Productivity for Photographers: Morning Routine

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on December 31, 2015

in This is Art,This is Business,This is Life

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“We hit the snooze button and resist the inevitable act of waking up, unaware that our resistance is sending a message to the universe that we’d rather lie there in our beds—unconscious—than consciously and actively live and create the lives we say that we want.” – Hal Elrod

What would you do with an extra 2 hours a day?

Two hours a day adds up to 18 workweeks a year.

How would your life – your health, your art, your business, your happiness – be different if someone handed you that kind of time to invest in yourself and your dreams? If your boss said, “Here James Michael, I want to give you the next 18 weeks off so you can make your life awesome – the very best it can be.”

Here it is, plain:

You need to go to bed two hours earlier, and get up two hours earlier than you are right now.

(I can hear you screaming “Impossible!” all the way from here in Goldthwaite, Texas.)

To anyone who hasn’t experienced it, the differences are profound.

Why are you dedicating your most powerful, focused, productive hours to everything EXCEPT your dream?

When all of your energy goes to rushing and reacting and meeting other people’s ever-urgent needs, you have nothing left to invest in changing your life for the better.

I can’t tell you how many years I spent staying up late, getting up late, rushing through my morning, resenting my work, being distracted around my family, and letting my dreams slip to “tomorrow” day after day after day. Maybe I’d steal a few hours on the weekend, or holidays. I was always playing catch-up; never satisfied, never feeling like I was where I was supposed to be. Not at work, not at home.

So much stress exists in our lives because we’re constantly out of alignment.

When we’re at work, we feel like we should be with our family. When we’re with our family, we feel like we should be working on our passion project. Then when we finally find or force the time to work on our dreams, we’re exhausted, stressed, distracted, even resentful.

With that misalignment constantly grinding against our hearts and heads and spirits, it’s no wonder we’re stressed out and seeking any distraction we can find.

Facebook. Netflix. Video games.

(All of which can be healthy recreation, so long as your dreams and priorities and life are already well-served.)

By day’s end, we’re spent.

So we default to the easy and low-yield. A couple hours of Call of Duty or Top Chef while scrolling through an endless sea of social media (scientifically proven to cause depression).

The average American watches five hours of television per day. That same ‘average American’ plays almost an hour of video games per day.

It’s not that these activities are bad – all work and no play makes James Michael a dull boy.

But what if we flipped the script, and you and I spent five or six hours a day working passionately and productively toward our dreams?

Hell, what if we could score just one hour each day to work on our dreams?

Zig Ziglar quotes a study of the typical American factory:

The average factory line worker watched an average of 30 hours of television each week.

The person in charge of the line watched 25 hours.

The foreman watched 20 hours.

The VP watched 12-15 hours.

The president watched 8-12 hours.

The chairman of the board watched an average of 4-8 hours of television each week, with 50 percent of that time spent watching training videos.

The trend is obvious. Some invest their time in distraction, some in growth. That growth leads to success – personal, professional, social, and financial.

Recreation (from the Latin re: “again”, and creare: “to create, bring forth” – important to consider) is powerful and necessary. But it should be purposeful, and in service to your dreams first; not in place of the work that makes those dreams come true.

Why practice early rising and a purposeful morning routine?

Because it’s “the big secret” to success you’ve been searching and wishing for.

If your life is rocking, if you feel purposeful and productive and on track, toss my advice like a hot potato: as always, this is your business, your art, your life, and you’re in control.

If not, allow me to double-dog-dare you to test this for 30 days and see if your life isn’t changed for the better.

What Makes Mornings So Powerful?

“Never forget that who you are becoming is the single most important determining factor in your quality of life, now and for your future.” – Hal Elrod

It’s not the numbers on the clock that make the difference between early morning and the rest of each day.

It’s what is, and isn’t, found during those hours.

The early morning hours empower you with:

  • TIME: When you shift your sleeping hours ahead by two hours, recognize: you’re not losing a minute of sleep, nor a minute of waking hours. You’re trading your least energetic, least empowered, unproductive late evening hours for two hours of purposeful, powerful, focused early morning hours. This is the time you’ve so desperately sought to Do The Work and make your dreams come true.
  • ENERGY: I spent most of my life identifying as a “night owl.” I loathed mornings. But I can now attribute 100 percent of this to late nights (refusing to give up the computer screen), too little sleep, poor diet, non-existent exercise, the limiting belief that I hated mornings, and having no Next Steps ready so I could go straight from bed to important work. Now that I practice better health habits and a consistent evening routine, my morning hours are by far my most energetic. I often wake with exciting ideas already stirring in my mind, refusing to let me go back to sleep, even if I wanted to. (An awesome problem to have.)
  • WILLPOWER: Scientists have solidly determined that your willpower is like a fuel tank, and with every decision or temptation or challenge, your willpower drains throughout the day. That’s why it’s so hard to do high-yield, challenging (if purposeful) work late in the evening. By the time you’re home from your day job, you’re spent.
  • FOCUS: Every person has the same 24 hours in a day. How come so few get amazing things done, and the rest “never have time” to tend their health, art, or dreams? Essentialism: they focus on high-yield, important, long-game activities. The Important but Not Urgent. With every text message, phone call, e-mail, family request, coworker problem, boss demand, client displeasure, messed up fast food order, second of traffic, doctor appointment, parent-teacher meeting, Facebook notification, trip to the gas pump… Your focus is being stolen. You face more distraction and carry more mental and emotional baggage as the day goes on. Sleep is The Big-Arse Reset Button. Every morning is a fresh start, especially early morning when the rest of the world is still sleeping.
  • VICTORY: Rising early is a victory in itself. Everything you get done in your morning hours is a victory. Practicing your morning routine is a victory. Can you honestly say right now that you felt victorious on your drive to work this morning? Odds are you snoozed the alarm, woke late, rushed through the shower and a thoughtless breakfast, then cursed traffic and your job and the universe all the way to your desk. That never feels like victory. But this is exactly how most of us start our days, and live our lives – always behind, always out of alignment, always distracted and disgruntled, never present, never feeling like we’re where we should be. When you take back your mornings, it sets the tone (and your attitude, and thus your experience of life) for the rest of the day.
  • SOLUTIONS: When you steep your subconscious in your passion work each morning, your mind goes to work on creative ideas and solutions to problems while you go about the rest of your day. This is why your best ideas come to you in the shower, on a run or bike ride, or while doing something completely unrelated to your problem. Prime the pump of your subconscious each morning by spending time working on your dreams.

Your best energy, willpower, and focus are all found in the first hours of the day.

Stop rushing through this time and giving it all away; if you don’t choose how you spend your time, someone else will.

Shift your hours to the early morning, get important work done, and leave what’s left for everything else in your life.

But What About My Job? My Family? My Friends?

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu

If you don’t feel like you’re kicking arse at your dreams, then I’d bet a dollar to a donut that you aren’t kicking arse at your job, or with your family or friends.

I’m not saying you’re a bad employee, mom or dad, or friend.

But I’d wager you don’t feel like the best employee, parent, or friend you could be.

You have a problem with alignment.

And when your life is out of balance, out of alignment, it’s nearly impossible to be present and to know peace. The people you love just want your presence; when you’re with them, they want to feel like you’re there, and that there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.

When you start your day with progress toward your dreams, your heart and mind are opened up to the rest of life. You no longer feel out of place, out of time, disgruntled, distracted, or resentful.

Our day jobs are demanding. Our families are demanding. Our friends are demanding.

Not in a bad, selfish way – just in the attention they all need to feel and be honored.

It’s impossible to serve those needs with your best self when you never make the time to serve your own needs. And a big part of your needs as an artist and business owner is doing work in service of your dreams.

There is zero chance you’re reading these words right now if becoming a professional photographer is NOT important to you.

You’ve passed the test.

And now it’s time to commit – to yourself, and to your dream.

Why You’ve Never Succeeded At Rising Early

“We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” – U.S. Army

I tried a thousand times to become an early riser. I read about the benefits in books and blogs, heard countless examples of the super-successful and their morning routines.

Maybe one out of every four tries, I’d get up with my first alarm.

And every single time, I’d give up the next morning.

Then Michael Hyatt hit me with a baseball bat.

He talked about his Evening Routine.

Not just “go lay in bed and toss and turn until your normal bedtime” horsesh*t, but actual actions you could take and rituals to adopt that made going to bed earlier – and getting up earlier – not just possible, but pleasurable.

Since I started committing to a regular evening routine, no matter how imperfect my practice of it is, I’ve learned to fall asleep earlier, sleep better, and get up in the morning refreshed and ready to make good (sometimes great) things happen.

Quit trying to “just get up earlier.” That’s brutality. Sacrificing sleep by just setting your alarm two hours earlier and doing none of the other things you need to support that early morning is physiological and psychological terrorism. It makes you hate life, hate yourself, hate mornings, hate your job, hate everyone who talks to you, and even hate your own dreams. It’s misery.


Just… Stop.

Stop trying to brute force positive change in your life.

You’re doing this because you want to, because you choose to.

Practice an evening routine that makes early mornings not just possible, but easy, empowering, and fun.

My Morning Routine

“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” ~ Aristotle

There is no perfect routine for everyone, but here’s mine:

5 a.m. – Teeth, Gym Clothes, Breakfast Shake (Athletic Greens and 30g protein from Optimum Nutrition Whey), Coffee or Tea

5:30 a.m. – Gym or bike ride, alternating strength work and cardio work

6 a.m. – Meditation, Affirmations, Visualization, Writing

7 a.m. – Shower and shave

7:30 a.m. – Prepping for day job work and motivational reading or audiobook

7:55 a.m. – Off to work!

A few tips:

  • I love coffee, and I love tea. I try to alternate each day, but especially on weekends and holidays I love to start my day with a good cup of coffee to get my energy right. My relationship with making coffee has vastly improved with my wife’s gift of a small, simple, one-cup Keurig. When I drink tea, I’ll usually enjoy caffeine-free rooibos (Texas Gold variety).
  • I’m a big skeptic when it comes to the benefits claimed by most supplements, but Athletic Greens came on Tim Ferriss’ recommendation. It seems expensive, but I can’t lie: I can absolutely feel the difference now that I take greens daily. I truly believe I have better health, more energy, get sick less, get less sick when I’m sick, stay sick for less time, sleep and wake easier, have less pain and stiffness, and just feel so much better than before I started taking greens. In the past decade I’ve tried to stay consistent with eating a wide variety of vegetables to get the same benefits, as well as drinking kombucha for the probiotic benefits and eating kimchi for the prebiotic support, but I’ve always found that effort mentally exhausting. I still eat a variety of veg, but Athletic Greens has made fueling my body so simple (and the results so tangible) that I can’t deny its value.
  • I used to think I had to work out for an hour to get any benefit from exercise. Which of course meant I never exercised. With a sedentary day job and lifestyle, I could go days – maybe weeks – without doing anything to break a sweat. My personal morning routine includes a half hour of exercise, and I get a heck of a workout in in that time. You can get a lot done in five, ten minutes, if that’s all you have. Doubt it? Try doing five minutes of burpees straight – you’ll feel the burn. If nothing else, take a brisk five- or ten-minute walk. Move your bones. Get your blood flowing and oxygen to your brain. Do some pushups. Do some air squats. A little bit can go a long way; not only does this practice change your physical body, it changes your mental state as well.
  • Your workouts don’t have to suck, either. I’m blessed in that I naturally love to hit the gym or bike. But I taught myself to hate exercise early on because I thought I had to do too much, and that I had to do a specific, perfect routine. Do this, then this, then that, for this many reps in this way with this count and breathe right here but not there! and… What a drag. I fell back in love with working out when I stopped trying to be perfect at it. Just show up. Have fun. Feeling the treadmill today? Hit it! Elliptical? Glide on. Free weights instead? Get pumped. Want to use the machines instead? Push (and pull) it. Just have fun with it and let go of the perfectionism. Over time you’ll learn more, balance your workouts better, and focus on the specific benefits you want from your workouts. But early on, dump all the responsibility and mental effort and just go have fun.
  • Quit being skeptical and start experimenting and gathering feedback. I sabotaged my success in art, business, and life for years because I was always skeptical of this advice versus that. It was The Resistance, disguised as discernment, allowing my perfectionism to feed me excuse after excuse after excuse to “research more” and do not-a-damn-thing. Learn, then take violent action on what you’ve learned: immediately, tangibly, and with bold commitment.
  • See below for my tips on meditation, affirmations, visualization, and writing or journaling.

