Your guide to the annual Sit Down

I’m usually not into the judgey from-on-high posts that some photographers’ blogs take. Except for this one.

Several years ago I sat down at an ASMP breakfast meeting with Jim Cavanaugh or Luke Copping or possibly both of them. They mentioned that they had an annual practice where they would sit down with notes, goals, financial records, anything from the previous year and try and process it. Look at the goals not met, or successes that they had. Try and track where they went wrong on a bid or draw up goals for the next year.
When I first heard it, I thought it sounded awful. Sitting down and looking at old shit? Last years garbage. Why…?

But I respected both of them and how they handled the business side of things so I sat down, drank entirely too much coffee, and gave it a shot.
That was in 2008 and I’ve followed this practice religiously ever since. In fact, this year I’ve decided to expand it to twice a year since its so effective/thought provoking/refreshing/cathartic.
Thank you Jim and Luke.

Im not going to try and write a how-to manual on this. Everyone will approach it differently (and thats a good thing). But here is a quick run down on how I fell into the system that I’m using now. Use it or modify it or just ignore it.

First things first. Go out and buy some kind of bound hard cover journal (or just use that one you got as a gift last week). The stuff I’m about to talk about below will only fill a small section of the front of this book. Use the rest of it for notes/journal type stuff for next year’s sit down (you’re so emo).

So what are you supposed to write down, look at, ruminate over? Everything. The first year you sit down to do this, the past years data might be a little scarce (or it might not be if you keep a journal. You should be). Thats fine. It just means this year’s sit down will be shorter.
Take any notes you do have and read through them. What did you do right? How did you screw up? What could you have done better?
Take a look through your financial statements from the past year. Did these meet your expectations? (nope, you’re a poor photographer.)
Take a look at your website and print book. Did you add enough new stuff to it last year? Does the website look stale from a design standpoint? Is your print book tired and stained?(gross)

Great. Now you’re jittery from too much coffee and second guessing your life decisions and why you ever wanted to become a photographer. This is exactly where you want to be. Seriously. Finding a detached view of your business and creative output is tough to do but incredibly beneficial when it happens. Real breakthroughs happen in this state of mind.

Grab a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Make one side a positive column and the other a negative. Jot down all the great stuff you did last year in the side and all the stuff you totally dropped the ball on in the side. This is a nice way to condense all the previous scribblings and get a quick overview on your past year.

From all this digging into last year’s mess-ups and successes you’re going to start to get a feel for what you want to do in the upcoming year. Suddenly you can’t sit still and all you think about is new projects, how to do things differently and goals and… (still too much coffee)

Now comes the planning for the upcoming year and after a few dry runs I settled into the system that follows:

  • Break down your upcoming goals into categories. ‘Creative’  ‘Professional’  ‘Financial’  ‘Personal‘…etc. This was helpful to me to separate this stuff out. Just a little structure helps.
  • Inside of these categories make some sweeping generalized goals ‘Revamp Current Web Portfolio‘. Then inside this general goal, make actionable items ’10-12 new images by October’. This is where things start to get real. These actionables are sometimes difficult to write in the beginning of the year. Too bad, do it anyway. When you’re revisiting these goals and action items throughout the year, this gives you real direction and not some wishy-washy generalized goal. This little exercise with the action items nested inside the goals I learned from a free webinar Selina Maitreya put out. This was the only part of that webinar I used…
  • Revisit this book throughout the year. Flip through each category and look at the goals. Make sure you’re hitting the action items that you had laid out. Keep doing this all year. Maybe once a month or quarterly or whatever. But don’t lose the thread and momentum that this exercise created when you started it.

And that’s it. Now you have a living document that you adjust, add to, delete, whatever throughout the year. And next year you have some seriously good data/insight on what your past year was like. The perfect thing to look at next year when you’re doing your second annual sit down.


The picture to the left is my 2014-2015 sit down escape perch in the Outer Banks, NC. I’ve been here for about a week with last years journal and a shiny new one for 2015. A week of 3-4 hours a day doing all the stuff I outlined above. This is not a quick process. Give it 7-10 days to do it properly. I also suggest some kind of seclusion or disruption from your day-to-day grind to do the sit down. And try to do it all at once in one big binge of coffee and writing and planning. It keeps a continuity to the exercise.


Ok, I am stepping down from the soapbox now. Have a great 2015 everyone!

One Comment

  1. Reply
    Luke Copping 19 Jan ’15

    Thanks for the mention Scott.

    I like the way you tackle the annual review, I’ve been a convert for the past few years as well (since Jim was the one who first told me about it as well) I keep mine in Evernote so I can track it on the road, and find that I too also visit it more than once a year as I now use it to track short term goals as well, it has also sort of absorbed my general marketing plan. I revisit it at least once every six weeks and do a big annual overhaul.

    Another exercise that I have added to this process is a combination of journaling/debriefing after each project. I try to spend a few minutes the morning after a shoot or project noting down how things went, what frustrated me, what went well, and how I reacted to unexpected situations. It’s a great tool for me to identify negative patterns of behavior or thought that can creep on me while I’m working and by writing them down I can take what I identify and create goals and reminders to myself in my self-evaluatin to help me get past those problems and capitalize on what works.

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