Productivity For Photographers: What Gets Scheduled Gets Done

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on March 7, 2016

in This is Life

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“Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.” – Charles Richards

My photo client called me 10 minutes after our shoot was supposed to start.

And I was 20 minutes away.

In bed.

Asleep, until the phone rang.

Aaaarrrgggg; that sick feeling of “oh crap!

The couple and their two kids waited with saintly patience while I sprang out of bed and raced out the door. The next 15 miles between my country home and the city park where my clients waited were a blur.

You can imagine my embarrassment, and the four-letter words I spewed along the way.

Why Scheduling?

“The common man is not concerned about the passage of time, the man of talent is driven by it.” – Shoppenhauer

It’s one thing to blow an appointment with a client. As unprofessional as that is, it’s not going to change the course of your career as a professional photographer.

The real danger is blowing your appointment with life; with your art, your business, and your dreams.

Have you ever:

  • Gone weeks or months without touching your camera?
  • Gone to sleep fantasizing about your professional photography business, only to lay down the next night and realize you made zero progress toward that dream?
  • Gone to a conference or workshop, read a great blog or book, or heard an inspiring presentation, then done nothing with what you learned?

Listen, if you’re kicking arse at your art and business, tenaciously making progress, this post isn’t for you: you’re rocking it, you’re consistent, you’re on track, and you know it.

But if just reading the above words felt like a sickening gut punch, you know you need to break this pattern of dreaming and not doing.

Everything I’m writing about in this productivity series is crafted to help you end that cycle of suffering. I know how discouraging and defeating it feels to get nothing done toward your dreams – don’t let me fool you, I fight that battle too, and often. But I also know how it feels to fire on all cylinders, like doing 150 MPH in a ‘65 Coupe Deville on a long country road (thrilling, and terrifying).

One choice leads to another day (week? year?) of disappointment and wasted opportunity.

The other choice leads to the top of the mountain of success. It leads to the magical (but absolutely possible) place in life you dream of being.

Scheduling Won’t Kill Your Muse

“Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.” ― Helen Hanson

I hear your internal Resistance yelling from here…

“Don’t listen to this guy! You’re an artist, not a line worker – you can’t schedule creativity! You’ll kill the Muse! Murder! His sinister ideas will enslave you to a schedule. You may as well just keep your day job! You don’t need a schedule, you need to just keep doing what you’ve been doing. It’ll work this time… I promise…”

Henry Ford said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

I fought all these productivity practices for so many years, and I made little progress because of it. The human brain doesn’t thrive on unlimited freedom – it thrives on focus. The more you refuse to direct the river of your creative energy, the more thinly-spread and impotent that river becomes.

I just knew that scheduling, breaking projects down to baby steps, and hard deadlines would kill my muse. My creativity, and the joy I take in my art and business, would go down the toilet.

Quite the opposite.

I learned that fear of structure was just another face of The Resistance – another limiting belief that only held me back, instead of slingshotting me toward my dreams.

What I started to schedule, I started to get done.

And the more I got done – the more good, rich, tangible work I produced and shipped – the more energized and empowered I felt. Instead of locking down my creativity, introducing structure unleashed it. I began to experiment, and earn feedback. That feedback, that engagement with the world, became wonderfully addictive.

I finally found my mojo.

How I Practice Scheduling

“All the flowers of all of the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.” – Chinese Proverb

