f.3.5 – 1/160th – ISO800 – Window light on left side

I forgot how much I like shoot portraits with window light. Our new house has some large windows in the dining room and it was perfect for some soft light in early afternoon.

Also, my wife is beautiful.

I want to tell my story. It’s about how, up until 2 years ago, I never felt productive in my work. It went something like this: It’s a Friday or Saturday night and I have some free time to work on personal or freelance projects and I wouldn’t know what to start on. Or I would work on something but never feel like I was working on the right thing at the right time. One reason was that I had an endless mental list of projects, both personal and freelance, that I wanted or needed to complete. It ranged from wanting to redesign my personal portfolio website, shooting more photos, learning new photo editing techniques, completing one of many current freelance website projects, and so on.

The source of negative feelings about your work is related to agreements that you made with yourself and have broken. They are symptoms of disintegrated self-trust.

—David Allen, Getting Things Done

For the first 4 years of my freelance business, I always had at least 3-4 current freelance projects going on at one time. That didn’t include personal hobbies, a full-time job, and a significant other. I was spread so thin, that I was going insane. Oh yeah – and I was a devout fan and follower of Gary Vaynerchuk who encourages and perpetuates the idea of working your ass off for some greater payoff.

Being a fan of business and self-improvement books (did I mention Gary Vaynerchuk?), I came across the book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. When I read books, I read them with notebook in hand and I take diligent notes. I want the book I’m reading to change me for the better. I’m not one to read books without it resulting in a big change.

Getting Things Done lays out a set of principles and ideas for being more productive. My current take-aways are:

  • My brain is for thinking not remembering.
  • Always keep my head empty by notating everything on my calendar or lists. This is really hard to do, but well worth working toward. This ties in with point one above.
  • Maintain a to-do list system that can be accessed anywhere. I use Wunderlist. See screenshot. Here are some to-do lists that I use:
    • New year’s resolution list with reminders set – and review them weekly during the weekly review. I personally set quarterly goals, rather than annual goals – so I can asses and re-adjust every 3 months, rather than every 12 months.
    • ‘Grocery list’ shared with spouse – we both add items to it as we think about them, and can use it while we are in the store to check items off the list
    • ‘Next month budget’ shared with spouse – we both add budget items we will need to buy during the next month, so we don’t forget anything when we do the budget.
    • ‘Add to Quickbooks’ – a list where I notate the income and expenses I need to add to Quickbooks, so I don’t forget anything.
    • A list for each project with tasks for that project.
    • ‘Waiting’ – a list where I place items that are waiting for someone else to do something. I set reminders on these for the day and time when I need to check-in on those items.
    • Wunderlist allows using hashtags and viewing lists of items marked with each hashtag. I sometimes will mark list items as #home, #work, or #anywhere – This way I can see a list of things I can only do at work or home. I’ve not found this technique very useful – but keep trying it just to see if I’m missing something.
  • I need to know the next specific action for every current project.
  • I should do a weekly review, where I review my upcoming calendar, current projects, and all lists to ensure everything is up to date and that I know the next action for every project. This is a good time to ensure I’ve emptied my head of everything that should be put on my calendar or lists.
  • Set do-dates (when I will do the task, not when it’s due) – I think I learned this one from the podcast, Homework – but it ties in well. Almost all tasks on my lists have reminders for days and times when I should work on them. This takes a lot of stress out of the picture and keeps me realistic about my workload.
  • If there are regular tasks I often forget about, I set a regular reminder. My favorites are my reminders to take trash and recycling to the road – and which weeks recycling needs to go out. Too much time is wasted remembering things that can be automated.

This list take-aways is a wildly truncated and paraphrased version of what the book teaches. If it is interesting to you, I recommend reading the book, and not just taking my word for it.

How it’s going

In mid-2014, I started following these principles consistently. After a few months, I felt a load of stress being lifted from my shoulders. I began feeling productive. I would sometimes simply remove tasks or projects from my lists and decide not do them, because I was deciding to say, “no”, so I could say “yes” to something better (a stress-free life).

Where I fail

I’ve continued to follow these principles consistently for almost 2 years. The stress-free feeling is still there. I do notice that I could be even more stress-free if I was more consistent with the idea of emptying my head so I’m not having to remember things – and I can rely on my list and calendar system. Additionally, I often let my task reminders lapse and not get to my tasks on the day I’m reminded about them. This introduces stress back in to my life. I’ve often thought that for the work day, if I had reminders set for every few hours of projects or tasks I need to work on, I’d be much more productive – but I don’t think that this idea is for everyone nor a core principle of Getting Things Done.

