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Episode #059

How to Make Time for Photography (Even When Life Gets Busy)


UPDATED: May 22, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON January 12, 2021


It's easy to let your creative time slip to the back burner… or slip off the stove entirely. This surprisingly powerful tool will help you both make time for your photography AND make great forward progress on your projects.


Use timed focus periods for creative productivity

Raise your hand if you have recently put your creative work on the back burner in favor of handling all the other things that need to get done during the day.

Yeah, I think we all should have our hands raised.

It is a common thing for photographers to struggle with prioritizing creative endeavors and to actually stick to the schedule.

Trust me, you are not alone. I've been right there with you.

It's a daily struggle, but because I am a total productivity and systems nerd I've experimented with a bunch of different strategies for making sure that creative time gets its fair share of calendar space and that I make progress on crafting the images, the stories, the content that I want to share with the world

Of those experiments, the strategy I'm sharing with you today has stood out as a clear winner. And I'm walking you through how you can implement it and make sure you always have time for creativity.



You'll Learn

  • How to use this tool on a weekly (or even daily!) basis
  • The mindset hack that helps you gain ground on projects
  • The timer trick that changes everything
  • Challenges you're likely to face when implementing this tool (and how to overcome them)

Episode 059: How to Make Time for Photography (Even When Life Gets Busy)

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/59

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
When I first announced on social media that hooray, I just quit my job to be a full-time photographer, one of the first comments that I received back was, "Good luck. You'll shoot less than ever now." Well, it came from a colleague who had been a full-time photographer for a long, long time. So of course, what did I do? I brushed it off. I was fresh faced and unbelievably stoked to finally leave behind the number one hindrance to my photography time that full-time job. Why would I heat a warning from someone with decades of experience, right? Shooting, less than ever? That wasn't going to happen to me! So imagine my surprise when it did. I mean, it's funny how input from people with experience tends to pan out, right? Well, the more work that I took on the less time I actually held my camera in my hand, it wasn't long before I was looking around to all the piles of to-do lists thinking isn't my job supposed to be photographer? So why do I feel like I'm an administrative assistant? I thought back to that comment about shooting less than ever. Then I thought about my reaction, about how I was so sure it would not happen to me. And I knew that something had to be done. In this episode, I'm outlining the solution that I found. It's a solution that I know will work for you to make progress on any of your creative projects, whether that is literally picking up your camera and getting outside to go shoot, or if it's making progress on curating your portfolio, updating your website, or working on that photo story that you've been trying so hard to finish up the strategy worked for me, and I'm convinced you're going to find it useful. Let's dive in!

Welcome to impact the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place from conservation to creativity, from business to marketing and everything in between this podcast is for you. The conservation visual storyteller, who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in!

Raise your hand. If you have recently put your creative work on the back burner in favor of handling all the other things that need to get done during the day from your job to caring for your family to household chores. Yeah, I think we all should have our hands raised. It is a common thing for photographers for, I mean, any creative person, really to struggle with putting time on the calendar for their creative endeavors and to actually stick to the schedule.

Even if you block out a day, you've probably experienced letting other tasks slip into that time slot until the creative space that you had booked is now filled with all kinds of other life obligations in no time at all, you have a few months worth of images that you haven't even looked at, let alone edited, or that photo story that you wanted to work on is still not much more than an outline or that idea that you had for doing a calendar fundraiser for your favorite nonprofit? Well, suddenly it's already September and you haven't even figured out which images you want to use.

Trust me, you are not alone. And I've been right there with you. It's a daily struggle, but because I am a total productivity and systems nerd, when this started to really happen to me, and I noticed myself having less and less space for creativity. Well, I experimented with a bunch of different strategies for trying to make sure that creative time gets its fair share of calendar space and that I make progress on crafting the images, the stories, the content that I want to share with the world and of those experiments. One strategy has stood out as a clear winner. It's called focus periods.

Now, before I walk you through what focus periods are and how to use them, I want to make sure that you get your hands on the exact tool that I designed to be able to implement this. So waiting for you at jaymih.co/59 Is my downloadable day planner. It not only includes space for using the focus period strategy that I'm going to walk you through, but it also provides a system for scheduling your day out so that you actually accomplish your to-do list. So you can download my free day planner that I've customized at jaymih.co/59.

