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Lessons Learned: Avoiding burnout by having boundaries

There seems to be a pattern with wedding season that happens around the same time each year for me. See, there are ebbs and flows as the Spring turns into Summer, and as the Summer gives way to Fall. I tend to book most of my year’s engagement sessions in May, September & October, due to the unpredictable summer temperatures here in Virginia. I LOVE that my couples want to take advantage of the spring mornings and changing fall colors, but in the past that’s meant that I’ve often over-scheduled myself and end up feeling totally exhausted and frustrated with the cause of it all: my own inability to make boundaries and keep to them!

Avoiding burnout during wedding season- Abby Grace Photography

I’ve reach the “breaking point” (you know, when you open the refrigerator, realize you’re out of milk, and ugly cry/weep from the stress of it?) four times in my career. Looking back, there were a few common denominators in each of those four situations:

  1. I was booked every weekend for at least six weeks in a row
  2. I had at least one engagement/anniversary session throughout each of those weeks
  3. I WASN’T scheduling/keeping to my days off
  4. A lack or overall organization and help

These days, I still have times that are more stressful than others, but I’ve found a few specific ways to prevent myself from hitting rock bottom again!

A) Know your limits for how much you can handle. Some photographers can handle double- and triple-headers week in and week out, but I’m not one of them. That was a limitation I used to try and push, but every time I did, I ended up miserable as a result (that misery was with MYSELF, not any of my clients!). I’ve learned my limit is no more than 4 wedding weekends in a row, and that if I AM going to make an exception and book a double header, I need to be really enthusiastic about both couples for that weekend. I put so much of my heart into every wedding that it’s emotionally as well as physically demanding.

B) Know your turnaround time, and do everything you can to stick to it. My most recent low point came as a result of sheer poor planning. I had six wedding weekends in a row, and I let the editing from each wedding spill over into the following week… and sometimes the week after that, as well. The result was having, at times, 2-3 weddings on my plate that hadn’t even begun to be edited, with another 2-3 engagement sessions and a wedding coming up that weekend. Outsourcing will hopefully be something I do next year, but for the here and now, it’s my policy not to allow major edits to spill over from one wedding to the next. It’s not fair to my couples to make them wait weeks and weeks for their images- I promise my clients 4-6 weeks for their wedding photographs, but it’s my preference to have them done in 1-2!

C) STICK to those limits! When you have a client who’s really excited about doing a fall engagement session, it’s easy to look at your already-packed schedule for October and think, “One more engagement session can’t hurt!” But I’ve learned that I’m actually doing my clients a disservice by overbooking. It’s not fair to my wedding clients if I arrive to their big day completely deflated, devoid of inspiration because I tried to pack too many sessions in before their wedding day.

D) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This thing we do, running small business often completely on our own? It’s not easy. Thinking of all my favorite/most successful photographers, they all have something in common- they all have HELP, whether that’s in the form of their spouse being their business partner, a full-time assistant, etc. Many of us don’t have that luxury, so finding help becomes that much more important. For me, my biggest sources of job-related stress-alleviation come from my shooting interns + Align album design.

So, practically speaking, what do MY personal boundaries look like?

  1. No more than 4 wedding weekends in a row
  2. During a week that I have a wedding, no more than ONE engagement or anniversary session (not both)
  3. No shooting the day before a wedding
  4. Anniversary and engagement sessions are limited to Tuesday-Thursday, to give me a day off after a wedding weekend (Monday [since I spent a full weekend day working]) and a day to prep before a wedding (Friday).
  5. Wedding-free weekend? That’s marked as time OFF on my calendar- no portrait sessions/meetings on the weekends!
  6. Email responses are limited to 9-5, Monday-Friday. Unless there’s an emergency, I don’t answer email on the weekends.
  7. My family comes before my business. It’s because of this that I don’t shoot portraits or host client meetings on weekends- free Saturdays are a gift, and Matt deserves that time with me.
  8. One I’m booked, I’m booked. No ifs, ands or buts- these boundaries are in place for my own sanity.

One of the best tools I’ve found for helping me stick to my boundaries is my Day Designer + washi tape! This has become a total lifesaver. I can tell at first glance whether I have availability during any given week, and once I’m booked, I can tell that at first glance as well, which makes keeping to rule #8 even easier!

