Mayday, SOS, Raising the white flag

Hello Everyone,

I first want to apologize as this post will likely be all over the place. That being said I am declaring a SOS, raising the white flag and calling a Mayday! I am a longtime MPU and Focused listener. Focused over the last few months has given me the strength to write this post and declaring I need help, even if just in emotional support.

Long story short, I am a freelance boudoir photographer and I suffer greatly from being overwhelmed and unorganized, resulting in sometimes zero productivity, no focus and decision paralysis.

I use OmniFocus, but its a mess and I can’t see to arrange it in a way that I stick with for the long term, even if I do greatly subscribe to the GTD mantra of getting things out of your brain. This could very much be my own lack of focus that causes this.

I am trying to grow my business more than ever and I know getting my ducks in a row and developing systems is going to be key. I’ve always been more laid back and less structured but I know that this has to change. I have so many days I stare aimlessly into my screen or task manager and its like I cannot decide what to do. I end up watching youtube for hours on end. Sometimes I feel like such a huge failure because of it.

I also struggle emotionally because everyone around me is a traditional 8-5 job person. I haven’t had a normal day job for 15+ years and I don’t think I could ever go back. Yet this is an issue because nobody understands what I deal with. They have the luxury of going to work and being told what to do, I have the freedom to choose and within the freedom is an undecided hell for me.

Im rambling, but I hope to find some solace here. Just listening to the focused podcast has given me hope. As I said earlier I am not a structured person but I know that has to change. Its the one thing that is synonymous in all successful people it seems and I have to make this change. David’s hyper scheduling (aka time blocking) has really resonated with me and I want to get to a place I can do this. I seems like it could solve a lot for me as your making calendar commitments to your tasks. I have some questions I’ll ask in follow up posts or comments but for now… Hi, I’m Chris. Thanks for having me.

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Hang in there, I think all of us struggle in one way or another and we are every day trying to figure things out. If I can give any advice, that I try to follow myself, is not comparing yourself with others, that seems to be always a lost cause, just keep trying, evaluating and resetting.

Other helpful resources that can help you find the way: 12 year week, Brian Johnson Plus 1 videos, Gretchen Rubin The four tendencies, Creative Pep Talk podcast.

Yoga and meditation have also help me a lot to find focus and manage anxiety :slight_smile:

All the best

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+1 for meditation. Headspace or Ten Percent Happier.

Wish I had discovered :person_in_lotus_position:‍♂ 10/15 years earlier.

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Mindfulness Meditation — Highly Recommended audio presentation

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Could it be that software or technology is not going to be the answer? Perhaps these things might be part of the problem?

Perhaps a coach, or a mentor, or some trusted sounding board would help. Do you know someone in your profession that you could trust to mentor you; show you how they manage their business, and how they integrate it with their personal life?

Katie

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I would ditch OmniFocus. You’re trying to adapt to an app that doesn’t work for you and is causing you more problems than it is fixing. Go for something simple — WAY SIMPLE — like maybe just a paper planner/diary, or the Calendar, Notes, and Reminders apps if you really want to go digital.

IMO Omnifocus is just way to much, GTD is onerous. Go back to basics and build up from there.

Start with basic appointment scheduling and to-do lists.

Developing systems is also the wrong way to think about it. You can’t design a solid system up front; software projects were approached from this perspective for decades and there’s a brilliant, sadly unattributed poem that sums up that approach called The Night Before Implementation:

The system was finished, the tests were concluded.
The users’ last changes were even included.
And the user exclaimed with a snarl and a taunt,
“It’s just what I asked for, but not what I want!”

Complex systems are built a piece at a time during use, or you end up with a large, complex system that took a lot of work to put in place, and requires a lot of work to maintain, that doesn’t even do what you need it to do.

Being less structured does not have to change. You should only every build in rigidity and defined process where it simplifies something and makes things easier. The more heavily organised a system is the more effort is required to maintain it. Don’t fall into the trap of over engineering your solutions. You’re not doing yourself any favours.

It is absolutely not a common feature of ‘successful’ people that they’re somehow super organised. Honestly this is so incorrect it’s not even wrong. Just NOPE. That doesn’t mean a strong time-blocking approach won’t work for you, it means you should start with the most simple method of practicing a time blocking approach, and refine that over time - not jump right in to OmniFocus.

