In our Goals for 2015 we listed that we were going to be better at making time for ourselves this year. So far that hasn’t been a problem, but with wedding season just weeks away we needed to decide how we were going to find balance between our personal and professional lives. As with most goals, you need a plan in place before you can really dig down, and begin working towards achieving that goal. We needed a set of rules that we can both follow and hold each other accountable to throughout the year.
Why are we doing this you ask? Do we really need to make a list of rules to follow, just to take a day off?! It seems so. You see we are the business. There is no one else we can deflect to, or pass our work along to. If we start to slip up, the only people who suffer are our couples. And that simply isn’t an option. So we work, and we work as much as necessary to create and maintain the type of business we want to be proud of. And we enjoy ever second of it! But, when we are entirely focused on the business we forget about the need for down time, personal time, family time. We used to think taking time to ourselves was selfish and wasn’t productive. Now we know better. Now we see things clearer. Taking a step away from the business is necessary for the business. Without at least one day a week to focus on our family, just one, we will become burnt out and the business will suffer. More upsetting, is that our couples would suffer as a result, and that will never be an option.
During off season, when weddings are not in full force, we spend an average of 35 to 40 hours working individually each week. This is slow, and it’s easy to have a full day off, sometimes even two! But between March and November things get crazy. The average week for each of us hits 70 hours of work time. Although we wish we were exaggerating, this is true. We recently looked back at our calendar from 2014. In doing so we realized that for a span of 94 straight days in the Spring we worked without a day off. Again in the Fall, we hit 97 days of non stop work. And we’re talking full work days. This blew our minds and forced us to make a change. Last year we worked through our family’s birthdays, missed important family events, and even had consultations on Mother’s Day ruining our family’s plans to treat us to a special day.
“Work smarter not harder” is something we’ve been told many times. And we fully understand this concept. In fact we’ve been implementing ways to streamline our workflow for years now. 70 hours a week is an improvement from where we were. There was a time when we worked more hours and got less done. But we need to do more. This year we need to find a way to incorporate one full day off each week. Changes need to be made. But even after we make these changes to our weekly schedule, the number of hours will not change. Every minute that we spent working last year was focused, precise, organized and prioritized. Otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten it all done each week. What we have to do differently this year is squeeze those hours into 6 days, not 7. So yes, we’ll end up working longer hours Monday through Saturday. We’ll be up later each night. Our alarms will go off earlier each day, but we will be giving ourselves one full day to spend with our family, giving them our full attention, and Sunday will be that day.
No work on Sundays. That’s right folks, we’re not going to work on Sundays. We come from households that still believe Sunday is a day of rest, and we’re going to make sure to live up to that standard this year. There will be no engagement sessions or otherwise on Sundays this year. There will be no emails answered on Sundays this year. There will be an extremely limited number of consultations on Sundays this year (see? we’re breaking this rule already but we know that realistically speaking someone is going to need a consult on a Sunday, and we know we’ll break to accommodate). It’s going to be hard, but after talking with a lot of other photographers, we’ve come to realize this is essential to our business. It may seem counter productive, but with working husbands and young children, Sunday is the only day we can turn into a full day off and spend time with our loved ones. A day off during the week that we would spend by ourselves isn’t the point.
Here are some rules we’ve put in place to help us do it:
1. Mark every Sunday in our calendar as “OFF” and stick to it. Period.
2. Make room for more engagement sessions during the week. Last year we spent almost every Sunday away from family dinner, prepping for, driving to, shooting, driving home from, and backing up engagement sessions. With Sunday eliminated from our optional work days, we’ll need to fill in the time with more weeknight sessions.
3. Turn the computers off Saturday night. Turn them on again Monday morning. Eliminate the temptation to “get a little work done”.
4. No emails on Sunday unless they are incredibly important, time sensitive, or emergent. “I’m just going to answer this email real quick” really means “See you in 3 hours” to our family. We’re eliminating that problem by limiting our emails to being checked on the phone when we get a notification, and simply waiting until Monday to answer them. *This means if you send an email Friday night you may not get a response from us until Monday morning. Please know we are shooting a wedding all day Saturday, and usually not home until 1 or 2am. Please be patient with us in regard to emails sent over the weekend.*
5. Let go of the need to blog early. We like to have our Monday Minutes post up bright an early Monday morning. That means those posts have been edited, written and blogged Sunday afternoon or evening to be ready to go Monday morning. Not this year. Monday Minutes posts might not go up until the afternoon, and we’ll just have to learn to be ok with that.
6. Schedule “cram weeks”. We know there’s going to be a time every so often we want to break our own rule because we feel such need to always be one step ahead of our workflow. When people diet, you often see them talk about “cheat days” when they can eat whatever they want as a healthy break from the limitations of a diet. These “cram weeks” will be our “cheat days”. Every 2 to 3 months our calendar has a week highlighted in red. These weeks we’re allowed to schedule more engagement sessions than normal, pack in a lot of consultations, and spend extra hours getting ahead. Hopefully these cheat weeks will help us stay focused on the bigger picture.
7. Schedule family stuff! It’s easy to get caught behind the computer when you work from home. So this year not only are Sunday’s scheduled to be OFF we will also make sure to schedule fun things to do outside of the house to ensure we don’t get caught up working. If a trip downtown, or to the museum, or to grandma’s for a cookout is on the calendar, we’ll be more inclined to not work.
8. Let go of the guilt. This, from what we’ve been told, is the hardest rule to follow but the most important. We cannot let ourselves feel guilty for taking control of our schedules, and making ourselves as equally important as our couples. There isn’t a reason to feel guilty about this, and we’ll have to work at reminding ourselves all year long 😉
So there you have it. A very long post about how we’re going to hopefully stay sane this year. More importantly, how we’re going to get to be a part of The Cheeks’ lives as they grow up this year, and give them at least one full “Mama and LuLu Day” each week. That’s what Sweet Cheeks calls days that we don’t work, days he has us to himself without our noses in our phones. In our homes there isn’t a name for the days we work, there’s a name for the rare days we don’t. The big picture is what we’re after, and serving our couples well all year long without any burnout is our goal.