The lie of “busy” and how to achieve work-life balance as a photographer
Running a photography business is a lot of work. You're probably pretty busy, right?
STOP! Did you answer “yes” to that question? You probably did without even realizing it. Have you noticed that we use being “busy” as a measuring stick these days? Think about it – last time you got together with a friend, they probably asked you something along the lines of “how’s business – busy?”
Why do we find ourselves having to use “busy” as a means of justification? Why are we proud of being busy?
Don’t get me wrong, you probably are busy! In fact, maybe you’re so busy that you're overwhelmed and feeling like you’re constantly fighting to swim to the surface. Do you sometimes feel like you’re struggling to keep all the “balloons” underwater?
What if I told you that there are signs you can watch for to avoid this state of being busy? What if you realized that you're actually telling yourself lies about being busy, and that there are a few “truths” you can replace those lies with that will completely re-shape your work-life balance and get you out of “busy” mode?
The lie of busy
The topic of “busy” isn’t new to me; it’s a familiar face. It’s a discussion that I've deeply explored before. In 2009, SproutingPhotographer.com co-content creator Robert Nowell and I gave a 3-hour seminar in Toronto to over 100 photographers, titled The Lie of Busy. Due to recent personal events (more on that coming in a few minutes), I wanted to spread the message of the “Lie of Busy” and help you battle against it.
In preparation for this presentation in 2009, we went into a local nursing home and interviewed some of the residents. We thought they’d be the perfect group to discuss priorities and balance with, because they’re well-experienced in life and can share great insights about such topics.
The concept was simple – we set up one camera and sat down to ask them a few questions such as:
- What does “being busy” mean to you?
- What do you appreciate most about your life as it is today?
- How important was “work” to you in your life? How important is it now?
- What should “work-life balance” look like for a family?
The finished video that we put together was nothing short of inspiring, if I do say so myself. I want to share it with you here for the first time ever online. Please note that this video was self-produced with 1 small DSLR by myself at a time when “fusion” for photographers was the newest trend. It isn't perfectly polished and there are lots of areas it could be improved, but I'd ask that you look past that and connect with the underlying message.
How do you feel about work-life balance now? Do you feel motivated to create more margin in your life? Maybe the better question is – how do you feel about what is most important in your life?
Maintaining a “balance” mindset
They say that “the teacher learns more than the students”, and in the preparation for this presentation, I learned a lot about “busy” and what it meant to me personally. This period marked a significant fundamental shift in my outlook on work-life balance, and it was a time when I learned to better appreciate family, love, life and everything that I have outside of work.
For years since, I have always made work-life balance a priority.
But … we all slip and fall down.
Falling off the bandwagon
You likely know me through SproutingPhotographer.com, our podcast, my writing or my speaking. You may not know that I am also running a full-time photography business. Did you know that we also just developed and launched Critique Corner? This is an online community and image competition built from the ground-up for photographers to learn through image critiques. Did you know that we are also working on 5 other massive projects? Speaking of “we”, did you know that the Sprouting Photographer team isn't just me, it actually consists of almost a dozen team members?
That’s not it, though. I'm not just an educator, writer, speaker, photographer and entrepreneur. I’m also a new Dad, a husband, a son, a brother, a cousin and a friend.
I don’t say this to brag, but quite the opposite actually. Like you, I have many demands on my time and many projects on the go. For the past 8 months, I have been overwhelmed, overworked and have been constantly fighting to swim to the surface. I've been that guy constantly trying to keep all those “balloons” underwater. I lost sight of my priorities and have been working, head-down and non-stop for the past 8 months. To say that I have been putting in 80-hour work weeks may be an understatement.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved what I was doing. We were seeing massive success with SproutingPhotographer.com, our podcast is hitting numbers through the roof, I’ve been booking speaking engagements everywhere, and my own photography business is doing better than ever. Business was great, but I am sad to say that my personal life was what was put on the back burner. Not cool. Especially after what I knew from “The Lie of Busy” a few years ago.
My tipping point
As I mentioned – about three weeks ago, I found myself at the tipping point; overwhelmed, overworked, and completely burnt out.
I took a 1-week sabbatical with my wife and our daughter and we went camping up North with my parents. It was an “unplugged” time away to refresh, refocus and relax. We had a great time; we kayaked in the Northern Ontario lakes, enjoyed fires at night, ate great food and most importantly, we spent time with each other. I was distraction-free and away from work.
I returned knowing that I couldn’t go back to the state I was in when I left. I couldn’t go back to being overworked, overwhelmed and burnt out again. I needed to make a change. I needed to find that “Lie of Busy” Bryan and re-evaluate my priorities.
The lies we tell ourselves
I've done a lot of soul-searching and thinking. Today, I want to tell you what I learned about being busy, the lies I was telling myself, and the changes I now implement today to not be busy. We're still trucking ahead with SproutingPhotographer.com, our projects are all on-track and my photography business is thriving, but now I have learning to manage my busyness better.
