Tips for Finding Your Work-Life Balance with Skip Cohen
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As the year comes crashing to a close, I feel like I’m trapped in one of those old movies where the hands of the clock are spinning. And if you’re like me, at some point you look back over the year and think about what you accomplished—the highlights and the low spots—and you start thinking about the year ahead.
I know it’s one of the most abused words in our culture, but as December comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to think about balance. I want to hit the concept of finding balance from a few different perspectives, and I’ll admit right up front, it’s not easy. I’m still a work in progress, but maybe you can learn from some of my mistakes so that you can make new ones of your own.
The Hats You Wear
I’ve touched on balance in just about every article I’ve written for Shutter over the past five years. When you wear so many different hats, balancing them all is a daily challenge.
The first hat is simply you—further defined to other people as a friend, spouse, lover, parent, sibling. Now throw in the hats you wear as an artist, business owner and member of your community. Within each, there are other hats related to organizations you’re a part of, along with your full-time job (if you have one) aside from your photography business. Last are those surprises and interruptions that come along as one more hat on your already-crowded head.
I remember one of my very first presentations back in my Polaroid days. I was in my early thirties and had a full-blown panic attack trying to figure out how to put the presentation together. At the same time, my boss had given me two other projects to work on. I’d lost control. I thought I was going to crash and burn.
Sound familiar? A lot of you feel this way every December as the business, clients and your family pull you in different directions, creating back-to-back demands that you just don’t seem to have.
How in the world do you find balance when you keep saying to yourself, in the words of my good buddy Nick Vedros, “What fresh hell is this?”
Let’s start with you, your family and close friends. In most articles about business and marketing, everybody talks about the personal side last. But I think the personal should come first.
Let’s Get Personal
If you lose yourself in your business, you’ll eventually lose everything. You’ll wake up one day and wonder what happened to all the things that made you smile every day. That’s why it’s important to prioritize your own well-being at the very top, to make that hat your most important one. As they warn us on commercial flights, in the event of loss of cabin pressure, put your mask on before helping others!
Make time for yourself and the people you love. There will always be crunch times when you have to put in some long hours, but they need to be the exception. You’ve got to isolate time every day—first for yourself and then for your family or the people most important to you.
Establish an end time for each day. My office is in my home, and it was really hard to simply walk away from my computer and the phone at the end of the day. It took me a long time to learn to stop working and “punch out.” But the payback—private time with my wife—is incredible.
Don’t take calls late in the evening. Of course, there are calls you’re waiting for and clients you want to talk to. Set up a system so you don’t have to take calls or emails whenever they come in. I do one last round of email checks just before I go to bed, and never stay at the computer longer than 15 minutes during that last check. There are exceptions, but they should be rare.
Keep a date night. While it seems to have started as a concept to help Mom get time away from the kids, every relationship needs it. I used to be convinced that the younger you were, the more important it was—with or without kids. When Sheila and I go out after a long stretch of no date nights, we seem to pick up right where we left off when we were still dating. Life gets in the way, and you often don’t realize how much time has flown by since the last time you had quality time with your significant other.
Share your dreams. When you share your dreams of life, business and family with a spouse or best friend, they become more achievable. I love these lines by John Lennon: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream / A dream you dream together is reality.”
Avoiding Business Overload
Burn, but don’t crash and burn. You know your limits. Shakespeare’s line “To thine own self be true” couldn’t be more true. When you’re approaching burnout, walk away from the business. Do something that helps you get energized. Everyone has something they love to do, a way to relax and clear their head. Learn to recognize those moments when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and step away to recharge and then come back to the challenge.
Know your costs, margins and profitability. You can’t take off your business hat if you don’t know how your business is doing. Keep track of your expenses and revenue all year long. Meet with your accountant once a quarter. If you don’t have an accountant, load in QuickBooks or other software so you know where you stand month to month. I’m always amazed by how many photographers don’t know if they’ve made any money for the year until tax time in April.
Know your business. December comes the same time every year, yet so many of you are surprised and overwhelmed when you find yourself buried in holiday orders. I’ve seen a few of you in a pure state of panic thinking about turning down business because your plate’s full. You get in a rut, and believe you can’t take on any more business.
But don’t forget: “It always seems impossible until it’s done,” as Nelson Mandela once said.
Pay attention to your calendar. Whether it’s following up with clients, attending meetings or just being involved in your community, nothing will interrupt your quest to find balance in your life more than forgetting things. Your calendar is a critical component, the only way to keep your schedule from becoming complete chaos.
Outsource, or “right-source.” The expression right-source comes from Jeff Jochum. It’s essential to running a successful business. You can’t do it all, for two reasons: You don’t have the skillset for everything and you don’t have the time. Pay attention to tasks on your plate you don’t do well or just hate doing, and right-source them out.
Get help with management and workflow. There are two companies that can give you a hand getting organized, freeing you up and helping you find more balance: Sprout Studio (GetSproutStudio.com) and 17 Hats (17Hats.com). Their business software helps maintain your calendar, sales, bookkeeping—the list goes on and on. You got into this career because you loved photography, not because you wanted to run a business. Most of you have little to no staff to help run things, and you need all the help you can get. Look at what each company offers and how they can help you get back on track.
Hopefully there’s at least one idea here to help you think through what you need to fine-tune your life and your business. In the end, you’ve got one easy-to-understand goal: Wake up smiling every morning.
We’re here to help. I’m just an email address away, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy the holiday season.