Avoiding burnout during wedding season- Abby Grace Photography

^Here’s what any given month might look like on my Day Designer^. And here’s what it all means-

  • Gold washi tape means “available”- I know I’m free to book an anniversary/engagement session on those days. Since I only book anniversaries/engagements Tuesday-Thursday, I just put a small piece on all the days during a week that could work. Once ONE of those days is booked, though, I remove all pieces of “available” tape for the week, since I only book one portrait session during weeks that I also shoot weddings.
  • Teal washi tape means “session”- so I know I’m BOOKED that day and can’t accept anything else, shooting-wise.
  • Black & white washi tape means “day off!” I’m not allowed to schedule meetings or shoots on those days.
  • No washi tape in a particular week? That means I don’t have any availability left.

This would be really easy to do in Google calendar, too, I just happen to be more of a paper-based kinda gal.

It’s taken me 4 wedding seasons to figure out what boundaries are essential to both my success as a business owner AND my mental sanity as a person, and I still occasionally mess up and bit off more than I can chew.  I know these rules will continue to change/develop as I grow, but I can’t even begin to express how freeing it is to abide by these ones. It makes it easier to say “yes” when I know I have the time, and that much easier to say “no” when I know I don’t. AND, I feel a heck of a lot less guilty about taking time off on my days marked “off!”

These rules have developed from a desire to continue to love what I do. I don’t ever want to become so burned out from running my business that I end up wanting to leave it all behind, so I create boundaries for myself that separate work from LIFE, enabling me to enjoy my couples, their love stories, their wedding days. My desire is to “work to live,” NOT “live to work.” I love what I do, but my life story is so much bigger than just what I do for a profession.:)

paulina - October 1, 2014 - 12:36 am

just as i was about to double-book myself for an upcoming saturday, i thought about this post and realized that it wouldn’t be worth it.

abby saves the day! ;)

Kelsey McNichols - September 30, 2014 - 7:47 pm

I see my name on your calendar! Now I’m even more excited than I already was :)

Maria - September 26, 2014 - 4:36 pm

I love this system! Love that there are visuals to SHOW you when you are booked. I may have to do this myself :)

Marisa Crider - September 26, 2014 - 10:54 am

Abby, this is one of my favorite posts you have written. It is so incredibly true. Creating boundaries as a business owner is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve been faced with. I’m very much a “yes” person. But when you create boundaries you find yourself more refreshed and ready to take on the day or task! Thanks for sharing this! Definitely inspiring :)

Alysha Christine - September 26, 2014 - 9:04 am

Thank you so much for this post…seriously I felt like I was reading a story about my current situation right now. I feel like having healthy work/time boundaries is something MANY photographers struggle with (myself included) and it’s really encouraging to see how you’re handling the stress! One of my goals for “slow season” or “off season” is to sit down and evaluate everything that hasn’t been serving me/my business/my clients/my family/etc. this year. Time boundaries is definitely one of those things! It’s so hard to pick a day off a stick to it! I’ve always felt somewhat less than other photographers because I really struggle with double and triple headers, but I think that’s something I’m going to work on for next year! :) Thanks for the encouragement!

Caili - September 26, 2014 - 8:56 am

WASHI TAPE! That is the answer! I love this system, and already pulled my tape out to make changes to my calendar. Thank you for such a great idea! I learned so many things about boundaries from you, and sticking to them has helped my business (and my marriage!) so much. Love you, girl!

Jean - September 26, 2014 - 8:11 am

I may be prejudiced but I think you are doing a super job in managing your business and your family life. So proud of you.

Clarissa - September 26, 2014 - 8:11 am

That last line? LOVE IT. We seem to be in the same situation! except I have yet to think about my own boundaries and try not to break them.

Sarah Beth - September 26, 2014 - 8:09 am

UM. You’re a genius. The washi tape is the BEST IDEA EVER. As a visual learner I NEED to SEE the calendar at a glance and know- otherwise I spend like 5 minutes trying to figure out what the heck is going on. My new Day Designer is set to be mailed out mid October, and I am COUNTING DOWN. This is SO helpful, and man- did I need this today! PREACH!

Alexandra- a Washington DC ballerina session

I always arrive to ballerina sessions with a slightly elevated heart rate- these portraits are something I care so deeply about, a product of my very soul, and I get nervous that I’m going to come up short. But with dancers like Ali, all that fretting was pointless- I drove away from the Kennedy Center last week feeling as though I could fly. We planned, we shot, she danced, we raced against the clock to make it to the Kennedy Center in time, and in the end, the result was one of my all-time favorite ballerina portraits.

Ali, I’m so grateful you entrusted me with such a gorgeous session! It was an absolute joy to spend the evening with you; you’re gorgeous beyond words and I loved having the chance to photograph you in your element!

Washington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace Photography

Washington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace Photography

Washington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace Photography

 

kate triano - October 24, 2014 - 11:29 am

I’m kind of obsessed with the light in these images. Stunning work!

