Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

Well, do ya?*

(* or how not to fail at photography, project management, and life, and use GTD, PDCA, and your desk calendar in your quest for world domination.)

The title words (or something pretty darn close) were spoken by Clint Eastwood in the movie ‘Dirty Harry’, which was set in San Francisco, which is an excellent locale for todays (slightly stretched) metaphoric subtitle.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Every year we go to San Francisco, sometimes for the RSA convention (in real life I used to be a firewall guy, and still am an all-round IT type of guy). And every year I see vendors selling (and failing), and I see RSA attendees implementing (and failing), and I see speakers attempting to instruct (and generally failing – there are notable exceptions like Chris Hoff and Co. – his koolaid got kick) – but I digress.

So what’s with all the massive FAIL? How can vendors not sell, customers not do projects well, integrators totally blow it, and speakers fail to make a point (what WAS the Symantec keynote guy on, BTW? Anyone? Anyone?)

Little hint: None of them had a working strategy; no plan, no do, no check, and no act. Just buckets of repeating fail. It’s like there was an ACME truck parked out back, selling buckets of the stuff.

Which is all a shame, because San Francisco is a terrific place for photography. Everyone who goes there can get interesting shots like the one at the start of this post. But that’s a topic for another post…

A whole bunch of posts ago I posted about how to Get Things Done. And I promised an update on how well I’ve been doing at using these methods at kick-starting the business side of my photography square in the behind. With the beautiful city of San Francisco as our backdrop, and the now-immortal words of Dirty Harry gently suggesting that luck may not be enough to cut it, let’s delve in.

My strategy is still this:
1. Just Start. Beginning, middle or end – doesn’t matter, just start for Pete’s sake!
2. Use GTD to capture the maelstrom of ideas and things-to-do and bring order to chaos.
3. Use Success Calendars to ensure I keep balance to my life.
4. Apply a little “Plan-Do-Check-Act” to the whole thing – once I figured out where I’d actually started from.
Before all this I had a dozen items in a single GTD project. Now I had over two hundred! For you GTD geeks out there, implementation-wise I switched from a gmail based system to Remember the Milk (RTM) when I got my iPhone. It JUST ROCKS!
Lesson: A dozen disconnected items in a GTD/RTM list do not form a business plan.
I kinda knew this; in ‘Real Life’ I build business cases for projects all the time, often to the point where I understand the nuances of the business drivers better than the people I hand off the completed projects to. But I had no ‘seed material’, no templates, and I knew this information was out there.
Off to the library I went, and found a ton of books on photography as a business. Too many, actually. After skimming most, and reading a few, I decided that I had osmotically absorbed the pattern they were laying down. Why the library? Why not Google? Simply because the act of creating a book shows a pretty high degree of commitment to the subject material by the author. The internet … no so much.
And then, as often happens for me, I did ‘feel lucky’ and found ‘189 business building ideas for photographers‘. I chalked it up to ‘Chance favors a prepared mind’, or with a modern spin: ‘Chance favors the connected mind’ – since I’m pretty sure the list was delivered via Twitter.
The list seemed great; there were many items in that list that rung true; either I knew them already, they were common sense, or were new to me, but not far fetched. The only issue was how disjointed the list was. Enter my favorite slicer-dice, the spreadsheet!
After a few hours and a couple days of mental gestation, I realized the only way to cut to the meat of the list was to approach it with my strategy:
1. Just Start: I copied the list into a spreadsheet to easily apply organization to it.
2. GTD it: Treat the list as an entire GTD Inbox in need of processing. It turns out there are between 5 and 7 projects hidden in those 189 items.
3. Add to each item a ‘color’ from the Success Calendars:
  • Blue – as in ‘blue sky’ – to step back, take stock, and plan.
  • Red – as in ‘red tape’ – all the admin ‘crappus’ (that’s latin for ‘crap’)
  • Green – for ‘green machine’ – money making items
  • Yellow – ‘mellow yellow’ – downtime!
4. Sort the results as ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’, and also do a P-D-C-A on the whole enchilada.
And that very last step – the PDCA – is what this post really is.
For starters there are some blue, a few yellow, one green, and a TON of red items in that list. I won’t detail it because it’s subjective, but it’s mostly administrivia.
Once the items were sliced into colors it was trivial to send lists of multiple items to RTM as an email. Just four emails later and I had imported the entire set of 189 items into my GTD system, already into their lists, bypassing the Inbox.
From there I knew I wanted to refine the blue planning entries because they also represent the ‘Plan’ of PDCA, and I knew I could start with those right away. So if it wasn’t a pure-blue item it was moved to another list.
It was also pretty plain that a LOT of items were ‘@online’ so I ended up with a ‘Photo – Online’ list and a ‘Photo – Web Sites’ list; one for online activities, and one for the web sites where I can control the content, like this blog.
I also started stuffing lots of items into the Someday list – there were a lot of items that might be good if you have 20 years of experience as a working photographer, but that’s not me…. but Someday… maybe.
The other lists are for Admin, Biz, Learn, Marketing, Networking, and the ‘Kit’ – the portfolio, business cards, and tear sheets we all need to keep together.
That whole process took less than an hour.
From there I took some initial stabs at further breaking down the items into Strategic, Tactical, and Operational goals, because some of them were direct suggestions of what to do, some were more quite ‘fluffy’, and some seemed to glue the two together.
This led – finally – to executing the first item on the blue list, which was item #91: Set 10 goals.
Ok, you can stop laughing now – it’s not nearly as infinite-loopy as it sounds. But it IS a enough for a post of it’s own.
And where does this leave me, in a day-to-day way?
  • Every day has a color (from the success calendars), so I know which task lists I should be working on that day, and I’m not stuck in planning mode. I’ve already started to attack red-list items on red days.
  • All the Someday stuff is now safely out of the way, but not forgotten.
  • When it’s a yellow day I know I can walk away and enjoy doing something else without guilt or distraction, and if something pops into my head, I have my GTD inbox with me (RTM on the iPhone).
Now, about the lack of Green days where I actually make money at this …. that’s something for another post too….

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