Recently The 99% (one of my favorite websites about creativity, idea implementation, and work philosophy) featured an article based on a readers’ poll about the 99 most commonly used excuses people let stand in the way of their ideas taking shape. While thought provoking, their main intention was to get people to face the facts of how harmful excuses can be to the creative process, and to show just how widespread their debilitating influence can be. There are, however, some points from their top fifteen excuses that I think bear a more in-depth analysis, especially in relation the photographers and other freelancers.
1. I Don’t Have Enough Time
Where do your passions lay? At what point do we sacrifice love of what we do and the ability to bring our visions to fruition? The simple fact of the matter is that if doing something is important enough to you, you can and will find time to do it. There are different ways to tackle this problem. Some like to accomplish tasks in preset modules, breaking down large projects that can seem insurmountable into hour-long task and goal blocks that they schedule into their regular days. Others prefer the marathon approach (this was my modus operandi for years). I would finish an 8-10 hour day at my day job, excitedly knowing that the rest of my night was dedicated to photography and creative tasks, either a shoot or web development or retouching. I would complete my daily tasks and dedicate the rest of my time to taking pictures and post-production because it is what I loved to do. It was a decision I made to consciously create time for my passions. A lot of the tasks I completed using this system ended up laying the groundwork for my eventual transition back to photography as a business.
The 99% suggests taking a proactive approach to task management and identifying important tasks as great first steps. I would have to agree. In terms of real world implementation, one of the easiest things you can do is to get yourself a good task management system that synchs across a variety of devices. I am partial to Things, which has been a huge boon to my productivity, especially since it works on both my desktop and mobile system. A great alternative to Things is Remember the Milk, which is a web-based application pretty much accessible from anywhere. The real key to these programs is how you dedicate yourself to using them. I start each day with a daily review of tasks, ranking and ordering them in a way that offers me the best productivity stream. I identify what can be accomplished and what cannot that day based on my workflow and I make sure that I block out a solid chunk of time each day that is dedicated to nothing but personal projects. Treat these personal work blocks like any other task in your workflow. They must be completed and used effectively, but you will find that if you schedule them alongside your billable hours and private tasks that you will absolutely be able to make time for them.
Two other sites I recommend checking out that are related to time management and workflow are:
In the end, it comes down to this – if you love it, do it! If you have responsibilities, take care of them, then do it! If you are tired, wake up and do it! The musician Henry Rollins is a great example of this. Rollins has been known to work so prolifically and for such long periods of time while maintaining a hectic travel schedule that he often sleeps only a few hours a night. This is a great example of dedication and work ethic leading to success.
2. I’m Afraid Of Failure
Failure is one of the most singularly useful tools in the world to motivate you to improve. If you have never failed then you have nothing to illustrate what mistakes you have made in the past. Experimentation is a big part of this. Always give yourself the ability to play with your work. Try new things in your personal work and learn from the mistakes and successes to create a better product in your professional work. With client jobs, once you have the safety shots and have met the layout requirements that have been set forth, try to take a few more daring images. Oftentimes you will fail, but you will occasionally have a brilliant success as well. Perfection and a 100% success rate are admirable notions, but rarely achievable. It’s far more important, in reality, to strive for a perfection you will never reach. This will have many more benefits for you in the long run. There is no such thing as a perfect photograph. Even the best can improve upon what they have already done. If you never risk failure and play it safe constantly you will find that yourself and others will start to view you as competently and consistently average. They won’t really have anything bad to say about your work, nor will they have the impetus to hire you for your singular vision and style. For more reading on the topic of learning from mistakes and letting them improve you, check out It’s OK to Suck.
7. I Am Afraid of the Competition
Competition is nothing more than fuel and fallacy mixed together. This issue can be addressed from two angles. The first is that competition is a fantastic catalyst to get better. We must all strive to constantly be growing as artists, improving our skills, outlooks, and attitudes in the long run to provide our clients with the best us we can be. If you can sit comfortably at the top of the hill with no one else trying to summit it, it’s very easy to become complacent and lazy and you will find yourself only doing as much necessary to maintain the status quo. However, when someone becomes competition to you, it can light an ever-needed fire under your ass and push you to start doing all the things you should be doing: marketing more, improving technical skills, reviewing your fundamentals, improving your negotiating tactics, and pushing you to pursue more personal projects to develop your vision further.
The second angle to view this from is that much of what we do is selling ourselves just as much as we sell our services to our clients. You are your own niche, your own brand, and your work can easily follow suit. Once again, this comes back to competing on more than just price. Demonstrate beyond argument the value that you can bring to your clients’ projects and how you can build positive working relationships with their teams. You should be so desirable to work with that the only issue you feel you have to compete with is whether your unique style is the right one for the job. In summation, let competition push you to a point where you are bettered in all aspects because of it.
8. I Got My Expectations Too High Just Thinking About It
This can be a dangerous problem, both from a financial and spiritual side. I was once acquainted with a photographer who suffered from the problem of generating fantastic ideas rapidly, so rapidly, in fact, that it became a problem. Firstly, they had a serious issue with bringing any idea to final fruition. Projects would be half completed and strewn aside. It’s quite detrimental to put a lot of capital into a personal project and walk away with nothing to show for it, not because of difficulty, but merely because the excitement brought on by new ideas forced them to lose interest in seeing their original idea through. Secondly, when ideas were completed they had often become an pale imitation of their original selves. New ideas would impinge upon the basic purity of the original concept, things would be added and stuck on at a whim. The result, needless to say, was often disappointing and chaotic. Many people suffer from this and similar issues when seeing their projects through. Some people are exceptionally good at generating ideas. They find it exciting. But once they realize that actual hard work is involved, they often lose their enthusiasm. Others, much like the photographer above, suffer from a lack of faith in their ideas, always feeling that they are on shaky ground and that they need to slap more “idea plaster” on to keep them stable, when in reality it’s making their idea more and more structurally unsound.
Be picky about your projects. Conceptualize and plan them well and break them down into smaller and more achievable segments. Having ambition is great, and an absolutely required trait in this profession. But if you cannot make a plan to realize your ambition, then it becomes more and more of a seemingly impossible goal. The situations mentioned in the paragraph above can easily be rectified through even the most basic planing, and then having the dedication to stick to the core details of the plan. Do not let this lead you to think that improvisation cannot be a part of a well-planned production though. Improvisation and adaptation will be your constant allies and companions. In fact, having the forethought to plan a project carefully is what will give you the freedom to improvise more effectively.