Productivity For Photographers: Five Minutes

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on January 22, 2016

in This is Life

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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.

Why Five Minutes?

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” ― Mother Teresa

It’s Doable
Having an early morning routine lets you trade your lowest-yield evening time for high-yield morning time, and dedicating that time to making progress on the person you want to be and the art and business you want to make.
With a Five Minute Practice, you’ll expand on that progress, stacking small wins throughout the day.
The three keys are:

  • Believing you can get important work done in five minutes
  • Preparing to take advantage of those five-minute opportunities
  • Recognizing and seizing those opportunities when they come

Steep Your Mind
This was the game-changing effect of having a five-minute morning practice I wrote about last year.
One of the most insidious ways The Resistance keeps you from your dreams is distraction. Whether with a healthy diet or exercise regimen or attentive relationship or working on your self and your dreams, “missing a day” quickly snowballs into weeks, months, or years.
Everything you do is building habits.
Including the choice to do nothing. Or to “do it tomorrow.” Or to rationalize. Or to make excuses.
Starting your day with five minutes of productivity, getting at least one win early in the day, steeps your mind in your art and business all day long. It puts your subconscious to work on your dreams for the rest of the day.
(And if the solution to a plaguing problem has ever popped into your head on a walk, in the shower, or when drifting off to sleep, you know how powerful this practice can be.)
Taking five in the morning gets your mind working on positive problems (instead of negative, our lizard brain’s default), and grabbing another five later reinforces and reinvigorates that subconscious effort. You’re awake and going about life’s business anyway; why not let your brain be solving problems in the background?

Little Victories
The Five Minute Practice is all about momentum.
It’s about putting more wins on your board (as Chris Brogan says), both tangibly and mentally.
You know how good it feels to knock just one thing off your to-do list. Building a simple system to feed five-minute bites throughout each day makes it easy to stack those victories.
I don’t know about you, but I have had plenty of days where my head hit the pillow and I couldn’t name a single real accomplishment all day. Not that just getting through some days isn’t a feat in itself, but especially when it comes to taking care of myself or my business, it’s too easy to make zero progress. It’s too easy to just react to life, and go through a day (or much more) having made no proactive or purposeful choice toward your own dreams.
Locking down those five minutes in the morning, and then grabbing the chance when it comes up later in the day, you can at least make a one-percent improvement in some area of your dreams. It may feel imperceptibly small (and subjective), but stringing these together, think about what a 30 percent gain over 30 days – or a 100 percent gain over a few months – would mean for your art, business, and life.
Five minutes is longer than you think.
And it adds up quickly.

How I Practice Taking Five

“Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They’re just braver five minutes longer.” – Ronald Reagan

There are countless good ways to change your story for the better, five minutes at a time.
Here are a few I practice:

