Productivity for Photographers: Kaizen

January 26, 2016
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“Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.” – John Maxwell

My dad died suddenly.

It wasn’t really unexpected. He had been on palliative care at the nursing home for months. The lung cancer got the best of him; he was just too weak to continue treatments.

To say I took his death poorly is an understatement.

My dad was my best friend. It would take me years to realize the depth of my grief, even though I thought I was handling everything well. Instead of feeling his loss, I went numb, logical, cold.

I got the call on my drive into work. My cell phone signal was spotty, but I could just make out the nurse on the other end, crying, and telling me my father had died in the night.


I wish I had spent more time with him in his final days. I couldn’t wrap my mind or heart around the fact that he was here now, but soon wouldn’t be. I couldn’t grasp his not being there to talk to, joke with, get horrible if hilarious advice from. I’d smart off and he’d call me an asshole and we’d give each other a knowing, loving look.

I wish I’d gone to the nursing home and watched the boxing match with him that weekend he died.

I wish I’d made a lot of better decisions in my life, but none stand out so clearly when I think about the word ‘regret. ’

And oddly, when I sat down to write this post for you, regret is the word that came to mind when I thought about kaizen. Kaizen is the Japanese philosphy of small daily actions that lead to amazing improvement over time.

I want to tell you about kaizen, and how it’s helped me in my journey as a working artist, because kaizen is a powerful weapon against regret.

I wish I could get back all the time I spent crippled by my perfectionism.

I wish I would have done all the things perfectionism kept me from doing. I wish I had told him how I felt. I wish I’d have launched my business sooner and hustled harder. I wish I’d have made more art and fewer excuses.

It’s my hope that these words will help you earn fewer regrets than I have in my photography business (and life).

Why Kaizen

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” – Robert Collier

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Productivity For Photographers: Five Minutes

January 22, 2016
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“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” – Bill Gates

I answered the phone when my mother-in-law called me, and all I could hear was my pregnant wife screaming in pain, and Lenora telling me, “James Michael, there’s something wrong.”

I was working a late night at in the newsroom when the police scanner toned out for an ambulance, and the dispatcher read my elderly father’s home address.
I overdid it at the gym, and lay half-conscious on the bathroom floor, trying to muster the strength to reach up and unlock the door so help could find me… I hoped.
Five minutes is a lot of time.
Our perception of time can shift from warp speed (time flies…) to each second ticking by, suffocated in an eternity of fear, anxiety, and unknowing.
The above few stories are the first that come to mind when I think of how long five minutes can be.
(Read to the end and I’ll tie up those three stories for you.)
How we think about time is why we aim to get so much done in a year (then don’t), but think we can’t get anything done in five minutes (though we can).
Having a Five Minute Practice planned and prepared can help you make big gains over the course of time. Just five minutes a day is 30 hours a year, almost four full workdays; take advantage of three sets of five minutes a day, and you’re up to 90 hours of found productive time each year.
Wouldn’t an extra two weeks vacation to work on your self and dreams be nifty?
Stack this with early rising and a purposeful morning routine, and you’re modeling some of the highest performance men and women in the world.

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Productivity For Photographers: Mindfulness

January 10, 2016
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“Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing that dance.” – Amit Ray

I know, I hear you.

“Dangit James Michael, now I can understand how going to bed earlier and getting up earlier and focusing on important work can raise my productivity, but mindfulness? Meditation? Presence? What’s this woo-woo voodoo got to do with staying productive toward my dream of professional photography?”

Time is precious.

But presence is powerful.

One of the most insidious forms of The Resistance is that of distraction.

Not the obvious stuff: constant e-mail dings, Facebook notifications, and that coworker who’s never around until you’re working on deadline.

Distraction is the slippery, slithering snake in the thicket: you see it when you come across your to-do list from three months ago (last year?) and recognize how long it’s been since you even thought about your dreams. You skipped your morning routine, had a spat with your spouse, and then went off the rails for months.

E-mail and Facebook will distract you for hours. That annoying coworker? Minutes.

But The Resistance will distract you forever, if you let it, or the over-and-over-again equivalent if left unchecked.

Mindfulness is the hydrogen bomb in the scorched earth campaign against distraction.

Mindfulness is hard, though.

It takes proactivity, purpose, prioritization; slowness, stillness; awareness.

Especially when we already feel like there’s no time to waste, it’s a big ask to stop and look around and think.

But consider it this way:

Life – job, family, friends, passion work, community – demands you put the pedal to the metal seven days a week.

Before long, you’re going 90-to-nothing. You know you’re getting somewhere, but you have no idea where that somewhere is, or if it’s where you wanted to go in the first place.

Mindfulness is the act of hitting the brakes, pulling over, and checking the GPS.

“You’re certainly busy… But is what you’re busy with taking you where you want to be in life?

“Going further down a road you don’t want to be on just because you’re already pretty far down it doesn’t take you closer to where you want to be, does it?”

“Where are you, where do you want to be, and what change in course do you need to make to get there?”

Over and over, I’d get serious, get committed, and set goals for myself. Health goals, photography goals, business goals, fatherhood goals, husband goals, employee goals. Something would shake me up (a mini-Harajuku moment), I’d get mad and get my to-do list out, and get back on track.

For a day. Maybe a week, at the most.

Three months later…

“Now I’m mad and motivated and I’m gonna get this stuff done! Where’d I put that to-do list…”


For years I repeated this cycle of get serious, make a plan, then get distracted from everything I was so desperate to achieve.

The Resistance had an easy time of it with me.

Maybe you’re sitting there, shaking your head, recognizing how easy a target you’ve become as well.

If so, this is for you.

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Productivity for Photographers: Morning Routine

December 31, 2015
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“We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” – U.S. Army

What would you do with an extra 2 hours a day?

