Have you ever sat down to work—on a photography project or on anything else—only to feel immediately overwhelmed by the vast volume of work that needs to be done in order to see this thing through to completion? It really can be truly overwhelming, incredibly so. In the metaphorical sense, it’s like staring down a mountain knowing that you have to move the whole thing one shovelful at a time—and if you’re extra unlucky, all those shovels will need to be moved by a deadline.
It’s deflating, isn’t it? For most of us, I think it’s incredibly easy to look at this gigantic mountain of work that needs to be done, and feel deflated or feel a deep sense of demotivation as you take in the enormity of it all.
Maybe this is the true meaning of being unable to see the forest for the trees. On these big endeavors, it becomes easy—almost easier, in fact—to see the big picture. Rather than being able to look at an individual leaf, all we can see is that enormous sea of green. It becomes tough to see the small pieces we need to accomplish so that we can put the whole thing together.
And therein is the key. When faced with such enormous projects, you can’t look at the enormity of the job ahead of you—not when the scope of it is so big that it becomes a demotivating factor. Instead, you have to zoom in. Zoom way in if you must. Approach the project the same way that you would approach an incredibly complex scene that you’re photographing. Rather than attempting to capture it all in one single frame, break it down into something that is easier to digest.
The same applies here: If you’re staring down thousands of digital negatives, don’t look at it as a collection of 100,000 negatives to be analyzed. Instead, subdivide it somehow—by month, by location, by week, by theme, by color. Anything that breaks the job into chunks that are smaller, less scary, easier to wrap your mind around.
And if that’s still too much? Subdivide again. Look at half of these smaller chunks, or a quarter of the images in each chunk. Focus on one image, or one batch processing step that needs to be made. Make it one small task at a time. In the end, that’s really what it comes down to: Identifying the individual steps you need to take, figuring out which steps are the logical first steps, and then the logical next steps, and so on. Work at this until you’ve developed a system for approaching each of the steps within the project, or a logical flow that allows you to tackle each step one at a time.
The important part is to keep taking those steps. Move that mountain one shovelful of earth at a time, and when you next look up from your work, you’ll find that mountain in front of you looks a whole lot smaller and less intimidating than it did before.