As artists, we are often struggling to balance creativity with the structure and consistency necessary to create a successful business. In this article, 12 successful professional photographers will each share a single daily work habit that has helped them achieve their goals.
“There are three daily work habits that have helped achieve my goals: 1) Get up early – My wife and I have two young busy boys and finding some alone time to focus on your business can be challenging throughout the day. It is amazing how productive you can be with a few hours of focused planning time early in the morning. I use this time to plan out the top three things I need to accomplish that day and also plan for the week ahead. 2) Use the time you have commuting in your car to educate yourself – I am constantly listening to business audio books and using the spare time I have in the car to learn and develop. My car has become a moving library. Often these audio books will spark a new idea, offer guidance on how to address a challenge I am having with my business and inspire to keep pushing to the next level. I recently finished Atomic Habits by James Clear. This is a great book about developing small habits that eventually compound into big changes in your life and career. 3) Take a break from your business – Owning a business can easily consume most if not all of your day. A new potential client inquires or a client has a question or a new photographer reaches out to you on messenger … there always seems to be a need to respond immediately. Both my wife and I work for home so we have decided to completely unplug when our older son comes home from school. This creates dedicated time for our family without distraction. Also taking a break allows you to clear your mind and come back refreshed often with new ideas for your business.”
“One practice I try to maintain is to connect with my industry friends daily. Having a strong network of peers that can help you bounce ideas, let you vent when you’re feeling stressed or burnt out, or will “give it to you straight” when you want honest feedback, is incredibly invaluable. Connecting with fellow photographers can also be helpful if you need a last minute second shooter or assistant (or can assist another photographer last minute!) or need to borrow gear or equipment for a special project. Having a simple sounding board can re-inspire ideas, give you encouragement when you’re feeling like the worst photographer ever (I think we’ve all been there!) or will offer an objective opinion to help propel your work forward or take an idea to the next level. Sometimes just a simple text, call, meet up or check in with a fellow photographer can make this industry feel so much less lonely while elevating your creativity and also getting you to the next level in your business.”
“Maintaining a task list is a staple in my daily routine. I maintain a list of all of the things, both large and small, that that I need to get done and assign generous deadlines for everything. I’ve found that seeing my to do’s in list form along with a generous due date has been the cure for feeling overwhelmed. I am also intentional about working on tasks that I don’t particularly enjoy doing at times that I am at peak energy; that time for me is early morning.”
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“Eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch. It’s not every day but it’s most days and it cuts down on the thinking and prep time for these meals. It sounds silly but it can be a weird hiccup that takes up way too much brain power and time!”
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“I have a Google Sheet with three columns. The first column says “Yesterday,” the second column says, “Today” last column says, “Blocking.” Every morning I open the sheet and in the first column write down the biggest things I worked on the day before, in the second column the two or three biggest things I hope to finish today and in the last column list anything that might be blocking me from achieving those goals. I love having a visual record like this because it helps hold me accountable. As I am listing what I did yesterday I look at the day prior and see if I accomplished the two or three things I said I was going to do and whether or not I need to try again and list down whatever is blocking me from achieving the goal. The key is to do it every day!”
“Make it a habit to sleep 8 hours every night. It’s a simple lifestyle change that has made an enormous impact in achieving my goals. I used to sleep 5 – 6 hours a night and always felt like I was dragging throughout the day, and through life. I still don’t sleep enough sometimes, however, once I started making it a priority to get 8 hours each night I started feeling more focused, more motived, and one thing that is extremely important in our field of work, more creative! I also feel healthier and have much more energy.
Let’s face it, life is busy and we don’t always have the option to get the sleep our bodies need. However, I found that by just becoming aware that I needed more sleep, in addition to the positive effects being well rested had, it was easier to find the time. And when I found the time get the sleep I needed, I’ve been more successful at life and my business.”
“One of the things I strive to do each day is to wake up and create before I consume. We each have different times of day that we find most effective. For me, it’s my mornings. I want to spend the best hours of my day, and in particular, the first hours of my day creating, versus consuming. This means I don’t check emails, social media, or schedule meetings and phone calls during my most productive hours. Instead, I focus on creating new content, education, systems, artwork and anything else that for me is a high-level brain task. Then, I give myself permission to check my emails and do whatever I need to do on social media after lunch. My afternoons (3pm to 5pm) is the time that I like to reserve for any important meetings and calls. The important thing here, avoid waking up and spending the best hours of your day browsing social media, clearing your inbox, or other unimportant tasks.”
“This may sound odd, but one of the things that I’ve incorporated into my daily life over the past 2 years is “zoning out”. I think as creative thinkers and creators, we spend a lot of time “hustling”, “going for it”, “creating more than consuming”, and so on and so forth. All of that was great when I was just starting out, when the hunger to create more, to sharpen my vision, to seek more adulation was right up there. Nowadays, I find myself seeking more time “to just be”, and in that time, I’ve managed to let my mind wander. And in those wandering times, I seem to find a good number of creative thoughts which I eventually either make images out of, write notes, or even turn into new lines of business. My initial research says that there is a name for this – scatterfocus, the mental mode where you deliberately set aside time to unfocus, is just as powerful, only in different ways. While hyperfocus is the most productive mode of your brain, scatterfocus is the most creative.
A recent example of this is the portrait I made of Erika and Lanny, one of my favorite images. The idea started out as a sketch on my phone during a flight, a flight when I was simply looking out the window and not even thinking about the project. The immediate results of zoning out for me is not an image, but an idea for an image or photo series or project. This idea manifests itself into a simple Google Keep note, and my last count for these notes is around 150+ in the last 2 years. Whether or not I implement any of these ideas will come down to time and will, but that’s another story!”
“My productivity isn’t scheduled so much as it is put into chunks of time. I take coaching calls on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I do photography work on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sunday is a day off, with my phone off, and we focus on life (unless we schedule a wedding on Sunday, then Saturday becomes this day).
I’ve tried block scheduling, I’ve tried Pomodoro, I’ve tried damn near every scheduling trick in the book, but the thing that worked for me is to cut out days for each type of work I want to do. This allows me to fall into the flow of that work, especially when teamed up with a to-do list, these lists are each in their own notebook that is dedicated to them, I have one for coaching, one for photography, and one for miscellaneous.
I try to do 3 things each day, that can be taking calls, working on marketing, client care, etc. A confused mind says no, so having a to-do list of only 3 things keeps my mind calm and allows me to get that work done.
By scheduling my life this way it was one decision that removed a thousand decisions, I know what I have to do each day so I don’t get bogged down by making choices.”
“Emails! On any given day I am fielding over 100 emails thru my inbox. Generally, around 60% are spam/promotions/informational but that leaves 40 emails a day to respond to. Even spending 90 seconds on a reply means I am spending over an hour, per day, on communicating and that takes away from editing, shooting, and family time. A habit I developed is dedicating the first and last 30 minutes of my day to responding to emails & phone calls. It helps me organize my day in the morning and helps me clean off my business plate before going home that evening. Instead of stopping what I’m doing to respond, it’s far more efficient and organized to bookend my day with those communications. Of course, there will always be times when you have to respond to something urgent, making that the exception and not the rule has helped immensely with maintaining focus and prioritizing my workload.”
“As a photographer, it can be a down right chore to even think of picking up a camera for fun on certain days – especially the day after a double-header wedding. I try bringing my Nikon D750 with me when I’m running errands during the week with one prime lens – a different one every day to shake things up. Of course, I can always use my iPhone to accomplish this but I usually can’t resist the urge to check notifications and texts which ensures keeping me out of the moment – so I turn my phone off or even leave the phone at home. On a certain dreary day in 2014, I was feeling a bit down and was walking aimlessly around DUMBO and I shot a photo of the NYC skyline that I thought was nothing special until my wife saw it six months later and told me she loved the image and believed it was something special. A few years later the same photo was featured in National Geographic Magazine – the editor agreed with my wife as he told me that he had seen tens of thousands of photos of the New York City skyline over decades but had not seen it the way I had photographed it. In retrospect, I’m glad I had my DSLR with me that day as the editor had asked for the RAW file as a requirement for going to print. So the moral of the story is the best camera on you may not necessarily be your cell phone.”
“The greatest work habit towards creating a successful business starts by getting my brain off of automatic mode and into manual. As much as I need to switch my camera off of auto – I need to get my mind engaged and in manual. My minds Automatic Mode is designed for preservation. It is meant to keep me safe and thus average. And safety is anything but stepping out, expressing my ideas, subjecting my art to the masses, showing up, picking up the phone, taking financial risks, talking to strangers or for that matter connecting to any human in an authentic vulnerable way. So how do I toggle on my minds manual mode?
It’s actually quite simple. Every morning, I journal 3 things in my life that I am grateful for and then I make sure to express that gratitude directly to its target. This might look like a text to my dad thanking him for his commitment to the family growing up, I quietly whisper to my coffee for bringing me to life that morning, a loud cry to the rain for keeping my grass alive another day. A great resource to facilitate this journaling is called the 5-minute journal.”
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