There are a smidge over 85 million productivity tips on the Internet.
(I Googled, just to be sure.)
There’s a trap here:
When confronted with overwhelming options, what do our brains do?
We lose focus, we lose inspiration, and we fall back on routine.
“What got you here won’t get you there.” – Marshall Goldsmith
Success boiled down to its most base practice becomes habit. What we do daily lays stone in the foundation of our dreams.
When I asked you awesome PTP readers to describe what’s holding you back, Time was well behind Confidence and a step ahead of Money.
I sat down and identified the 9 most powerful practices I employ daily to enjoy peace and productivity while balancing family, friends, day job, photography, business, writing, coaching, and re-creation.
Kicking off this nine-week series with practice numero uno:
No amount of recovered time or increased productivity matters if you don’t get important things done.
The Covey Quadrants give you a visual method to judge actions and reactions: Urgent to Not Urgent, Important to Unimportant. The story-changing stuff happens in the Important but Not Urgent quadrant; getting practice behind the camera, handshake marketing, volunteering, self-care, healthy meal planning and prep, physical activity, meditation – all the things we know we’d benefit from if we did them, but we rarely prioritize.
Because of other people’s urgency, their crises become our crises if we let them. This is where the Urgent and Unimportant meet, and where we spend the vast majority of our time. This is where we live a reactionary, stagnant, disappointing life.
The practice of Essentialism – and this is all just practice, there is no perfection to achieve here – is the pattern-interrupt I needed to get off the hamster wheel of life.
You practice saying No. You practice defaulting to No for everything except those rare opportunities that come along where your heart screams, “Hell yes!” You create margin in your life so you can breathe, so you can think, so you can grow and act with purpose.
Have you ever felt overworked but underperforming? Are you busy all the time but make little to no tangible progress on your life goals?
Essentialism is the medicine you need.
Greg McKeown wrote the book on Essentialism. His is the most succinct explanation of the purpose and practice of Essentialism.
At its core, Essentialism has you ask of every investment of your time no matter how large or small, “Is what I’m doing the most productive, valuable use of my time?”
Here are some examples of how Essentialism looks like in my life:
Say No To Everything
I now say no to everything by default. Do I want to judge the county fair barbecue contest? No. Do I want to go to the movies Saturday? No. Do I have time to talk about XYZ report? No. Can I make the 10 a.m. meeting on cyber security? No.
Let me be clear: I’m not a horse’s arse about it. There are many ways to say No in a way that redirects the question or gives you breathing room to properly consider the request:
“Oh man, you’re killing me. I love barbecue; but the Fair is Saturday, right? I’d love to, but I have another commitment that I can’t get out of… I know, I’ll see if I can get out of it, but as of right now I have to say no. If that changes, I’ll get in touch with you.”
“Movies Saturday? I know I’ve got another commitment. Let me get on my calendar at the office tomorrow and see if I can move it around. I’ll let you know by lunchtime, is that alright?”
“I can’t right now, I’m elbows deep in Project ABC and if I let go it’s going to take me an hour to get back up to speed. E-mail me the report and your questions and I’ll get back to you faster, or we can schedule some time tomorrow; either way, e-mail me and I’ll take care of it.”
“Can you e-mail me the agenda for the meeting? I’m deep into Project ABC right now, and if I break away from it, it’s going to delay the project by that much time. Let me look at the agenda and get back to you this afternoon.”
Default to No. The more you do it, the more practice you get at deftly redirecting or declining the request. You can always defer to your schedule and blame previous commitments.
Your photography study and practice is a commitment.
Your gym time is a commitment.
Your “you time” is a commitment.
And it’s nobody’s business what your commitments are. You are committed to your self, a lifestyle of your design, and the dreams you’re working toward.
If you don’t choose what you do with your time, someone else will.
Learn so say No to the good so you can say Hell Yes to the great.
Do This, Not That
Once I took back my time by learning to say No to the unessential, I had to figure out what is essential to living my best life.
There’s low-hanging fruit in everyone’s lives: mine were television (so many great series on Netflix, so little time…), non-quality time with the family (usually in front of the TV again), and mindless scrolling through Facebook and Instagram.
- I stopped watching television, and I started watching classes and tutorials on CreativeLive and YouTube. Everyone learns differently, and different media engage different parts of our brains; don’t limit yourself to just books, just videos, or just podcasts.
