14 May 2007 Q&A #7 – Time Management and Photography (Podcast 86)
Thanks very much to Chris for the message and the kind words, and of course the suggestion for a Podcast topic. Finding the time for photography and other responsibilities can be tough when you have a day job. Today I’m going to talk a little about how I manage my time. Before we start I just wanted to say that I haven’t managed my time very well over the last week, and was left unable to get a Podcast out. I have been experiencing a lot of unrelated technical issues recently that really have eaten up all my time, and then last Tuesday when I was about to settle down and prepare for this episode, I found that one of my Web servers had gone down, and it took the entire evening to get back up again. I didn’t have any time to do get back to this in the following evenings last week. So, sorry for not getting last week’s episode out, and for the site being down if you came by but wasn’t able to access anything. Now though, let’s get down to today’s topic on Time Management and Photography.
Now, I have to say before we start that what I’m about to talk about is the things I bear in mind, from my own experiences and things I’ve learned in business over the years. Some things might work for you, and some might not. Take the advice that you think will help, and throw out the stuff that doesn’t click. Basically though, I have a day job that keeps me really busy here in the heart of Tokyo, and I get maybe two to three hours or so each evening away from my main job and most weekends are my own too. In that time I have to find time for lots of photography related activity and time to spend with my other half. A few months ago, in episode 78, I mentioned some of the techniques I use to plan my trips from a location perspective. Of course this means that I also need to find time to plan where I’m going, in addition to actually going. Once I get back, I have a whole bunch of images that I have to work through, selecting the best ones and post processing them. I create a smaller resized version for my Online Gallery at the same time, and it takes some more time to upload and caption those. I have to find time to keep up with the MBP Forum, and my email. I am still managing to reply to all mail I get from Podcast listeners for example, but it takes time. There’s a certain amount of work that I have to do to keep my Web sites doing the things they need to do, which often entails a little bit of PHP coding here and there. And then of course there’s finding time to write a transcription for each Podcast and then record, upload and publish each one.
These are the things that I have to do pretty much all the time to keep things ticking over. Once I’ve done all this and spent some time with my other half to keep me from being divorced, there are other things that I like to find time to do, such as reading photography magazines, books and going through things like my LensWork Extended CDs. Now, if you think through what I’ve just said in order, you’ll probably notice that I’ve prioritized my tasks. When we find that we don’t have time to do all the things we want or feel we must do, we have to start to prioritize our photography related activity in relation to everything else. Most people will have gotten to the point they are today with regards to photography as a kind of a natural progression. Where you are in that progression will probably determine how much weight you give photography against other things in your life. I’m going to talk about some of the theory I’ve learned that I learn that helps me.
In its early stages, photography is probably going to be a hobby, or even just a pastime. Now to me, what we call a pastime is exactly that. It’s something we do to pass the time. This implies that it will carry very little weight in comparison to other activities in your life. You’ll only do it, if you have nothing else to do and want to pass some time. If this is all photography is to you right now, then you probably don’t need to worry too much about managing your time around it, so let’s move on to the next stage. Naturally, as this hobby starts to grab us, it very soon becomes what we might call a serious hobby, or a passion. Now when we start to call something a passion, we naturally want to indulge in it as much as possible, or at least as much as is viable. At this stage, you’re going to have to start to figure out how to find time to indulge in photography as opposed to a multitude of other activities that battle for your precious time. If you have another hobby for example, they’ll start to vie for your little free time.
For around a decade for example, I used to play golf. I still love the game of golf, but around five years ago, when I really started to put more time into my photography again after buying my first DSLR, I found that I wanted less and less to put any time into golf, opting more and more to go out with my camera. The other thing was that it is very expensive to play golf in Japan too, and the golf courses are all so far from home that it’s a 12 hour deal to go for a game. It took me so long and so much money that I had to make a decision. Do I continue to do both, or give up one for the other. Well, I obviously gave up golf. I simply didn’t have the time and didn’t want to continue to put my money into both. I had started to prioritize my activities and where I channel my money.
In the next few years, photography went from being a serious hobby, to a passion, and now, as I extend my reach into the world of photography, selling some of my work, and reaching out to you guys via this Podcast and the Web site, it has such as grasp on me that I really have to think hard about how I use my time. The things that I’ve mentioned so far are actually just the things that I’ve decided to do. There is a lot of other stuff that I still have to find a way to fit in, but have not yet managed to do, or have chosen to put off for one reason or another. We’ll get to that more in a short while though. For now all I can say is that everything on my list of daily or weekly tasks is there for a reason, whether it’s to help me build my profession as a photographer, to stop me from going insane from the pressure of my day job, or to simply prevent me from being divorced.
