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Time management is essential for photographers. The better you manage your time, the more of it you will have for taking photos, developing Raw files, learning new photography techniques and all the other enjoyable aspects of our hobby.
Managing time wisely also frees up more spare time for important activities such as spending time with family and friends.
These ideas also apply to any other creative activities you might enjoy, like writing or crafting.
So, how does time management for photographers differ from time management practiced by other people?
It’s a good question, and one I’m going to answer by explaining some of the things I’ve learnt about it.
Creatives manage time differently
The first important concept to understand is that photographers and other creatives use time differently to other people.
Creatives work best when they have a single important task that they can tackle. For me, that may be working on my latest book or course. For a hobbyist, that may be developing their latest photos.
We need time to warm up and get into the flow. We respond badly to interruptions. But we need to take breaks and ponder things. We also work best when we don’t have other things occupying our minds.
With that in mind, here are seven useful time management principles for creatives.
1. Single tasking
Single tasking is where you focus all your attention on one task until it is done. It’s a highly effective way of reducing the amount of time you spend on any given job.
Think about what happens if you interrupt what you are doing to do something else. It takes time to get back into the original task and pick up from where you left off. This is wasted time.
You can see how single tasking fits in neatly with the way that creatives manage their time.
2. Blocks of time
Related to this is the idea of building blocks of time for creative activities into your life. This is a simple yet powerful idea that’s especially important for people who make a living from their creative activities. But even hobbyists benefit by putting away time on their calendars for photography.
For example, as a photographer you could schedule an evening during the week in the summer for going out and making some photos during the golden hour and sunset. Or you could put aside a couple of hours at the weekend to develop your latest photos in Lightroom Classic.
It’s similar to the way writers mark out blocks of time to work on their novels. You don’t have to wake up at 5am every day like some novelists, but you’re far more likely to spend time on your creative activities if you schedule it.
3. Low information diet
Don’t waste time watching or reading news. It misleads by focusing on bad news and you have to deal with the negative emotions it generates, which is bad for your state of mind.
Do something more fulfilling and positive with your time instead. For example, read a photography book, explore a photography website or watch videos about photography on YouTube or Netflix. Fill yourself with positive energy generated by learning about your hobby. Find inspiration by looking at beautiful photos.
Imagine the difference that this would make over ten years. Compare the effects of watching 30 minutes of depressing news for a decade with reading about something positive and uplifting. The effect is cumulative. It compounds. That simple decision could make a huge difference to your mental health and the joy you get from life.
This is the low information diet in action. For more information, read The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris.
Why is watching the news so harmful? It’s because much of what is reported is outside your circle of control. There’s nothing you can do about it, except feel helpless. It’s not good for your state of mind, and it won’t help you get things done.
Instead, the key is to concentrate on the things that are inside your circle of control. These include things such as becoming a better photographer. It will help you feel more confident, positive and in control of your life.
4. Finding meaning
In The 80/20 Manager, Richard Koch says that meaning comes from creating or doing something using your unique talents and abilities. Happiness comes from fulfillment and purpose, rather than money and status.
For photographers, this simply states something we already know. We enjoy photography, and doing it makes us happy.
What does this have to do with managing time? If you enjoy something, and it provides meaning to your life, then you’re driven to do it. If you’re driven, you’ll create time for it.
If you lack drive, then perhaps you should look for a project that gives your hobby more meaning. Long-term projects give you purpose and enjoyment as you see the results come together to create a body of work.
The photo at the top of this article was taken as part of a long term project.
5. Understand creative cycles
Creativity works like this:
- Start with a problem (perhaps it’s the question of how to develop a particular photo).
- Seek information (reading articles and books about Lightroom Classic).
- Forget about the problem. Let it pass to your subconscious mind while you are busy with other things.
- When you’re relaxed and in the right mood, answers will appear in your mind.
It may sound magical, but it works. Understanding the creative cycle lets you work with it. Ultimately, you save time by tackling photography related problems this way.
That’s one type of creative cycle, and there’s another that’s more personal. For example, I’m more productive in the morning, and gradually lose creative energy during the day. If I’ve had enough sleep, I can have another burst of creativity in the evening.
When are you most energized and creative? This is the best time (when possible) to schedule your creative activities.
6. Manage email and other distractions
Smart phones, tablets and computers send too many notifications. You can’t single task and stay in the flow (or even get in the flow) if you’re being interrupted by messages and email. If you want to be creative, then turn notifications off. Put your phone and tablet in another room.
Close down apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and email when you’re using your computer. Better still, if you don’t need the internet, disable the wi-fi connection.
It’s all about single tasking. Don’t let notifications distract you from the task at hand. You’ll break the flow and waste time picking up where you left off.
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky is the best book I’ve read on this topic.
If your life is too complicated, preventing you from spending time on photography, then simplify it. Get rid of some of the distractions. Consider cutting out anything that isn’t making you happy or interferes with what you really want to do.
This is easier said than done, as anybody with a demanding job or small children knows. But the reward (time and headspace gained) is worth the effort.
Conclusion (cheesy quote time)
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
– Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings
Ultimately, the key to managing your time is to consciously decide how to spend it. We all have things we have to do during the day but we can exercise choice in our free time.
Get in the habit of asking yourself whether what you’re doing, or thinking about doing next, is a wise use of your time. You’ll find yourself becoming more aware of the way you use time. Practice the principles in this article and you will free up more time for photography and other creative activities, making you a happier and more fulfilled person in the process.
You can learn more about these ideas in these articles: