There really is something about spring that prompts us to clean out the cobwebs and purge the junk.  March is generally a pretty slow shooting month for me since all of my winter clients have had their sessions and my spring clients want spring….not expanses of dead grass and left over glaciers.  As I’m watching my calendar fill up for the coming months I was starting to wonder about how I am going to keep a good work/life balance, which prompted some serious changes to my time management techniques.

If you missed Caitlin McColl’s guest post on automation and time-saving tips for your workflow, run…don’t walk.  I promise you will find it helpful.  I also announced the 40 Day 40 File Challenge a week or so ago.  I hope you will join me!

In the meantime, here are some of my tried and true methods to keep work time on task and productive, therefore allowing completely free and unplugged time in my day too!

1. To Do Lists don’t work!

Have you ever noticed that your to do list quickly swells to many pages in length in addition to approximately 8,274 post it notes about to envelop you as you sit at your desk?   Yeah, me neither. 😉

I have tackled the to do list and have found a solution that is working MUCH better for me.  I found a great new website, Remember the Milk.  It’s my master to do list that will sync between my computer and my phone.

My to do lists are currently broken down into:

  1. Personal
  2. Marketing
  3. Nicole Begley Photography
  4. Hair of the Dog
  5. Long Term

Prior to finding this wonderful site I would create Evernote lists for each of these, but I found that I didn’t keep it updated and I just didn’t stay on top of it….so the paper lists would start to pile up.

The Remember The Milk site is cloud based so you can access it on any computer, your phone, and you can even have a sidebar in your gmail in which you can change, complete or add tasks!  The tasks can have due dates if you wish, it integrates into your calendar and it can email you reminders.  It’s pretty much everything I have ever been looking for.

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2. Create a Schedule

This is huge and I struggled with this for many years.  I felt that I had to take as many sessions as I could as I didn’t want to turn the income away, so I would just add them into my schedule as they fit without thinking about how it affects my work/life balance.  Result: cranky and overworked. 

I now work off of a general schedule with regular shooting and ordering days and times.  Will I adjust if a client doesn’t fit into those?  Yes.  Do I try my darndest to make everyone fit into that schedule.  Absolutely.  In addition, I also block off a general weekly calendar.

  1. Write down your work times.  Monday 9:30-2pm, Tuesday 9:30-3pm, etc.
  2. Make a list of your duties that must be done every week.  Shooting, Editing, Ordering Appointments, Marketing, Blogging, Client work, Administrative work, etc.
  3. Do NOT skimp on your marketing block.  Of all of your to do’s that is the most important.
  4. Create regular blocks in your schedule for your duties, such as Tuesday mornings are marketing mornings.
  5. At the end of the day, create your schedule for the next day.  Not just a to do list for the day, but I actually block out time 9:30-10:30 Hair of the Dog post, 10:30-11:00 email, 11:00-12:00 create new marketing piece, etc…
  6. When you make your schedule, take into account when your best work hours are.  For instance, I’m brain dead in the afternoon and if I need to write something or be creative it must be in the morning.  I also schedule my least favorite task early in the day to get it out of the way…I am so much more productive when I’m not procrastinating!

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3. Store Like with Like

Organize your workspace so that everything has a home and look for time saving steps EVERYWHERE.  When a client books a session, I mail them a pre-session packet.  In the past I would find that it would take me a week or two to get the packet out because I needed to get out the laptop and update my mailing label and print out individual labels.  Well, in a classic DOH moment, I realized why don’t I just print off lots of sheets with my logo and return address on them and then just handwrite the addresses?  SO. MUCH. EASIER.  It’s better customer service too as my clients get their packet within a day or two of booking.

The welcome packet time suck makeover didn’t end there though.  I make about 10 packets at a time so they are set up and ready to go.  I just grab them, write a hand-written note on a branded sticky, slap it in the folder, place it in the envelope, stamp and mail.  I keep everything together in my office AND since I mail the same things every time I know that it’s $1.40 so I bought a sheet of .70 stamps at the post office saving me from a trek to the post office every time a packet had to go out!

4. Facebook

Avoid the time suck.  I fall victim to realizing that “oh I should post this to so and so page”.  I jump on Facebook and then I’ve lost 30 minutes of my day.  Don’t do it!  Keep a small pad of paper next to you and when you have that thought, write it down.  Need to email someone back, it goes here….do NOT open email.  Need to post to Facebook….it goes here…DO NOT OPEN FACEBOOK.   5 minutes waiting for something to download.  Get up, stretch, organize a drawer….do not open Facebook.

When should you do those things then?  Whenever you have scheduled to do them in your day.  Jump on before lunch so that you have the motivation to do what you need to do and go eat!  Do those tasks during the last 30 minutes of the day.  When happy hour is calling it’s a lot easier to get off of Facebook.  😉

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I promise you that there are lots of ways to shave some time off of your workflow.  Get in the habit of asking yourself how you can make something easier.  After all, time is one thing that we can never get back and it’s finite.  While we all love our job, we need to make time to have a life too.