is both (mostly) a blessing and (sometimes) a curse. I know that those of you who don’t work at home probably have this glamorized idea of sitting on the couch in your PJ’s at 3:00 pm with your laptop, getting to do whatever the heck you want. (My husband has told me multiple times that he’s jealous that I “get to nap” during the day. HA! What’s a nap?!) While it can be nice not to have to get dressed up first thing in the morning, there are times when I find myself in my PJ’s… on the couch… with my laptop… at 3:00 PM… and let me assure you that it is a TERRIBLE feeling. On days like this, I’ll wonder why I’m grumpy and can’t focus, and I’ll realize that I haven’t eaten a proper meal (unless coffee counts), seen the light of day, washed my face, or had any contact with the outside world at all that day. Hmm…. maybe that’s the problem. So this past year, I’ve taken strides to get better about taking care of myself, and I’ve noticed that I feel MUCH better and am far more productive when I make simple lifestyle changes.
For one, I’ve started drinking a ton of water, which helps offset my caffeine intake and keeps me from getting dehydrated (and by default, irritable). I try to keep semi-healthy food in the house and actually take breaks to eat it throughout the day. One of the great things about having a dog is being forced to go on several daily walks, which is great for getting out and moving around (and for vitamin D intake and a chance to clear your head and allow inspiration to strike). I’m also a HUGE proponent of a solid 8 hours of sleep a night, because otherwise I am way too tempted to nap. :)
Also, I think it’s important to work in proper surroundings. For me, this means several things: I need LOTS of natural light, so I open all the blinds first thing in the morning. My office gets quite a bit more light than my living room, so I try to work there as much as possible and I notice a huge difference in my ability to focus and work happily when I do. I’ve also become OBSESSED with candles. Good smells most definitely have an impact on my overall mood, and maybe it sounds silly, but that flickering flame makes me feel less like I’m working alone. And finally, the cleanliness of my workspace plays an important role in my ability to sit down and focus on the task at hand. This is something I have to force myself to do, because even though I love deep cleaning everything and getting rid of clutter, I have a hard time maintaining the cleanliness on a daily basis. But on days when I do make an effort to pick up and clean before I sit down to work… man alive, what a difference! I love this article I came across called “19 Things to Stop Doing in Your 20′s.” Number 9 on the list says “Stop treating errands as burdens: Instead, use them as time to focus on doing one thing, and doing it right. Errands and chores are essentially rote tasks that allow you time to think. They function to get you away from your phone, the internet, and other distractions.” So taking the time to clean (and cook decent meals, and walk my dog, and go to the bank) is actually super important not only for my productivity, but also for my mental and creative well-being. Just remind yourself of this next time you find yourself thinking it is physically impossible to get off your computer and fix yourself a sandwich or unload the dishwasher. :)
2. DON’T LET THE INTERNET CONTROL YOU.
Let’s just face it. Facebook is the evil enemy of productivity, is it not? I talked about this in my post on confidence, but I think it’s something we’re all pretty well-aware of and yet feel powerless against anyway, which is just crazy. It’s the internet, for goodness’s sakes! Between perusing social media and staring down our overwhelming email inboxes, it is sometimes just impossible to focus on the task at hand. (Especially when a lot of our actual work involves using the computer, where it’s oh-so-tempting to click that browser icon and start going through all our tabs.)
To help get this under control, I’ve implemented a couple of tricks. For one, I set aside specific times to tackle my inbox. When I was attempting to answer every email as it came in, only for a new one to pop up 30 seconds later, it was just way too overwhelming. So unless I get an email that’s time-sensitive and needs my absolute immediate attention, I try to save my emails to respond to once in the morning (usually first thing because I’m typically most alert and focused in the mornings), and then once again in the late afternoon/early evening. That way it becomes more of a to-do list item I can check off, rather than a never-ending task to avoid at all costs.
As far as Facebook and other distracting websites go, I’ve used site-blocking software with a lot of success. Right now I’m using a Google Chrome plug-in (which you can find, along with tons of other helpful tools, in the Chrome store). I typically set it to block my problem websites during certain chunks of the day (for example 9:00 AM-1:00 PM, and then 2:00 PM-5:00 PM) so that I absolutely cannot view them during those times and can instead focus on what needs to get done. Granted, I don’t use this nearly as often as I should, and it’s still something I’m always working to improve, but little tools like this go along way where self control fails us. :)
