Working From Home Survival Kit ~ A Photographer’s Guide

I’ve tried. I’ve really tried, but I just haven’t had the time to get around to that project I’ve been meaning to…

Working from home is what they call a double edged sword. Or at least it’s something similar, but invisible. A double edged invisible sword.

It’s an addictive lifestyle on the surface; Get up around 10am, hang around in our PJs, drink 14 cups of tea before you even open the laptop. Do a bit of “work” and then phone your mum just to catch up (out at the weekend – no time to call one’s parents), maybe check in with facebook and Twitter – see what everyone else is up to…

Get everything ready for tomorrow, and do some real editing then.

Drink more tea, maybe get dressed.

You are your own boss, you are your own destiny.

etc.

So you can tell yourself what you want, but whichever way you dress it up, you’re stuck and there’s nobody but you who can unstick it all.

It’s great to thrive when you are your own entity, but sometimes you need to survive first so you can figure all of this out.

This is my Working From home Survival Kit to help you feel like you can for once, do a bit better than treading water. These are the tools that can hep you with that.

1) OWN IT

It’s OK to run your life via your laptop, and wherever you open your laptop, that’s where your office is for the day. It’s OK but it’s not ideal. When you don’t have a designated place for work then it’s more likely that you’ll have a half hearted approach to your work. Sit in front of the TV while your working and you’ll be lucky to get anything done at all. If you do work like this can you honestly say that you’ve given it your all?

Whether it’s a cupboard under the stairs, or a purpose built shack in your garden, you need to set up a permanent space that you can go to to get your work done. If you can, make it a space that has it’s own door and is only used for this one purpose.

If you can afford it, get yourself a desktop computer or at least some way of docking your laptop to a large screen. Something with a real keyboard and mouse (or equivalent). Show yourself that you mean business. Put a land line in.

Name your space. I call my workspace ‘The Tree House”. It means nothing, but mentally when I’m in the Tree House I’m ‘At Work’. I know a photographer who calls her space her ‘Bunker’. Because that’s what it was once. Easy.

When you close the door on your work day, you have half a chance of giving your little brain a rest.

2) TIDY UP

That’s right. You heard. Getting organised is everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

Decide how you are going to do your filing and stick to it. Be consistent. If you’re not an in-tray kind of person, then don’t go and spunk your money on in-trays because you won’t use them and they’ll just fill up with pieces of random paper.

Likewise, don’t try to store all of your CDs, LPs, DVDs, or any of the rest of that stuff in your workspace. The clue’s in the name – it’s not your den, it’s not your man-shed, and it’s not storage. If someone you know keeps passing you things to put ‘out of the way’ in the office, then it’s time to put up some shelves oftake a trip to the charity shop.

If you don’t keep your workspace tidy, you aren’t going to get any work done. It will get so bad that you will put off work to make an attempt at clearing the backlog of horrendous pile-up. In the process of gradually working through this soup you will no doubt come accross an old record that you HAVE TO listen to right now, which means finding the right leads to plug in your deck and possibly popping to the hardware store to pick up a plug and some fuses when it doesn’t fire up. All of the boxes you pulled out to get to the wall socket have doubled up the mess, but you feel that’s OK because you know where they go and it’ll be easy to put it all back.

….Probably tomorrow now because it’s late.

Another day of literally getting nothing done.

TIDY UP!

3) GET DRESSED

If you go to the gym, do that in the morning, early before you start work. Any other day, just start work, but get dressed, brush your teeth, brush your hair, have a shave, if that’s something you do.

If you associate work with slobbing around in your pants, then your work is going to look slobby too. It’s going to be incredibly disjointed and you’ll likely feel like you’re just never getting things finished if you can’t get started. For me, I never got a thing done when I tried editing from my bed on my laptop. I associate being at home in the day in my bed wear with being off school when I was a kid. Attention seeking and feeling a bit sorry for myself, probably.

It’s nice to indulge, but I’ll bet that there’s actually a fair bit to get done, so ‘in my own time’ isn’t going to cut it.

Stringing out the time that it takes to get ready for work will mean that you’ll treat your projects in the same way, always finding an excuse to not begin your day.

4) SWITCH ON, SWITCH OFF

When you choose to work is up to you. You might want to work a 4 day week. You might want to just work in the mornings. You might have to work at certain times if you have kids, for example.

I’ve worked seven day weeks too much. I still do sometimes, and it’s usually because I haven’t been paying attention.