Sarah Beth - September 26, 2014 - 8:16 am

LOVE these for so many reasons <3 BOTH of those spots are favorites spots for Joey and I- I think ya know the one <3 That spot in Georgetown-Joey took me to when we first started dating-and it's been a favorite spot ever since! it's SO awesome. Last time we were there I saw two ballerinas taking photos of each other, and thought of you! How perfect that you used it! Seriously, Abby- EVERY. single one of your ballerina sessions blows me away and leaves me speechless. And I think that's the general consensus of all who are followers of your amazing work- you leave us all speechless!

Becca B - September 25, 2014 - 10:17 pm

Ohmygoodness these are all beautiful beyond words. I love the subtle edginess behind such classic elegance. That last one needs to be submitted for some kind of award!!!

Jean - September 25, 2014 - 12:20 pm

these are beautiful photos of a lovely ballerina! Just gorgeous. Great job, Abby!

Alicia - September 25, 2014 - 10:42 am

I started scrolling and each one I was like “new favorite”… scroll… “new favorite”… scroll… haha these are stunning, your best yet!!

Shalese - September 25, 2014 - 9:01 am

AH! That last shot is EVERYTHING!

Mike & Jill- a sunrise engagement session at the Jefferson Memorial

There was this thought that kept rolling over in my mind as the shutter clicked and the sun continued to climb through their engagement session- “He adores her.” Not in the way that a woman adores chocolate, or a pup adores their favorite toy. No, I mean it in the dictionary definition- “to regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; to honor.” The way he looked at her, embraced her, held her close, there was no doubt that she is adored by him in the way that every woman hopes to one day be cherished.

Mike & Jill, your relationship was the sweetest thing to behold at sunrise in front of such an iconic scene! It was truly an honor to spend the morning with you, and I am positively dancing on the spot in anticipation of your wedding next June! Thank you so very much for such a wonderful time.

A huge thank you to Anne of ATrendy Wedding for matching me up with Mike & Jill!

Washington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

Washington DC engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

Washington DC engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

 

Jim - October 14, 2014 - 5:59 pm

Mike & Jill! Mazel tov! The pics are beautiful. So happy for you both.

Sarah Beth - September 26, 2014 - 8:18 am

OKKK. How stinkin’ adorable are they!?!?!? At the end of the post, I had to wipe a huge silly grin off my face. These are perfect :)

Stacy Hart - September 24, 2014 - 7:38 pm

These are GORGEOUS!!! I love your style.

Rebekah - September 24, 2014 - 3:54 pm

What a beautiful couple with such infectious smiles! Great work! I also love her outfits & the fact that they included their adorable dog.

Jill Kronick - September 24, 2014 - 1:27 pm

Abby,

Thank you again for your beautiful work and artistry. These are so amazing and special!

Monday Mash-Up

Hello hello! I just Googled “interested ways to say ‘hello’” to see if I could find anything more interesting to start off this MMU with, and the first thing that popped up was “what it do?” And that reminded me of the song “Grillz” from like…2005, because of the part where the guy says “What it do, baby? It’s the ice man, Paul Wall. I keep my mouth shinin’ something like a disco ball.” Ahh, the lyrical prowess of Top 40 hits. I can’t help but be slightly depressed when I look at the lyrics of today compared to the lyrics of songs from the 40′s and 50′s. Amen? Amen.

We spent the weekend down in Roanoke with my grandparents and had a grand old time! My Granny and I made a new tulle skirt, and I think this one might be my new favorite! During our first attempt with the white skirt back in February, we made a pattern using a roll of wrapping paper and, for the first time since high school, employed pi (that’s 3.1415926…etc, etc, or 22/7) in order to calculate the circumference of the pattern we were cutting. We just so happened to save that roll of wrapping paper, which made crafting this particular skirt that much faster! I’m in LOVE with how this one came out- whaddya think?

Hand made tulle skirt- Abby Grace Photography

Lily decided she needed to be a part of our quick shoot, too. She’s such an attention hog.

Hand made tulle skirt- Abby Grace Photography

And here are my sweet grandparents. I’m starting to think I may have acquired my love of black & white from my Granny…

Hand made tulle skirt- Abby Grace PhotographyHand made tulle skirt- Abby Grace Photography

My Pawpaw discovered a couple of rolls of 35mm from the 80′s in an old drawer, so he broke out his old Canon AE-1 to see what we could make of it. My Pawpaw was the first one to teach me the basics of a camera, and he’s been shooting digital for the past few years so we have fun talking about Canon’s newest products whenever we’re together. It was definitely a trip talking through how to use 35mm again!