Two hours a day is equivalent to 18 workweeks a year.

How would your life – your health, your passion work, your happiness – be different if someone handed you that kind of time to invest in yourself and your dreams? If your boss said, “Here James Michael, I want to give you the next 18 weeks off so you can make your life awesome – the very best it can be.”

Here it is, plain:

You need to go to bed two hours earlier, and get up two hours earlier than you are right now.

(I can hear you screaming “Impossible!” all the way from here in Goldthwaite, Texas.)

To anyone who hasn’t experienced it, the differences are profound.

Why are you dedicating your most powerful, focused, productive hours to everything EXCEPT your dream?

When all of your energy goes to rushing and reacting and meeting other people’s ever-urgent needs, you have nothing left to invest in changing your life for the better.

I can’t tell you how many years I spent staying up late, getting up late, rushing through my morning, resenting my work, being distracted around my family, and letting my dreams slip to “tomorrow” day after day after day. Maybe I’d steal a few hours on the weekend, or holidays. I was always playing catch-up; never satisfied, never feeling like I was where I was supposed to be. Not at work, not at home.

So much stress exists in our lives because we’re constantly out of alignment.

When we’re at work, we feel like we should be with our family. When we’re with our family, we feel like we should be working on our passion project. Then when we finally find or force the time to work on our dreams, we’re exhausted, stressed, distracted, even resentful.

With that misalignment constantly grinding against our hearts and heads and spirits, it’s no wonder we’re stressed out and seeking any distraction we can find.

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Productivity for Photographers: Evening Routine

December 18, 2015
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“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

The first question people ask me when I talk about my evening routine is:

Wait, don’t you mean morning routine?

I didn’t have a morning routine until I learned about evening routines. I thought you just set your alarm an hour or two early then exercised herculean discipline to not hit snooze and roll over…two times…okay, seven times…

Like most of you fellow artists, I’ve always been a night owl.

And I’ve tested almost every method of balancing sleep and life (except polyphasic sleep).

As a kid, I slept most of the day until the after-school cartoons would come on, do my homeschool work as efficiently as possible, then play video games all night. My parents thought there was surely something wrong with me. They even had me tested by the doctor for…what? A broken circadian rhythm?

As a teenager in public high school, I woke around 15 minutes before the bus came, skipped breakfast, slept on the bus and through first period History, played basketball until the sun went down then played video games until my eyes hurt.

Early in my career when I was young, single and mindlessly wandering, I’d go to work at noon, write and photograph to nine, then play Battlefield 2 until my coworkers showed up the next morning.

In sum, I’ve spent most of my life sleep-deprived.

Getting out of bed when that first alarm rings is still one of my biggest challenges in life.

But what a difference a morning makes.

When I follow my evening and morning routines:

  • My productivity on what truly matters (the Important but Not Urgent) goes gangbusters.
  • I feel rested, awake, sharp, and focused.
  • My alarm, while not beloved, becomes the sound of opportunity.
  • I have time to prep meals and hit the bike or gym, vastly improving my health and how I feel all day.
  • I’m able to start my day with motivation, through reading, audiobook, podcast or video.
  • I start each day with a series of victories, setting the tone for the rest of the day.
  • I feel in control of my day, my choices, and my life.

The morning hours, when most of the world is still asleep, are magical in their power. I’m fresh. I have a full stock of energy, peace, and willpower. I’ve not yet become drained, distracted and reactionary from the ever-pressing needs of the world.

My mornings are my best time.

Even as a lifelong night owl.

One of the worst ways I fooled myself early in my career was believing my late night hours were my most creative and productive.

Oh, I read a lot of blogs, played around with a bunch of Photoshop actions and tutorials. I watched lots of educational videos. I processed and reprocessed thousands of photographs.

But I didn’t realize I was working almost exclusively on the Not Urgent and Not Important.

I was busy, but not productive.

I wasn’t creating value; I was neither making valuable things nor making myself more valuable.

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9 practices to increase your productivity as a professional photographer

December 14, 2015
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There are a smidge over 85 million productivity tips on the Internet.

(I Googled, just to be sure.)

There’s a trap here:

When confronted with overwhelming options, what do our brains do?


We lose focus, we lose inspiration, and we fall back on routine.

“What got you here won’t get you there.” – Marshall Goldsmith

Success boiled down to its most base practice becomes habit. What we do daily lays stone in the foundation of our dreams.

When I asked you awesome PTP readers to describe what’s holding you back, Time was well behind Confidence and a step ahead of Money.

My Identity course for photographers (launching Dec. 12!) is built from the ground up to give you the tools you need to overcome the limiting beliefs hurting your Confidence and holding you back from launching your photography business. If you’re not already getting my e-mails, subscribe at the top-right of any page on this site to get my best stories and ideas delivered to your Inbox.

To help with Time, I sat down and identified the 7 most powerful practices I employ daily to enjoy peace and productivity while balancing family, friends, day job, photography, business, writing, coaching, and re-creation.

Kicking off this seven-week series with practice numero uno:

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Is photography really 90% business and 10% art?

November 30, 2015
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“You all laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.” ― John Davis

All the business gurus will tell you: success comes with knowing and communicating your Unique Value Proposition (UVP).

But, as a visual artist, you look at your value from a solely visual perspective:

“My art looks just like that guy’s over there. And it sure as heck doesn’t look as good as this guy. I love his work. I look at my work and get so discouraged. How can I pretend to be a professional photographer? Why would anyone pay for my work?”

Why are you valuable?

That’s a powerful, priceless question.

I know you’ve heard the line that the photography business is 10 percent photography and 90 percent business.

There’s some truth to that. And some untruth.

Read more inside…

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