Real quick – if you’re still here reading, it’s probably because you can relate to where I was. Maybe you’re there now, or maybe you can see yourself getting to that point. Maybe you are just getting started, and you want to avoid getting to that place of busyness altogether. My goal in this article is not only to inspire you evaluate your priorities, but to motivate you to implement some changes. I will show you how you can create “rules” and boundaries for yourself to create long-lasting balance in your life. Hop on board, I promise you’ll be thankful you did.
We all tell ourselves lies, it’s a part of being human. We rationalize.
My friend, and best-selling author Bob Burg (I interviewed him for our podcast not long ago) talks about how the word “rationalize” really can be broken down to the two words “rational lies”, and it’s so true! Some lies are ok, in fact some of them are necessary, but many of them can be detrimental. Here are 5 lies that I realized I was telling myself about being busy:
- The lie of temporary
- The lie of time
- The lie of work
- The lie of importance
- The lie of multitasking
If you have ever said that you're “busy” or if you're feeling overwhelmed, overworked or burnt out, then you are undoubtedly telling yourself most – if not all – of these lies.
Lie #1: The lie of temporary
The lie of temporary is when we tell ourselves that our busyness is only temporary. Stop telling yourself that – it’s not true, and you know it. Being “busy” is a never-ending cycle and if we keep telling ourselves that all we need to do is get past this “one last thing” and then things will slow down, we aren’t doing ourselves any good. Don’t tell yourself that “I’m working hard now so I can enjoy it later” because that is working towards a goal that is not defined and constantly moving.
The lie of temporary gives us guilt-free permission to keep working, with the promise that it’ll slow down one day. That “one day” will never come, and in the meantime, you’re wasting your time being busy, all while lying to yourself and those that you love.
The lie of temporary puts you in a place of constantly sprinting at full-speed, thinking that the finish line is just around the corner, when it’s actually more like 5 miles away.
Slow down, take things one step at a time and pace yourself. Remember that business (and life) is about the journey, not necessarily the destination. Things won’t “slow down one day” unless you make them. Don’t sprint with the false-hope of a “one-day” finish line. Slow down, enjoy the process and keep a steady pace. The tortoise always wins.
Lie #2: The lie of time
Parkinson’s law says that “tasks will expand to the time that you allow them to”. If we give ourselves 2 hours to get something done, then we’ll get it done in 2 hours, but if we give ourselves 10 hours to get that same task done, we will often take those full 10 hours to get it done.
Let me give you a relevant example. The last time you went on vacation, I’ll bet that you probably got more done the day before you left than you did the entire week before it. Am I right? That’s Parkinson’s Law at play. If you give yourself a day to do a bunch of stuff, you'll get it done. Often we are “busy” because we are giving ourselves too much time to do work and get things done.
Just knowing that we can get more done in less time by simply giving ourselves less time is enough. Set deadlines for tasks, work within a defined container for projects and establish hard start and end times. For example, if you give yourself permission to work late into the evening, you’ll find things to do. If you instead set a stern 5:00pm clock-out time, then you’ll force yourself to get whatever you need to get done by that time.
Lie #3: The lie of work
Often times we are “busy” working on things that don’t need to get done, and we spend far too much time “tinkering” with useless tasks. We tell ourselves the lie of work, pretending that what we’re doing is worthwhile when it really isn't; we’re just wasting time.
Ask yourself – is the task you’re working on really something that needs to get done, or are you just doing busy work? It may be important to you, but is it actually a priority? Would your business fall apart and break if you stepped away from it and didn’t finish it?
Be aware that often we find ourselves busy doing useless and unnecessary tasks. Prioritize what you work on. Ask yourself “what is important?”, and “what actually needs to get done?” When you prioritize and are intentional about the work you’re doing, you can get much more done, and you won’t find yourself in a black hole, wasting time.
Lie #4: The lie of importance
Have you ever found yourself reading an email on your iPhone while you’re sitting down for dinner with your family? How about sitting on the couch with your laptop, checking your Facebook page while watching TV with your kids? Have you ever been out with a friend for coffee and pulled out your iPhone to see what’s new on Twitter? I know I have.
I could easily turn this into a whole “being in the moment” conversation, but I won’t. The bigger issue here is that we do this because we genuinely feel that the email, the Facebook page and the Twitter feed is important. We “rational-lies” by saying something like “I am waiting on this one email” or “I can’t miss this update”, and we’re assigning a level of importance to these items that is higher than that of whatever else we’re doing.
When presented in this context, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Is your email really more important than enjoying dinner with your family? Is your Facebook page really is more important than watching TV with your kids? Is your Twitter feed really more important than connecting with your friend over coffee?
When we can realize and intentionally assign the level of importance to whatever it is we’re doing (or could be doing), we can be more aware of what we’re giving our attention to. When we give a high level of importance to our families and to “being in the moment”, it trumps the importance of checking our email or Facebook page.
