Work/life balance: we need it, we want it, but we're not at all sure what to do about it.
For photographers, many of whom started in the business because they loved taking pictures of their own lives, this issue is particularly fraught: where does work end and life begin? The careers of photographers are complicated with industry-specific and frustrating issues: how do you recharge when you're in the midst of wedding season and it will be months before your next weekend off? How do you shake the terrifying feeling that if you leave the house without your DLSR, that you'll miss that once-in-a-lifetime shot? How do you sleep when you've got 10786 photos still in your editing queue? In other words, how do you find time for a life when you're so busy capturing the lives of others? With help from our Facebook friends, we have gathered a collection of our favorite suggestions. But here's the short answer: work/life balance is all about priorities. You must tip the balance of your scale back to life by adding more life to the balance. Here's your guide to our version of Zen:
1. Take off two consecutive days to make a “weekend” (even if you work Saturdays and Sundays) We know that your friends and family might not be off on a Tuesday and Wednesday, but taking 48 hours to decompress is important for your psyche, even if you miss all the fun that happens on the actual weekend.
2. Hire household help We know that for some photographers just starting out, this seems like a dream: to make enough money for a housekeeper. If this is your situation, then consider this a future goal worth working toward. For those of you who are already profitable, however, calculate how much money you make per hour, how many hours you spend cleaning your house, and how much time and energy you spend stressing over the fact that your house isn't clean (dollar value: priceless). Makes a housekeeper seem a lot more affordable, doesn't it?
3. Outsource your photo editing and other tasks See above. While this might not be a financial possibility at the moment, imagine how much time you would save (and money you could make) if you were out in the world shooting, meeting, and selling to clients rather than stuck behind your computer tinkering with white balance or balancing your books. If you hate editing and/or accounting, then this is a double bonus! Do the math, and figure out if outsourcing is a viable option for you. At the very least, you might be able to hire a college student and train him/her to help with the mundane tasks that eat away your precious time. (If you need help with your numbers, check out our Pricing Guide for Photographers.)
4. Check email only twice a day, at designated times So hard, especially when we feel the need to be tethered to technology 24/7. (What? We might miss that inquiry from THE BIGGEST CLIENT EVER.) But by batching your email--that is, setting aside a dedicated amount of time to complete this task, and only this task--you eliminate the distractions of multitasking your way through a constant ping of messages throughout the day. By focusing on one chore at a time, you can make your work flow in a much faster, efficient manner than hopscotching back and forth between tasks. We recommend setting a pop-up reminder on your computer to train yourself, and consider using a timer so that you don't spend too much time in your inbox. Plus, if you respond to email immediately, what message are you sending your clients? That you respond to email immediately. And that's what they'll come to expect.
5. Unplug--no electronics!--one day a week When's the last time you played a board game? Took a long, lingering walk or visited an art gallery? Gadgets rule our lives; reclaim one day in every week to live off the grid and engage in your favorite relaxing pastime, even if that means just hanging out on the couch with your family or a good book. (We find it best to pre-schedule your social and marketing posts, which our PR & Marketing Guide can help you to organize.)
6. Keep strict office hours with a timer Set it and don't forget it; your work needs to have defined edges, or it will expand to occupy all your free time. Give your brain permission to rest.
7. Schedule time for fun (& exercise) Schedule you-time in your calendar. Block it off on your phone. However you mark it down, physically book appointments with yourself, with a finite start and finish time. These appointments should be just as inviolable as a trip to that doctor you've been trying to see for 3 months.
8. Charge a premium for weekend work Many smart photographers charge $100 extra for weekend portrait shoots, in order to make time away from their family and friends worth their while. How much is a Saturday afternoon worth to you?
9. Remind yourself why--and for whom--you work Working as a professional photographer is not a fast track to riches or fame; we're assuming that's not why you got into the business in the first place. So why did you become a photographer? The love of the craft? The possibility of a flexible schedule? The thrill of being your own boss? Try this: take out a piece of paper and finish the sentence, “I am a photographer because...” Then post your answer on your computer. Reflect on it daily. As the years go by, it's far too easy to forget why you started down this path, which can lead to apathy and total burnout.
10. Leave your camera at home when you are invited to anything social We can hear it now: “my friend the photographer has a really nice camera; I'm sure she'll take the photos for us.” That sounds an awful lot like...work. Take control of your social life by allowing yourself off-duty time, just like the rest of the world.
11. Do something that inspires or challenges you 1x a month Take a class, go to a lecture, attend an event where you might meet someone new, volunteer at an animal shelter--anything that gets your synapses firing differently or fulfills another interest beyond your photography. Artists need constant inspiration, so consider these field trips a wellspring to quench that creative thirst.
These tips aren't one-size-fits-all; maybe serving as the photographer at social events brings you great joy. So adopt those tips that fit, ignore those that don't, and practice adding more life to your balance. We promise that you'll be better off for it.
Perhaps your anxieties are internal? The fear of failing at that which is most dear to you? Or the terror of living with regrets that can never be remedied?