3. EMBRACE WHAT WORKS AND LET GO OF WHAT DOESN’T.
This really goes along with a lot of what I’ve already been saying in the confidence and creativity posts, but I think it’s super important and worth elaborating on. When I first got started in photography, not only was I desperately trying to find my style, learn technical skills, and figure out how to create a brand and run a business, but I was also dabbling in literally every genre of photography you could think of. I did weddings, family sessions, newborns, family reunions, seniors, a commercial project or two, pets, parties… you name it, I probably photographed it. I do think this was an essential part of discovering who I was and what my strengths were as a photographer, but over time, it became more difficult for me to narrow my focus and be willing to let go of the kinds of projects and shoots I knew deep down I just wasn’t cut out for. Since I’ve known from the very beginning that weddings are my true passion and really where my talents shine (in my opinion, at least ;)), I finally made the decision about a year ago to make them my primary focus. You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been blogging much of anything besides couples in love lately. It’s not because I don’t sometimes take on other shoots (because a little variety now and then is good for shaking things up, especially when it’s the right kind of client!), but I don’t openly advertise or attempt to market for anything other than weddings and couples shoots because I *know* that’s my strong suit and what I want my business to be centered around. Once I made that decision, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, because choosing a specialty allowed me to devote myself to becoming the best and most creative wedding photographer I could be (instead of the best “everything” photographer, which doesn’t actually exist– ever heard of a jack-of-all-trades but master of none?). Also, this choice has helped me to be more productive because I’ve been able to customize and streamline my workflow specifically for wedding season, and I don’t feel like my attention is being pulled in a thousand different directions.
Something that’s helped me to embrace what works and let go of the rest is to always be seeking out education opportunities and workflow solutions. I’m the kind of person who VERY easily gets stuck in her ways and can become unreasonably attached to outdated methods, because hey, if ain’t broke, why fix it? But sometimes that means that I’m unknowingly wasting time, and time is money, blah blah blah, so I need to learn from other photographers, tutorials, and books to see if there are solutions that exist to make my life easier. For example, I used to edit only in Bridge and Photoshop because it was all I had ever known and seemed to work just fine. But one day, I did some editing for my friend, and she wanted me to use Lightroom so that all the edits could be saved the way she does it. Let me tell you, I wasn’t too excited about having to learn new software. But 15 minutes into it, after I had figured out the basics, I realized that it was an amazing program and holy cow, where had it been all my life? It was SO much more intuitive and fast and easy that I immediately bought a copy for myself and haven’t looked back since. So sometimes, change is okay. It’s GOOD. And letting go of what was slowing you down is even better. If we aren’t constantly growing and learning new things and challenging ourselves, then it’ll be all too easy for us to get stuck with archaic, completely unproductive systems that are holding us back from reaching our full creative potential.
By the same token, I have tried things that just didn’t work for me (like PhotoMechanic… I don’t know why, it just never really fit my with my flow), and I had to resist forcing myself to use it just because it works for others. The point is that we shouldn’t be afraid to just try. Ask questions. Get recommendations. See if your friend will let you play with their software to see if it works for you. It’s the only way you’ll know what’s out there, and if your productivity could be improved!
4. IT’S OKAY TO SAY NO.
This one’s the biggie, and I feel like it’s the perfect way to end this whole series.
Up until last year, I was unable to say no to ANYTHING. I absolutely hate disappointing people, and I used to feel like the quickest way to do that would be to turn down a shooting opportunity. But what I’ve learned is that the real way of disappointing people is to accept a job knowing you’re spread too thin already, knowing it’s not the kind of photography you excel at, and as a result, being unable to perform at your best and meet (let alone exceed) expectations. In the end, everyone’s unhappy. As hard as it was the first time I turned down an opportunity because I knew deep down I didn’t have the time or resources to commit to it, I felt such an immediate sense of peace. I hadn’t made a promise that I would have to work myself into the ground to keep. I wouldn’t be risking burnout because I was protecting my need for relaxation and a personal life outside of photography. And they would find another photographer who could meet all of their needs, and everyone would be much happier. After that experience, it’s become much easier to politely decline certain kinds of inquiries and offer recommendations for other super talented photographers, because I know how important it is for me to have somewhat of a work/life balance and to be able to really take care of my existing clients. If I had about 5 more hours in the day, things might be different. But for now, at this stage in my life and in my business, I thankfully know my limits and what I’m capable of, and I’m a much more productive (and creative, and confident) photographer for it.
Well, I guess that’s all I’ve got! If you made it through the novel’s worth of writing I did this week (at least that’s what it feels like!), then bless your little heart. I’ve already been so overwhelmed with the positive response to my first two posts, so I’m really hoping that my words have hit home in some way or another.
And I promise the next post will have photos. Lots and lots of pretty photos. :)
Have an amazing weekend, everyone! Thank you as always for your love and support!