I told a friend that I’d been working too much, coming back from the treehouse at 7pm most nights, whacked out.

“So. What are you actually doing all day?” he asked “I thought you worked for yourself?”

A simple question, but I didn’t have an answer. It’s not that I hadn’t been busy – there’s always something to do. Maybe I hadn’t been efficient in my day to day but no, that wasn’t what was really bugging me either.

It works out that I simply couldn’t switch off from my business. Prolonging certain aspects of the workload is one thing, and that needs to be looked at, but actually being so plugged in to your office can not only have a negative input on your work, but obviously can start to get in the way of your home life too. Your relationships and your family coming second will only mean that your business is now being run for selfish reasons. You’ve changed from working from home to living at work.

Find a way to stop working at a certain time of the day and stick to it, and try to be more productive when you are ‘at work’. Try finishing at 4pm. And when you’re finished for the day, finish. Switch off from work and switch on to your home.

5) NOTES

There are plenty of excellent productivity Apps out there. To do lists are your friend, if you know how to use them. Evernote, 2Do, Wunderlist are all excellent, highly customisable tools. Personally I use Wunderlist – it’s clean, simple, and I can actually use it and then move on. I can share lists with  people I’m working with and it’s become a powerful and time saving program.

Separate your todo lists into things that you need to do and things that you are planning on. Sounds simple, right? All of the ideas you can come back to, but your day to day stuff needs to get done. That needs to be split into ‘Office’ and ‘Clients’ and ‘Overdue’. Give them equal impetus. If you keep shelving your office stuff because of client deadlines the clash will be even worse when it comes to the crunch.

When you start work have your to do list ready. This means making your list at the end of the previous day. It’s the last thing you should do 15 minutes before you’ve scheduled yourself to finish. Why? There’s no better way to procrastinate than writing endless lists. Ending a productive day with the promise of more productivity also helps with the switching off. Always fresh for the next day, but don’t fall into the trap of substituting actual work with writing lists. You wouldn’t do that though, would you?

6) SPELL CHECK (OR, HIT “PUBLISH” IN THE MORNING)

Being reactive has it’s place, as does being proactive. Learn the difference between the two.

7) BE INSPIRED AND DIG YOUR HEALS IN

You went in to business with some amazing ideas. New ideas. And a fresh perspective.

Getting people to hear those ideas is tough, and today, just being good, great, awesome, doesn’t always mean that you’re getting the attention that you deserve.

Meanwhile you get your very own worst writer’s block ever while your nemesis reveals some mind blowing project that everyone wants a piece of while they’re passing by your better idea that would solve world peace if only enough people knew about it. And what really sucks is that your product is more real and has much more integrity than anything that’s currently riding the crest of the wave.

So if pushing the sale is what it takes, maybe that’s what you should be doing. Right?

There’re two things that spring up in this situation. One is that you start copying the thing, person, or process you presume to be the quickest route to the same success, and the other is that you devalue your own product by undercutting the market. (I’m not going to explain why you shouldn’t be undercutting on price alone – it’s a long one to get in to).

Photography is particularly busy. It’s hard to stand out from the crowd. Everyone’s a photographer, and they’ve got more followers and a higher platform than you. If you believe Twitter then everybody’s too busy to breathe, with contracts, commissions, and success coming out of their ears. The idea of missing out and “Wanting in” has even sprung up an industry of enablers and educators who promise the keys to the kingdom, just subscribe here and they’ll send you the ebook intro.

You might turn a blind eye to some of the practices. Copy the website layout of such and such a famous photographer. Shoot in the same style as them. Lift a bit of text. Shuffle it around, and no-one will know. It’ll just get lost in the chaos.

But you’ll know. And the photographer you stole from will know. Worse still, you’ll lose track of that fabulous idea that you started out with as you join the ranks of ‘shooting just like everyone else‘ and if you do land a bit of success, the world will still be missing out on your big idea anyway.

So why are you doing this again?

Hold on tight to your integrity. Dig your heals in and when it feels like you’re swimming against the stream then you’ll know that you’re doing something right. Don’t beat yourself up about not being groundbreaking every day of your life. Strive for a body of work that evolves and enables you to cut a path towards the real stuff.

Those few people that you might be desperate to be like have found their niche and stuck to it. There are very few overnight successes and all of them have taken the harder road to get there.

What are you going to do?

 

Comments welcome below, and share if you know someone that this is for!

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