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Saturday, 30 January 2021


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Here's a couple of organisational tips I got from Brooks Jensen, the photographer behind Lenswork:

1) only touch things once, i.e. don't pick it up and put it down again, because you haven't tidied it up. Instead, pick it up and put it where it is supposed to go (bin, file, whatever)

2) At the start of the day split your tasks into boulders, rocks and pebbles, i.e. from most pressing / difficult to least. Start with the boulders and then hopefully the other, easier tasks won't seem so bad.

Sheesh! I’m worn out just from reading this.

Thank you for this Mike; it's posts like this that keep me coming back and so much of it chimes. One thing though - I think when it comes to your responsibilities for your son, from what you have said in the past you showed no signs of laziness at all.
Stay well - I hope you are enjoying your pool room.

Do I wish that I documented my life in pictures more? I did. I wish that digital photography started 30 or so years earlier.

I spent over a couple of decades in the military, living and traveling all over the world. I transferred 10 times, packing out and reestablishing residence over and over. Boxes packed and never fully unpacked in anticipation of the next move. Today, I can't watch a movie without yelling out that I stood on that spot.

The thing is, for a million dollars, I couldn't put my fingers on any specific image. Literally 10 thousand plus slides, in boxes stacked to the ceiling fill a walk in closet. When I die, who ever cleans out my house can make another Vivian Mayer documentary showing all the slides and negatives they found.

I went kicking and screaming into digital, but I can locate anything that I shot I minutes off of my computer. I couldn't find the slide with a Kangaroo from Australia if my life depended on it.

I'm afraid I recognize too much of myself in your essay.

I wasn't always lazy, but I do admit to feeling pretty low at times. And yeah, it happens in pro photography too. The problem I discovered there was that if the 'phone wasn't ringing enough, I became discouraged and didn't want to go and look for fresh clients because I just felt too humble to face anyone. Fortunately, being fairly unique in my small pond, I did get work of my kind when it was available, so we made it through the troughs.

But, losing a wife you met in your teens is something else when she's loses her life in your seventies. Being left as survivor isn't always a nice situation, and for a few years photography did come to the rescue and help fill the empty hours. But, recently, perhaps because of the pandemic and the impossibility of going to local cafés and sitting around looking and watching, reading the local papers, making the occasional shot of something or someone, the urge to shoot has evaporated, and with it my way of making it through the day without too much time for introspection.

I used to eat lunch out every day, and now, instead, I have to cook, which I can't, and which builds up dishes and pans that haunt me as they await my attention in the kitchen, attention I give them once a day and only because I know that if I did not, the entire structure of my life would collapse around my ears. Photography of itself isn't much good: one needs purpose with it. God alone knows what will happen if I get incapacitated through age or illness. By your 83 algorithm, I should be dead. Maths ain't always right. :-)

No-one is normal. Repeat, no-one is normal. Got that?

Nurses are all OCD—that's why they are good at their job.

I suffer from a mild form of dyslexia. I'm color blind. And I'm also an arrogant jerk.

Many, but not all bloggers have narcissistic personality disorder.

Many people are resistant to change. What's normal to someone under 21 may be anathema to someone over 60.

You didn't explain how you got to be, um, normal. Did you take a pill? Experience a religious or 12-step conversion, which are quite similar? Maybe you got old, and finally organized?

And I think you over simplify. I've written (I think) 54 novels since 1990, which takes a degree of organization and persistence, but my office looks like a windstorm blew through it. I'm often astonished by the things I find on my desk. I recently discovered my chrome Lumix GX8 there; I wondered where it went. I have another (black) GX8 and had been using that exclusively, only vaguely curious about where its near-twin had gone -- I knew it would turn up sooner or later. So I really think it's possible to be organized in some things, disorganized in others. You portray yourself as this disorganized wretch who, oh by the way, has kept a quite-profitable blog afloat for a couple of decades, writing almost daily, and leading a lifestyle that many 9-to-5 LA commuters can only regard with envy.

