5 Ways to Be More Productive as a Photographer

It's October and this year has been one of my most productive years as a working photographer to date! I finished writing my second book this year (which will launch in August), I'll have taught over 30 workshops by the end of the year, my number of clients has increased exponentially, and my income has also increased as a result of that effort. How? Simply accountability and focused productivity. Over the course of the last year, I've worked on reducing my total "work time" by purposely controlling my productivity. Here are five methods that I've used to become exponentially more productive.

Defining Productivity

The word productivity is often overused and misunderstood. According to Merriam-Webster, the word productivity by definition is, "the rate at which goods are produced or work is completed." So, let's be clear, if you don't have anything to show for your productivity, then you're not actually being productive. If you're sitting behind a computer screen and criticizing others for their concerted efforts at creating images, or videos but have nothing to show of your own, my friend... you are unproductive.

Let me also note that we've all been there! I've been there. You sit back and discuss all things ideas and concepts that you want to do, but you don't actually do them. Unless you actually put plans into action, you're never going to get those goals accomplished.

1. Eliminate Distractions

One of the easiest ways to remain productive is to simply eliminate unneeded distractions out of your daily routine. I recommend dissecting your schedule throughout the day and calculating how much time that you’re spending on social media, marketing, accounting, shooting, editing, in meetings, or cold calling. You only have 24 hours in a day and if you’re spending an average of four hours on social media aimlessly navigating Facebook, then you’re not really being productive.

The same can be said for other areas of your business. If you find yourself spending five to six hours a day editing images and you don’t spend any time cold calling, you could in fact be destroying your business long term. Everything is a balance, so you need to be critically aware of the time that you allocate to all areas of your business.

Subsequently, if you find yourself in negative situations, remove the negative influences that influence your productivity. That can be said for both business and personal relationships. Anytime I find myself spending an increased amount of time hashing things out with a client, colleague, or business partner, I assess whether that relationship is worth my investment in time or not. The point is, you can only be truly productive, if you’re aware of your daily habits and routine.

2. Always Have a Plan B

Murphy's law has become my life's mantra: "Anything that can possibly go wrong, does." This mindset allows me to think three steps ahead of possible failures and re-shift my strategies on a whim. If you plan anything, plan an alternative in case things don't pan out the way you'd planned in your mind or on paper.

Here's an example: I send out business proposals on a frequent basis, but I never throw all of my eggs in one basket. When I send out one large proposal, I submit two or three to similar clients. This allows me to have at minimum three opportunities for the same project. It's almost like the stock market. When you disperse your investments into more than one opportunity, you minimize risk, unless all three options were terrible solutions to start off with.

3. Delegate What You Can

Once you're aware of your schedule, delegate anything that you can afford to. You're only one person and you can only accomplish a finite amount of tasks throughout the day. For example, I personally have started to outsource most of my retouching work. I found myself spending more time editing images and less time actually shooting and creating content. The more time I'm able to free up for myself, the easier it is to accomplish new tasks.

Obviously, everyone has a different budget. If you're at the higher end of the spectrum and can afford to hire a full-time assistant to help you manage your studio, organize your schedule, and book your travel accommodations, then it may be worth the investment of doing so. If you haven't reached that level of income, start off small. For example, Instead of spending 10-15 hours designing a logo for your photography, consider hiring an affordable graphic designer.

4. Keep a Check List

Don't keep a things to do list in your head. Put it in writing in some form or fashion. We all tend to say, "I need to remember to do XYZ," but then something unexpected happens and we forget. It's human nature. It happens! In order to keep myself on track for short term items, I have three different methods: A composition notebook with a things to do list inside, a wall in my apartment that I converted into a giant blackboard, and a list on the notes app on my desktop computer.  For longer goals and aspirations, I have two methods: A bucketlist.org account tracks my long term goals, e.g., things like writing three books before 30, or teaching an international workshop, and the second method is writing those items in big, bold red marker on my composition notebook that I always have with me.

Whatever method you choose that works for you, keep a physical copy of the things you need to get done.

5. Find an “Accountabili-buddy”

My last method of accountability is, albeit the hardest, but most rewarding: Find someone to keep you accountable for your word and vice versa. Finding a dependable partner to keep you on your toes, whether it's a personal relationship or business relationship is tremendously important. There are many times as human beings where we'll doubt ourselves, questions ourselves and brush off are goals as unimportant and this is when finding an "accountabili-buddy" is important.