If you have thoughts about Getting Things Done, or would like to share you personal productivity method, let me know in the comments!


Dragonfly photos available to license at

Lately, I’ve rediscovered macro photography. My first macro photo was shot in 2014 during my photo project. I had a macro photo shooting session with my pal, Jamie Carroll and we discovered this dragonfly just chilling on a plant in my backyard. I decided to put my speedlight on a stand and shoot some macro photos (50mm lens mounted backwards). The speedlight adds some extra contrast and lighting that really makes these great.

My macro photo gear consists of lens extension tubes and a reversal ring. Altogether, this gear cost maybe $30. Combined with my 50mm lens and Canon Rebel XS camera, this setup is plenty good enough for me. It’s not about the gear, it’s about your eye.

I have 17 photos of the dragonfly available for license at See them all here!

Snacking and hanging at the beach

Amelia and mom on the beach


Have a clarify of vision but a flexibility in process

—Jon Stewart

This seems simple but I feel like I’ll take my whole life mastering this. I currently understand this to mean: focus on the end goal and don’t get tied up with the minutia of micro-managing your colleagues on any particular project. I think the prerequisite to following this advice is that your colleagues be highly skilled and great at their craft.


Macro flower photo

I used 50mm lens attached to extension tubes and used manual focus and natural light.

I like to work when the world is sleeping and share while the world is at work

—Austin Kleon, from his book Show Your Work

This is me as well. I feel most productive when I’m cranking away at a blog post, photography project or design project late on a Friday or Saturday night. ‘Share while the world is at work’ was a bit of lesson for me – as I haven’t always thought about the time of day I’m sharing via twitter, facebook, or instagram.

Family photo

It’s that time of year again: to see where I’ve been and where I’m going. This has become an annual tradition: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. And now for 2015…


  • Paid off 3 debts leaving just one debt plus the house left to pay off!
    • Paid off last student loan. We now have no credit card debt or student loan debt.
  • Sold our house for lots of profit and bought a beautiful, new home.
  • Continued following the principles from Getting Things Done – including:
    • Weekly review of projects and tasks to ensure I know the next task on every project and that my head is empty (see next point)
    • Constantly keep my head empty of things to remember – by putting them on lists in Wunderlist (with due dates & reminders)
  • Wrote 2 Design Myth articles: Put it above the fold & Show me some mockups, then I’ll sign the contract
    • I launched this website in 2014 after years of frustration surrounding outsider perception of the design industry.

Photo shoots from 2015

Creative Improv

  • Worked with 15 clients (Including many mini-projects for past clients – retaining clients has been great.)
  • 37% decrease in sales from 2014 (which matches my 2012 sales). Reason: new baby – but no regrets about this.
  • Tripled the number of photoshoots I completed for clients from 2014. I did 6 photoshoots this year! See some of the photos here.
  • Photoshoots and stock photography royalties made up 11% of my total sales.
  • Completed fun & fulfilling projects like the many photoshoots as well as the website and portraits I completed for First Baptist Church in Kirksville
    • aka: Fewer projects that I was just ‘meh’ about.

ITS website

Full-time Job

  • Redesigned the ITS department website. This wasn’t just any redesign. It was a 6-8 month, extensive process. I utilized a content inventory, analytics, and other data to build a case for a redesign as well as define real problems with the current website (based on data). I also made the case for WordPress over other website building tools. From there, I began designing in the open and getting client input on every piece of the design. See the redesigned website!
  • Attend An Event Apart – a web design conference in Washington DC – my second in 3 years!

What I shipped in 2015

Seth Godin talks a lot about shipping (or launching & putting things into the public). He is a big proponent of, ‘ship early and ship often.’ Meaning – if you have a project that you’re waiting until it is just right to launch – push through and launch it now. In 2010, Seth Godin challenged his readers to think about what they shipped the previous year. I think this is a great way to hold my own feet to the fire and assess what I launched/shipped in the last 12 months. Here is what I shipped in 2015:


f4.5 – 1/60 – ISO 400 – 50mm lens with 2 lens extension tubes (for a closer, more macro-type image)