Tools beneath the trade
Tools of the trade. We all know those within our craft... the things we wield to create art and product from our skills. For me, it's a magical black box that hunts and captures light to forge a re-creation of one momentary slice of reality. It's called a camera. And it's amazing.
For you that aren't photographers, it could be brushes, software, typewriters, welding tools or clown makeup.
Those are the tools OF the trade. But what about the tools BENEATH the trade?
These are the tools I long ignored. I've talked before about how I'm naturally wired as an artist, not as a businessperson; that photography is natural but productivity, efficiency, business networking, planning and organization are not inherently built into my brain. Therefore, naturally, I suck at those things.
Therefore... without help, I'm a generally unreliable person. What good is the art if you can't be reliable with it?
But not so long ago I began to learn that you CAN adapt, and there are many ways to compensate for what doesn't come naturally. Now I'm perpetually trying to see new ways to overcome those natural tendencies to daydream and procrastinate, to make messes (of my mind, house, or computer) and not clean them up... to get excited about an idea and then drop it like a rock because I don't know how to carry through.
So I've stopped using [some of] my excuses. And I found tools that help.
It's amazing how freeing for the mind it is to let apps and other organizational tools keep track of your floating thoughts for you. I don't know about you, but if I don't feel something is properly archived, categorized, or planned for, I still feel the almost subconscious responsibility to keep it on the fringes of my mind. This leads to a cluttered mind- because you can only keep track of so many things at once- and you find it harder and harder to focus, leading to panic and apathy.
Here's a few of those digital tools that have helped me.
I have my videographer buddy Derek to thank for this one... he showed me not more than a few weeks ago, and I'm forever indebted.
Everlance is an app designed to track every business, well, everything you do, very quickly and easily. For those of you who are just now starting to think about how to track things for your taxes- things you might not have even known you could/should log, like mileage or the triple-venti-white-mocha you had at your last client meeting at the coffeeshop- you have no idea how much time and effort this could save you later.
The app lets you select from 3 different categories; expense, revenue, or trip. For expense or revenue, you can log the date & time, take a photo to log with the transaction, and make notes.
For trips, you have 2 options; leave the app running in the background all the time (it will automatically track your mileage for you), then after each trip, you can swipe left for 'personal' trip or right for 'business'. I don't do a ton of traveling, so I went ahead and turned that feature off- now I just manually enter my trips (addresses w/ notes on what I was doing) when I make them.
And at any point, you can go into 'account', tap 'taxes', and see a breakdown of your exact tax info so far for the year. If you've kept track of everything well (takes a little bit to get into that habit), you've got your taxable income to date, available immediately at any time.
This is way, WAY better than sitting down at the end of the year and sifting back through e-mails and calendars to log all that info for taxes. Heh, not that I did it that way before, of course... *cough cough.
Well, duh, right? Sometimes you can overlook the simplest possible things for a really long time. For literally YEARS, I would forget to do specific items, every single day, because I didn't have a way to write something down in the moment and then be reminded to do it at a time when I could get to it. Every damn day. FOR YEARS.
About a month ago, I sheepishly began using the 'reminders' app on my phone, after about 173 times of my wife saying 'isn't there a way to set reminders on your phone?' Well yeah, ignorant-me, there was. And it's amazing. Now, if I'm at work and think of something that needs done at home, I set a reminder. If I'm at home and think of an e-mail that needs sent for work, I make a reminder to go off when I'm at work the next morning. One of the best aspects of this is that it's SUPER helpful for when you can't forget something work-related- but getting into your e-mail or work computer in that moment is going to disrupt the quietitude of home/family time.
This isn't really a 'try out this amazing app'- it's a 'remember to take a look at the tools you already have'.
Google docs have revolutionized the way I organize large scale projects, specifically ones in which I'm collaborating with others. It's not a glamorous program, but it's free, it's useful, and, well, it's google, so it's incredibly intuitive. I first used it when creating my last photonovel- I can't think of how else we would have organized our thoughts and notes on a project that needed regular feedback from 3 different people (photographer, writer, producer), one of whom lives all the way in Brooklyn. Without google docs, everything would have continued to be fleshed out in never-ending e-mail threads. It's astounding how you can spend literally hours of wasted time searching through e-mails to find a specific link or note.
I'm using google docs right NOW on a children's book collaboration (more on that soon)- the screenshot above gives you a glimpse of that project. Here's what's great about it:
No changes ever get lost. Google saves your work in real time, just like their e-mail service. May blessings be heaped upon the technological giant for this, because try as I may, I don't always remember to save things as often as I should.
You can add anyone to the project easily, and multiple people can make changes or notes at the same time. Great for when it's difficult to plan and brainstorm in person.