- I stopped watching a dozen YouTube videos in a row without even thinking, and I started watching one video at a time and taking violent action based on what I learned (immediately practicing, testing, experimenting, changing, bettering, writing, sharing, growing).
- I stopped checking social media and living vicariously through my “friends,” and I started living a life worth talking about: meeting people, making art, collaborating with other artists and makers and dreamers, and using social media with pinpoint purpose to reinforce those real-world relationships (protip: “unfollow” everyone, then add back only the people who inspire, motivate, and change you) (protip #2: how about you only ‘check’ social media every time you have something awesome to share, first?).
- I stopped reading any book, and I started reading THE book; the book that holds the most promise for story-changing growth in my life as an artist, business owner, and human being. I love to read three books at one time, but they’re three exceptional books recommended by my heroes and mentors on topics I most need to make breakthroughs in my work and life. The Half Price Books clearance rack and local library book sales will fill your shelves with books that never change your life for the better – speaking from experience, here.
- I stopped reading blogs every day, and I started reading books to inform my art and business strategies, then referenced blogs for the most efficient and effective tactics to execute on those strategies. Instead of reading one book for every 50 to 100 blog posts I’d consume, I’m now enjoying one to three blog posts building upon every book I read.
- I stopped listening to every episode of a few podcasts, and I started listening to a few episodes of a lot of great podcasts. Kind of like with my books, I’ve become very picky about which episodes of which podcasts I listen to. It’s a consumer’s market: there are way more amazing podcasts out there than one person can listen to, so only listen to the very best episodes of the very best podcasts that change you for the better.
- I stopped listening mostly to podcasts, and I started listening evenly between podcasts and audiobooks. Like my shift from reading too many blogs and too few books, I’ve balanced my listening between the best of the best of the podcasts I love and audiobooks that extend my knowledge far deeper in the areas I’m trying to improve in my work and life.
- I stopped prioritizing everything but my health and wellness, and I started scheduling meal prep and exercise on my calendar and honoring those commitments like I would in service to anyone important in my life.
- I stopped spending mindless time with friends and family, and I started scheduling quality time with them. By now we all know that the quality of our relationships makes the biggest impact on our happiness and human beings. Going to dinner and the movies or playing video games with your besties is always a good time, but it’s too easy to default to these low-engagement, low-yield activities that eat up an entire Saturday night. Double-down on your activities: go hiking or take in a workout class together, cook a great meal together, road trip or travel together, go camping together, go hunting or fishing together, go volunteer together, and take your camera every single time. Make memories, not excuses.
- I stopped wasting my life on anything that I would regret on my death bed, and I started living a life I would be proud to look back on in my final days. As Dr. Stephen Covey teaches, start with the end in mind. What do you want written on your tombstone? What do you want people to say at your funeral? What will be the legacy that you leave behind? What should you do today – small, purposeful baby steps – to get closer to those life goals?
For my list of all the best books, podcasts, magazines, audiobooks, people and places I turn to to inform my life for the better, subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top-right of any page of this site and you’ll get your free copy of my eBook, The 101 Resources I Wish I Had When I Started As A Professional Photographer. If you’re already a subscriber, just drop me an e-mail and I’ll send you back a copy of my ebook.
This is Part 1 of my series: 9 practices to increase your productivity as a professional photographer
Read more here:
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- Read Up: Grab a copy of Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. The topics of productivity and making the best use of your time are age-old, but nothing has helped my adopt these vital changes in my life more than Greg’s book. He lays out the Why and How with wonderful, motivational clarity. It takes the concept from the clouds into our modern, to-do-list-driven lives.
- Clean The Slate: Go over your schedule and list every time commitment you’ve made outside of your day job responsibilities. List every project you’ve agreed to help with, every church play, every non-profit function, every weekly poker night, every social function, every party, every musician friend’s show… Everything. Now, what if you eliminated all of it and invested that time into making your dreams come true? Just look at the list, look at the time you’re spending on everything but your dreams, and consider the progress you could make if you had all that time back. I’m not saying volunteer work and poker nights aren’t important – I absolutely believe in the holistic cycle of creation and recreation – but rebuild your schedule from a clean slate, and work your way out of every commitment that isn’t truly serving your purposefully-designed life.
- Brainstorm Session: Get out your pen and paper. Taking inspiration from my Do This, Not That list above, in what arenas of your life can you upgrade how you invest your time? File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
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- Do This Now: What’s the biggest challenge holding you back today? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough.