Getting Things Done for the Holidays

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of energy getting things done. I mean this in a couple of ways. First, and most plainly, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Second, there was actual business to attend to and prints to sell. Third, as part of my usual melange of procrastination and creative furnace stoking, I’ve completely rearranged the furniture in my apartment to grant me a small and efficient living space coupled to a large, mostly empty and spare workroom.  I wanted to write about all of this, but then I wrote far too much about the GTD process, and got really intimidated by the prospect of trying to tie all of these things onto one bloated, sagging barge of a post. This is a rare case of resistance coming in line with good sense. Truth is, its the Getting Things Done process thats been most interesting, and after this much of it, you’ll probably want a break. So here we are:

To put the first thing first, Getting Things Done. Its written quite clearly for last-century executives. I am a plainly 21st century, internet-dwelling creative. Still, the central tenets are useful and important. I’d recommend the book to most of the working world. If you have tasks that last longer than 2 minutes, and projects that overlap, get your hands on a copy of Getting Things Done. The first part of the book is about the why and the implications of getting things out of your head and into a reliable system that you will use with unfailing consistency.  If you’re like me, you probably won’t care about suggestions on how to manage paper files within arms reach of your desk, because the daily information deluge is now 95% electronic. Still, having a repository for those digital reference materials, ticklers, and items of personal curiosity is important. Being confident that your inbox will actually get addressed in your routine, and that your file system is capturing things you need later on would put anyone into a far stronger position for active engagement in their work. It was actually listening to David Allen on a podcast and in a TED presentation that I became interested in Getting Things Done. He mentioned the idea of making available your “Psychic Bandwidth.” Its a fancy and flashy phrase, but it spoke to me, because as an artist, I know exactly what that is. Psychic bandwidth is the difference between having a great rehearsal because you are totally, unfailingly present, and trying to get out of your head. In so many pursuits, its never been said better than “there is no try, there is only do or do not.” Getting Things Done is about freeing your mind (not necessarily your time) from all of the things which are not doing your work. For this tiny piece of perspective alone, it is worth the read and a really serious attempt at getting all the open loops of your life into a reliable system of filing, and lists of next actions. 

That all said, I spent the better part of two days and one extra evening collecting all of the projects in my head that were not written down. Even for someone like me, an avid task and project-management app watcher, there was a tall stack of things that needed better organization and a unification of priorities. I took the magazine file boxes that were holding all of my important papers (credit card disclosures, car title, car service history, insurance policy documents, etc.) and put them into a genuine file system. I read through all of the tasks, recurring and single which I had stored in Things. Then I sat down with a stack of index cards and (careful to avoid the rabbit holes) wrote down all of the remaining open loops that I had in my mind, the tasks and projects that had no physical repository… an entire package of index cards later I was able to establish a usefully complete list of open projects, and an appropriate list of next actions. 

Part of the reason for my copious number of open loops was that in the never ending quest for the perfect tool, I turned up lots of applications. Worse yet, lots of them I really like. So, it became difficult to decide where to capture something, and therefore even more difficult to find it when it was needed. I had a journal in Day One, most of my drafting was taking place in iA Writer, unless it needed a basic page layout in which case I was usually drafting directly in Pages, I had notes spread across iOS Notes and Evernote, I was using Things for my projects and recurring to do items, but often using iOS Reminders for basic lists like groceries. Altogether a TON of capture, but only a little search-ability. This left me only moderately effective even when I remembered to stay action oriented in putting tasks down in Things. Finally I didn’t have enough confidence that I would for CERTAIN be able to find the thing I wanted later, so I was getting numb to some of these lists and having to dream up new reminders for really important stuff. 

I’ve had an Evernote account, probably for the 5 years they’ve been around, and frankly I never took it seriously. The problem with any every file system is that until you hit a critical mass for the amount of stuff inside it, it doesn’t work. Organizational systems seem floppy, unnecessary, wishy-washy, meaningless work to feel officious until there’s enough stuff in them that you would be hopeless to find anything without a system in place. This is the real beauty of Evernote, even if you made no notebooks, no tags, you might not even need a good titling convention, even if you put literally no work into organization, you would still probably be able to find what you need. So, naturally I decided to make a ton of notebooks, notebook stacks, and a completely revamped list of tags. I even sprang for a very helpful book, Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly to help me get a really comprehensive restart. Now I’m completely moved into Evernote for project lists, journaling, personal reference (with Evernote’s Web Clipper browser extension and email upload features, capturing reference material is spectacular) documents like my business registration and expense receipts, contracts, everything can go into Evernote, I’m even drafting this post in Evernote on my mac. That leaves Things, which is for the time being still the best task and project management app out there (if you don’t need team management), to collect all my next actions and even future next-actions using scheduling and multi-step projects features. I have also reworked my Things tags list as well to be more functional (more on this in a minute). Lots of Evernote power users write about doing these kinds of things with Evernote reminders and check-box items, but so far I’m not ready to jump in that deep. 

Having done my capture I needed to ingest and make decisions on next actions. This is one of the timeless (and still revolutionary) parts of GTD. The act of processing the inbox is of central importance. Decisions can never be tasks, sometimes research or questions are required for a final decision on what to do next, but I was often guilty of putting “Decide on,” “Decide how” in my tasks. This is tantamount to placing those items back in my inbox and its a great way to end up with open loops. It doesn’t matter how the information comes to you or how you’re going to store it, this idea of handling an inbox item one time before deciding not just whether or not something needs action, but what action should come next, is the real power of GTD. This makes it possible to gauge when you take out a list, what actions you might actually take in the moment. Now, David Allen suggests lists organized by context, like “at the office,” “at home,” “running errands,” “at the phone,” “at the computer,” etc. Well, today many of these contexts are meaningless, with smartphones and cloud services like Evernote, IMAP email, Office 365 and others, a lot of actions can be taken from anywhere at any time. So we can simplify, and that brings me to my Things tags. Tags are great for context, but beyond the context of in-person meetings and perhaps out on errands, if you don’t do your work on highly specialized machinery context has almost nothing to do with where you are in the physical world. But the really great news is that today ALL of your lists can be in your pocket, and easily temporarily reorganized with tags based upon what you think might be doable at the moment. So all of my tasks now get three tags: estimated duration, difficulty (or required energy level), and high-med-low priority. So if I am at the laundromat with half an hour to kill but I’m tired, I can now view all of the tasks that will take me less than 30 minutes and don’t require a lot of energy. More than likely I will be able to accomplish at least one from my smart phone. Likewise, if I’m bouncing off the walls confined and waiting on the dryer, I can choose something appropriate to that mood as well. 

Another part of this experiment was The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. Its not something that I ever felt was going to be really useful, the title is classic get-rich-quick click-bait. As a matter of fact, there is a short section of the book that explains that the title was chosen specifically, and scientifically for its click-baiting potential. Still, Ferris makes a lot of audacious claims and calls out a lot of examples that might open up one’s thinking about how they would really like to live and work. What he tries to offer are strategies to remove as many working hours as possible from earning a useful income. For people who want to travel and experiment and Live first, work second, this stuff is great. I would like to have the latitude to get immersed and lost in the real, important work of my art, but as it stands I have to spend a lot of my time doing someone else’s work in order to survive. This is a fine temporary action, but it is not a good long term strategy, because it means I can only stay half invested in each thing. Those of us working “survival jobs” tend not to advance very far in them, because we do not take complete ownership of them. This is one of the most interesting ideas from The 4 Hour Workweek, that even if you hate your job, you might be best served by putting all of your attention into it for a time. This way you can establish your own systems and efficiencies and become an irreplaceable asset to your organization, then ask not to have to be there, and work remotely for fewer hours than you’ve needed before. Now thats a position from which to launch something new! However, there are some ideas he discusses which are a bit more relatable to GTD. The primary strategies Ferris uses to get more uninterrupted time are outsourcing, auto-responders, and gatekeepers. Outsourcing is obvious, other people attend to things that you don’t absolutely have to do, The auto-responders and gatekeepers are there really just to set expectations for people trying to get in touch with you to deter them from badgering you too much. The idea is that if you can get all of the things people need from you to stack up in your inbox, then you are more in control of prioritization. This is also a great way to get hugely overwhelmed and very far behind. But if its dovetailed into a rock solid GTD system, then you’re in business. There’s a lot to say about The 4 Hour Workweek, but for now I’m going to leave it here.

I’ll probably be following this post up with more about how the 4 hour workweek and GTD fit together. Plus another post about the benefits of giving your brain some breathing room in your physical space. Thanks for reading, go make stuff happen and live a life, useful.  

Discounts, and Announcements!

It’s been a week since I spent the morning hanging a small collection of my photography to display in a lovely mom-and-pop coffee shop called A Latte. These pieces have already begun selling as gifts to the wonderful downtown Norfolk community. And for this I’m extrememly grateful. Go check them out if you’re in the area! 
There’s another opportunity for folks to come see (and purchase) my work here in the tidewater coming up. Details forthcoming! 

But what I’m most excited to announce is that over the next month or so I’ll be offering a discount on print purchases from my website galleries leading up to the Christmas Holiday! I’ve been getting some great feedback from folks who want to buy gifts. So in an effort to get all the orders out the door, while sparing you a little extra money, here’s how it’ll work:
30% off until Black Friday November 29th
20% off until December 8th
10% off until December 25th
The sooner you purchase the less you will spend and the easier it will be for us to stay on time. Coupon codes will be going out here on my blog, via twitter, and will be posted to the front pages of jgallophoto.com the current 30% coupon code is SKIPTHEDOORBUSTERS
As always, contact me with any questions!

 

Boardwalking…

Having relocated a few very short months ago, I’m starting to feel comfortable in my new city. Plus I’m getting my business above board, and finally assembling a meaningful list of target galleries to show my photography. There is more to that story, but its not time just yet. 

This weekend I took Sunday off and spent it at the waterfront in Virginia Beach. I walked to boardwalk in the wind with my camera, got a few funny looks and a couple of cooperative clouds. Then I was asked by a group of revelers to snap their picture, so I did. There was at least one joke made about my snapping with an iPhone while holding my Canon in the other hand. So at their suggestion, I took one to post here:

They're a good looking bunch, huh? If any of you see this, shoot me an email, I'll send it to you.
They’re a good looking bunch, huh? If any of you see this, shoot me an email, I’ll send it to you.

Then there are a few more in the total take for the day I want to share:

Finally, I want to tease something thats a way up the pipeline for now, but its coming. Most everyone who’s familiar with my work knows I’m available for commercial or editorial work, and that you can buy prints here on the site, but there’s a whole new concept coming soon. Also stay tuned for more on the People in Spaces project.

 

Big Changes, Big News, Cheap Wall Art!

You may have noticed that the site has gotten a little redesign lately. That is because there’ve been some big developments in the world of my online presence. In particular, there is now a beautiful new site at JGalloPhoto.com (you may have already noticed the new “Photography” link here at SfB will take you there). This means that SearchingForBohemia will return, to its original purpose: delivering to you strange musings and heart warming poems about somewhat fictionalized versions of the people I know and love. The new photography site contains my portfolio, a few galleries of images I’ll offering for sale, and information about my photography practice, should anyone wish to hire me. 

Its been a long time coming, and the fact of the matter is that it should not have taken so long. Still, I’m extremely glad its here and I’m proud of it, and the work I put into it. So, if you recall, I’m living in Norfolk, VA now. Referrals are awesome!

Speaking of awesome, I’ve teamed up with the heroes at Square to allow online purchases of some beautiful prints of my work! I have a small stock of prints matted, mounted and SIGNED by yours truly. But most exciting of all I’m offering them at a pretty steep introductory discount! Go check out my Square Market page to see what’s still available!

My online store at JGalloPhoto.com is still in process, so please keep an eye out for updates on that in the next week or two. But for today check out the new site, take a look at square market, and please tell your friends!

Letting it kill me…

I’ve been relaxing and decompressing after all the stress of my move and it seems wasn’t doing so hot. I picked up the TV remote and let it start to kill me.

The more I tried to decompress the more tightly I’m wound up. I decided to try and lay low, to just settle into my new place for a couple of weeks without going out much, without getting amped up about making too many contacts. This decision came as I noticed setting up house was expensive, and I could in fact be flat broke. So my last two weeks have been a lot of netflix and a few cocktails, more cookies than I care to mention, and all of this basically because I was just waiting for my first round of bills to come in. If I survived in good shape then I can be a bit more liberal with my time, I can hand out flyers that say, “I’M HERE! COME PLAY WITH ME!” And now that I know I’m not completely and totally broke, I feel… no different.

This of course is not at all genuinely surprising. This is really a moment when after getting a little burnt out on the stress of moving house (and having a place that is completely and totally my own for the first time) I’ve given in to my resistance. I’m nervous and uncomfortable in social situations with new people, and now there is more staked on that than usual because I’ve moved to this city so that I could start at least one major professionally creative endeavor. I have not been CREATING since I’ve come here, but having had this realization its time to fix it. 

Perhaps in a subconscious victory over my resistance (thats called jiu-sistance*), I have been wasting my time in progressively better ways over the last week or so. Reading more about business practices and marketing and being a creative than about congressional gridlock and wizards defeating daemons, sounds like a step in the right direction, but really its still kind of a cop out. Yeah, I have a lot of learning to do, and reading about people who were me not that long ago is a path to that. However, What do these people write about? Mistakes.

Mistakes. Mistakes. Mistakes. Does preparation yield mistakes? No. Although being ill-prepared can make them all the more spectacular. Does reading about other’s experience yield mistakes? No. Only action yields mistakes, and mistakes lead to learning. So its time to get creating. Its time to start making mistakes. Its time to start learning. Its time to pick up something I love and let it start killing me.

If you need a creative pick me up today, go read this from James Rhodes:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2013/apr/26/james-rhodes-blog-find-what-you-love 

If you’ve seen it before go read it again. If you haven’t seen it before and you don’t think you need that pick me up today, YOU ARE PROBABLY WRONG, read it NOW!

*jiu-sistance is a thing I made up to make myself feel better about my cleverly harnessing the intent and thrust of my creativity into high-level resistance and procrastination. Use it as you like.

 

Welcome to the Neighborhood

 It’s been some time since I last posted here due to my relocation. I’ve just moved from my native Long Island to Tidewater Virginia. Like any move, in spite of my best efforts and extreme drive for the most complete possible preparation, it was nonetheless an exercise fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. If I had followed my own advice I would have kept to my regular writing and running (the things that made me feel like myself and centered). It would have helped to curb the anxiety and I might have had a better experience. But it should seem that all advice, (your own or anyone else’s) can be easier said than done. Still, I’ve survived, and I’m arriving back at those important things. It was difficult being without some of my favorite tools while things like my furniture and much of my clothing and even some secondary equipment for my digital workflow were being shipped. Even once they arrived here at my new apartment/studio it took several days to get myself back together. Now I’ve settled back in to some semblance of a life and its time to get back into my work. With my desk reconstituted I have been able to process the last few weeks of photographs and I’ve turned up some new products to share. Look for those in the next couple of days.

For now I’ve been spending some time settling into my survival job here, and trying to make some connections in Norfolk. I’ve moved into a hip youthful neighborhood and its a big change from the isolated, oak forest/suburban melange of where I lived on Long Island. I’ll miss the state parks for sure, but there are some trees here But what I’m really excited about is that there are a lot of small (and mostly independent) businesses here. I took a stroll with camera in hand the other day and stopped in on an art gallery, an outdoor gear shop, a throw-back mom-and-pop pharmacy, and took in a 35mm movie at the art-house theatre around the corner. So far its been lot of fun to be friendly and say hello, ask what everyone does around here. Eventually I’ll have to start translating this motion into action (fellow motivation/productivity blogger James Clear wrote a great piece on this recently) by establishing a working relationship with the area galleries and possibly print shops. But for today I’m happy to be where I am.

New pictures coming soon, stay tuned!

Joy Postponed, Drudgery pwned

I wish I were posting today about my very successful trip to the Catskills to photograph a few beautiful waterfalls and their lush attending mountain forests. Alas I decided to postpone that jaunt due to the high degree of cloud cover predicted for the region. And so instead I’ve spent the weekend playing a few video games, running many miles and getting around to some business that had been eluding me. 

This is often the most difficult thing for me to accomplish. The tasks that were second tier but are allowed to move forward by a hiccup on the first tier. Plans are a wonderful thing for those of us who have spent more of our lives procrastinating than doing. And when those plans get disrupted I feel uniquely challenged by my desire to get things done anyway. Here I sit, in time I had slated for driving down from the hill country to the flat and sandy shores of Long Island, unable to do that thing from which I had already tasted the thrill and triumph. So how is it that one makes one’s way back from a daydream into the reality of useful drudge work? After all, my love for entering data about and pricing prints of my photographs is not what drives me to take them. Nor is applying for juried hangings of my work with local arts councils. The fact that I keep running into here is that there is simply no way to casually make my way back from that daydream, for this work is completely and utterly unrelated to the dreamscape. Instead this is a process of ringing the bell at the change of periods, rudely rousing myself and setting off to plod through a lab period, where daydreaming over a colorless lecture is not an option. The really good news here is that its hard to emerge from the lab without feeling energized. 

I do not, this evening, feel energized in the way that I would arriving home with a couple of CF cards from which will flow many additional hours of ecstatic work. Instead it is the slow and confident energy of preparedness. Necessary work was never my strong suit. This is me making a change, I suppose.

Fruits of my Distraction

Its been a few weeks since I got back to the job of writing this site. That time has been manic and busy and unfocused and blurred, but the good news is that I have something to show for it. Taking time away from writing (not so deliberately) and spending it with photography has been good for my brain. If I were to consult The War of Art I’m sure I would come back with my tail between my legs, for the truth is that I have gotten afraid of some writing I have started. Usually the things you resist hardest turn out to be your most important work. 