So how do you decide what to do, and what not to do? Well, some of you will have heard of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule. This originally comes from an Italian guy called Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy went to 20% of the population. This though it turns out can be applied to many things in business, and indeed in life itself. The one that I use in my daily thinking is that only 20% of what I do will lead to 80% of my success. It was based partly on this that I pretty much stopped doing street photography and all kinds of photography other than nature and wildlife photography. Why is this? Because I only have a limited amount of time to take photographs, so instead of wandering around Tokyo, shooting street scenes, which doesn’t really do much for me personally, I choose when I have time to photograph, to head to a park or to some of the more remote and wild places, and shoot what I really love. I believe that when shooting something that you really have an appreciation for, the results will be much better than when you’re just shooting for just for the sake of it. Going back to the 80/20 rule, I would imagine that if what I used to shoot was 100, and I have succeeded in ruling out some of the 80% flack by concentrating more on what I enjoy and believe I am good at, then I’ve probably greatly increased my chances of succeeding as a photographer.
I should note that if, say I have to go somewhere to show friends around or for some other reason, I will still take a camera and shoot what I can, but this is just making the most of time which is not entirely my own, and giving me another form of stress relief. I find that just the simple act of handling my photography equipment, looking through the viewfinder, composing the shot and releasing the shutter to be totally relaxing for the most part. It is probably very selfish of me to use other occasions to quench my thirst for photography, but then I have never been known as the most social card in the deck, so I really don’t care too much about that. I actually really hate to waste any time, and in my selfish antisocial way, spending time doing anything other than photography with my spare time, comes very close to just that — wasting time.
Anyway, the first real tip after all that is if you are pushed for time to photograph, concentrate on the thing that you most want to photograph. If you want any kind of success in photography, and most of us do, even if it’s just receiving some praise from your family and friends, remember that only 20% of what you do photographically, will probably lead to that success. So identifying that 20% and getting rid of, or at least lowering the priority of the other 80%, will probably help you find more time for what you really want to do and what will most lead to your photographic success.
I’ve done a similar thing with other tasks too. For example, I used to create and maintain screen savers of my photographs. As I added more features to my site, and started to do the Podcast, I found that I could not keep up with all that I was doing. It soon became obvious that Podcasting was going to bring many more visitors to my site and in turn help me to become better known as a photographer than did my screensavers, so I stopped updating them and removed the links from the site. The difficulty when stopping doing anything comes from the perceived value in what you’ve already done. I spent a bit of money on the tool to create the screensavers, and invested some time in creating some special dynamic Web pages for it, and a fair amount of time in creating the original screensavers and updating them for a while. This makes me think that I’ve invested so much in them to date that it would be a waste to stop now. This can lead to keeping unnecessary tasks going for much longer than necessary. Once you are in a position where you have to start making decisions on what stays and what goes, and you have identified what has to go, any time or money you throw into that area from that point on, is just making the problem worse. You’re just throwing good money or time after bad. Cut your losses while you’re ahead, and move on.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some other tasks that I really have to start to work into my time to continue to succeed in my photography. I’m not going to go into detail about these things, as some of them need to be thought through much more thoroughly before I can proceed. You might ask why I’m putting these off if I feel they are important to my success as a photographer. Well, the thing is, the priority of what we decide to do changes over time. Something may be obviously important, but depends on other factors before we can act on it. For example some of the things left in my plan require that I have a larger portfolio of quality nature and wildlife images, and building a portfolio takes months and years, especially when you’re working a day-job. As I progress in building that portfolio, the priority of the things on my list that depend on it will get higher and higher until they get into that 20%, and that’s when I’ll start to assign time to them. Until then, I will keep rolling the ideas around in my mind, improving on them.
Now, the next important thing is to be true to yourself when deciding what your 20% is. There’s always going to be a temptation to tell yourself that the things you enjoy doing the most are in the 20% of your photography related tasks, and that the things you don’t enjoy are in the other 80% and therefore don’t really need any time assigning to them. This is dangerous ground indeed. In my day job I actually manage a very large team of software test engineers, and therefore get into coaching them quite a lot as well as improving on my own time management. In the pursuit of excellence in this area, I not only studied the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule that we’ve talked about so far, but a few years ago, I read a book that I continue to quote and recommend to people all the time. That book is called “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy. The subtitle of this book is “21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time”. Now, I’m going to paraphrase significantly here, as I do when coaching my teams in my day job, but the general idea is that people spend a lot of time doing the tasks that they like, and invent or spend time on totally unnecessary tasks to avoid doing the tasks that they don’t like. The tasks we don’t want to do are likened to eating a big ugly frog every day. The thing is, nobody wants to eat the frog, for obvious reasons so we start to do other easier tasks to avoid eating it. With this big ugly frog sitting next to our computer screen croaking at us, we start to invent all other kinds of tasks to talk ourselves into the fact that we’re busy, and that we don’t have time to eat the frog. We’re procrastinating. The result can be so serious that we spend the whole day, and a few hours of overtime doing unnecessary tasks, that we then convince ourselves that we’ve had a really busy day, pat ourselves on the back and go home without eating the frog. The problem here is that the next day when we come into the office there’re now two frogs on our desk, and we have to work even harder on the procrastination to stop ourselves from feeling guilty about not eating these frogs.