My morning routine is a Frankenstein mix of guidance from Tim Ferriss, Michael Hyatt, and Hal Elrod’s SAVERS system.

Speaking of which…

A Perfectly Imperfect System

“Don’t trick yourself into thinking your situation is permanent. That’s how it becomes permanent.” – Michael Hyatt

Copy Michael Hyatt.

Copy me.

Copy Tim Ferriss.

Or, best, get a copy of Hal Elrod’s fantastic The Miracle Morning.

His SAVERS system (along with Michael Hyatt’s encouragement) was just the inspiration and structure I needed to finally become an early riser.

S: Silence. Meditation. I use the Headspace app for easy, enjoyable guided meditation.

A: Affirmations. The age-old self-help trick of affirming the best of yourself. Invaluable because it keeps you from getting distracted from your unique and wonderful Why. I keep mine in a starred Evernote note so I can read them off my phone every morning, and change them up as I change. The world has a bad habit of getting you down, about yourself and about life. Affirmations are the inoculation you need to stay positive and on the path.

V: Visualization. Reinforcing your Why. What would your perfect day look like? If you had financial freedom, what would you do with your time? If you had location freedom, where would you be? What tools would you enjoy using to make your art? What would it be like to work with only ideal clients whom you adore? What would you do today if you weren’t scared? Like Olympic-level athletes, close your eyes and really visualize yourself being your best self and living your most perfect vision of life.

E: Exercise. Get your blood flowing. Get oxygen to your brain. Get a little health victory early in the day, to set the tone for the rest. Reinforce to yourself that you are conscious and purposeful in your health and wellness choices. I use the Sworkit app for quick, easy, variable, and short bodyweight exercises. Yoga is another great option.

R: Reading. Feed your mind, creativity, inspiration, and motivation. Give your subconscious good material to ponder on throughout the day. If you need a place to start, try Peace Is Every Step or The Practicing Mind for peace and presence, How To Stay Motivated for motivation, Essentialism for focus, Start With Why or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for purpose.

S: Scribe, or journaling. Write to get everything that’s bouncing around your mind and weighing on your spirit down to paper. Get it out of your system. Brain dump. Your mind will desperately try to hold on to everything it thinks it needs to remember and figure out until you put that mental noise in a safe place where the brain can let go. (How many of you awesome PTP readers have written me an e-mail and at the end said, “Wow, just writing this down has made me feel so much better.” Make this a part of your daily practice and multiply the benefits times 365.)

You can customize anyone’s system to make it your own and serve your unique personality and needs, but you will enjoy so much more success faster if you adopt a proven system to start with.

Not knowing what to do will kill your morning motivation.

You’ll waste all of the energy and willpower you earned by getting up early just figuring out what to do with your time.

Take imperfect action. Fend off perfectionism. Allow some blind faith, and follow the system of someone you respect. You can break it apart and rebuild it to a custom fit later, but especially at the start when every little win is so important, give yourself the best odds of success by copying someone else’s successful routine.

And give yourself grace.

This is just practice.

You’re just practicing being a better you, becoming an early riser, getting good stuff done early and starting your day with victory.

