Last time, I invited you to join me to the road less busy in order to save your creativity. I introduced the idea that some of us are feeling constantly busy nowadays and brought up the book I am currently reading: ‘Busy – how to thrive in a world of too much’ (by Tony Crabbe)
Now, I will go over some tips and tricks that I found useful to battle the feeling of ‘too busy’. I will apply this to photography, but these tips also work for other domains. This week is focused on decision-making.
‘Yes/No’ decisions: When are you full?
When it comes to photography, there are always new opportunities around every corner, from photo festivals, to classes, to portfolio reviews to contests, opportunities to share thoughts and photographs online and offline exhibitions.
When you are deciding about these opportunities, you might categorise them into yes/no decisions.
- Do I want to take part in an international masterclass? Yes, great opportunity
- Do I want to go to that important photo festival? Yes, there will be great exhibitions and a lot of people I know
- Do I want to take part in that contest? Yes, great exposure if I would be featured
- Do I want to share my thoughts about photography with others, for example through writing a blog or teaching? Yes
- Do I want to go to that portfolio review? Yes
Yes is a powerful word. Saying yes to these opportunities can be a great way to get something moving in your photography. Moreover, they can cause a snowball effect and lead you to more, unpredictable, great opportunities and experiences.
I have talked about this in my unemployment article, where I used this strategy to try new things within the field of photography. It brought me a lot of expected and unexpected new experiences and I am grateful to that.
However, the danger of this mode of decision-making is that we forget the bigger picture and don’t always know when to stop. In one study about eating behaviour, people were faced with a bowl of soup. What they didn’t know was that it kept refilling from the bottom. As a result, people ate more soup out of these bowls, but felt less satiated.
At some point, you find yourself juggling too many things. Now, three possible results can occur:
- One (or more) of the balls you’re juggling will fall. Your performance lower or you miss a deadline. The problem might solve itself, but you didn’t have an active say in it. So maybe the ball that accidentally fell was the ball you liked the best.
- You fall. In your restless effort to keep juggling, you keep on going until you fall down yourself. Now, you might have lost all motivation and energy to keep up even just one ball.
- You take control and switch to a different decision-making mode.
Switching to ‘Which’-decisions
Making yes/no decisions and choosing yes for every great opportunity is easy. Being busy is easy. So how can we turn our decision-making process around?
In his book, Tony Crabbe advices to switch to ‘Which’ decisions, instead of ‘Yes/No’ decisions. Our energy and time are depletable resources. So instead of making yes/no decisions, switch to the question ‘Which activity will I choose’?
Note that, with activity, don’t forget more abstract things, such as: having time to just wander around with your camera, time to daydream, time to play around in lightroom with old photographs, or freedom to go on an impulse adventure.
Making a ‘Which’ decision is much more difficult than the succession of ‘Yes/No’ decisions we usually face. It will require some thinking effort. Therefore, set some time apart for this at a moment when your head is clear and you have sufficient energy.
Now, decide which activities you will focus on and cut down the rest (if possible, I am not saying to quit your paid job if you need the money). It might take you some time, but start to think about your priorities today and then slowly cut down until you’ve reached an optimal level of activities to you.
For me, a great new future opportunity arrived and I said yes (more on this another time). However, this made my photography plate overly full. Therefore, over the past months, I have been practicing saying no and giving up. I said no to a new photography contest for an exhibition (even though the theme fitted my project) and gave up on: becoming a guide at the photo museum, doing more interviews for Urbanautica and teaching at the photography club. I will also stay away from enrolling/renewing photography classes and workshops as a trial for one year. I have some more decisions that are in progress.
Such decisions aren’t easy, because all of these were great experiences. So how can you avoid regret when making these ‘which’ decisions?
First of all, it is important to realise that by letting go of these activities, you now have more time and energy to commit to the things you considered your priorities.
Another way to overcome regret is to face decisions from a No-Lose standpoint. This is outlined in another classic of the self-help genre (Feel the fear and do it anyway – Susan Jeffers).
In a No-Win model, you are feeling paralysed by the decision you need to make: should I do this or that, what if this, what if that? Which decision is THE RIGHT one? This makes it a very heavy decision and might result in more doubting and regret after the decision.
In a No-Lose model, you are reframing your decision. You are now facing two right paths. No matter which decision you make – and despite of the outcome – you will have the chance to learn, have new experiences, grow and move along in your quest to find out who you’d really like to be or what you want from life. When you start from this mindset, your decision-making process will be much lighter. It doesn’t really matter that much, both options are valuable.
Then do your homework about the alternatives, establish your priorities, trust your impulses, lighten up and make your decision. Afterwards: throw away your picture (the picture you had in your mind of how this resulting choice should turn out and be open to how things unfold) and accept total responsibility for the decision.
If, after a while, it turns out that this wasn’t your right path, don’t feel stuck in your chosen route, but feel free to correct it. For example, if, after this year, I miss the creative guidance of having weekly photography classes, I can always enrol again next year.
What will you focus on? What will you give up?
So, if you have been feeling ‘too busy’ for a while now, maybe now is a good time to rephrase your decisions from ‘yes/no?’, to ‘which?’. And remember, no matter what you choose to focus on, or give up on, it will turn out a great learning opportunity anyway.
How are you handling the wealth of new photography opportunities without feeling overwhelming? When do you know your plate is full? Do you have other tips when it comes to decision-making about your activities? Feel free to share them here. Also, feel free to share this article with those you think might be struggling with feeling too busy too.