As photographers we all want to be more productive right? Being more productive means getting more work done which means more success. Right? However, most attempts at increasing productivity are actually the opposite. Let’s take myself as an example. A few years ago I would read productivity books and blogs and I would hold onto every single word I read. I wanted to be as successful and productive with my time as possible, so I was obsessed with working smarter.
But there was a problem. All this time I spent learning about productivity was actually just time I was avoiding the work. I was procrastinating, but rather than using Netflix or YouTube, I used something that I could justify. It was a way to learn about how to work, without ever actually having to do any work at all.
If this is you, if right now you are “productively procrastinating”, then I urge you to stop reading. Go on, leave this page. Do the work. Productivity will always be just procrastination until you start working. Here’s why…
Productivity isn’t about adding special tricks to your routine, it’s not about mimicking the daily habits of the super productive, and it’s not about discovering secret hacks which help you to achieve all the success you want. It starts with something really simple. Notice exactly what is stopping you from doing the work.
What’s your biggest distraction? What steals your attention? Which thoughts are the most destructive?
Productivity is simply adding remedies into your routine to help deal with the deviations above. Over the last few years I’ve found the following remedies to be useful in my own attempt to do the work:
Eat that frog – If your habit is to procrastinate over doing the big, meaningful pieces of work, then perhaps you should take Brian Tracy’s advice. In his book Eat That Frog, he says that you should begin each day by eating the biggest and ugliest frog you can find. There’s often one piece of work which gets procrastinated over the most. You know the one. It’s big, and important, and will have the most impact. It’s the piece which is the scariest. ‘Eat that frog’ means doing this piece of work first! Ticking lots of little things off your to-do list might feel good, but sitting down and doing the most important piece of work creates a momentum and sense of achievement that’s unrivalled.
Plus, have you ever noticed that the things you procrastinate over aren’t actually as bad as you expected? We usually fear this big frog a lot more than it actually deserves. While it remains incomplete, it will continue to grow more and more difficult in your mind. Don’t let it. Show up and eat the biggest frog first.
Make success easy – If the self-development industry could be summed up with two words it would probably be these: dream big. Set huge, crazy, ridiculous, bad-ass goals or you’re not thinking big enough. While this type of inspiration sounds good in motivational videos, in reality it really sucks. With huge, audacious goals, it can feel like you’re never making any progress towards them. Nothing knocks your confidence and enthusiasm more than feeling like a failure every single day.
But what if success became really easy instead? How would it feel if you finished every day a success?
Give it a try! Make it easy to succeed. Don’t let your to-do lists exceed more than 2-3 items. Set your standards lower. It might seem counterintuitive, but by aiming to do less you can actually get more done. If you are succeeding every day then you always show up enthusiastic and ready for more. Yet if every day feels like you’re failing, it takes real discipline to keep showing up.
Productivity isn’t about discipline, it’s about making the path between you and great work as smooth as possible.
One workspace – Habits are very powerful. When something is a habit it’s more difficult to stop than it is to continue. We can take advantage of this to help us do great work every day. Make a ritual for your work. Have that coffee. Put on that music. Build a set of psychological and physiological cues that signal that it’s time to start working.
Your location is also cue. Start your editing in the same way from the same place every time, and it makes the habit even stronger. To keep your workspace as part of the habit, you may want to remove the temptation to do it anywhere else. Perhaps remove business email from your phone so you’re forced to do it at your desk.
If, like me, you’re the kind of person who likes to work from different places, then associate different spaces with different types of work. Perhaps your desk is for freelance projects, the coffee shop is for your personal projects, and then the sofa over-looking the garden is the place you dedicate to working through email. Don’t underestimate the power that a consistent workspace/routine has on your work.
Admin vs Creativity – Speaking of email, there are certain admin activities which don’t require long stretches of time. They don’t require you to get into “the zone” and they don’t require you to tap into your creative reserves.
Then there is the creative work itself. This is the work that every creative person wishes to lose themselves in. The work which can sometimes make you lose all sense of time and place.
Keep these two types of work separate. It can be difficult enough to get into the zone without having to stop for email every twenty minutes. In the Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss suggests batching emails and going through them at set periods in the day. Do this with all your admin work. Tackle it at set times throughout the day, and then when it’s time for creativity, commit to only that. Make it as easy as possible to lose yourself in your creative work.
Take the day off – I recently realised that my creativity can be reflected in the following equation:
Creativity = Consumption x Reflection
How creative I am depends on both consuming and exposing myself to other creative ideas AND having the time to reflect. If I sit down at my desk lacking ideas, it’s usually because one or both of the above are missing.
In work, and creative work especially, the best ideas usually come away from the work itself. In today’s forever logged in, signed up, pinging, ringing and popping world, it can seem like blasphemy to stop for even just a second. But commit to it. Take real days off and lose yourself in another project, or something totally unrelated. Get outside. Do some sport. Go and watch a sunset. It can feel counterintuitive, like you’re slacking off, but it is the greatest way to reenergise and renew your creativity.
There are no secret productivity hacks. There are no special skills that you’re missing out on. The way to get more work done is to make it as easy as possible to get more work done. You have a limited amount of discipline, so build a working routine which doesn’t rely on it.
Most importantly though, don’t take my advice about how to work. Instead continually observe and evaluate how you’re working. Notice where your distractions are, notice what’s stopping you from doing great work, and build remedies to overcome them.
As humans we are here to create. Inside of you are ideas and projects that only you can bring to the world. Go out there and bring them to life.