Category Archives: My Life

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!

$5 logo from Von Glitschka

Once upon a time, this very popular illustrator/designer named Von Glitschka created a website to sell logos for $5. The kicker is that he would only spend 5 minutes on each one and there would be no revisions allowed. It was done out of frustration from what he calls ‘cheap a** clients’.

However, for fans of his, this is a great way to have a cheap piece of ‘art’ from the man himself. After some conversations about his $5 logo website with Jamie Carroll, we came to the conclusion that it was pretty genius.

And.. what do you know? I got one for my birthday, from Jamie.

For an undetermined amount of time, this $5 logo has replaced my prior logo on my personal website/blog (desktop version of the website/blog only).

2012 Year in Review

Personally

  • Officially became free of all credit card debt while paying off 4 large debts using the debt snowball idea from Dave Ramsey
  • Completed numerous house projects – renovated kitchen, refinished shed, shutters, doors, etc.

Photography

  • Learned many new post-processing techniques to use while processing my photographs. Check out my photos here!
  • Became an exclusive contributer at iStockPhoto.com, meaning I no longer sell stock photos at many other websites. Learn more here!
  • Speaking of iStock, my earnings have quadrupled from 2011
  • Cranked out many watercolor raster illustrations which were really popular on iStock. Check them out here!
  • Created 33 stock photos (photos and illustrations combined) in 2012. This is down 300% from the previous year but the new work’s popularity outweighs the previous work’s popularity

Website Design

  • Honed my WordPress, responsive design, and HTML5/CSS3 skills through constant Lynda.com training courses

My business, Creative Improv

  • Worked with 25 clients to create meaningful websites, logos and print collateral. 10 of which were brand new client relationships

What I ‘shipped’ in 2012

In 2010, Seth Godin challenged his readers to think about what they ‘shipped’ the previous year. So here’s goes:

  • Crushed 4 debts
  • Created 33 Stock Photos
  • Crafted 15 Websites
  • Designed 3 Logos
  • Designed 4 Print Pieces
  • Crafted 3 Motion Graphics Pieces
  • Created 4 HTML Emails

Two days ago I began selling photography and illustration exclusively at iStockPhoto.com. I’m ecstatic! This means I’m no longer selling photos at all the other stock photography websites. I’m consolidating my efforts and becoming a more focused creative in the process. You can check out my iStockPhoto.com portfolio here.

A little over 3 years ago I purchased my first DSLR camera and began learning the in’s and out’s of photography, while simultaneously signing up for iStockPhoto.com. I was slowly uploading and selling photos as I learned more and more. Of course, my skills were honed that much quicker because my friend, Jamie Carroll was going on shoots with me and teaching me everything he knows. I can’t thank him enough for teaching me much of what I know today. In fact, I’m still learning new things about Photoshop and photography from him almost weekly.

I’ve also enjoyed success at other stock photography websites, like having one of my photos included in PhotoDune.net’s  Graphic Designer’s Bundle, and being featured in a monthly blog series where creatives are interviewed. I previously contributed & sold images through many of the other microstock photography sites (shutterstock, dreamstime, fotolia, etc) and found that it was simply too much work to continue contributing everywhere as a ‘non-exclusive’ contributor… so I choose to become exclusive to just one of them. That choice was iStockPhoto.com!

Enjoy some of favorite photos that I’ve shot during my 3-year journey to this point (some aren’t necessarily for sale on iStock)

After meeting Rebecca, my wife, I soon got to meet her great family. Her grandpa enjoys working on sewing machines and has a really cool shop where he does his work. Rebecca and I were in his shop learning about different sewing machines he has and I realized that this would the perfect time to take some portraits. I wanted to capture a few portraits that showed the man in his realm – his workshop. The third photo really captures the moments we spent in his shop. Enjoy!

You can click on the images to enlarge them.

  • Created and launched 18 websites
  • Created 3 logos
  • Created and coded 4 HTML emails
  • Created 5 motion graphic pieces (animated banners and otherwise)
  • Connected with 10 Creative Improv clients to complete design projects of all sorts
  • Grew Creative Improv by over 30%
  • Learned guitar well enough to play with a singer – see YouTube.com/rebakville
  • Learned a lot about photography and became a contributor to iStock, Shutterstock, and many other stock websites.
  • Most importantly, I met the woman I will spend the rest of my life with, and proposed to her – see StephenLovesRebecca.com

For a while now, I’ve wanted to experiment with watercolor and Photoshop work combined into one. So, I broke out the watercolors from my college illustration course and went crazy. This is a gift I gave to my fiancée, Rebecca for Christmas.

The process was to paint a nice background on 9×12 paper with watercolor, scan that into Photoshop. Then I went to work on cutting us out of an engagment photo and placing it over the watercolor – adding various overlay effects to it. The text was added last and is made of the date we met and lyrics to a song we both love and will probably dance to at our wedding.

A few zoomed in sections are below:

overlay effect added to our photo after I utilized the pen tool to cut us out of the original photograph

It’s been almost 6 years since I originally launched StephenEmlund.com. This October, I redesigned my website for the first time ever. I have been surprised how well my website has held up to all the design trends in the last 6 years. Of course, it’s because I made the website very minimalistic. Although orange was so 2005.

This was 2005

Orange was sooo in!

In 2005, orange was sooo in! I featured printmaking on my site back in the day. Just for fun, I've uploaded the whole website as it was in 2005. Click the screenshot above to view it live!

This was 2008 ↓

Website launched in 2006

in 2008, I tweaked the color from orange to teal and added a sweet autograph! I also implemented the new 'border-radius' that only worked in certain browsers. This website was used for my senior portfolio in Visual Communication.

This is today ↓

Launched October 2010

Launched October 2010. Kept the same teal, but added live feed from blog and a sweet jQuery slider.

Dynamic portfolio page

Dynamic portfolio page - the left navigation dynamically loads all the projects that relate. Click the screenshot above to see the portfolio page.

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