You can do pretty much anything you need in here to keep a project organized- drop photos in, make tables, and my favorite feature is how the doc will automatically make sections out of bold/all-caps text that you can skip directly to.
A lot of creatives swear by evernote, and there's a reason for that. It's just super helpful for virtually organizing, brainstorming, and project tracking. It has some overlap with google docs, but here's what's different and why I use it:
Evernote has both computer and phone based app versions. If you want to remember something- say a page from a magazine or a quote from a book- you can snap a photo of it on your phone and add it into a notebook on the app. It's then added to the computer version as well, so there's always easy access .
The program is perfect for obsessive note-takers like myself. I listen to podcasts and interviews religiously (my favorite right now is the Chase Jarvis '30 days of genius' series)- and I also have a terrible memory. Every time I have a podcast open while I'm working, I leave evernote open as well and create a new section so that I can quickly type out quotes & notes I want to remember. You can easily add other info and images to those notes as well.
Evernote is organized in a way that it's never too hard to find or organize anything. You split up your MAIN areas of focus into virtual 'notebooks' (I have one for current projects, one for future projects, one for filmmaking tidbits, one for marketing notes, etc etc)- then add as many notes as you want within the notebooks. If you clutter it up with hundreds of 'notes' like I do, they are highly 'searchable', which ends up being the quickest way to get back to references I'm looking for.
Ok, so here's another 'well, duh' moment. Most of us know that g-mail is the bomb when it comes to e-mail services, even if they are collecting our personal information to build AI that will replace us. Unlimited storage, great searchability, and my favorite, the 'are you sure you want to send this without an attachment?" box that pops up when your e-mail says "so here's that attachment" but you forgot to actually attach it.
HOWEVER. I went years without realizing the full potential of g-mail, and I'm sure I'm still not even fully aware now. Here's what I have discovered that's slightly beyond the obvious:
Inbox categories. If you haven't done this already, go into settings and set your e-mail to automatically sort your e-mails into different tabs. I have mine sorted into social/updates/primary; I check those about once a day to clear them out (mostly junk) and my 'primary' inbox is kept down to actual e-mails from real people.
'Archive' feature. Have you been seeing those 'get your inbox down to zero' articles and swearing that it's impossible? It's actually super easy, if you have hundreds of e-mails in your inbox that you don't want sitting there (you've already responded or ignored) but you don't want to outright DELETE either. Just archive them- they're still there, but they aren't cluttering up your immediately viewable inbox. Just select a date to start archiving (say, you want to archive everything before 2 weeks ago). Use the format, "before:YYY/MM/DD" in the 'search' box, select all, and hit the archive button (looks like an arrow). BOOM! clean inbox.
'Archive' continued- every time I respond to an e-mail, I immediately archive it- unless of course, it contains something in it that I need to act on. I rarely have more than a dozen e-mails in my primary inbox at any given time, and I've kept it that way for the past year. I used to think, if the conversation was ongoing, I needed to keep the e-mail sitting there- but if it's their turn to respond, why let it clutter up your inbox/mind? The only e-mails in front of me now are ones it's my turn to take action on.
Folders. I created a number of folders that I can automatically put certain messages in- one for 'reference' for instance, one for bills I've paid, one for receipts, etc. That way I can easily get to those specific types of messages without having to go through the archive.
Mint.com is an all around fantastic budgeting and financial tracking tool. Here's the rundown:
you have the option to enter in every banking, credit card, and student loan account you have, into one place. It's a powerful thing to do that; seeing all your financials at once is the first concrete step to ADULTING with your money.
Once you have everything plugged into the account, it will automatically track every debit card purchase you make. Now I realize this actually goes in the exact opposite direction as the Dave Ramsey cash-only approach to budgeting, but hear me out. I personally, am not a cash-on-hand person- I prefer to use a card for everything. It's just way more convenient. With mint, this is perfect because now I have a perfect running record of everything I spend. I can now make budgets based on an accurate analysis of what I spend.
Mint automatically categorizes your purchases, then lets you view them according to date ranges and categories. In VERY nice infographics that actually make me able to stomach looking at anything to do with ugly financial stuff. If you want to hold yourself accountable, it'll sober you up real quick to be able to instantly search EXACTLY how much you spent at taco bell in the last 60 days.
Mint also gives you the option to change the categories and set your own. That's where it comes in super handy for a business. I pay for all my print orders and equipment through online debit card purchases. Therefore all that info is coming back to mint, and I can set it to automatically put any purchase from a certain company (say, B&H photo, or my dropbox pro account) into the business category I set- products, equipment, marketing, etc. So I have a running record of expenses that serves as a great back-up to my everlance app (in case I miss something when I'm logging my expenses).