Lie #5: The lie of multitasking
Picture this: you start your day off in Lightroom, editing a wedding. You notice your email notification go off on the bottom of your screen and so you check it to find that it’s a client asking about the status update on their wedding album design, which you forgot to send to them. You open up Fundy Album Designer, export the album and email it back to them. In the meantime, another email comes through and it’s a new inquiry for a wedding next year. You get back to them quickly, and then your phone rings. It’s another client who just received their prints in the mail and one of their 8x10s were missing. You apologize and promise you’ll fix it right away. You search through your email to find their original print order, call your lab to find out what happened with the missing print, and you conclude that it was a mix up on your end. You go find the original image, retouch it in Photoshop, crop it, size it and then order it from your lab in their ROES system. You quickly open up Facebook to see what’s new, and waste a few minutes browsing through your newsfeed. A Twitter notification pops up and you hop on to reply to it. You then have a fun 5-minute back-and-forth Twitter @ “tennis match” with a friend of yours. You bounce back into email and reply to a few other client inquiries. You look up at the clock and realize that it’s 1:00pm – time for lunch! You come back from lunch and wonder what you did all morning, it seems like you got nothing done. And that wedding you were working on in Lightroom? Oops. You’ll have to work late tonight to do that because you have sessions all afternoon now.
Does this sound familiar for you? I know it does for me.
You can see that if you had just focused on getting that wedding edited in the morning, you could have avoided all those distractions, gotten your work done and you wouldn’t have had to work into the evening.
Multitasking means doing two (or more) things at once, but that's actually impossible. Instead what we’re actually doing is rapidly switching between two (or more) things in smaller concentrated bursts. There is no such thing as multitasking. Our brains were literally made to only do one thing at a time.
Let’s pretend that you have two buckets that you want to fill up with water. You only have one hose so you obviously can’t fill them both at the same time. You point the hose to the first bucket and put an splash of water in it, then you switch to the second bucket and put a splash in that one, too. You keep switching back and forth between the two buckets, each time only putting a splash in them, until they’re both full.
Obviously you wouldn’t do this; it doesn’t make sense. Not only will it take you much longer, but you’ll also have lots of wasted water that spilled every time you switched from one bucket to the next.
The same is true for multitasking. When we quickly move our energy and attention (water hose) between different tasks and projects (buckets), we are not effective, we waste time (water) and it takes us much longer.
Focus on one thing at a time. Limit your attention and don’t allow yourself to get distracted.
My new rules for productivity
When I got back from that unplugged vacation, I created a set of “rules” to live by. Here are some of them, and I’d like to challenge you to follow them. By doing so, you'll improve your productivity, efficiency and ultimately your work-life balance.
- Limit your phone and laptop usage at night and do not use them at all within an hour of bedtime. There are scientific reasons why phone exposure before bed makes it harder to get to sleep, but there are also psychological reasons – there’s no sense in being in “work” mode when you are winding down for the day and trying to relax.
- Do not use your phone within an hour of waking up. Start your day off right and don’t let yourself jump into “work” mode by being consumed with notifications, emails and messages. Spend the morning hours before you go into work completely unplugged.
- Do not check your email for the first 3 hours of your work day. Email consists only of other people’s demands for your time. Spend the first 3 hours of your day doing work that you want and need to get done. You’ll feel more productive, you’ll get more work done in a focused state and your mind won’t be processing all of the emails and messages that you have waiting.
- Establish a new morning routine. Spend time breathing, meditating, exercising, reading, or writing. Be in the moment and take control of your own mental well-being. Quick aside – my morning routine now starts at 5:30am. I read for an hour and a half in silence and then go for a walk or jog. I’ll talk more about this in a future article.
- Try your best to not check email when you’re not working or in the office. What’s the point in looking at emails that will send your brain into all kinds of directions, especially if you’re not going to do anything about them at that time anyway?
- Look at your current systems and processes and find ways to streamline, systematize and become more efficient.
- Find out where your time is best spent, and outsource the rest. How can you potentially delegate more?
- Learn more about you, how you work your best, what tasks you enjoy the most, how you process things and what makes you happy. Structure your day to give you constant “wins” throughout. Personally, I have learned a lot about myself from Sally Hogshead’s book “How the World Sees You” and it’s influenced me more than you can imagine. I interviewed Sally on the podcast back in episode #32, and she gave me a handful of free tests to give away if you want to discover how the world sees you at your best.
- Learn to say “no” to projects and new tasks that you don’t need to be involved in. Stay focused on what’s important.
Today we are rich
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In his book “Today We Are Rich”, author Tim Sanders talks about his “sideways years” when he was in a personal development “slump” and the question he asked himself to get back on the right path was this: What am I not doing today that I was doing before?
If you’re overwhelmed, burnt out or are in a slump, look at your own history. Was there a time that you can remember when you were growing, seeing success, achieving balance and enjoying life? What were you doing then that you’re not doing now?
That gives you the answer. Implement those things now, and you’ll see drastic change.
Let's stop justifying ourselves by saying that we're busy. In fact, let's eliminate the word “busy” altogether from our vocabulary. Join me in the “rebel” against busy! Share this post with someone else that you care with, or with your entire Facebook list or Twitter following if you are so inclined!
P.S. Thanks to my buddy Scott Williams for the image of me speaking at the “Lie of Busy” presentation, above.