Who’s Blocking and Tackling for You?

The last few weeks have been more hectic than usual for a number of reasons, not least of which being getting reading for the exhibition at the RMSP gallery. I basically had a list of things that needed to get done and worked my way down the list until I was done. If I’d wanted to do anything evenly vaguely creative in that time I couldn’t have because I didn’t have the space I need to think. I find that I need some breathing room to have and to develop new ideas, that if I’m flat out busy I just don’t have. How to get that space can require a shift in thinking and attitude. For me whenever I’m feeling that I’ve lost balance and perspective I rely on David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
to get back in control. Typically this involves taking an inventory of all that I have going on, all the projects that I have underway and the associated ‘next actions’. More often than not once I’ve done that I realize that I have more going on than any sane person would commit to and begin saying ‘No’ to any new things that show up until I’m back in a place where I have some time to catch my breath. That’s where I am now, enjoying a break until my next adventure. I’d be interested in how you get back under control and in a place where you can create.

Write a Page a Day and You’ll Have a Book in a Year

I recently came across the following quote from Thea Astley:

‘If you write a page a day it adds up to a book in a year’

I like the idea here – steady and consistent progress will get you over the finish line. For photographers what does this mean? I think as it is for writers, doing something every day on your project will mean that eventually you’ll have a real and tangible product.

One of the harder tasks for us as photographers is being able to work on our project everyday, especially when we have the weather to contend with or difficult schedules to work around. I use the ‘Natural Planning Model’ that David Allen describes in his ‘Getting Things Done‘ book to go through and break out all of the tasks that a project involves. The natural planning model involves 5 basic steps:

1. Defining purpose and principles
2. Outcome visioning
3. Brainstorming
4. Organizing
5. Identifying next actions

Hear David Allen talk more about this by clicking below:

This allows me to generate an an inventory of everything that I could be doing to move my project along.

Using the book project that I’m working on at the moment as an example – assuming that the shooting will take care of itself, there are still lots of decisions around everything else to be made:

What company?
Physical size of the book?
Hardback or Paperback?
How many images?
Other essays?
Thubnails at the end?
Shot information?

Once each of these questions has been answered there is then the obligatory question of ‘What’s the next step?’ Using this approach I have a laundry list of things that I can be doing when I’m not shooting to help help keep the project moving forward and I’m sure that you would too.

Getting Things Done

How do you keep track of and manage your commitments?  Most people are wearing multiple hats – this could be husband, father, dutiful employee, or at a more granular level – little league coach, counselor, accountant, marketer, content creator, etc. all of which have a pull on your time.  There is a real skill to keep track of your commitments, to maintain balance and to allow for enough space to be creative and productive.  How ready you are to engage productively with your life is proportional to how much psychic clutter you are toting around.

One of the tools that I’ve been using for almost a decade now is David Allen’s Getting Things Done or GTD system.  GTD helps cut the psychic clutter and provides control and perspective.  It’s well described in David Allen’s Book of the same name, and with the follow-ups ‘Ready For Anything’ and ‘Making it all Work’.

The central tenant to the GTD system is to get everything out of your head and into an efficient capture system.  Once there you can review and define what the next steps are.  This can be tremendously freeing and can result in remarkable increases in productivity.

The capture system can be as simple as a stack of 3×5 notecards clipped together or something significantly more sophisticated such as the tasks function built into Microsoft Outlook. Your capture system should be portable, or at least you should have a way to make sure ideas can be captured off-line and then entered into your system promptly.  This and not regularly reviewing my lists of projects and associated next actions are the main reasons that I have fallen off the wagon in the past, while my calendar system where appointments get entered automatically is rock solid.

In addition to resulting in bursts of creativity and productivity the other thing a system where you can see all of your commitments in one place does, is to make you realize how much stuff you have going on.  Consequently it’s much easier to say no to taking on additional tasks, or at least have the conversation about reprioritizing activities to allow a focus on the one you’re going to pick up.

And so it is with me.  Since photography is something I do in addition to many other things, I need to fit it into an already busy schedule.  I’ve been using my ‘photography time’ in the last couple of weeks to print and mat photographs. The people who’ve received the prints have been genuinely pleased with them and that in turn spurs me on.