  • Exercise: Take a five-minute walk. Take a break. Move around and get some oxygen to your brain. Grab the Sworkit app and take on any of the five-minute exercises (cardio, strength, and my favorite, yoga) within. Next to a nap, this is the best way to hit the Reset Button on your emotions and energy during the day.
  • 10 Ideas: Grab a copy of Claudia Altucher’s Become An Idea Machine on Kindle, download it to your smartphone, and change your life for the better five minutes at a time. Reading Idea Machine and implementing its wisdom and daily exercises has pumped up my creative problem solving muscle. I was a huge skeptic about the benefits, but all my mentors were raving about it, so I finally gave it a test run. I’ve been blown away. Like meditation, journaling, and the like, it’s amazing how much gain can be had in life and business from such a small practice.
  • Read One Chapter: Keep a motivational book handy, preferably with short chapters, and work your way through it one small chunk at a time. I always have a few books on my desk at work I can grab for inspiration (Peace Is Every Step and Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff are great for day job stresses). But my next-level upgrade has been downloading a few such books to the Kindle app on my phone, and taking a bite out of them when I have a few minutes. This beats the heck out of jumping on Facebook or Instagram for that same time, which scientifically hurts more than it helps.
  • Say Thank You: Write a thank-you card. This is one of the lowest-cost, highest-yield, most long-forgotten practices to invite good fortune into your life. Thank-you cards are big opportunities because they are so little used anymore. They’re unexpected and authentic, personal and attentive, which makes them a powerful tool to reinforce the relationships in your life. Thank your boss. Thank your boss’ boss. Thank your checker at the grocery store (protip: thank the manager for the service the checker provided, and ask the manager to share your thanks with them). Thank your clients. Thank your tax preparer. Thank your spouse. Thank your kids. One of the biggest side benefits is an attitude of gratitude, recognizing how many good people you have to be thankful for in your life.
  • One E-mail: Shoot off one e-mail. Especially that one you’ve been avoidiing. Make sure it’s high-yield and worth the focused effort.
  • One Phone Call: This is a stronger choice than e-mail if you want to make a deep and personal impact. Reading your words reaches people on one level, but hearing your voice is a big step up. Make this an important but not urgent call: a friend you’ve neglected, a parent or relative you haven’t talked to in a while, or someone you know could use a quick call to know they’re important. (Including your clients. When was the last time you checked in?)
  • Write: Easy for an author like me to say! You can write your thoughts and feelings down on the page to help fend off ‘monkey mind,’ but a practice I’ve gained a lot from this year has been copying good copywriting. Search for “best copywriting letters” online, print off a few classics, and copy them by hand. This is an old-hat strategy in the copywriting world, and while you’re a visual artist, you’ll benefit personally and professionally from sharpening your ability to influence people with the written word. Copying good copywriting by hand helps maximize how much you’ll absorb about effective language, sound, word texture, rhythm, and voice.
  • Health Check: Run down the quick list of things that are a boon to your body: drink a tall glass of water, make a cup of hot tea, stand up and stretch, walk around, exercise your eyes by looking at something in the far distance for a ten-count then middle distance for a ten-count, step outside and get fresh air in your lungs.
  • Wash Your Face: This is a wonderful exercise to bring your mind and emotions back to the present. Go to the restroom, turn on the cold water, lean down and rest your elbows on the sink, and just let the water run over your hands. Remember when you were little and you’d do this in the bathtub? Just focus on the smooth, cool, flowing sensation. Be present to the moment and appreciate it. After a short time, lean further down and wash your face in the cool water. Not a quick splash and slap, but slowly, indulgently, with a deep breath. Slowly apply the water to the skin of your face and revel in the sensation, in the presence, in the rejuvenation. Do it a few times. Enjoy it – there’s nowhere else you need to be, and nothing else you need to be doing. This is a lovely moment. Maybe I enjoy this way too much, but it’s one of my absolute favorite ways to take five at the office.
  • Declutter: I never used to care about clutter. But the more I meditate, the more I recognize how unsettled my cluttered desk makes me feel. Until you reach that state of calm and awareness, you don’t really recognize how clutter raises stress and tension. It gives your brain too much to process, and every little thing that’s out of place creates a “to-do task” in your mind, overfilling your already full cup. It’s not like all this crap takes a long time to put away – you can make a huge dent in five minutes, or completely clear your desk if you’re ruthless. These are all the things that collect in those moments when we were too busy or too tired or too distracted to make a decision about where they go and to get them there. Use your five minute practice to blast through clutter: do it, delegate it, defer it (put it where it belongs until you need it), or delete (trash) it.