All right. So here's what the focus period strategy is all about. A focus period is a block of time that you set aside during your day to do one thing. And one thing only your only job during this time is to accomplish that task. During that time period, I usually set up between one to three focus periods during the day, depending on what work I have to tackle and how badly I want something off my plate.

So the first thing you'll do is to set a clear goal for a single task that needs your full attention focus periods are not intended for tackling a whole bunch of to-do list items they're made for tackling larger tasks that need sustained focus in order to complete them and to check them off your list. Now this can be a whole task or it can even be a defined portion of a larger project.

So for instance, if it's a whole task, maybe your task for your focus period is to get outside for two hours with your camera and take at least 10 photographs that you're excited about. Or if you are editing a portfolio for your website, your goal might be to just get through the first round of edits during this focus period, you're going to sit down and for this period of time, you're doing nothing, but getting through that first round of edits with no distractions now, whatever it is, whether it is this whole task, that'll have some deliverables at the end of it. Or if it's this portion of a larger project, you need to be crystal clear in your head what done looks like for this period. And you'll see why that's so important in just a moment, but whatever it is, you need to be crystal clear of what done looks like for the task that you've set aside for this focus period.

Then you're going to set a timer. Now make this a realistic amount of time for what you want to get done. It could be 20 minutes or an hour or two hours, but just make sure that it's actually a realistic amount of time to accomplish the task that you've set for yourself. So for example, if you say that you want to use your focus period to go out and shoot, and you want to bring home 10 images that you're excited about, but your shooting style tends to be slower and more methodical. Then 10 images in two hours might not be realistic. Maybe you want to set aside five hours. Or maybe you're just a rapid-fire shooter. You've got that creative energy going. And so you really only need an hour to accomplish that, whatever it is, whatever amount of time that you decide on, make sure that you're being really clear and realistic with how you work and what it is you're trying to accomplish. And you find an amount of time that actually works for this task. The next thing you'll do is to close off all distractions. Here's where you truly commit to your task. During this focus period, you may work on your task or you may not work on your task, but you're not allowed to do anything else. You're either working on your task or you're not. And when your options are to either hop to it or sit around twiddling your thumbs, you're more likely to actually get work done, right?

And the beauty of the focus period is that you're really motivated to take the focus part of the strategy super seriously, because here's where the mindset trick comes into play. When that timer goes off, you're done that task is checked off your list and you're moving on. You might only be able to get B plus level work done, but it's done. You have got to end that focus period and move on. So if your goal was to photograph for two hours and get 10 images when you only have eight, Oh, well you have eight to bring home. If your goal was to edit a new portfolio and get through that first round of edits and you only got halfway through, Oh, well, that's what you're going to be looking at the next time that you go into that portfolio, it is this amazing sense of like pressure that arises when you know that you have to move on at the end of that time period.

It's a sense that you have to focus on this because you only have X amount of time to be able to complete it. And more than likely, if you're like me anyway, you really want to do a good job and be truly done with that task. You don't want to have D or C work. You want to have at least B+ work or better. So if you want something nice and polished at the end, you better not let your brain wander, right? This mental trick, knowing that you only have this timer's worth of time to get something done, and then it's gone... That makes a huge difference in keeping you laser focused while you're working. It's like you're racing yourself to complete what you've set out to complete. And when that timer goes off, you're moving on imperfections and all you're moving on.

So again, you pick a task and you get crystal clear on what done looks like for that task. You set a timer that is a realistic amount of time for completing it. And then when that timer goes off, done is done. You stay focused for that amount of time, and then you move on. Now this strategy will absolutely help you to make progress on creative projects that you're working on, but you have to put it to use with discipline and on an ongoing basis. It's only as good as your will power and your desire to actually make progress as a creative and on these creative things that you care about.

I went through the strategy on a group coaching call who was really struggling to make progress on a documentary film that he's working on. He would go to work at his full-time job in the morning, work hard all day, get home, and then feel tired and unmotivated to sit down at the computer. It felt like this documentary was this huge task. And so he would just let it slip to the back burner again and again and again. So we talked about the strategy about especially setting that timer and you have this defined task and a certain amount of time that you are going to work on it, and then you're done and you're moving on. And when he used the strategy, he reported back that it was working for him that by setting a timer and saying, I have one hour where I'm working on this and when I'm done, I'm done. It really helped him feel like he was breaking a big project down into smaller tacklable amounts of time and bit by bit. He was making progress on finishing his conservation documentary film, but even with these strategies in place, I know that it can feel tough to keep moving forward.

