Productivity for Photographers: Evening Routine

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on December 18, 2015

in This is Business

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“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

The first question people ask me when I talk about my evening routine is:

Wait, don’t you mean morning routine?

I didn’t have a morning routine until I learned about evening routines. I thought you just set your alarm an hour or two early then exercised herculean discipline to not hit snooze and roll over…two times…okay, seven times…

Like most of you fellow artists, I’ve always been a night owl.

And I’ve tested almost every method of balancing sleep and life (except polyphasic sleep).

As a kid, I slept most of the day until the after-school cartoons would come on, do my homeschool work as efficiently as possible, then play video games all night. My parents thought there was surely something wrong with me. They even had me tested by the doctor for…what? A broken circadian rhythm?

As a teenager in public high school, I woke around 15 minutes before the bus came, skipped breakfast, slept on the bus and through first period History, played basketball until the sun went down then played video games until my eyes hurt.

Early in my career when I was young, single and mindlessly wandering, I’d go to work at noon, write and photograph to nine, then play Battlefield 2 until my coworkers showed up the next morning.

In sum, I’ve spent most of my life sleep-deprived.

Getting out of bed when that first alarm rings is still one of my biggest challenges in life.

But what a difference a morning makes.

When I follow my evening and morning routines:

  • My productivity on what truly matters (the Important but Not Urgent) goes gangbusters.
  • I feel rested, awake, sharp, and focused.
  • My alarm, while not beloved, becomes the sound of opportunity.
  • I have time to prep meals and hit the bike or gym, vastly improving my health and how I feel all day.
  • I’m able to start my day with motivation, through reading, audiobook, podcast or video.
  • I start each day with a series of victories, setting the tone for the rest of the day.
  • I feel in control of my day, my choices, and my life.

The morning hours, when most of the world is still asleep, are magical in their power. I’m fresh. I have a full stock of energy, peace, and willpower. I’ve not yet become drained, distracted and reactionary from the ever-pressing needs of the world.

My mornings are my best time.

Even as a lifelong night owl.

One of the worst ways I fooled myself early in my career was believing my late night hours were my most creative and productive.

Oh, I read a lot of blogs, played around with a bunch of Photoshop actions and tutorials. I watched lots of educational videos. I processed and reprocessed thousands of photographs.

But I didn’t realize I was working almost exclusively on the Not Urgent and Not Important.

I was busy, but not productive.

I wasn’t creating value; I was neither making valuable things nor making myself more valuable.

Schedule It

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

What gets scheduled gets done.

Especially early on, commit to maintaining your evening routine every single night.

There are few things harder to do in life than build a new habit without daily practice. This makes new habits easier, just like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, leaving for work on time, and the route your drive to and from the office. They’re mindless routines at this point, right? To make good habits this easy, you need to give your new, better, story-changing habits the consistency they need to take hold.

The more you do it, the easier it gets.

(And no joke, I am one of the most rebelliously cynical people when it comes to these kinds of commitments, even though I know from over-and-over-again experience that this is the best way to build a better life.)

  • Put your evening routine on your calendar for every night at the same time.
  • Start your evening routine at whatever time you need to get it all done before lights-out time. Early on, give yourself half-as-much-again time as you think you’ll need. Give yourself the best odds for early wins.
  • If your evening routine involves any electronics (journaling, a look at your calendar, updating your to-do list), schedule that first in your routine. You want as much off-screen time as possible before lights-out.
  • Lights-out means lights-out: no book light, no phone or tablet, no television. Close your eyes, rest your mind and body, and let sleep come. If you suffer some insomnia (even several nights into your new routine – and getting up early each day), check out Tim Ferriss’ suggestions for what works best for him: 1, 2, 3, 4. More tips here from Michael Hyatt.
  • Ask your family for help. My kids go to bed at the same time I start my evening routine. When there’s a straggler – usually the 5-year-old – my wife is wonderful about tending the flock while I get into my evening routine and off to sleep. (protip: I often start my evening routine with my kids, listening to a good audiobook in the dark while everyone gets settled in for the night. Their favorite and mine for positive bedtime listening is Zig Ziglar’s How To Stay Motivated.)
  • Commit, even if you’re hesitant. Until you test how these routines affect your energy and productivity, you don’t know what you’re missing. Give this the investment of time, patience, and effort it deserves – it may be what you’ve needed all along to make progress toward your dreams.