Software is not the answer. Making your life as simple as possible is the answer. Sometimes software can help.

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Hi hear you my friend.

Working from home on your own is HARD. It requires a lot of discipline to stay focused and productive. If there is a slow period it can get very lonely.

Don’t over complicated your life with “automation” and GTD systems.
Take a piece of paper and write down what needs to be done today / this week / month. Update and rewrite on a daily basis using something called a “pen” not a keyboard…

Schedule time to call friends / colleagues on a regular basis.
Get out the door and take a long walk without headphones or earbuds.
Change work environment to a coffee shop and feed of the “vibe”

Hope this helps,

Rogier

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You might find this podcast useful / interesting: https://www.portraitsessionpodcast.com - it’s more focused on the management, marketing & business side of photography.

I just do photography as a hobby, but found the business side of things they discussed on the show quite interesting.

One of the things that seemed a common thread on the show was to outsource or employ someone to do the bits you don’t like or aren’t good at to free you up to do the bits you can do or that only you can do.

As far as I know the hosts have taken a break from producing the show, whether it comes back or not I don’t know however there’s still and archive there that might prove interesting / useful.

Here in the UK there’s a few organisations which have services to help professionals organise and grow their businesses. The Guild of Photographers; The Societies, and the BIPP are examples, I think they’re all UK based though. Perhaps there’s something similar near you?

Baby steps. You’ve already received some good suggestions. Calendar, Notes, & Reminders. Maybe just a piece of paper (or my favorite: 3x5 cards). Start by scheduling a week or two. Make that happen then adjust as needed. Wait until you gain control of the situation to add complex software - if it is even needed at that point.

A lot of us old timers used nothing but paper to run our departments. And our executives ran the corporation with the same planner.

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I hear you and empathize. I think you have gotten a number of good suggestions already.

I agree that OmniFocus, while a great app, is likely just too much for you at this point in time. I was an OF user as well, and moved back to Things3, because what I really needed and wanted was a good way of organizing lists of things, but not the heavy lifting that OF creates.

For task lists, you might do better as has been suggested with a simpler app like Reminders which lets you create multiple lists. You might also do well with plain old paper and pencil, bullet journalling, or a simpler app like TaskPaper which allows some project organization but still boils down to just a text file and a list.

You do need to accept that you will not build everything in one day, and organization is an evolving process.

I think you would be helped by sitting down in a quiet space, away from distractions, family and friends, and your computer, with pen and paper, and just trying to list what are the things you need to accomplish, both in your professional and in your personal lives. Then try to prioritize. What is something you NEED to do vs something you WANT to do, but is not a real need. What is URGENT and what can be DELAYED. This gives you 4 categories (there is a name for this approach that escapes me right now). Your URGENT NEEDS have to be prioritized. Your DELAYED NEEDS might come next. Then URGENT WANTS, and of course DELAYED WANTS can be - well - delayed.

Try initially to stick to broad categories, and later drill down into details. For example, if you must get a set of images edited and out to a client and there is a deadline, that is an URGENT NEED. Now break it down - review images and determine picks; second review for selects; editing and retouching, etc.

The problem with GTD is that it often leads to getting everything “on paper” but it becomes overwhelming because there is just too much, so you don’t know what to do first, so you get paralyzed with indecision.

I would also suggest since you may be prone to getting distracted, that you consider something like the Pomodoro technique. Here, you devote a fixed amount of time to work, then an interval of non-work in which you can surf the web, watch YouTube, etc. Keep the breaks short and the work longer, so you get things done. When you know that you must complete 40 minutes of retouching before you get a 10 minute YouTube break, it is easier to push aside the distraction than when your work and play are open ended.

I hope some of this is useful.

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You’ve told us a little bit about yourself — mostly about what you aren’t (not structured, not like the 8-to-5 people). Can you tell us more about what you are?

You’ve been out on your own for 15 years. You don’t just have a business, you have a business that is capable of being expanded. Most people never get to the “I have a business” part.

So I’d ask you to consider your strengths and, if you want, list them here, so that people have a better idea of who they’re trying to help.

My first two questions:

As you’ve been doing the right things to even have a business over the years, which of your strengths made the successes happen? What sets you apart from all the photographers who tried and failed to have their own business?