Now I am the first to admit that I am not perfect at the strategy. I'm constantly relearning and relearning and relearning because the strategy requires commitment and it can be so tough to put yourself your creative work, your field time, whatever it may be as a priority during a busy, busy day. But the fact is the strategy, when you implement it does truly work. Even if you have to keep telling yourself that over and over again, when you truly implement it, it works. I have found success with it, and it's how I can crank out consistent creative content. I admit that sometimes no matter how perfectly I've set up my focus periods, I still blow it. And here are the problems that are likely to pop up for you that I know are likely because they've happened to me more than once.

Problem number one, you get distracted during your primary task, during your focus period on some other tangental work, you fall down a rabbit hole and you end up working on something entirely different. Look, this happens. And when you realize it, you don't need to beat yourself up, just get back on track on the original task. One way to more easily notice when you are starting to get off track, you're starting to go down those rabbit holes and a way that you can kind of come back to the task at hand is to set up the timer that you use with interval alerts. So let's say your focus period is for one hour and your task is to select images for a portfolio. And you start to fall down the rabbit hole of editing these images and processing them in these certain ways. And you're getting real nitpicky about things, but, but your task was to actually select images, not edit them, right? Well, if you have an interval timer that deans in 15 minute intervals, that can be a way to bring your mind back to what you're supposed to be working on.

It gives you a way to be like, Oh, 15 minutes has gone by, am I Oh, Oh, Oh, I'm I'm editing. I'm not actually making selects. I'm doing post-processing okay. I'm going to get back onto my task. So that interval timer can give you a heads up on not only that you've maybe have gotten off track, or maybe it's like a kind of a cheersing you, that you stayed on track, but it can also give you a heads up on how much time you have left to get that task done. Because remember, once the timer goes off, that last time you're moving on B plus work or not, you're moving on. So this can be a way for you to kind of monitor how much time you're spending on your task and how much more time you have to complete it.

Now, a second problem is something that feels more urgent pops up. So you bail on your focus period. Time to go put out fires, even if the fires probably could have waited until after your focus period work was done. I get this one for sure. I'm constantly arguing with myself because I'm constantly thinking that every task is equally important, but here's the reality. Your workload is probably never going to be less than what it is now. So if your workload is what it is and that's, what's standing in your way from focusing in on your creative work, then it's always going to be an impediment. It's always going to take priority, and that's not what we want to accomplish here. So you really have to make a commitment to yourself that the task that you've set for your focus period, is the most important thing on the planet. At that time slot, nothing is going to shake that this is the time that you've committed to your creative work, and you will genuinely do a better job at all that other stuff in your life's to-do list.

If you stay committed to this creative space, if you feed that creativity and you make progress there, you will do better in all of these other aspects of your life. So if you've blocked out two hours to photograph part of a photo story that you're working on, the not is the most urgent, most important thing on your list for that time period, stay focused on it. And finally, a third problem that pops up is that tasks from earlier in the day run late and your focus period gets cut short, or it gets bumped from the schedule entirely. Well, just like we already talked about, you have to commit to yourself that your focus period is the most urgent and the most important thing happening in that time slot. So if other tasks run late, you may need to stop the mid-stride and then go and complete your focus period work, and then return to that task. It's not easy, but you've made a commitment to zero in on this creative thing during this focused creative time. So keep your commitments to your creativity.

Now, 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 we've outlined here, you will be able to accomplish more creative work. That means you're able to carve out more time to do what you really love, whether that is picking up your camera and getting outside and using it, or sitting down with your images and really spending time on them or going through your archive of work and seeing how you've improved, whatever it may be. You truly make progress on that creative work and focus periods, work wonderfully for all kinds of things inside of your days to do list, which might free up more time for you to get out and go out with your camera. So try it, let me know how it goes. And remember, I have a goodie waiting for you at jaymih.com/59. My downloadable day planner has gone through many iterations, as I figured out what works best for me. And there's a very good chance. It will work wonders for you. So grab that at jaymih.com/59. And meanwhile, I'll talk to you next week.

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