In his best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (which sold over 25 million copies), the late Stephen Covey stresses the habit of keeping your “tools” sharp. To operate at your highest and best levels, you have to remember to keep yourself sharp—and not just in your external career tools (e.g. using the latest digital gear and software), you must also attend to sharpening your internal tools.
These tools include: patience, objectivity, better listening skills, pro-activity, resourcefulness, and most importantly in our industry: creativity. All of these skills can be renewed by regular breaks.
During the first 5 years of my long repping career, I never took a vacation.
I was completely blind to the toll of going without a “time out.” I became what I call, a “stress-monkey.” I was approaching burn-out. Others could see it in me, but I could not.
Without self-awareness we fail to see the toll stress takes on our productivity, creativity, and our relationships. While blind to the toll, it’s unlikely we’ve any motivation to change. I know when I was in it so deep, I could not even see there was a problem much less seeing a solution.
Ironically, once I did start taking breaks, I saw the stress monkey alive and well in one of the photographers I was repping. He never took breaks and was well on the self-sabotaging road to burn-out. Chronic stress was eroding both his creativity and his communication skills.
Eventually, his creative “well” ran dry. He was no longer able to produce the new portfolio pieces necessary for me to get him work from the best ad agencies and our relationship became extremely strained.
Then a major ad industry recession led to a screeching halt to all work. A non-deliberate work break occurred that was filled with nothing except fear and anxiety. Creative renewal couldn’t possibly occur. We split up.
Once free, I noticed what I’d not seen before: the most successful and happy photographers I knew took regular breaks for renewal. They understood it’s an essential habit for maintaining the level creativity necessary in a successful commercial photography career that can go the distance. The next photographer I picked up had those habits; we achieved even greater success together.
Challenge yourself: Take a 10-min. walk around the block without your smartphone (!!) today. Really observe the environment. Then notice how much more energy and focus you have after you return to your computer. Try for one session per day.
It may seem counter-intuitive to take a break when you’re looking for work, but if you try it, you might be surprised by the seemingly “coincidental” sources of help and inspiration that show up when you gain the greater awareness that comes from being less chronically-stressed.
When you’ve experienced how these small actions can yield big productivity results, see about scheduling a longer “refilling-the-well” break and enjoy its creative rewards, as well. As Stephen Covey pointed out in two of my favorite inspirational quotes, “Every time you think the problem is ‘out there,’ that very thought is the problem.” and “Live out of your imagination, not your history.”
Time for my 10-minute walk……