How and Why to Have a Workflow
The New Year is often a time of re-structuring. For me it’s also the slow season for my business. Over the years I’ve learned to use those slow times to create the structure I need for when things get crazy. That said I wanted to write a little bit about what a workflow is, why you should have a written one, and two steps to help you tweak your workflow to make it as efficient as possible.
What is a workflow?
A workflow is simply a set of steps arranged in an order. That can apply to doing laundry, preparing dinner or post processing photos from a shoot. Your workflow for laundry is probably pretty simple and doesn’t involve too many steps. But when it comes to post-processing a wedding (or any type of shoot) there are dozens of steps from uploading, backing up, culling, editing, social media distribution to client delivery.
Some people do not have any kind of workflow and do things different every time. Most have some kind of flow but just need to make it easier and quicker. The few ultra-productive ones have a workflow they have thought out, tweaked for maximum efficiency and written down. I can guarantee that the better your workflow is the happier that you, your family, and your clients will be.
I teach a class on post-processing workflows for wedding photographers at The Define School. Many students have told me their processing time has gone from 40+ hours per wedding down to less than eight hours per wedding simply from learning the steps and tricks to a good written workflow! There isn’t enough space in this post to go over the whole class, but I do have room to write two key steps to shaving time off when post-processing.
1. Know your end goals and write them down.
Having your end goals in mind and in writing is a huge help in eliminating unnecessary steps. Your end goal might simply be to pick out a few of your favorite photos for Facebook, or it might be a more complex list of directories and formats for distributing a wedding to your clients. You might only want proofs as your end result or you might only want favorites. Regardless of what it is, think through everything you will ever need to use the photos for, decide what formats they need to be in for those uses and make a WRITTEN list of what it will look like to have all the photos processed and ready to archive.
When I first started shooting weddings, I would finish editing and then export all my photos into a number of different folders and formats. After that I would go into each and every folder and re-arrange and rename all the photos. I would also export them differently and name the folders differently every time. It created a nightmare in my archives. Knowing your end goals helps prevent you from wasting time in unnecessary ways like I did in the early stages of my business.
With the way I do things now there is peace and tranquility in my archives.
Taking a little time up front to WRITE out my end goals saved me literally hundreds of hours over the course of a year. Not only did I save time by doubling up on processes like arranging the photos, but I also avoided all the trouble of having to fix things later or try to figure out which steps I missed.
2. Write your workflow down.
I can’t tell you how many times I have come up with a new great system and then forgotten the whole thing in one of those gaps between shoots. I know writing things down isn’t the most fun, but in addition to not forgetting the steps there are a couple other advantages.
First, you don’t miss any steps or do them in the wrong order. Just like the example above, if I didn’t arrange the photos early on in the process it took me three times longer to do it later. Writing the steps down allows you to think through and tweak things to be as efficient as possible. If your workflow, or software, or business changes, just change the steps.
The second advantage of having a written workflow is it lets you skip a step. If you don’t know what the next step is that means the next step is figuring out what the next step is. If you have to figure out the where to start every time you sit down to work, you are adding one step you don’t need. It’s a huge waste of time. We all know life happens and sometimes you get pulled out of your groove. When it does, have a workflow that let’s you jump right back in with no confusion.
Third, having a written workflow increases moral. I know how long each step in my workflow takes me. Some take thirty minutes, others take three hours. But knowing how long each step is makes the process seem less overwhelming. When you sit down to a big massive project with an undefined ending it’s easy to get discouraged and procrastinate. But, if you know the first step always takes you around ninety minutes, it’s easy to start and tell yourself I just need to do step one right now and then I can take a break. Once you’re done with step one, step two is easy to jump into. Pretty soon you are all done!
That’s all there is to it. I think you will find that just the act of writing down your goals and the steps to get there will help you discover a myriad of ways to do things faster and better! You will be many steps closer to complete control of your business and your free time!
Lukas VanDyke and his wife Suzy are wedding photographers and teachers based out of Los Angeles, CA. Lukas teaches a 4-week class at The Define School called Post-Shoot Workflow. Registration for his February class opens January 21st. More info can be found here.