The Organized Photographer:
How to use "focus periods" to increase your productivity and creativity
Get desk work done faster so you can be outside with your camera more often!
When I first announced on social media that “Hooray! I quit my job to be a full-time photographer!”, one of the first comments I received was:
“Good luck. You’ll shoot less than ever now.”
It came from a colleague who has been a full-time photographer for a long, long time. So of course I brushed it off.
I was fresh-faced and unbelievably stoked to finally leave behind the number one hindrance to my photography time. Why would I heed warning from someone with decades of experience?
Shooting less than ever?…Pshhhhhhhhh. That wasn’t going to happen to me.
Imagine my surprise when it did. (Funny how input from people with experience tends to pan out…)
The more work I took on, the less time I actually held a camera in my hand. It wasn’t long before I was looking around at the piles of to-do lists and thinking, “Isn’t my job title supposed to be photographer? Why do I feel like I’m an admin?”
I thought back to that comment about shooting less than ever. Then about my reaction that it wouldn’t happen to me. And I knew something must be done.
I implemented several solutions to spend less time on desk work and more time on shooting.
One of the best is using focus periods.
A focus period is a block of time you set aside during your day to do one thing and only one thing. Your ONLY job is to accomplish that task during that period of time.
I usually set up between one and three focus periods during the day, depending on what work I have to tackle and how badly I want something off my to-do list.
How to set yourself up for success:
1. Select a single task that needs your full attention. Focus periods are not intended for tackling lists of to-do items. Rather, reserve them for larger tasks that need sustained focus in order to complete them and check them off your list for good.
2. Select a block of time that is a reasonable amount for accomplishing the task. Be very realistic. If it is something that will take you two hours, block out two hours – not 90 minutes.
3. Commit to your task. During this period you may work on your task, or you may not work on your task. But you’re not allowed to do anything else. When your options are either to hop to it or sit around twiddling your thumbs, you’re more likely to actually get. work. done.
Now, I’m going to be honest with you. This simple productivity tool is awesome…
…but it’s only as good as your willpower.
I admit that sometimes, no matter how perfectly I’ve set up my focus periods, I blow it.
Problems that pop up include:
- I get distracted during my primary task on some other tangental work. I fall down a rabbit hole and end up working on something entirely different. Whoops.
- Something that feels more urgent pops up. I bail on my focus period time to go put out fires, even if the fires could have waited until after my focus period work was done.
- Tasks from earlier in the day run late and my focus period gets cut short or bumped from the schedule entirely.
Some of the ways I bring my mind back into my focus period include:
- Setting a timer. This creates a sense of urgency for getting the work done. It also gives me a finish line so I don’t let my current task drift into time already scheduled for other tasks.
- Keeping a note pad next to me. When ideas or tasks pop into my head, I can write them down and forget about them until later.
- Minimizing digital distractions. I turn off all notifications and put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode.
- Temporarily blocking time-wasting websites like Facebook. If I’m tempted to be distracted, I can’t access the sites anyway.
No single tool is a magic solution, but I promise you this:
If you implement focus periods into your day, and you set yourself up for success as outlined above, you’ll be able to accomplish more desk work.
And that means you can carve out more time to do what you love most: actually using your camera!
Try it and let me know how it goes!