The most important thing to realise here though, is that these frogs, these tasks that you don’t want to do, are more often than not going to be in the 20% of your work that will most likely lead to 80% of your success. Imagine that you put on your brave hat, and every day when you sit down to start your work, you decide that you are going to eat your biggest, fattest, ugliest frog before you do anything else, and that’s what you do. The result is that now, you have no other ugly frogs sitting croaking at you, you no longer have to spend unnecessary time padding out your easy tasks or even inventing new pointless tasks to convince yourself that you are not able to eat the frog. You now find that you have lots of other time to concentrate on the rest of your 20% and might also find that you have some time left over to start working on some of the other 80% that is still important, but not as important as the first 20%. Remember this last 80% is responsible for the last 20% of your success. If you can find time to do it all, you’re laughing.
Now, as I say, I’m really paraphrasing here, and I’m mixing the Eat That Frog book with the 80/20 Rule, and to be honest, I can’t even remember if that book goes into the 80/20 rule, but that’s my take on it. I guess before we start to wrap up, I should say that balance is important. If you are single, you may be able to devote every minute of your spare time to photography. If this is the case, I hope that these tips will help you to prioritize how you allocate your time to the pursuit of photography and related activities. Many of you though will have a partner or family that demand a large slice of your time. How big you make that slice will depend entirely on how much you want to be successful with your photography, or how quickly you want it to happen. Of course your family are important, and to many they will be the most important thing in your life, and they should be. I personally am pushing it very far, probably way too far. My other half is very understanding, but I have to admit, there is still friction. I devote way too much time to photography and related activities than I would like to suggest you do unless you are either single, or you love photography as much as I do, or as antisocial as I am. At the start of this episode I touched on the various levels of interest in photography. For some, photography is just a pastime. If you are interested in photography to the point that you’ve gone to the trouble to search out this Podcast and listen to it, then you are probably past that, and at least consider photography to be a serious hobby or a passion. After all, if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have put listening to this Podcast in your top 20% of things to do, right!? This is also why I’m always most grateful for you listening, but now I’m digressing.
For some, and for me, I’d say that photography is more than a serious hobby, and even more than a passion. I’d say photography is for me more a way of life. For fear of upsetting some of you, I’d say it’s almost like a religion to me. While I’m awake, and not concentrating on my day job or the other half, I’m either actively doing something photography related, or I’m thinking about it while pretending to do something else. It’s this deep love for photography that drives me to devote so much of my time to photography as opposed to other activities that would give me a much easier life as a husband to a kind and understanding wife. This is what drives me to get up at unearthly hours to drive to remote locations to do photography. This is what drives me to work until 1AM on this Podcast or post processing images, or maintaining my Web site when I could be sitting in front of the TV watching a movie or in front of my PC playing games. This is what drives everything photography in me. I’m not suggesting you go as crazy about photography as I am, but I just wanted to close by letting you know how I feel about all of this, so that you can understand how I really find time to do it. Many of you have mailed me saying you don’t know how I find time. Let me tell you, time is not out there for us to find, we have to make it. Everything we do is because we prioritized it above the things we decided not to do.
If there’s something that we don’t make the time for, it’s probably not in that 20%, or you have not yet defined your 20%. As I said at the start of this Podcast, what I say is simply what I do, based on my own time management studies over the years, and you can either take it or leave it. But if you want to take it, and you believe there are things that you are assigning time to, but maybe shouldn’t be, and there are tasks that you feel you need to do, but aren’t yet doing, then maybe a reshuffle is necessary. Start by writing down all the things you feel you should be doing and all the things you do right now. If you don’t have time for the important stuff, start to get rid of stuff that is not directly contributing to your success. If you spend any significant time playing games for example, ask yourself how important that is compared to your photography. If you prioritize your photography above playing games, either cut down on the time you play games or stop altogether. Now I know that I’m probably going to annoy even more of you by saying this than I will by talking about photography as a religion, but I’m talking from experience. I personally haven’t played any computer games for so long that I can’t remember, despite the fact that I really like them. If playing games is important to you and you want to devote some of your free time to it, of course that’s fine, but you must be happy with that prioritization the next time you’re kicking yourself for not having enough time to go out shooting or post processing that backlog of images. Be true to yourself. What you really want, you will make time for. If you don’t make time for it, you probably don’t really want it.
So that’s it for today. Again, I’m sorry that I couldn’t get an episode out last week. It just didn’t make it into my 20% after a few other things stole about 15% of it. Thanks again to Chris for the great suggestion for a topic. This might not have been quite what you were expecting, but hopefully you’ll find some value in what I’ve said. I’d be interested to hear if any of you have your own ideas about Time Management and Photography. Come by the forum at martinbaileyphotography.com and let us know if you do. I’m sure there’ll be a post in the Podcast Forum before too long after the episode is released and if not, please go ahead and start one.
So, all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and have a great week, however you’ve prioritize your time. Bye-bye.
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