There are many smart tools and life hacks out there, which aim at making us more efficient in our work and life. The following method has been inspired by a former president of the U.S.
The more we grow, the messier our lives become. We have to balance our private life and our job, we have to fulfill others’ demands while taking care of our own needs, and finally, we have to get things done. Especially, when you are self-employed, you have to make sure that all the work gets done and that your business is running smoothly. It has to provide you (and your family) with money, and you still must not get burned out. There is a lot of pressure out there. The good news is: there are many simple ways how you can organize your tasks. I will introduce to you one of them: the Eisenhower method.
The Eisenhower method is a way in which you can organize every task that comes across you. Be it in your private life, your hobbies, your work, your studies. The method will help you to quickly analyze any task and make a decision about how to handle it. There is no rocket science degree needed. It’s simple and it's useful. Eventually, it will help you avoid unnecessary work, so you can spend more time doing what you love: taking pictures.
Two Forms of Tasks
The method was inspired by a speech which Eisenhower held in front of the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1954. Eisenhower does not claim it to be his own idea, nor does it completely suit the method. It was just an inspiration. Talking about a former president, whom he did not mention by name, Eisenhower stated:
This President said, 'I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.'
The quote inspired people to create a system for organizing tasks based on two criteria: importance and urgency.
Even though Eisenhower stated that urgent problems are never important and important tasks are never urgent, the Eisenhower method also considers tasks and problems which are both urgent and important. In fact, I can imagine many decisions of a president which fall into both categories. I also assume that during his duty in World War II, Eisenhower had to take very important decisions under pressure.
The Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower matrix is very simple. For each and every task, you have to decide if it’s urgent or not urgent and if it’s important or not important. These quick evaluations result in a typology of four different tasks:
- A: Urgent and important
- B: Not urgent, but important
- C: Urgent, but not important
- D: Not urgent and not important
Depending on where you locate your task in the matrix, you will know how to deal with it. Tasks which are important and urgent have to be done. There is no way around it: work immediately! If your task isn’t as urgent but still important, you have to schedule it and work on it when you have the time. The important tasks are the ones you do personally. But what about the not important tasks? Well, if it is urgent, let someone else do it. Outsourcing is a great way to save time. Eventually, your own time is money. Especially if you are self-employed, every hour that you save can be time that you need to earn. If something is urgent and not important to you, let someone else do it. That’s efficient. The tasks which are neither urgent nor important? Put them into the small basket below your desk. No one cares.
Apply the Method to Your Photography
Regardless whether you focus your life on photography as a hobby or business, the method can help you improve your artistic skills and structure your work. Both eventually lead to saving time. Saving time means spending more time on doing what you love: making pictures.
Important and Urgent
The best way to get along is to not have important and urgent tasks. Important and urgent tasks pressure you. Mostly, these tasks come up if you didn’t plan well enough in advance or something unexpected happens: charging your batteries three hours before the wedding, bringing your suit to the cleaners, fixing the strobes in your studio when the client is already waiting, rushing to the next location because you calculated too little time for your last job.
Important and urgent tasks will stress you out. You will have to work quickly and mistakes become more probable. Try to avoid them by planning in advance. Make to-dos, appointments, and checklists. This leads us to the next category.
Not Urgent but Important
These tasks are the ones you have to work on. They should be the main part of a structured, organized photography business or life of a photography enthusiast. You want to shoot the Milky Way over the lake? Then check for the right timing. Is there an event that you want to cover? Write it into your calendar. You are the head of your business and you are self-dependent. Do what you have to do, but take care of yourself. Tasks are called important because you need to do them properly. Prepare everything and give the best you can. Charge the batteries of your camera, clean the lens, check your bag.
Time all of your tasks and make lists. If you work on many different tasks, it’s hard to keep an overview. Help yourself by developing mechanisms which will help you stay organized. Whenever you get a new assignment, write down the date and think about what you will need for it. When do you have the time to prepare, how long will you take, and what additional equipment will you need? If you fail on this, important tasks can quickly become urgent and pressure you again. If there is a sufficient period of time for every task, you will feel more comfortable and make fewer mistakes.
Urgent but Not Important
This is the trickiest part. Urgent things that are not really important. They interrupt your workflow and distract you from what you want to do. The Eisenhower method tells you to outsource these tasks. But what if you don’t have the money to do it? Will you declare your own income tax or will you ask an accountant to do that for you? Do you really have to deliver your products in person or is it better to mail them?
If a task is important or not is up to you. If you can’t afford to let someone else do the work for you, it becomes important. You rely on it. Make sure you recognize the importance of every task early enough, so you can schedule it. In some cases, you can ask friends and family for support. Take care that you are not the person who always asks for favors but never scratches other people’s backs.
Not Urgent and Not Important
Toss it away. Checking your Instagram likes, watching cat videos, or keeping up with the Kardashians (as long as you’re not their personal photographer) are not important to what you want to achieve. They're wasting time. You can do them when you have a set time for leisure. As a determined photographer, however, I guess you’d rather go out and shoot, read a photography book, or find inspiration in other people’s work (don’t use Instagram for that). Ignoring the not urgent and not important task should be one of your priorities for saving time.
You Don’t Have to Draw a Matrix All the Time
I personally do not draw a matrix and write all my tasks and activities into the four areas. For me, thinking about the importance and urgency of my tasks and scheduling them is most important. After all, we’re not machines. We will always do some tasks that are unnecessary. That’s human. During my work, however, I will always think before I act: “Okay, is this urgent? How important is it for me? Do I really need to do it? How can I prevent myself from becoming stressed out?” This helps me in planning and prioritizing my tasks. I want all my tasks to be important and useful. I don’t want them to stop me from doing what I like: writing and shooting.