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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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    1 How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day 2 Lifehack Challenge: Become An Early Riser In 5 Days 3 How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity 4 How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever 5 Book summary: A Technique for Producing Ideas

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    Last Updated on December 30, 2018

    How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day

    How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day

    This article is the 2nd in the 6-part series, Lifehack Challenge: Become An Early Riser In 5 Days.

    If you’d like to become an early riser, there are some things you should know before you run off to set your oft-ignored alarm clock.

    So how to become an early riser?

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    Here are five tips I’ve discovered to be most helpful in making the transition from erratic sleeper to early morning wizard:

    1. Choose to get up before you go to sleep

    You’re not very good at making decisions when you’ve just woken up. You were in the middle of a dream in which [insert celebrity crush of choice here] is serving you breakfast in bed only to be rudely awakened by the harsh tones of your alarm clock. You’re frustrated, angry, confused, and surprised. This is not the time to be making decisions about whether or not you should stay in bed! And yet, most of us leave the first decision of our day to be made in a blur of partial wakefulness.

    No more! If you want to be a consistently early riser, try making your decision to rise at a specific time before you go to sleep the night before. This frees you from making the decision in the morning when you’ve just woken up. Instead of making a decision, you have only to follow through on your decision from the night before. Easier said than done? Of course. But only for the first few times. Eventually your need for raw willpower to get out of bed will diminish and you’ll be the proud parent of a new habit!

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    Steve Pavlina suggests you practice getting out of bed during the day[1] to get a few of the “practice sessions” out of the way without the early morning fog in your head.

    2. Have a plan for your extra time

    Let’s say you’ve actually made it out of bed 2 hours before you normally would. Now what? What are you going to do with all this time you’ve discovered in your day? If you don’t have something planned to do with your extra time, you risk falling for the temptation of a “morning nap” that wipes out all the work you put into getting up.

    What to do? Before you go to bed, make a quick note of what you’d like to get done during your extra hours the following day. Do you have a book to write, paper to read, or garage to clean? Make a plan for your early hours and you’ll do more than protect yourself from backsliding into bed. You’ll get things done and those results will fuel your desire to build rising early into a habit!

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    3. Make rising early a social activity

    While there’s obvious value in joining a Lifehack Challenge in order to get you started as an early riser, your internet buddies just don’t have enough pull to make your new habit stick in the long term. The same cannot be said for the people you spend time with as part of your early morning routine.

    Sure, you could choose to read blogs for two hours every morning. But wouldn’t it be great to join an early breakfast club, running group, or play chess in the park at 5am? The more people you get involved in making your new habit a daily part of your life, the easier it’ll be to succeed.

    4. Don’t use an alarm that makes you angry

    If we’re all wired differently, why do we all insist on torturing ourselves with the same sort of alarm each morning? I spent years trying to wake up before my alarm went off so I wouldn’t have to hear it. I got pretty good, too. Then I started using a cellphone as my alarm clock and quickly realized that different ring tones irritated me less but worked just as well to wake me up. I now use the ring tone alarm as a back up for my bedside lamp plugged in to a timer.

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    When the bright light doesn’t work, the cellphone picks up the slack and I wake up on time. The lesson learned? Experiment a bit and see what works best for you. Light, sound, smells, temperature, or even some contraption that dumps water on you might be more pleasant than your old alarm clock. Give something new a try!

    5. Get your blood flowing right after waking

    If you don’t have a neighbor you can pick fights with at 5am you’ll have to settle with a more mundane exercise. It doesn’t take much to get your blood flowing and chase the sleep from your head. Just pick something you don’t mind doing and go through the motions until your heart rate is up. Jumping rope, push-ups, crunches, or a few minutes of yoga are typically enough to do the trick. (Just don’t do anything your doctor hasn’t approved.)

    If you live in a beautiful part of the world like me, you might want to use a bit of your early morning to go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of the world around you. If you have a coffee shop open within walking distance, dragging yourself out of bed for a cup of coffee to savor on your walk home as the world wakes around you is a wonderful experience. Try it!

    More Resources for an Energetic Morning

    Featured photo credit: Frank Vex via unsplash.com

    Reference

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