Photographers these days need to wear many hats. Not only do you have to shoot and edit your images, but you also need to spend time on social media, market to clients, and keep up with all of the day-to-day administrative tasks of running a business. It’s enough to give even the most organized person a headache. To top it off, time management can be something that creative people often struggle with.
As a creative person, who prided myself on my productivity until I started my own business, it’s taken me a lot of trial and error to figure out how to get the most out of my day without a ton of stress and overwhelm.
If you’re tired of feeling busy but not productive, here are some helpful tips.
Choose three priorities for your day
Most people don’t have a great sense of how long a given task will take them. They overload their calendar with to-do’s and then feel inadequate or frustrated when they don’t check them all off at the end of the day.
Of course, this tip will depend on what you need to get done. You may have a shoot day or need to spend the whole day editing, and therefore will be focused on one task. However, you’ll also likely have a couple of small things you need to complete in a day, like send an invoice and return a few emails or phone calls.
The point is that you should focus on three priorities a day, and tackle them in order of importance.
This tip is also known as The Rule-of-Three from the book Getting Results the Agile Way, and it’s meant to prevent you from running from task-to-task without a clearly defined outcome.
In the Rule-of-Three, you define three tasks to do in a day, three tasks for your week, and also three tasks for your month, and your year.
Start each day by defining the three things you will focus on and make sure to check in with yourself about staying on track. Pay attention to how long it takes you, and notice any patterns that emerge in working on certain tasks. That will give you more information to refine your time management strategies.
Track your time
When you get started with trying out different time management techniques, be sure to track your time.
For the first year-and-a-half of running my photography business, I wrote down everything I did in a day in a small notebook, as well as how long it took me.
If this sounds like a super time-consuming and anal thing to do, it’s actually not. It really takes a second to check your watch and make a note consisting of two or three words describing your task.
Even better, you can use a time-tracking app like Hours Tracker.
The information you get from tracking your time is gold.
If you find that you’re spending a lot of time on certain tasks that are not completely necessary, you can take steps to reduce the time you spend on them, or cut them out altogether.
For example, if you think you’re only spending a half an hour a day surfing the web, you might find you’re constantly going down the rabbit hole and that it’s closer to two hours.
Use an online calendar to schedule time blocks
One of the most effective ways to increase your productivity is to work in time blocks and schedule them into an online calendar like Google.
Organizing your schedule instead of working off a to-do list helps to apply discipline and order to your tasks.
You dedicate specific time windows to your tasks, thus making them a priority and the only focus during that time. It helps to minimize distractions and the mental burden of switching tasks.
Use an online calendar to schedule your tasks as non-negotiable events. If you’ve been doing things the analog way – writing out to-do lists or keeping a paper journal – you might find using an online calendar much more effective.
An online calendar can help you schedule meetings and send out notices to invitees. You can create recurring events in your online calendar, set up reminders, and you can access the calendar from multiple devices.
Make sure you schedule breaks into your calendar. It’s a really bad idea to sit in front of your computer screen all day without getting up regularly to stretch, eat a proper meal, or just take a few minutes for some R&R.
Use a CRM System
There are so many apps and productivity tools to help people manage their time, projects and life better. You may even be using some of these already.
However, if you’re not already using a CRM (client relationship management) system, you can be missing out on a massively helpful tool that can cut out the necessity of having several apps for several different uses.
A CRM system is a client management and relationship building tool that will help you keep track of your clients and projects. You can do things like record the dates you last communicated with a client and set a reminder for follow up.
However, most CRM’s offer so much more, including accounting tools and contract writing capabilities.
I use and recommend Dubsado, which is a CRM system for creatives. You can create branded contracts you can send out for electronic signature, send an email directly from the user interface, and keep track of all your prospects and clients in a visually pleasing and easy-to-navigate system. It even integrates with your Google calendar.
If you’re using contract signature software like Hello Sign or Adobe, you can get the same function in Dubsado with all the other benefits for a similar price tag.
Other options are Nutshell and Insightly.
The research is in: multi-tasking is way overrated.
Multi-tasking tends to be viewed positively, but the latest research shows that it is detrimental to your productivity and quality of work.
High-quality work is dependent on how much time you spend on a task and the intensity of your focus. If you can increase your focus, you can get done more done in less time.
Working on several tasks at a time overloads the brain. When you work on several things at once, you’re switching mental functions, which ends up being counterproductive.
According to Gloria Mark, researcher and author of Multi-Tasking in The Digital Age, the average knowledge worker switches tasks every three minutes. Once distracted, it can take nearly half an hour to resume the original task. That is 30 wasted minutes because you checked your email and responded to a message.
No wonder the average worker works for three hours out of a typical eight hour work day – even if they’re not constantly looking at Instagram or Facebook.
Put away your devices
So as you can see, one of the biggest ways to ruin your productivity is to constantly check your email and social media throughout the day. Those seconds or minutes can add up to huge amounts of time wasted and ruin your focus on the tasks on hand.
Put away your phone, close the browser window with your open inbox, and concentrate on the task that is in front of you.
Decide on a couple of times a day when you will check and respond to emails and Instagram posts and stick to it.
When I combined this with blocking my time, I was astonished by the result. I literally accomplished three times more in a day than I did when simply floating from task to task, responding to each text and email as I received it.
Try the Pomodoro Method
is a hugely popular time management tool designed to keep you as productive as possible.
In this method of time management, you choose a task you would like to get done and set a timer for 25 minutes to work focused and without interruption.
You can do this for 25 minutes, right?
When the timer rings, take a short break that is non-work related, like stretching or having a snack.
Once you have done four “pomodoros,” you can take a longer break, like 20 or 30 minutes. Your brain will take this time to assimilate new information.
Set one day aside for errands and admin
This is another productivity hack that works wonders for some people. Have one day set aside in the week where you will attend to all of your personal errands or business admin or a combination of both.
There may be things that you do on a weekly basis, like meal prep or laundry, that can all be relegated to one day, allowing you to focus on business tasks for the rest of the week.
You may want to have one day of the week put aside when you schedule all your meetings or medical appointments. Alternatively, you can do all of your admin like invoicing, accounting or even scheduling your social media.
To sum up
There are a lot of time management techniques and tools out there that can help you boost your productivity and reduce stress and burnout.
No all of them will work for you, but these are some of the more popular ones that you might want to try.
Whether you’re a hobbyist photographer or a pro, chances are you have a ton going on every day.
Finding ways to be more efficient can end up adding hours to your day and even help you sleep better.