My Evening Routine

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” – Jim Rohn

My routine won’t necessarily look like your routine, just like my art, business, marketing, sense of humor, and life won’t look like yours either.

Experiment and measure what works uniquely for you.

Here’s what works for me:

8:00 p.m. – I get my kids off to bed and start my evening routine. I jump on the computer and write a quick journal entry for the evening. How do I feel? What’s on my mind? What three things am I grateful for from today?

8:10 p.m. – Consider my calendar and to-do list for tomorrow. Often this is just a glance at what’s coming up, blocking any time I need to prep for upcoming commitments, and making sure my to-do list has purposeful, progress-making baby steps on it. (I live by my Google Calendar.)

8:20 p.m. – Wash up, brush my teeth, and floss.

8:30 p.m. – Lay down and read by book light or Kindle Paperwhite. I don’t avoid non-fiction at bedtime like some folks suggest, but I do know what books I have to avoid: those that give me so many great ideas and action steps that I can’t stop dog-earing, highlighting, and brainstorming from.

9:00 p.m. – Lights out.

A few tips:

  • I use a simple Chrome extension for my timer. It helps me stick to the budgeted time for computer work during my routines, and to apply the Pomodoro technique when I’ve got some ugly frogs to eat.
  • I never do this routine perfectly, but I do a good job at getting close. It’s not about perfection, it’s about taking imperfect action toward my dreams. I sometimes blow the whole routine. I sometimes get ornery and rebellious and stay up until midnight, then hate myself at work the next morning. But then I return violently to my routine.
  • Cheat your way to consistency. Leave yourself sticky-note reminders. Don’t ignore your daily calendar reminder. Give yourself extra time. Ask a friend to call or text you every day for a while to help you stay honest.
  • If you’re like me, you have a problem with feeling bad when you feel good. Anyone who knows that feeling knows what I’m talking about here. It is 100-percent okay to take care of yourself. The list of things you can (and feel like you should) be doing for everyone else is endless. You will never get to your needs if you don’t get your needs to the top of that list. If you’re a people-pleaser, this is a big step, but you have to give yourself the care and fuel you need so you have a full tank when it comes time to serve your family, friends, clients, and community. They deserve your best, and to give it, you have to feel well taken care of. That will always start with you.
  • The Resistance is going to do everything it can to make you think this is stupid, a waste of time, selfish, not for you, not worth trying for. Know this in advance, and fight back when distraction and discouragement creep in.

Do This, Not That

“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” – Wayne Dyer

When I began practicing my evening routine:

  • I stopped staying up late with low-yield activities, and started waking up with energy and kicking butt at high-yield work. I used to stay up late getting nothing important done, wasting time on brainless work because by day’s end I had no energy or willpower left to do what mattered…only what was easy and ‘looked’ productive.
  • I stopped hating mornings, and started getting real work done. Those first 10 minutes post-alarm are still super hard to push through, but once I do, the value of my entire day is multiplied. I get more important things done with greater ease, peace, patience, and clarity, all day long. I have more mental and emotional padding, I’m less reactionary, and not to be discounted, I’m flat out more happy.
  • I stopped dragging out my nights with braindead “relaxation,” and started investing in rich re-creation. No more reality TV, cooking shows, or Facebook into the wee hours. I don’t need to relax so much now that I’m getting the sleep my body and brain need, and when I do relax, I can do so hardcore: long walks or bike rides, coffee in a bookstore, a great movie, a favorite book.
  • I stopped having excuses of “not enough time” for the important stuff, and started getting things done that I’m proud of. There are few greater feelings of victory than walking of out the gym, sweaty and the best kind of sore, at 6 a.m. “I can’t” and the ten-thousand diseased excuses it breeds just goes out the window. And “I can” is damn powerful mojo.
  • I stopped believing myself to be a hopeless night owl, and started claiming agency over my life. I can have control over my life when I Do The Work – on my work, my art, my business, and my self. When I do the work to maintain and honor my evening routine, I earn access to one of the most powerful tools in life: the morning routine (the next post in this series).

