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2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers

2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers


    2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

    C.J. Chilvers is a photographer on a mission… A mission to awaken those who are more focused on equipment than images. A desire to get those who obscure their shots with filters to get back to basics. A drive to stop us from taking yet another “me too” image that can be found on a thousand different dime-store postcards. C.J. Chilvers is a man who wants us to rediscover the role of our own creativity in the art of photography.

    I was fortunate enough to discover C.J.’s and his amazing (and free) “A Lesser Photographer” manifesto through Patrick Rhone’s patron’s newsletter. Not only was I enamored by his approach to his work, but I realized how true it was for my own casual photography. Like many geek fathers, the birth of my first daughter was the ideal crap rationalization to get the obligatory DSLR (that I barely understand how to use) and a few lenses (because one couldn’t possibly be enough). It chronicled the big moments of her first years, but all of our favorite pictures happened at random times and were often taken with a camera phone. Now with our second child as the DSLR sits on the shelf collecting dust and the iPhone becomes the go-to tool for capturing life’s moments.

    It doesn’t matter if you are an amateur, a professional or even just a casual photographer, C.J.’s minimalist philosophy can help any amongst us understand just how little equipment is needed in order to unlock our creativity. And as you’ll see in the interview, that philosophy of less extends far beyond the photographic and into his approach for both writing and task management. Without any further ado, here’s a snapshot of how C.J. Chilvers approaches his craft:

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

    Sort of – I fancied myself a scientist.

    When I was little, I asked for microscopes and telescopes for Christmas instead of toys. My parents were smart enough to give me toys instead.

    I was into quantum physics when I was a teen. My friends were smart enough to start a metal band with me.

    My degree is in biology. That’s about the time I became smart enough to realize I’m a really just a writer.

    A newspaper columnist once told me, when I was 12, that I was a talented writer and it pushed me to learn everything I could about writing. I got kicked off the high school newspaper for writing something “controversial” about Slash. That issue sold out. I found the combination of writing chops and the natural controversy of my inner voice were a winning combo.

    Photography came later, but it’s all just a part of the greater skill of storytelling.

    What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

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    I used to write paper books. In 1994, I put up my first site and it’s gradually taken over everything I’ve published. I recently had a flirtation with paper books again, but gave it up when I decided it was more important to be read by more people than paid a pittance by a few for the privilege of flipping pages. I’m completely over the book scene and I’ve ripped the elbow patches off my blazers. I’d rather make a difference.

    If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

    I suppose my books would be the best things to point to (and we’ll pretend they’re collectively one thing). There’s been about 7, but here’s the ones that are I’m actively updating right now:

    The Van Halen Encyclopedia was an ode to my favorite guitar player. It took two years of research to complete the first edition in 1998 and at least another year for the follow-up edition. It’s now a website, with an iPhone app in the works.

    My most recent book is tiny by comparison, but packs a punch: A Lesser Photographer. It’s the result of two years of blogging on minimalist photography.

    Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?

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    Yes, move to Williamsburg, grow dreadlocks and spend your days searching for the perfect artisan tool to create whatever art you’ve been told is anti-establishment these days.

    It’s not hard to act like an artist, just be a nonconformist… in exactly the same way as everyone else.

    Anyone can be creative if they can figure out how to fight their brain’s need to avoid the pain of creation. If you’re not feeling that pain, you’re not pushing yourself enough.

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

    I write for the intranet of a hyper-mega-global company of 400,000 employees for 8 hours a day, then I write for fun for as long as possible after.

    I have an impossible number of ideas and projects to put out there in the world, but we’re expecting our first baby in about a month and that’ll mean most of those projects will be abandoned or given away – rightly so.

    How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

    I’ve given myself permission not to try to make money or be productive online. The less productive I become, the less I find needs doing.

    What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

    I work on a variety of platforms, quarantined from each other because of the confidential nature of my work, so I can’t count on any tools. Even paper.

    I tend to attack the workload itself as suspicious. I edit and edit until the workload doesn’t need any special tools or elaborate systems to manage.

    The greatest artists and craftsmen in history never needed tags or contexts or 50,000 foot views to create. I think we all take our jobs too seriously. A true master craftsman may rely on tools and techniques, but I would bet they have nothing to do with a productivity system.

    What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

    Ask why. Then, keep asking why until you realize: a.) you probably don’t need to be more productive or b.) there are some things so important, their importance alone will drive you to do what’s necessary. Don’t worry about it too much, though. Productivity often just gets you going faster in the wrong direction. We could all do with a bit less productivity in our work and a bit more attention to the people in our lives.

    More by this author

    2×4: An Interview with David Sparks 2×4: An Interview with Myke Hurley 2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers 2X4 Interviews 2×4: An Interview With Gabe Weatherhead 2×4: An Interview With Brett Kelly

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    Last Updated on July 27, 2020

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

    If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

    1. Create a Daily Plan

    Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

    Here’s How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity.

    2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

    Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

    3. Use a Calendar

    Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

    I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

    Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

    4. Use an Organizer

    An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

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    These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

    5. Know Your Deadlines

    When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

    But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

    6. Learn to Say “No”

    Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

    Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

    7. Target to Be Early

    When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

    For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

    Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

    8. Time Box Your Activities

    This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

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    You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

    9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

    Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

    10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

    Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

    You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    11. Focus

    Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

    Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

    Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    12. Block out Distractions

    What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

    I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

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    When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

    Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

    13. Track Your Time Spent

    When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

    You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

    14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

    You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

    Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

    15. Prioritize

    Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

    Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    16. Delegate

    If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

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    When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

    17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

    For related work, batch them together.

    For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

    1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
    2. coaching
    3. workshop development
    4. business development
    5. administrative

    I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

    18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

    What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

    One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

    While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

    19. Cut off When You Need To

    The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

    Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

    20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

    Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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