Think about times in your work or personal life when you’ve been in a flow state, creating with ease and not even noticing the time flying by. How do you get yourself to that state? What are you typically doing?

(I’m sure there are other, better questions to be asked. Those are just the ones that came to the top of my mind first.)

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I agree with this, I used omnifocus for years and even after becoming an “expert” user, it would still surprise me in unexpected ways. I decided to eventually ditch it and switched to Things. It is way simpler to use and it’s fixed structure is a feature. There are only a few places where your stuff can be hidden.

I also switched from being a strict GTD adherent and have adapted the system to work the way I think. Contexts are almost completely gone now. I just use a few tags to make it easier to find things like errands or an agenda for a meeting with my boss.

Design a system that works for you.

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For me, the best “hint” that I’ve taken from @MacSparky in recent years is using pen and paper to handle the To Do list for each day.

That is, I use an online system to track all my projects and tasks. But each day, or even better, the afternoon prior, I pick out the 2-3 things that must be done the next day and write those in my nice notebook with its Tomoe River paper using my lovely Pelikan fountain pen. There’s something, for me, in having this process by tangibly pleasurable.

Then I don’t look at that massive online To Do list again until I’ve completed those 2-3 things. If I look at it, then I sink into that morass of decision-making energy. But if I’ve completed my important things, then I can happily look at the list and pick out a couple more items to tackle today, which I then write down, with that bit of endorphin from using my pen on that paper, in the paper notebook.

In addition, I allow myself some time for brain-dead activities (your YouTube watching, for you), especially in the afternoon when my brain is tired from all the good work I did in the morning. But I ask Alexa to set a timer so I don’t let it go on for too long.

Good luck! These are struggles for many of us.

I’ve been using OmniFocus for awhile but I sometimes do struggle with finding projects for tasks. Especially lately. What I’ve been finding helps me has been using a couple of custom perspectives that Sparky suggests (I’ve attached iOS screen shots later).

I use the “clear” perspective to see all tasks I have available to me, even if they are single tasks still in my inbox. At the start of my day I pick a few tasks that I want to tackle that day and I flag them.

I then switch to the “hot list” where the flagged entries and the due soon tasks show up. I love using due dates since they’re a hard deadline and OmniFocus will auto add them to the hot list when time is running out on them.

I agree with you that hyper scheduling is appealing. I have a number of items in my day that I think of as boulders - these are events I have no control as to postponing and I must attend (I’m back to being a student - so lectures are my boulders). I know the rest of my day must flow around the boulders - so I schedule time that is “work time” around these boulders. If I’ve prepped my day properly (either the morning of or evening prior) my OmniFocus “hot list” tells me what I have to do. If I get through that list then I always have the luxury of going back to the clear list to find other tasks to work on if I still have time. On the flip side - I’m toying with using an “in progress” tag for tasks I have started but not yet finished in my working time slots (a separate perspective for these can mean I start a work session with “in progress” move to “hot list” then end with “clear”).

GTD is a great starting place and perfect for removing tasks from your mind. But I think we all have to adapt our task management to what suits the way our mind works. I don’t like reviews and I like the shortest pre-planning possible so the above works for me. I find I can be lazy - so I try to work with a lazy mind to be more productive and also have OmniFocus do the work of telling me what I have to do.

@lsieverts I was talking to a friend at Omni that said quite a few of their users do the hybrid digital/analog tango. Still working great for me.

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I suggest that you start simple and start fresh.

I would recommend to start from scratch: Clear your Inboxes and move the contents to a “backlog/process” folder. Sit at a cafe or another place that you feel comfortable with only some paper and a pen. Write down what comes to your mind. Then, clear your system and start fresh. Maybe begin with a digital calendar and a paper task list. Use the paper list you just made and define some projects and nexts steps you want to take. Dont use a lot of categories, complexity, tags and so on. That can come later. Just use two lists: Projects (every outcome that you have commited to and that requires more than one physical step) and Tasks (ideally, you should define one next step/task for each of your projects). Just these two. Just two slips of paper. Dont write a daily task list. Dont put pressure on this. Review and update the list every morning and evening or whenever you (!) feel comfortable, but do it regularly. Daily. Later on, you can move to “weekly reviews” or whatever you prefer.

And be well aware: We are all struggeling. You are not alone. :slight_smile:

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