After 25 years as a professional photographer, I have come to the realization that while there are a million different time management techniques to help you figure out how to accomplish something, none of them are going to get you out of doing the work you don’t want to do. That’s why I’ve come up with my own technique to get shit done: The Nine.
I start with a list of nine items. I pick one and spend 20 minutes on it. After 20 minutes, I pick another task on the list of nine and spend 20 minutes doing that. I don’t do other things. I don’t answer the phone. I don’t look at Facebook. I don’t take a break. I just do the thing on the list. If I finish the task, I cross it off the list. After three hours, I’m done for the day with The Nine. Then, I go do something else.
Why? Because sometimes work is not fun. It’s not interesting. It’s just work. You need to do it, so get to it. It’s only 20 minutes. I would rather get all the dull tasks out of the way so I can get back to the work of putting together shoots and taking pictures; that’s why I became a photographer.
The Nine is great for getting rid of tasks that you think you are going to do, but are clearly not.
The key is in your choice of the nine items on your list. Creative tasks take inspiration, but they are often supported by work that doesn’t. You have to put tasks on The Nine that require a dedication of time, not creative thought. You still have to order ink for the printer. You still have to write out a check to the gas company. To the time management aficionado, The Nine may seem a little like the Pomodoro Technique, except here we skip the vegetables and go straight to the meat. With The Nine, the task period is shorter, the entire time spent is defined and you don’t take any brakes. What you do is actually get shit done.
The Nine is ideal for never-ending projects like keeping your marketing and promotional materials fresh. Adding shots from your latest shoot to your website or new contacts to your mailing list is surprisingly manageable in 20-minute bites. The same can be said for accounting. If you spend 20 minutes a day with a spreadsheet, entering in receipts and looking at your bills, chances are you are knowing what is going on with your money. Perhaps more importantly, it frees your mind from wondering what is going on with your money the rest of the day. This is the beauty of The Nine.
The Nine is also great for getting rid of tasks that you think you are going to do, but are clearly not. If you spend 20 minutes a day for a few weeks staring at a blank page trying to write something you think you should but can’t, maybe it’s time to reconsider doing it at all. At least you know the problem isn’t that you didn’t dedicate any time to it. Cross it off the list and move on.
Personally, I like to put tasks on the list that I don’t want to do at all. One of the worst is sending photos to the stock agencies. It is a really dreary task that requires no creativity, solves no immediate problem and will be seen by no one I know. All the fun work is done. That said, sending photos to the stock agency is work that puts money in the mailbox and all I have to do is spend 20 minutes a day prepping out files to their specifications, sending them over and then keywording them. I’d rather spend 20 minutes stomping on my own foot than doing it, but there it is, on The Nine, getting done.
Some may say The Nine takes self-discipline, but I think it takes a lot more self-discipline to get up in the morning, drive to some job you hate and listen to your boss say something stupid. If you are going to work for yourself and define your own time, then you need to figure out how to deal with the tasks you don’t want to do. Now, be the boss you are, quit your bitching and get back to work.