  • I went all-in with Google Calendar. My calendar is the center of my productivity universe. I capture and input every commitment into my calendar: photo shoots, follow-up phone calls, prep time, my morning routine, gym time, and the precious time blocks I invest into my art and business. David Allen in Getting Things Done taught me to get everything important out of my head and into a system I could rely on. Google Calendar (holding hands with Evernote) provides that system.
  • I commit without wavering. The number one reason you’re not making the progress you want with your art or business is because you’re not committing 100-percent to that progress. You’re not blocking off the time in your mornings, evenings, and/or weekends to get important work done. There is nothing easier to blow off than your passion work: it feels self-indulgent, even selfish, and unlike showing up at work or going home to your family, there’s no social or cultural pressure to keep you accountable to it. You have to commit to keep your productive time sacred.
  • I respect my dreams. If anyone in your life acknowledges and respects your passion work and the time you commit to it the way you do, you’re in the blessed minority. Most friends, spouses, bosses, and coworkers simply won’t understand why you can’t blow off your “hobby” to run errands, work this weekend, hang out, or take care of the honey-do list. Is your paycheck important? Is quality time with your kids important? Absolutely. And so is your dream of becoming a professional photographer, to the benefit of yourself, your family, your clients and your community.
  • I input everything. Anytime I commit to something that has a deadline or needs follow-up, I input it into Google Calendar on the spot. If I simply need to remember something – names, phone numbers, a conversation with a client, an idea, a great joke – I input it into Evernote. This one-two punch keeps my mind clear and free of unresolved loops. I can let go of what’s not important and focus on what is: the work, experience, or person right in front of me.
  • I schedule 90-minute time blocks. You can get a lot done in 90 minutes. Or 20 minutes. Or five minutes. My scheduling is a mixtape of Chase Jarvis’ 90-minute time blocks and to-do list, and Chris Brogan’s 20-minute plan Jumpstart. I always have a list of things I can get done in a five-minute break, and I break my projects down to 15- to 20-minute, progress-making baby steps. When I sit down to work, I know exactly what I can (and should) get started on. This kills procrastination. This kills time lost to easy timesucks like social media, Netflix, and “educational consumption.” And this kills regret, because every day I’m making measurable progress on important work. After battling a lifetime of fear, wasted time, missed opportunity, and regrets, it feels incredible.

Your potential is your path to a dream life – of artistic achievement, financial freedom, a joyous life. And every day you let that potential sit and rot is more time you’re putting between where you are today and where you dream of being.

You can have any life you want.

But you have to work for it.

What gets scheduled gets done.

Get off the hamster wheel, and schedule the time you need to make your dreams not just possible, but inevitable.

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” – H. Jackson Brown

This is Part 8 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

  • SCHEDULE PROGRESS: Step 1: Load Google Calendar. Step 2: Look at your calendar for the coming week, and schedule as many 90-minute time blocks as you can work in (you can’t learn work-passion-life balance until you get started). Step 3: Give your dream the respect it deserves, and commit fully to those appointments. Easily 80 percent of the people who read this post will say “This is great! I’m so doing this.” and then do not a damn thing. You dream of exceptional art, exceptional business, and an exceptional life – so by definition, you have to take steps most won’t. You’re here. You’re able. Schedule progress, and be exceptional.
  • GET CREATIVE: Come up with 10 ideas on how to schedule 90-minute time blocks into your week. Get creative. Write down wholly unrealistic, crazy ideas – often you’ll find your breakthroughs on the far side. (Cheat if you must: 20 minutes here, 15 minutes there, 45 minutes…do whatever you can when you can.)
  • SCHEDULE SCHEDULING: Lock down a few minutes each evening to look at your schedule for the coming day. Make sure you’re prepared to work: projects broken down to baby steps, and a hopper full of five-minute tasks. Schedule 10-30 minutes every Sunday before your evening routine to set your schedule for the week. Share that schedule with your family and friends. Manage expectations so your commitments get respect and get done.
  • TEST IT: If you think scheduling “isn’t for you,” commit to a 30-day experiment. Test it and see for yourself. Don’t let assumptions or limiting beliefs turn you off to what could be a life-changing weapon in your arsenal against The Resistance. You’re reading this because you’re not getting the progress you want out of your art or business. Shake things up. You may surprise yourself and change the course of your story forever.
  • PHONE A FRIEND: Who is the most productive person you know? How about the most successful person you know? The one on a massive upward trajectory in life. Call them. Better, get together over coffee. Present them with the most important (likely the scariest) project that stands between you and launching your photography business. Ask how they would get that project done, on what timeline, and how. You’ll be amazed at their perspective and the steps they’d schedule to guarantee success.
  • BRAINSTORM SESSION: How long has it been since you first dreamed of becoming a professional photographer? At what level would your art and business be today if you were hustling from Day One? Would you have taken your family to Disney World by now? Paid cash for a new car? Gone full time and escaped your day job? Recognize: ‘yesterday’ will always be the best day to have started; the second best is today. You can’t get where you want to be in your future by beating yourself up over the choices made in your past. Start now. Start today. Commit and execute.
  • SUBSCRIBE TODAY: It’s my calling to end the suffering of startup photographers through encouragement, overcoming limiting beliefs, and real-world Next Steps that make success inevitable. 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 today and let’s make a breakthrough.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

van April 7, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Good read and thanks for sharing. Some stuff is obviously not new; I get that. However, surely new to some and a much needed reminder for others. I think the tricky part is scheduling. I started putting stuff into google calendar slots in the past and I have failed very recently doing so to keep it up, but will try again cause I noticed you have a scheduling to schedule slot which could be my downfall. However, I was wondering if you can elaborate more on how you go about your scheduling, the logic specifically balancing all the different length of time slots such as your 5 minutes Kaizen items, which ultimately could lead into longer time slots. Basically, if the mantra is “if it doesn’t get scheduled, it won’t get done”, then how do you schedule you 5 minute items in google calendar. Do you just have hundreds of team all over? More detail on that component would be interesting


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor April 7, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Thanks so much Van, great questions!

From the bottom to the top:

– My five-minute items are a list of fairly generic things I can do almost anywhere, anytime. I can always call my daughter to say I love her and I’m proud of her. I can always (if I make my brain sweat) do a Claudia Altucher-style 10 Ideas list ( If I have cards in my satchel, I can jot off a thank-you note and put it in my outbox. I can read a chapter in a book (I keep books everywhere I am regularly, and always have the Kindle app on my phone). I can close my eyes and meditate for five minutes. I can flip through a magazine and find a cool ad idea I want to remix for my own marketing work. I keep my list of five-minute items as a simple Google Doc, but that list is just inspiration to reference now and then. I have a few defaults I immediately jump into when the little opportunities arise, like those above. These are meant to be unscheduled fillers to replace mindlessly worrying, being ‘bored’, scrolling your Facebook feed, or other activities that burn energy and purpose instead of refueling them. If I have specific five-minute tasks I need to get done (almost always phone calls and follow-ups)

– I’ll schedule down to a 20-minute block, and in that time I can schedule any of the 20-minute baby steps I have broken active projects into. For example, I’m working on an ebook on naming your photography business, and one of my steps is to gather contact information for photographers to interview and send them an interview request by e-mail (this is a standing step, which I repeat daily throughout the month). On my Identity Course launch project, I have a step for reading one of the modules, and another step for brainstorming updates and upgrades for that module; another for applying the 80/20 rule to those ideas; another for starting work on those upgrades… These naturally fit one after the other, so I try to block them together when possible.

– What I really like to schedule are 90-minute blocks, during which I can knock out around four 20-minute steps with a little breathing room. Every person is different, but generally 90-minute blocks are one of the power tools of productive creatives. Studies show (paraphrasing Twain, there are lies, damn lies, and studies) this is about the amount of time we can really focus on one given task or project in one go. 90 minutes, break; 90 minutes, break; and so on.

– This is all about getting important work done. Period.

– I do the same scheduling for my day job (newspaper editor and advertising director) as I do for my creative project work.

– As you build your get-sh*t-done muscles, you can be more flexible. For example, I switch off daily between play days (family time) and work days (project time). When I’m not “on the clock” for the day job, if it’s a work day, I’m focused on my project work – on my breaks, at lunch, after work, before and after evening meetings. Because I’ve repeated this cadence for so long, I don’t have to specifically put those time blocks on my schedule; they’re inherent. I’m as human as anyone, so if and when I start to slip from this cadence due to life’s distractions, I step back to scheduling time blocks to get important work done. As for knowing what I’m working on during those work times, I can reference my project files directly – I don’t have to be explicit in what steps I’ll take during a given work time. But again, as soon as I start getting distracted or daydreaming or, my biggest time sink, consuming information instead of producing, I step back and force myself to schedule time blocks and explicitly input what I’m going to work on. These practices are the foundation that keeps my production steady.

– This schedule gives me at most around 39 hours of productive project time to work with each week. This is possible for just about anyone (I am nothing special, just practiced), but there are no expectations or judgements for folks who can’t make this kind of time happen to work on their art and business. Four days a week, I’m gone hours before my family is awake and home an hour after they’ve gone to bed. This doesn’t work for every family, or even for me depending on family situations (sports tournaments, illnesses, kids having bad days, wife having a bad day, etc.) – but it works most of the time, and when it doesn’t, it’s okay because I’m serving my friends or family. I actually spend more and better time with my family now than I did when I was a day job workaholic and came home stressed and distracted almost every day. If you want to, and you choose to, and you earn buy-in and support from those around you, you can make time happen and get important work done with that time.

“The price of anything is the anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry David Thoreau.


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