Still, today I set some writing out in my schedule alongside time to learn and do a bit of (far too complicated) bookkeeping. Then I promptly spent all of that time editing some recent sets of photos. Now there are lots of arguments for how and how not to figure out just what might be one’s calling for lack of a better term. In fact I have suggested here that one of the very best ways might be to look for what you can’t stop doing (provided you aren’t too absorbed to take a step back). The difficulty lies in the fact that I also know for certain that Steven Pressfield was correct when he wrote The War of Art, that the things you are best at avoiding are the most important. So here I am. Caught in the middle. Obsessively editing, looking back over, ranking, making new versions, and exporting images that I have spent my free days capturing. Its a great way to be, creating. I sit down and there is not, then by the time that I get up, there is.

So today I have these new shots to share. Also check out the new project gallery/homepage here at searching for bohemia, its sucked up a bit too much of my time lately and I hope you enjoy it.

Why You Need a Goal-friend

I’m working diligently to set out and begin the execution of my plans for the year. In truth this has meant a couple of genuine new year’s resolutions. My favorite new aphorism “keep to your organization, because otherwise you no longer are” is an effort to curb my bad habit of switching organizational and note taking tools. I’ve even made a fitness resolution in the form of several fitness goals. And taken time for making two kinds of maps of my goals, and one visual-enhanced list to hang on the wall so I will see them everyday. However the Most important thing I’ve done is get myself a goal-friend.

I was talking to an old friend who was feeling a little lost just at the time I was feeling a frustrated if well directed, and it occurred to me that we could help each other out. We were talking about life-coaching and other unspecific “consultants.” It seems from the outside like a situation where you pay someone to nag you about your goals. And I thought “Well, I can do that!” Now I don’t claim to be qualified or even well versed in methods for defining what will make anyone else happier or more fulfilled, but I can definitely provide the social pressure that is sometimes required to follow through on private goals. And that is all too often the difference between success and failure. When someone else depends on my work, I am far more inclined to get it done in a timely manner.

So out of that conversation with my wandering friend, we defined goal-friending. A simple concept and system for reporting goals and projects and then maintaining regular check-ins to keep each other honest. First we both plotted out maps of our goals for the year, and shared them. Now we have begun writing daily emails listing simply what we have done in pursuit of those goals during each day. The expectation that at the end of the day someone will see what I have accomplished or at least attempted, begun, or planned is greatly curbing my tendency to avoid accomplishing things, and giving into my resistance.

Lots of people who work in a vacuum as freelancers, or hoping to change fields, or striking out on their own with a new business will benefit from this dynamic. But for the many people who work in offices and other work-groups, this kind of feedback and socially-engineered motivation is built in. Often though, its personal projects that require the biggest infusion of energy to get started. So I suggest you give this a try. Tap someone else who is making a change or learning something new in their spare time, and everyday, or a few days per week, shoot an email off stating what you’ve done to further your goals. Then once a week or once a month make time for a phone call or meeting to get more in depth. I think that the phone call/ video chat/ coffee date/ working lunch provides the deepest motivation. Often it is in vain attempts at time-shifting that we cross from great intention into insidious procrastination. These face-to-face moments cannot be time-shifted like emails or journals and provide much greater need for accountability.

In the last two weeks I’ve done as much meaningful research, learning, planning of my upcoming endeavors as I did all last year… that may not be accurate. But with my goals freshly mapped and clearly prioritized I’m able make more effective use of my time. And now that I have a goal-friend on the other end of my status reports… I’m actually doing it.

New Year, New Project… oh no!

I have been writing everyday, at least a little bit. And not just throw away junk, not just journals, not just the clever shit I want to say to my friends or to entertain attractive women. I have been writing in a pointedly, if somewhat silly way, every single day. The result of this has been my new, continuing, rhyming, and aptly named series of “The Limerick of the Day!” I’m not sure where this is leading me creatively, but thus far it has been a lot of fun. At first I expected to do it for just a few weeks from mid-December when it was first suggested to me through the new year. But I’ve made it a habit and I rather enjoy it, so if I’m going to be bold. I’m not often keen on sweeping pronouncements, sudden self-challenges or arbitrary beginning of the year resolutions (everyone knows that January is a crumby time to start something anyway). But I might have to join the ranks of “Project 365”-ers everywhere and write a new limerick everyday this year. Of course, I won’t be calling it anything as silly as Project 365, I think it will remain the far more descriptive, much less embarrassing Limerick of the Day. Over the course of a full year I may miss some days and I may even have to re-imagine the project, perhaps injecting some new forms now and then (think haiku Wednesdays). But the important bit is I will be keeping myself in new poems, unfamiliar humor, fresh whimsy, every day.