Hand made tulle skirt- Abby Grace Photography

And then Lily did this the entire time…

Hand made tulle skirt- Abby Grace Photography

Yeah. So anyways, as always, lessons learned/events that transpired over the past week:

  • One thing I love about the wedding industry is the fact that industry folks throw the BEST soirées. Matt & I attended CRAVE at the Hotel Monaco last week and had an absolute blast! Someone pointed out that it felt like walking into the Capitol during the Hunger Games, what with all the weird costumery- just search for the #CraveKimpton tag on IG and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Things you don’t see every day that you might see in one of the various rooms at CRAVE- dueling pianos on an elevated stage. Even more unusual: the fact that the two middle-aged white gentlemen behind said dueling pianos played “In Da Club” by 50 Cent. SO GOOD.
  • I’ve noticed over the last week that my IG feed is pretty much exclusively comprised of ballerinas, brides, and babies. Ballerinas from New York City Ballet (because it’s my dream to photograph someone from that company), brides because I’m a wedding photographer, and babies because so many of my friends are entering that stage of life. I love it!
  • On Friday, I figured out that as long as we’re not on a windy back road, I can edit in the car. HALLELUJAH- now, as long as Matt’s driving, I can put my Mac to work and knock out a bit of editing during a road trip!

I think this is the longest MMU so far this year.. if you made it this far, you deserve a piece of cheesecake. Happy Monday, friends! Keep an eye on the blog this week for a couple of lovely engagement sessions :).

Sarah Beth - September 26, 2014 - 8:19 am

I want to be friends with your Granny. She’s the cutest! (And so are you!)

Danielle - September 22, 2014 - 2:52 pm

Inn LOVE with that skirt!

Jean - September 22, 2014 - 2:10 pm

loved making the skirt with you. Yes, black and white are my favorites,!

Shalese - September 22, 2014 - 2:03 pm

I have a Canon AE-1, too!! I love it. :) Love the skirt!!

Mike & Jeanmarie- a Charlottesville anniversary session at UVA

They met in Charlottesville thirty-some years ago- she’d knocked on the door of the fraternity house looking for a friend, and Mike answered the door instead. “He was really good-looking!” But he wasn’t interested in a girlfriend at the time, what with school taking over his life. So they became friends. But after about a year, Mike decided it was time to call her up, give things a real shot. And sure enough, they met back on campus three years later, just this time in the chapel. She in a white dress, he in a suit, friends and family gathered to watch them say “I do.”

September 1, 2014 was Mike & Jeanmarie’s 30th anniversary, so we began the day right with an Anniversary Experience session to celebrate just how far they’ve come since then. Walking throughout campus, musing over memories both from their time at UVA as students, and their times back in Charlottesville to visit as all three of their kids attended. And as I was leaving, catching them sneaking back into the Chapel to exchange a gift at the very altar where they exchanged promises exactly 30 years before.

Mike & Jeanmarie, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have captured your love on such an important milestone in your relationship. Marriage is worth fighting for, and my time with you both showed me just how very much I have to look forward to in the 10, 15, 30 years to come. Thank you so very much for allowing me in for a morning!

Charlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace PhotographyCharlotteville 30th anniversary session at the University of Virginia- Abby Grace Photography

A huge, huge thank you to Liz for introducing me to her parents- what an honor to document two generations of marriage in the same family :).

Brooke Tyson - September 24, 2014 - 11:15 pm

This is one of the sweetest shoots I have ever seen. It is so clear how in love these two are. I love this one. Beautiful photos!

Rici - September 22, 2014 - 8:41 am

Gorgeously done Abby!!

ashley mitchell - September 18, 2014 - 9:24 am

This is SO STINKING SWEET. I just adore that they did this! :)

Jean - September 17, 2014 - 8:31 pm

Beautiful pictures. Love all of them!

Shalese - September 17, 2014 - 3:56 pm

SO cute!! I love that they did a shoot to celebrate. :)

Alicia Lacey - September 17, 2014 - 3:51 pm

GAHH! I never knew how beautiful UVA’s campus was!! What a sweet (and stylish!) couple!

Rebekah Carter - September 17, 2014 - 3:23 pm

Wow, I love these! It’s so rare to see a couple over 40 on a photography blog, so these are extra special. Her dress is great too.

Tara - September 17, 2014 - 3:19 pm

I absolutely adore this. Beautiful images!

Megan Kelsey - September 17, 2014 - 1:42 pm

Oh how SWEET!!!!

Mary - September 17, 2014 - 12:11 pm

I love Every. Single. One. Of these!!!!! Soooo special and lovely, Abby!!!! xo