  • Meditate: Five minutes is a quick meditation, but like a good 15-minute nap, a lot of goodness can be packed into such a short time. It helps a great deal if you have some experience with meditation (I use the Headspace app for guided meditation), so you at least have a structure to work from. The short version: sit (I use my office chair); take deep breaths (in through your nose, out through your mouth); close your eyes; begin focusing inward by feeling your body’s pressure on your chair and feet on the floor; acknowledge the sounds around you without focusing tightly on them; scan down through your body, head to toe, and acknowledge feelings or pain, stiffness, or relaxation (without judgment); focus on your breath, begin counting on your next in-breath, 1 in, 2 out, 3 in, 4 out… through 10, then start over; as thoughts come and you get distracted, gently catch yourself, and bring your focus back to your breath (there is no perfection to achieve, no failure; in fact, every time you catch yourself and bring yourself back, consider that like one rep in a good workout – you’re making your brain stronger every time); do this for a few minutes, then reverse out of your inward focus: stop counting breaths, listen for sounds around you and acknowledge them, feel your body’s contact with the chair and ground, then slowly open your eyes. If this process intimidates you, grab the Headspace app (free for 10 days) and make it an easy win.
  • Affirmations & Visualizations: Especially if you didn’t have time during your morning routine, give your affirmations and visualizations a five-minute reading. I am convinced that what really keeps us from our dreams is more the distraction of life than our lack of motivation to Do The Work. Repeating your affirmations and visualizations throughout the day keeps you empowered and purposeful. Not sure how to write these up? Give Hal Elrod’s story-changing book The Miracle Morning a read.
  • Tea Time: Make a cup of tea, either caffeinated for a little energy boost or decaffeinated (such as my favorite, Texas Gold Rooibos) for the flavor, calm, self-care, and of course, healthy perks. Take your time, enjoy the warmth, savor the scent and flavor, and know that you’re building your body’s ability to thrive and fend off illness.
  • Be Grateful: Long a powerful part of good journaling, take five and make a list of things (especially people) that you’re grateful for. Writing down just three things you’re grateful for daily helps you become a happier person who recognizes more of the good things in your life worth being grateful for. Ever buy a new car and then it’s like you see that car everywhere? Your brain thrives on patterns, and if you train it to recognize things and people worth being grateful for, you’ll start to see them everywhere.
  • Check In: Text a friend or relative to let them know you’re thinking about them. Facebook and social media trick us into thinking everyone we know has friends, has fun, and feels ‘seen’ – but in fact, most people are just as lonely and down on themselves as you and I can be. Around 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as lonely. As you scroll through your Facebook timeline, your Instagram feed, or your contact list, count: 1, 2, and stop. Odds are that person feels lonely (regardless of how big a smile they feature in their selfie, or how perfect their life looks from the outside). Now do it again. And again. Surprising, isn’t it? Recognize how the free gift of your attention and a quick text message can make all the difference in their day.
  • Get Pumped: Just type “motivational video” into YouTube and you’ll get as much pumped up inspiration as you could ask for. Start with the most popular videos and work your way down. From great speeches, to athletic feats, to military grit, to stories of people overcoming huge adversity, you’ll walk away with your fire well-stoked. (here’s one of my favorites)
  • Laugh: Laughter is fine medicine, and we don’t make enough time for it. There are countless less-than-five-minute comedy clips on YouTube. A few of my personal favorites: Dane Cook, Louis CK, and Ron White (zero percent of which are office appropriate; have your headphones nearby).
  • One Shot: In the digital age, it’s common practice to motor drive your way to a good photograph (I’ve sure done it, too). But there’s real value in slowing down, deeply considering, thinking harder, and getting the shot you want by design instead of by luck. Spend one minute choosing your subject (extra credit for thinking abstract, such as an idea, story, emotion, or moment, instead of an object), four minutes studying it and considering the shot, then 1/200th of a second making the image. Then put the camera down and walk away… You’ll be excited to come back later and see what you got, and you won’t go immediately into self-editing and self-judgment mode. Let the image rest and build up some positive tension. Occasionally, flip the script: make an immediate, gut-level, snap decision as to your subject, and then spend five minutes making as many images from as many angles and perspectives (both literal and conceptual) as possible. Shoot like hell, really work the subject, and then put your camera down and walk away. Your images will be there when you come back.
  • Make a List: Make a list of things you can do in five minutes. Keep this list handy, and add to it often (especially with the fruits of your 10 Ideas idea machine practice) so you always have a great selection of actions you can take to change your story for the better, five minutes at a time.

