The surprising way to be a more productive photographer
As photographers, we are self-employed entrepreneurs, or as I like to call it, we are “solo-preneurs”, working usually by ourselves. Many photographers have a home-based studio or office, while others have a dedicated space, be it attached to their house or in a commercial location. Whatever your set-up is and wherever it is that you work, I'm sure that you have undoubtedly discovered the “time-suck” of procrastination and distraction.
The key to productivity for photographers: create a weekly schedule and group tasks by proximity.
I am an efficiency nut and I love finding ways to get the most out of everything I do, in the most effective way possible. The topic of efficiency and productivity is one that I am personally very passionate about, and certainly could go on about for hours and hours. This article will be the first in a series of articles about productivity and how to increase your efficiency as a professional photographer and business owner.
Why scheduling your days might be the ideal solution
As professional photographers, we have many appointments and sessions throughout the week – everything from consultations, ordering appointments and pick-ups to on-location sessions, studio sessions and wedding days. Imagine two studio scheduling scenarios:
Scheduling scenario #1
You take appointments, meetings and sessions whenever you can take them and schedule them into any day possible. Your schedule is all over the place and your days are often divided. This requires you to change “hats” many times during your day – meeting prospective clients, greeting old ones for pick-ups and traveling out on-location for sessions all in one day. Not to mention that this constant “switching” makes it difficult for you be in your office for any extended period of time to get work done such as editing, designing and e-mails without being distracted.
Scheduling scenario #2
You take all in-studio appointments such as consultations and ordering sessions in the mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You schedule all of your on-location sessions on Monday and Friday afternoons. Wednesdays are a “production” day where you are in your office without interruption, working on retouching and designing. The first and last hour of every day is dedicated to correspondence (e-mail and phone calls) and you are available for pick-ups on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons.
Which is better?
Which scheduling scenario do you think is more productive? The first one means every day is completely different and you don't have any scheduled set period of time where you can sit down and do production work. The second one means that you have a dedicated time slot for each task/commitment and you know what to expect every week. You allow yourself a dedicated time slot to work on production so you don't get behind.
Obviously from an efficiency and productivity stand point, the second scheduling scenario wins hands-down. I would also argue that there are several other benefits to having a pre-scheduled weekly plan:
The best way to set client expectations is to have pre-determined studio policies.
- We are more personally fulfilled and therefore more “in the zone” when we don't have to constantly switch gears and wear so many different hats back-to-back during the day. This constant switching can become tiresome and create unnecessary anxiety.
- There is less wasted time. For example, when we go out for an on-location session, we all know that there is a good amount of preparation (equipment) and time (travel) to make that happen. When you can put on-location sessions back-to-back, though, you are saving time by not having to prepare and travel several times on different days.
- By having set days and times for different tasks and appointment types, you are inherently creating a set of policies that govern how you run your photography business. This is the best way to set client expectations.
- Aside from educating your clients and setting their expectations, having a schedule that you follow week-after-week means that you personally have a more concrete set of plans that you follow. This will help you to avoid pushing working hours into your personal space where you should be spending time with your family and friends.
The example above is just that … an example. It may not work for you or your preferences. It might even be slightly too structured for you, and certainly it's a good idea to leave room for flexibility. It's no secret that every photographer functions slightly differently and has their own personal “flow” as to how they'd like to structure their time. I recommend that you create a plan for you that makes sense with how you work.
What to do next
First, write down all of the tasks that you have in a typical week. If you can't think of them all now, keep a piece of paper by your desk for the next week and every time a new “commitment” comes up, write it down.
Second, group the tasks in terms of proximity. What needs to be happening for that task to take place? Where do you need to be, physically, for that task to happen? This will give you all of the “contexts” and will help bring like-tasks together when scheduling.
Third, determine when you'd be most happy for each group of tasks or “contexts” to take place. Use the knowledge of your own personal “flow” to dictate this. For example if you aren't a morning person, then don't schedule sessions where you have to interact with clients then!
Fourth, create a document that outlines your schedule. Print it. Keep it by your desk. Stick to it yourself and enforce it when scheduling appointments with your clients.
Example weekly schedule
A case-study of the time-chunking exercise in play.
Here's a quick example workflow of the above 4 tasks that I have put together for myself. This isn't necessarily all-inclusive, but it gives me a great starting point and establishes a baseline for productivity and time management.
Step 1 – List all tasks
- Viewing appointment
- Print pick-up
- Cheque drop-off
- On-location portrait session
- E-mail correspondence
- Phone calls
Step 2 – Group tasks
- Office work = e-mail, phone calls, retouching, designing
- Quick 15-minute appointments = pick-ups, drop-offs
- Longer 1-hour appointments = consultations, viewing appointments
- On-location sessions
Step 3 – Determine best time
- I am a morning person, and so I really enjoy morning sessions.
- I am not productive in the afternoons, so I'll keep my production (editing, designing) in the mornings or early afternoon before 1:00pm to maximize my own productive times.
- I'll schedule pick-ups and quick appointments in the later part of the afternoon where I don't need to be productive.
- I like to start the week off on Monday morning with clearing my inbox and getting any production work from sessions on the weekend finished.
- I like to finish the week off on Friday afternoon with clearing my inbox for the weekend and finishing up any production work for the week.
- I need to have some availability for evening appointments – consultations and viewing appointments – so I will pick one evening out of the week for this.
Step 4 – Schedule time slots
Here is the sample weekly schedule all of the discussion (above) boils down to for me. A couple of other quick notes:
- I am a 9-to-5 kind of guy, and I love that structure, so you can see that I have designed my work week to follow the 9-to-5 schedule.
- I have a young family and enjoy my personal time, and so I am fairly strict about working as close to 40 hours each week as possible. Therefore, on Wednesdays when I work later in the evening, I start later in the morning.
- When I have a wedding on a Saturday, I sacrifice one of my “on-location sessions” days (Tuesday or Thursday) and take the day off. I really prefer to only work 5 days per week to avoid burnout.
I hope that you enjoyed this article about productivity, time management and efficiency in your workflow. Would love it if you would share your thoughts in the “comments” section below. Does this schedule work for you? Where do you differ?