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Think you can multitask? Think again.

Robert Nowell, Professional photographer, photography professor and VP at Sprout Studio About Robert

As photographers and entrepreneurs we certainly have to wear many hats during any given week. Let’s list a few of the many diverse jobs we might have to manage.

Location scouting, clothing consulting, editing, retouching, marketing, obviously photography sessions, blogging, posting galleries, studio or shooting space maintenance (cleaning), purchasing (new gear or backdrops etc), in person sales sessions, lab orders, packaging, networking, social media posting, etc, etc…

One of the buzzwords of the last few years is multitasking.

I’m sure you’ve heard, “We need to multitask so we can accomplish more.”

I say that is a myth!

Trying to do several tasks at once is why so many photographers struggle to stay on top of things at their studio. Bryan wrote an excellent article on the Lie of Busy so go check that out too. The idea is that when we feel busy we feel like we’re accomplishing something. The reality often is that we are busy but not being productive.

Multitasking often leads to that kind of busyness that makes us feel like we’re working, but we aren’t working effectively and our efforts are not focussed.

My main problem with multitasking is that usually when you’re looking at a list of ten things that need doing we feel that all ten are a high priority. Instead of just picking one item and working on that until completion, we feel kind of guilty about the other list items that we’re ignoring. That leads us to bounce around and work in small chunks on several items over a period of time.

That leads to lack of focus. When you are not 100% focused on a single task it’s certainly likely that you are not going to achieve your best work. When we work steadily on one thing until completion we usually all get a feeling of satisfaction when the task is completed. That puts us in a great place mentally. We will then tackle the next task with a better attitude and energy.

When we try to multitask we often increase our stress levels which can result in a state of overwhelm. That in turn can lead to a drop in productivity, creativity, passion and the joy that brought us into the world of professional photography in the first place.

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When we get really behind in our tasks things can progress into even more severe symptoms such as burnout, hostility, frustration, depression, and even eating and sleeping issues.

Obviously you can tell that I am not an advocate of multitasking. I should mention as an aside that I do of course realize that there are exceptions. There are instances that can be called multitasking that most of us do all the time. Have you ever listened to a podcast while running on a treadmill or while driving? That can be considered multitasking but that kind of example is not what I'm addressing in this article. I am talking about trying to work on specific assignments that require our full attention, creativity, and concentration.

So if multitasking is not recommended, then what then do I propose as a better method of productivity?  The first thing I’d advise is something you’ve likely heard before but so many of us have a hard time sticking to. Learn to say “no” to some tasks, invitations or jobs that are not a good fit for you. Too many of us take on more than we can handle. And the point should be made that just “handling” a task or list of to-dos is not the same as excelling at them. Better to take on fewer tasks so that we can focus wholly on just those few items and do them really well, than to try to juggle a plethora of items and then only complete them in an adequate fashion.

If you’re like most photographers you might have a task list with several different kinds of tasks.

i.e return emails or calls, editing, retouching, lab orders, etc. Breaking tasks down and putting a time estimate on them is a good way to know how to schedule tasks into your calendar.

Next we want to put our tasks in a priority sequence. Most often we just pick the most attractive task (that means the least offensive one) and we start there. I think we have to be more objective than that. Since we deal with clients on the basis of timelines, it makes sense to arrange our tasks in an order of importance based on client expectations and promises made. For example if we have an order that was taken 3 days ago and a smaller order taken 2 days ago it stands to reason that we should tackle the oldest order first. Seems obvious right? Yet we often procrastinate older orders in favour of smaller easier tasks. That small action can set an avalanche in motion. A growing snowball of late orders and unmet expectations.

Let’s then agree that we should prioritize our list first.

What next? What else can we do to stay focused? Let’s remove distractions like the phone, email, and Facebook. Turn off notifications that ping and call us away from the task at hand. Let’s face it- it’s hard to ignore an email popping up in the corner of our screen and every ping tempts us to find out what’s going on. Block it all and turn them all off. Let voicemail take the calls and discipline yourself to only check email twice a day. You’d be amazed at how much time you discover in your workday when you eliminate these massive time wasters.
You might be thinking, “how can you call a phone call or email a time waster, what if it’s a potential client?” Of course we want new clients but I strongly believe we owe it to our existing clients to put them first. My first priority should always be to my current clients and I should never be putting off work I should be doing for them in favour of trying to attract a new client.

Of course in addition to helping existing clients, we do want to attract new ones. It just should never be at the expense of the client experience of current clients.

Instead of multitasking we ought to prioritize tasks and separate them into manageable chunks and then we can allot those chunks into our workflow or schedule.

There are many popular apps out there that can help you get organized, some that were designed for photographers and some that are more for any business. The main thing needed is to work with a system that shows you what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and what the next steps are.

Within a short time of this article being published, we, here at Sprout, are on the cusp of releasing our groundbreaking studio management system, Sprout Studio. More than workflows and tasks it ties in everything we do as photographers and completely integrates our entire workflow. I don’t hesitate making a shameless plug as I am going to be running my own studio with Sprout Studio shortly and since I’ve been in on it from the beginning I can honestly say I couldn’t be more excited for how it will simplify the day-to-day operations of my business. Until then let’s just concentrate on prioritizing and breaking down our task list into a manageable and consistent workflow.

#Productivity #Scheduling


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