Evening Routine For Photographers

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

How does having an evening routine (and the earlier morning it enables) help you as a part time professional photographer?

When I surveyed you awesome PTP readers earlier this year, Time was the second biggest challenge holding you back behind Confidence and ahead of Money.

What if you could get more important, dream-enabling work done in those morning hours than you do the whole rest of the day?

Are you getting almost ZERO work done on your art or business, because you don’t have time?

What if the reason you’re making so little progress is because you’re stacking all the odds against yourself?

What if always putting your dream off to “later” is leaving you doing your most important work when you have the most distractions and the lowest energy?

What if you dedicated the most valuable and productive hours of your day – your mornings – to doing the important work that will change your story for the better as a professional photographer?

Listen:

It is almost impossible to earn those morning hours if you don’t set yourself up for success the evening prior.

It’s almost impossible to do the same amount of important work after your day job as before it, because in the mornings, you’re fresh off a good rest, your willpower fuel tank is topped off, and the rest of life hasn’t yet savaged your attention, time, spirit, or energy.

Why are you investing your best hours toward someone else’s success?

Guarantee your dream gets the best of you by preparing for success every evening.

This is Part 2 of my series: 9 practices to increase your productivity as a professional photographer

Read more here:

1. Essentialism
2. Evening Routine
3. Morning Routine
4. Mindfulness
5. Five Minutes
6. Kaizen
7. Time Blocking
8. What Gets Scheduled Gets Done
9. Imperfect Action

Like this series? Subscribe at the top-right of any page of this site to get all of my best stories and ideas in your Inbox.

Next Steps

  • Start Tonight: Tonight is the first step toward adopting story-changing evening and morning routines. Go to bed early. Get off-screen time. Get a workout sometime during the day, which will help you sleep better tonight. Give yourself time to relax and then close your eyes and let sleep come. Get yourself a solid eight hours of sleep (everyone has different sleep needs, so you’ll need to experiment here), get up early tomorrow, and make productive use of the extra time. If you need a nap midday, take 15. If you hit snooze in the morning, you’re making it that much harder to fall asleep on time at night. Don’t sabotage your own success.
  • Cheat: Cheat your way to habit. If getting up early to work on your dream doesn’t motivate you (maybe you don’t know what your next step is, or you haven’t articulated your Why, or you lack confidence because you don’t yet identify as a professional photographer), cheat like hell: roll out of bed, hit the bathroom, the do something that delights you. Play your favorite video game (Rogue Legacy is an outstanding game to wake up to), read a fun novel, eat your favorite sinfully-delicious breakfast pastry, watch an episode of an awesome TV series, take a hot bath with scented candles, go for a brisk walk or bike ride… Anything that you normally have to ‘steal’ time for. Pamper yourself; reward yourself in these early morning hours, at least to start. As your evening routine and an earlier wake time become habit, you can shift your morning routine to more purposeful and productive actions.
  • Brainstorm Session: Get out your pen and paper. What would you do if you had an extra two hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, to work on your health, art, business, and dreams? That’s equivalent to over 18 WORKWEEKS A YEAR. How would your life, your happiness, be different? What if you could earn those two hours a day just by trading in your low-yield, low-energy, low-production late evening hours?
  • Subscribe Today: It’s my calling to help you earn your first $5,000 to $50,000 as a part time professional photographer. Don’t miss out on my best stories and ideas: subscribe to my e-mail newsletter today at the top-right of any page of this site.
  • 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.

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