The Organized Photographer:
3 essential (and free) tools for a streamlined photography business
A universal truth of every single conservation photographer I’ve ever met: we have a lot of irons in the fire!
You have to. All photography work, including conservation photography, is usually based around projects – sometimes short term, sometimes long term, all of them in their own niche and each in a different stage of development.
If you aren’t doing this full time, then you’re juggling your full-time life and your passion work. If you are doing this full time, then you’re probably juggling half a dozen projects (some paying, some not) plus the business side of things. And all of us have to balance all of this with a functional personal life.
It gets messy.
When I hit full project overwhelm mode, there are three simple tools that keep me going and stave off the hair-pulling spiral of “toooooo-muuuch!!” They’re incredibly helpful, and best of all, each of these doesn’t have to cost any money to create and use.
1. A Goal Sheet
This is a working document that describes my overarching goals, and the deliverables I need to hit to achieve them.
For my business, the Goal Sheet lists my 3-5 major goals for the year, the overarching deliverables for those goals, and then a breakdown of the deliverables I plan to produce each quarter to hit those big annual goals.
It’s my “light at the end of the tunnel” document that I print out every quarter after updating it, and keep in a notebook. I refer to it every 1-2 weeks as I plan out what needs to take priority in my to-do lists. Checking off those deliverables and seeing progress toward my goals is a major motivator.
TOOLS: I keep a Google document because it’s easy to update, change the formatting, or alter goals and deliverables whenever I need to. However, there are a lot of templates out there for tracking your goals. Two resources I suggest checking out are Productive Flourishing’s free planners and Full Focus Planner (not free but looks pretty cool).
2. A project management application
You just can’t keep everything in your head and expect to stay sane. Not with multiple projects, which each have their own tasks and deadlines, and which each shift depending on a whole host of variables. A project management application gets everything out of your head so you have room to think.
The importance of using an app can’t be understated. Not only does it clear out your brain so you can sleep at night, but it keeps all your tasks organized so you can navigate, prioritize, reorganize as projects change, and accomplish all those tasks in a low-stress manor. Embracing a project management app is life-changing for you and your business.
TOOLS: My personal choice is Freedcamp but there are many options including Trello, Basecamp, Asana and more. I like Freedcamp the best because it is very affordable (and as the name implies, there’s a free version!), has all the tools you need no matter how fancy you want to get (hello gantt charts with dependencies and critical paths!) while staying user friendly, and has excellent customer service.
3. A customized pen-n-paper day planner
In a super official survey I took of my Instagram followers, 85% of us prefer paper over digital for tracking tasks. Of course…. We are creatives. We like that tactile interaction of paper. While paper doesn’t work well for a project — projects are just too big and morph too much for paper to make practical sense — it does work for weekly and daily tasks.
And I love my paper planner! It’s how I can plan my day’s schedule and stay more focused on my tasks. By looking at just that day’s tasks, I don’t get caught up in the “should be doing, could be doing” whirlwind of tasks that show up in my project management app.
TOOLS: Most paper planners aren’t a perfect fit. You need one that works the way you work, and that means customization.
If you don’t want to customize something, you can download my daily planner (it comes with instructions for putting it to use, too!) and use it as is. Or you’re welcome to use it as a jumping off point for your own custom day planner. Use the form in this article to access it for free.
If you’re set on just using a pre-made planner, then there are a few that look pretty great (but aren’t free). One is the aforementioned Full Focus Planner. I also like the looks of the Bullet Journal (which is fully customizable within the system it teaches). And finally there’s the BestSelf journal. I haven’t used any of these, but they each have a solid system in place that will help you use a day planner at its most productive level.
BONUS: Self-Control App
If you struggle with popping onto social media or surfing the web when you need to be working, you might try Self-Control. Once you set your time limit for your blocked sites, the app won’t let you access them – even if you restart your computer. I’ve been using it for years and it’s really helpful. And yes, it’s free.
Look, I love organization and planning tools. I can also be a total mess. As I write this, I’m in the midst of taking a beautiful system that I let get sloppy beyond recognition and restoring it to its former highly productive beauty. I took on a couple enormous and unexpected projects, and in the hustle I just threw tasks into my task lists rather than really using my systems.
End result: I became a stress case because I couldn’t stop thinking about what might possibly be falling through the cracks, so I couldn’t focus on forward progress on anything.
I called in the help of my long-time mentor in this realm and we’re working together to get me back on track.
EVERYONE gets sloppy. Everyone lets their perfectly planned systems and processes break down. So don’t sweat it. Just recognize it, and take a breather to revamp.
Your photography business, and your sanity, are worth the time and energy put into organizing.