There’s no perfection to achieve, no optimal system.

You’ll do great some days. You’ll blow it on others. But now you’re aware, you’re wiser, you’re empowered. Next time you snooze your alarm to the last possible second, you’ll now know why (stayed up too late, didn’t honor your evening routine, didn’t plan your morning to-do’s, didn’t reinforce your Why…). And you’ll know what to fix tonight for a win tomorrow.

Now, you’re not living by distraction and reaction; you’re living by presence and proactive choice.

Morning Routine For Photographers

“Life’s too short” is repeated often enough to be a cliché, but this time it’s true. You don’t have enough time to be both unhappy and mediocre. It’s not just pointless; it’s painful. – Seth Godin

The first hour of your morning routine is all about you; about giving you the mental, physical, and spiritual fuel you need to be your best self.

The second hour of your morning routine serves your dreams, your passion project, your side hustle.

This is where you get to get important work done not just on yourself, but on your photography and business. This is the time you were looking for when you told me through my reader survey that, behind confidence and ahead of money, you needed more time to invest in growing your art and business acumen.

After an hour of self-care and self-betterment each morning, you’ll be like a thoroughbred ready to break out of the gate and race. You will get more done in this second hour of your morning than you’ll get done the rest of the day.

(Although with the kind of energy and motivation you’ll get from this kind of morning, you’re likely to have a kick-arse day all day long. The benefits only multiply.)

What you’ll do with this power hour depends on where you’re at in your photography journey.

  • You can work on your Identity as a professional photographer, growing your confidence and defining your ‘voice‘ as a working artist.
  • You can work on getting legal, researching your DBA, sales tax permit, income and expense records and reporting, and liability insurance.
  • You can work on your launch, setting your startup prices and policies, defining your ideal client, and determining how you’ll market yourself to them.
  • You can actively market your business: craft a marketing campaign, build your graphic pieces for it, schedule your social media and photo blog support, list potential co-op partners, run a contest, work your PR contacts, survey your clients or market, A/B split test your headlines, offer, promotions, copy, and landing pages, or take action on any of the countless ways to effectively and efficiently market your business (which is just connecting the dots between the value you offer and those who would be most blessed by it).
  • You can study and practice your art, mastering one technique or pose or setup or style or lighting or any of the factors that make for a great, salable portrait. Don’t forget the practice: figure you’ll retain 10% of what you read and 100% of what you practice, so your time is ten times more effective when you put what you’re learning into use. Learning is priceless, but you may as well be pouring water into a broken cup if you don’t take what you’re learning and apply it to your art and business with violent immediacy and commitment.

Not sure what to do next? E-mail me today, tell me where you’re at in your journey and where you feel stuck, and I’ll help you get back on the path to progress.

Do This, Not That

“I wanted Level 10 success, but my level of personal development was at about a two; maybe a three or a four on a good day.” – Hal Elrod

When I began practicing my morning routine:

  • I stopped sleeping in and starting my day with feelings of failure, and started taking advantage of my morning time to put wins on the board while the rest of the world was still asleep.
  • I stopped my limiting belief that I was a night owl, and started getting important, productive, progress-making work done to start my day.
  • I stopped committing hours of my life to low-yield distractions like drama series and cooking shows in the evening, and started getting those hours back with high-yield work on my dreams in the morning.
  • I stopped going to my day job mad and resentful, and started being present and grateful at work because I’d already made tangible progress toward my dreams that morning.
  • I stopped wishing I was somewhere else all the time, and started living in the present at my job, and with my wife, kids, and friends. All this because I started my day with victory, with self-care, with progress toward the dreams that are so important to me, putting me in a place of alignment for the entire day.
  • I stopped never having time for healthy eating and exercise, and started prepping meals and energizing my entire day with a great workout every morning.
  • I stopped letting my dreams slip to “tomorrow” day after day, and started making real, powerful, measurable progress up the mountain of success.
  • I stopped feeling like I was fighting with life, and started dancing with it instead.