Here's the hard part: find the right person to keep you accountable. You don't want someone who is condescending, you want someone who is uplifting, motivating, and can be there to bounce ideas off of. Here's the caveat, the accountability doesn't have to be all positive. Constructive criticism is so important when you find the right partner. Maybe there's one angle you overlooked when strategizing your business goals. Maybe you have an email you received the wrong way and you're making a bigger deal out of something that actually isn't there. That's where a partner to keep you accountable works. They keep you grounded and motivated to do better.

Here's a personal example: I send Miguel social stats every week as a little nudge in case either one of us slacks off. This month, I spent more time off social media than normally and he sent me a text message to remind me that I had dropped off the face of the earth. Sometimes you need that swift kick in the ass to get things done.

In the video above, Miguel Quiles and I discuss the ways that we personally stay productive in this ever evolving world of photography. We'd love to hear what methods you guys are using to remain productive and any tips you have for others interested in doing the same.

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12 Comments

Barb Davids's picture

I like the Accountabili-buddy. I started having "groove sessions" with a couple of positive friends. We work on each other's businesses and get shit done. :) Eliminating distractions and scheduling the time.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I love your "groove sessions" concept. It is damn hard to find serious people who you can do something like that with, but I am perpetually on the lookout for them.

Jeff Rojas's picture

That's an awesome idea! Love it! :)

Phil Newton's picture

Good article, thanks. I'm not very productive and am easily distracted so I'm in trouble! I have a quote written on the mirror to guilt me into putting more effort in when I read it, and to work a bit harder. I also like to do lists, of varying timeframes.

Randy Smith's picture

I am sorry, but retouching can change an image. It is the signature of your work. If you outsource it then the image really only is 50% yours. I understand why people do it, as someone who shoots a lot I get it, it can be tough. But the processing of an image is so personal that if you outsource it would be the equivalent of someone else taking the photo, you taking care of the retouching and then call the final product your own.

Jeff Rojas's picture

I guess Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger, etc. aren't really photographers then?

We're all entitled to an opinion. I wholeheartedly respect your opinion, but absolutely disagree with it. :)

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I used to want to own the retouching process, but now, I don't mind outsourcing it for specific things. Unless someone is doing a complete perversion of your image, which means you're working with the wrong retoucher, the retouching isn't close to 50% of the process, in my opinion.

I shoot studio headshots using the Peter Hurley style. 95% of those kinds of images is in the capture. I can safely outsource that retouching because there's not a whole lot of "style" involved in correcting blemishes, whitening teeth and eyes, softening skin, fixing stray hairs, reducing wrinkles, etc. I go light-handed on retouching, making people look their best, but not making them look fake...no porcelain skin or paper white teeth/eyes, etc. It's easy to show a retoucher some before and afters of your own retouching so they know how to process your images.

You can always retouch the one or two best images from a given shoot yourself and outsource the rest. In my headshot example, not only is it time-consuming, it's boring to retouch several images of the same face from the same shoot.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

This is a great article. I'm always pursuing increased personal efficiency and effectiveness and there's some great stuff here. One thing that I've very recently embraced and seen results from is scheduling or time-blocking everything. Instead of just creating a list of what I need to get done today or next week, I create the list and then assign a block of time to each task, regardless of how simple it is. I use a pre-printed sheet of paper that covers 3am (I get up early most days) to 7pm in 30-minute increments. Everything I need to do on a given day gets put into a time slot.

So far, I'm able to go as far as three days in advance. What I've found is the incidence of things getting pushed from today to tomorrow (and then pushed again) has gone down significantly. Sitting down and actually planning how long it will take to do something and assigning it a block of time in advance has kept me from putting things on the same day that had no chance of happening in one day. And all the trivial stuff doesn't keep hanging around, either, because when the time I'm supposed to do it comes around, I just do whatever task is in that time slot. This has helped me chop down my task list more efficiently than I ever have before. Stuff actually gets done when I schedule a block of time for it in advance.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thanks for taking the time out for reading and responding. Love what you're doing. Keep up the great work! :)

Great advice.
About keeping a notebook, I use Evernote to keep track or ideas, shooting locations, etc. Evernote is a web cloud app, Android app, and probably Apple app. I also use Evernote to keep my camera inventory with serial numbers available.

Okay, you guys brought politics into the video. Apparently, Trump lost nearly one billion dollars in one year! How can an extraordinary businessman, according to him, lose $1,000,000,000 in one year? That makes him America's Biggest Loser.

Please don't make this blog political. I wish that the US had two viable choices for president, but instead we have none.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thanks so much!

p.s..... I personally think Miguel brings up politics to annoy me. lol You and I are on board with one another. ;) lol

Thanks. Next time, just drop the names of two self-made billionaires, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.