Do This, Not That

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” – Nelson Mandela

When I began my Five Minute practice:

  • I stopped letting my life slip by five wasted minutes at a time, and I started taking every five-minute break as an opportunity to move the needle on my life, art, and business.
  • I stopped playing games on my phone, and started reading (and finishing) books, one chapter at a time.
  • I stopped not making time for the little things, and started sending those thank-you cards, texting people I cared about, and reaching out to my circle to let them know they’re important.
  • I stopped spending my day sedentary in front of computers, and started getting five minutes of movement, exercise, fresh air, and breathing every chance I found.
  • I stopped letting The Resistance distract me from my dreams, and started proactively fighting back by keeping my affirmations, visualizations, and Why in the forefront of my heart and mind.
  • I stopped allowing clutter to build up on my desk, and started putting every thing in its place, freeing my mind from the daily clog of mental to-do’s clutter causes.
  • I stopped letting my camera collect dust, and started clicking that shutter at least once each and every day.

If you’ve read this far but still doubt the power five minutes can hold, at least test this for the next 30 days:

Get a box of thank-you cards and a roll of stamps. Hand-write and mail out one each day, to everyone from friends and family to clients and the people you do business with (your banker, your barber, your tax preparer, your photography mentor or hero). Any of the above practices can change your story for the better, but this one is the perfect mix of personal and professional, internal and external, to get the most mileage out of your five minutes.

So what happened with my wife, father, and myself?

My yet-born son jammed his foot into my wife’s liver, causing her incredible pain and forcing her into labor. He was born the next day Jan. 2, 2007, healthy and happy, and my wife came through like a champ as always.

My father had fallen, and had to use his medic alert bracelet to call for help. EMS got there before I did, helped him into bed and checked him out, finding him weak but in good shape. He lost his battle with lung cancer a few months later.

I blacked out at the gym, but after waking, slowly recovered and got myself up and home. A good day of rest and an “a-okay” from the doctor, with the advice to take it easier at the gym, and I was back in action.

Life lessons like these have taught me to appreciate the power in five minutes of time, and to make the most of it every time.

“How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

This is Part 5 of my series: 9 practices to increase your productivity as a professional photographer

Read more here:

1. Essentialism
2. Evening Routine
3. Morning Routine
4. Mindfulness
5. Five Minutes
6. Kaizen
7. Time Blocking
8. What Gets Scheduled Gets Done
9. Imperfect Action

Like this series? Subscribe at the top-right of any page of this site to get all of my best stories and ideas in your Inbox.

Next Steps

  • ACT: Because of how we perceive five minutes of time, this is a very easy post to nod your head to, say “Amen!,” then do nothing with. Take any action with what you’ve learned here, but take it daily. Print this list and keep it handy for a quick reference. If you do keep a long list of potential five-minute actions, don’t give yourself decision fatigue: choose violently. Don’t dally and ponder and suffer perfectionism as you try to figure out which is the perfect five-minute action to take. Decide how you want to attack your five minute practice. Do you want to choose one action to repeat every opportunity? Maybe a list of three, prioritized, so you always take your highest-value action first? Or keep a long list and choose randomly for the adventure of it? Whatever you do, do it fast, and do it every time. With only five minutes to move the needle, you have seconds to make a decision, so make those decisions easy and painless.
  • TEST: Go to the grocery store, set the timer on your phone for five minutes, grab two gallons of milk, hold them straight out away from your body, stand on one foot, and close your eyes… In the grocery store. You will never forget how long five minutes can be.
  • BRAINSTORM: Get out your pen and paper. Write down every excuse running through your head right now as to why you shouldn’t immediately write up or print out a list of five-minute practices you can employ, and begin this practice today. Fill a page up with excuses, look at how weak they are. Write WEAK in massive letters across the entire page, then rip it up and throw it in the trash. This one you won’t file in your Brainstorms folder.
  • SUBSCRIBE TODAY: It’s my calling to help you earn your first $5,000 to $50,000 as a part time professional photographer. Don’t miss out on my best stories and ideas: subscribe to my e-mail newsletter today at the top-right of any page of this site.
  • DO THIS NOW: What’s the biggest challenge holding you back today? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough.
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