I’m telling you, no matter how loudly The Resistance is screaming in your head that this is impossible, that you’ll never be an early riser, that you HATE mornings and will never ever stick to a morning routine and like it, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Every failure you’ve experienced with becoming an early riser is tied tightly to a lack of support.

By way of stubbornness or ignorance (again, give yourself grace), you haven’t given yourself what you need to have the best odds at an awesome early morning.

That changes right now.

Set an alarm for tonight to start your evening routine before bed.

And set an alarm to rise equally early tomorrow.

Commit, persevere, have faith, and test the results over the next 30 days.

Just think about it:

Two hours a day. Eighteen workweeks of time a year. Is the leap of faith, the challenging of your limiting beliefs, the effort to try not worth it?

What dreams can you make reality with this kind of time, energy, focus, and willpower on your side?

Let your imagination run, then set your alarm, and make it possible.

“Our outer world will always be a reflection of our inner world. Our level of success is always going to parallel our level of personal development. Until we dedicate time each day to developing ourselves into the person we need to be to create the life we want, success is always going to be a struggle to attain.” – Jim Rohn

This is Part 3 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

  • SLOW DOWN: This is a massive post because this is a massively powerful change you can make in your life. Becoming an early riser and practicing a purposeful morning routine has been one of those most powerful changes I’ve made to better my life. I can’t emphasize the point enough: this is powerful, powerful stuff. Take the time to go back through this post, and craft your own list of action items and next steps.
  • START TODAY: Start with setting an alarm for tonight, three hours before you usually go to sleep. Take that first hour to practice your evening routine. Set another alarm for tomorrow morning, two hours earlier than you usually rise. Maybe save this for a weekend when you don’t have anything big going on. That’ll let you snag an afternoon nap (try for just 15-20 minutes) and help your body ease into this new sleep schedule. But commit, stay consistent, test for 30 days, and see if you aren’t getting more, and more important, things done toward your best life and your dreams of becoming a professional photographer.
  • RTFM: Seriously: Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning is THE manual to becoming an early riser. It’s a super-fun read, Hal’s personality is fantastic, the writing is excellent and inspiring, and I can’t even begin to cover in one blog post all the methods he presents to make early rising and morning rituals easy, fun, effective, and sustainable. This is the kind of investment will change the story of the rest of your life.
  • BRAINSTORM SESSION: Get out your pen and paper. I’ll bet you didn’t do this exercise from my Evening Routine post, so I’ll offer it again (this Why, this vision, is important enough to bear repeating): 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?
  • 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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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah January 11, 2016 at 12:15 am

This is exactly ME! Thanks you for articulating it so clearly…. As I stay up way too late reading photography blogs….


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor January 11, 2016 at 6:20 pm

My pleasure Sarah, thanks so much for your readership!

Shift those hours from late evening to early morning. I absolutely know how hard it is – it’s no lie that I never, EVER thought I could be a morning person. But I’m now consistently up before the sun, and I get more good work done in that time than anywhere else in my life. It’s been a complete game-changer for me.

Anything you can do at 10 p.m. (or 11 p.m., or 1 a.m.), you can do at 6 a.m., or 5 a.m.

Test it.

You don’t know what you don’t know (I sure didn’t!) until you experiment and earn feedback.

I hope it is as much a blessing to your life and work as it has been to mine! Keep me posted and let me know how it turns out for you!


Kiko November 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

James Michael,

I loved this post! It reaffirmed my thoughts on this subject which I’ve practiced but never committed to. What lead me to it is that I want to be more serious about it now that I realize how important it is. Any advice for someone like me who works a restaurant job at night with fluctuating off times? Some days I can apply commitment to an earlier bed time, other times it’s impossible.



Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor March 2, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Thanks so much Kiko! I’d say test by fire – just start booking shoots for the times you do have available, and start seeing how that affects your sleep and energy. Odds are, if you love your photography work, you’ll actually enjoy more energy just from having a shoot booked! This makes getting to bed earlier and out of bed earlier much, much easier.


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