Ten Quick Ways to Stay Sane and Productive as a Freelance Photographer

Ten Quick Ways to Stay Sane and Productive as a Freelance Photographer

Life as a freelancer is different. People with "normal" jobs don't usually understand what we do, how we do it, when we do it, or why we do it. But, we do what we do, and it's not always easy. It's not consistent, it's not stable, but it's a great way to live your life if you do it right. Here are some small ways you can make it easier. They've helped me, and maybe they'll help you as well.

1. Put on Pants

Just because you work at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get up and get ready for the day like a “normal” person.* It will make you feel like you’ve already accomplished one task and make you ready for the next, and the next, and the next. 

And if you don’t work at home and have a studio or somewhere else to go to, following this tip is particularly advisable.

* Disclaimer: I may or may not be writing this in my underwear at 10 a.m. on a Friday. One day at a time, folks.

2. Go Outside

Do it. Even if it’s just once a day. If you freelance and work from home, chances are that some days you won’t have a gig to go to and you won’t even feel motivated or see the reason in getting ready for the day. You might not know the sun has set, and then the day is gone. Get up, walk around, check the mail, walk around the block, or even just sit outside on a laptop or phone and answer your emails from there. This is just as important for your physical well-being as it is for your sanity. Whether it’s exercise or just sitting in the sun to eat lunch, don’t stay in your cave all day.

The sun doesn't bite. Promise.

3. Give Yourself Time Off

It’s really one of the best parts of the freelance life, right? You don’t work a nine-to-five with one or two weeks of vacation a year, so make the most of it. If you’ve had a hard week, take a day off and go on a hike to settle your mind. Take more long weekends. Make time to see your family, and try to work out your schedule so that you’re not always working when they’re home. Work hard so that you can play hard, and make use of the flexibility your job provides.

4. But Be Strict

You’re your own boss — Act like it. Get up at a reasonable time, have a list of things you want to get done that day, meet your deadlines. Be professional when no one is looking, and it will translate into looking professional when someone is. Sometimes it's easy to forget that this is a job.

5. Reject the Island Life

Many freelancers I know, sometimes including myself, find themselves feeling isolated. It’s hard to stay connected to other humans when the only person you talk to in a day is, more often than you’d like to admit, your hermit crab. Or dog, I guess, if you’re cool. 

Stay social. Invite other photographers or industry peers to lunch. Set up a monthly happy hour where any creative can come. Make time for others. You have to have people to bounce ideas off of and learn from if you’re going to keep any remnant of your sanity. It’s not easy, but we get by with a little help from our friends.

You can always visit a real island on one of those days off you should be taking.

Don't get down in the dumps. Keep your friends close.

6. Dedicate a Workspace

Even if you work from home, if you have a dedicated space to work — a spare bedroom you turn into an office, a nook with a desk, whatever you can manage — you’ll feel like it’s your own space to get things done, and when you’re there, that’s what you need to do. Sometimes if where you work feels more stable, you’ll be more inclined to get things done. And in the freelance life, finding as much stability as possible is key to staying sane.

7. Buy a Second Screen

It can help your productivity in so many ways. Not only can you use dual-screen setups in Lightroom and Premier, you can also Netflix while you edit. It doesn't have to be an expensive one — I have a 24-inch Asus screen that was less than $200 a few years ago that I still use. I don’t do my primary color correction on it, but it’s great for just about everything else. Money well-spent. Plus, how else are you going to find time to watch all nine seasons of "The Office" (again) and pretend you have real coworkers while you're cloning out boogers and nose hairs from that shoot?

8. Make Use of Mobile Check Deposit

There are so many mundane daily tasks that freelancers have to do that have little shortcuts floating around. Make use of them. Time is money, and money is sanity to a freelancer. For example, if you do enough work, you’ll likely have checks coming in every day or so. Yes, I know, it’s also possible to wait until the end of the week and take them all at once to the bank for deposit. But you know what? Sometimes us little guys just like to see that money pop into our accounts as quickly as possible, either for cash flow purposes or just to see that we’re doing all right and the account is growing, not shrinking, as it always seems to do. If your bank offers mobile deposit, you can deposit a check in about 15 seconds without even having to put on pants**. It’s glorious.

I’m sure there are other small tricks like this that help save time and energy. Studio management software, automatic backups, etc. It's 2017. Act like it.

** Put on pants!

9. Meditate

Even if you don’t subscribe to any form of spirituality that promotes meditation as a tool, you may be surprised to learn that, in its most basic form, meditation doesn’t have to be anything more than sitting and focusing on your breath. Even if you just sit for five minutes a day and try to clear your mind before starting the day’s tasks, you’ll quickly find that you are calmer, have more organized thoughts, and treat the day with a little more purpose and compassion. You may find that your mind is racing — what many call the “monkey mind” — but with practice, you’ll be able to slow it down, return to the breath, and clear your mind a bit. Your thoughts will start to organize themselves, you'll see where your priorities lie, and you'll have a better idea of what you should do that day. Sanity through sitting.

10. Remember Why You Started Doing This in the First Place

It’s easy to get caught up in it all; Chasing down invoices, filing sales tax, sending and amending and signing contracts. Much of your day won’t be dedicated to actually taking photos. But, there was a reason you started doing this, and if you don’t forget that, then it will be easier to keep going. I promise.

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LA M's picture

I have a very good way of staying sane and productive as a freelance photographer.....

It's really simple...no study required.

I add up the costs of the mortgage on my condo & country house, two cars, boat & jetski and all the other sh*t life requires and I split them evenly between two dates...the 1st and the 15th.

It's plenty motivation to make every working hour count.

Stephen Ironside's picture

Money is definitely a motivator, for sure. That might keep you productive...but it by no means guarantees that it'll keep you sane. :P

ron fya's picture

Oooooooohhhh yes. I REALLY feel for you Stephen! Reading your tips, I couldn't agree more ... and by mentioning a few specific ones (1, 2, 4 & 5), I know where you come from! Soooooo true! When you're a natural born procrastinator, working as a freelancer can be a real struggle if you don't put your pants on!
Thanks. Cheers !

Olafs Osh's picture

I say! Meditate -shmeditate!

If someone with full blasting photog life actually finds this text somehow-ish useful - good. I am in a whole blown envy about that guy. My tears would be way better sugarcoated with a nice story of the things you do, when there are only bargain looking people around you and you are efffing struggling.

P.S. Oh, we have a plenty of texts about that elsewhere, nevermind.

P.P.S. Usually they [texts, I mean] are just along the lines of "be-friendly-smile-suckacock-gitgud".

P.P.P.S. Well, one of them suggestions is nice - Git Gud.

P.P.P.P.S. Enough of post-post-scriptums. Well, you got the idea...

..."meditate"... what a load of bollocks, haha

J.R. Clubb's picture

You sound like you need to meditate.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

Great tips, these are all valid points man. Well said!