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the f stops here: how photographers are wasting their time (and what to do about it)

The secret's out, and it ain't pretty.

Most photographers--OK, all photographers--could afford to be more efficient; after all, squeezing more productive work into your daylight hours means more face time with clients, and more clients to face time with.

You might feel like you're wasting time, but you're not even sure what you're wasting time with. The moments and milliseconds of behind-the-scenes work, which can seem mission critical, add up fast, gobbling the day up with them. So we're going to be frank: you're headed into the busiest season of the year, and your business just doesn't have time for these shenanigans. The following tasks are black holes, terrifying vortexes into which time and space cease to have meaning. Ever looked up from Facebook to wonder what you've been doing for the past 48 minutes? Then you know what we mean.

1. Scrambling. Like the egg, you're all mixed up. Your camera's in one room, while your lenses are in another. And their caps aren't even on! Don't even get us started on your battery chargers. So what happens when it's time for a shoot? You're scrambling to find everything, searching through obscure drawers in a time-crunched panic. What if you can't find your gear in time? What if you can't find your gear at all?

The solution: Practice the old adage “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Dedicate a corner or closet for your gear. When you come into your studio or home from taking photographs out in the field, put your equipment in the same place. Always. Keeping this rule is sacred will add a measure of peacefulness to your life, knowing that you can walk out the door at a moment's notice.

2. Tinkering. Otherwise known as not knowing when to be done with a project or photograph. Tinkering can be fun--let's fade this part of the logo, and try this font!--but it can be deadly to your productivity. 15 minutes of harmless Photoshop play stretches into 45, and before you know it, you've only removed one tree. From a single picture. That you're not even sure the client will buy. Worth it?

The solution: Tinker on your own time. That's right; if fiddling with your branding is that much fun, then save it for 8:30 pm on a Thursday night, when all your work is done! (Doesn't sound so great anymore, right?) And if you love playing with Photoshop, work your magic on your personal photographs, rather than images that might not even make it into your clients' albums. One good rule of thumb, from our Essential Portrait & Wedding Workflows: post-process each image for 1 minute (Lightroom will be your new BFF, guaranteed); investing any more time is just a waste unless the image is sold. And if you need more time per image--for retouching, or major technical issues--then, depending, you should either charge your clients an additional fee, or firm up your own skills so that your images are more usable straight out of the camera.

3. Packaging. We're all for packaging orders in a beautiful, memorable way, but when you're taking upwards of 20 minutes per client to box, bag, and sticker, you've got to find a better way. (This doesn't even mention the fact that you had to source and order all those supplies, each of which came from different vendors. And, don't even get us started on the neverending Etsy journey!) Let's get one thing straight: while luxe packaging might earn you the admiration of other photographers, it's not earning you money. To put it another way: “Yes! Those 4 layers of hemp ribbon make me want to book that photographer right now!” said no client. Ever.

The solution: Calculate exactly how much time you're investing in ordering, assembling, creating, and decorating your packages. Perhaps paying an assistant to put them together for you is a more lucrative expenditure of your time. Can't afford to pay an assistant? Then that's a good sign you need to streamline your packaging. If this is the case, Design Aglow has a fantastic new solution for you; sign up here to be notified when our one-stop Paper Shop goes live.

4. Emailing. Here's a task for you: go through your last month of emails, and pull your top ten inquiries. We're betting they will be some variation of the what should we wear/are you available/when are my pictures ready/what if the weather's bad/where should we meet variety. These sorts of repetitive tasks are what make people start to HATE THEIR JOB.

The solution: Why hate when you can automate? Instead of a crafting an individual response to each frequently asked question, use your email's canned response/auto-responder function! Simply load your friendly responses (tip: our Studio Email Assistant offers professionally written verbiage for every inquiry) into the appropriate template for your email, change names and details, and send! This is hands-down one of our most valuable products, with simple tutorials will help you set up the perfect email response for every situation.

5. Procrastinating. You might want to file this one under Bertrand Russell's quote “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” And yet. No matter how fun Facebook, Twitter, photographer forums, or Google stalking your competition might be, it's draining your productivity. A thought: time your internet usage for a week. The Firefox plugin Mind the Time is great for this, but there are similar versions for other browsers. Isn't there something more useful you could be doing for that 20 hours a week rather than fielding requests for Candy Crush or reading post #8345 on Miley Cyrus?

The solution: Obviously, we're not recommending that you quit the internet all together. (That would just be mean. Plus, how would you get your daily Design Aglow?) But managing the time spent online is critical to actually getting the critical things done. Here are some thoughts: subscribe to your favorite blogs. Read your feed for 20 minutes a day (these are just general guidelines), then purge everything that's unread, because you're never going to get around to it. Another idea: use the internet as a reward. As in, when you finish editing the next session, you can goof around on Facebook for 10 minutes. But again, set that timer and abide by its law! If the siren song of the latest Blurred Lines parody is just too much to bear, then consider a more drastic measure: a site blocker like LeechBlock, which put your internet demons out of reach for a time period that you specify.  While this is perhaps the most challenging of these time sucks--it's the internet! internets are fun!--getting a handle on the seemingly harmless dribbles of time spent online can mean adding hours back into your workweek.

So go forth: share this post on Facebook with your fellow photographers and repost it to your blog (giving Design Aglow credit, of course), then get offline and organize your camera closet already. We can't wait to hear how these tips carve our more time for your success.

~ The F Stops Here is an exclusive collection of articles by Design Aglow, designed to be used and shared by photographers. Look for this column twice monthly here on the Design Aglow Blog and feel free to grab & share on your site, blog and/or social media pages with a byline and link to DesignAglow.com.




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