Is it possible that you have an addictive personality, and you're now addicted to self-help schemes? Just wondering.

This is me not responding to your post because I have to clean up the dishes and go get the mail.

The importance of working hard at the things that matter most (to you) reminded me of something I read recently. My Dad passed away just before Christmas and while sorting through some of his things I found an old overhead projector slide and written in his hand on an 8x10 piece of Kodak Safety Film was a quote titled, “Press On”.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~ Calvin Coolidge

I had never seen this slide (or quote) before and I can just imagine the story that accompanied it. I’m sure my Dad told his dazed first year students about a childhood in the hills of West Virginia where it was his job (as the youngest) to get up first in the morning to stoke the wood stove and how his family had no electricity or running water and yet there he stood…teaching them about radiology. Dad was a Professor and the original Program Coordinator for the first Community College based Radiologic Technology (X-ray) program in the Chicagoland area.

Persistence really helped me in my career as well (thanks Dad) and I touted it when trying to teach staff about data security policy and procedure. I always tried to teach staff the big picture, how their small part fit in, and why it was important. I always stressed that everyone needed to remain vigilant and persistent. I did not have a tale of hardship to tell like Dad did (thanks again, Dad), but I too used a quote about persistence in my education materials.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~ Albert Einstein

I've certainly regretted having few to no photos of some places I've lived, like apartments in Switzerland in 1966-67. My mother doesn't seem to have any either (I inherited her photos).

I think of "energy" as my limiting factor. It decreases somewhat over time. Back in 8th and 9th grades I trained myself to do photography and darkroom work usefully and to program computers to professional levels, including assembly language, in my spare time (while maintaining top marks in school). In fact, probably having that much to keep me busy prevented me from having some of the unhappiness in the level of school that many smart people, especially those in science fiction fandom, experienced. (I was out of the country the year everybody else made the jump from 3 separate gradeschools to one junior high, too; in many ways like turning up as a new kid in town.) But these days I fritter away a lot of time happily enough, I just don't have the energy or focus to remain on-task all the time even with a variety of tasks.

Much of the time I've been pretty good organizationally. Hence having all my early negatives, and knowing exactly where most of the ones after 1964 were taken.

I'm not really in a position to know what's needed to be a successful professional photographer. I do think the energy and organization are key to being any kind of self-employed person, though, which includes photographers mostly.

You got me with that last sentence … Cheers!

I can certainly relate to that, never been a high-energy guy and in my early 20s I dipped into depression, not catastrophic, but enough to make the climbing up strenuous and lengthy. That made my motivation disappear for almost everything. Was lucky enough to discover areas of study (and then work) that were engaging for me (graphic design, illustration and photography), that kept me going.

In recent years I felt I’ve changed in this regard though. I’m sure I can pinpoint why: my personal life was improved and stabilized and, regarding the particular energy aspect, I’ve started exercising. Was lucky that I’ve been slowly discovering physical activities that I enjoy doing, started swimming and then also running. In the past few years, since I’ve started working as a freelancer at home, the first thing I realized was that it was crucial to create a discipline of working out almost every day, made all the difference: I’m feeling more energized than ever (well, maybe except some of my childhood) and even being enjoying learning new stuff about the body, muscle groups and all that. Exercise has sure became part of my life now, I’m enjoying the slow but sure progression, and I surprise myself on how disciplined I am (maybe addicted), it really makes a big difference on my physical and mental well-being.

Regarding being organized, it’s sure not a natural skill for me also. I always found it was something good to delegate, back when I worked in a studio with more people it was easy to do it. It’s certainly a skill that can be worked on, but I also find that we can only work so much on each skill to achieve good levels. Nowadays I’m a bit better at it, I could say I’m at a functional level, but if my personal our professional life gets a bit more complicated I would sure had to delegate that, since working on it would certainly affect my other strengths.

I think we all struggle from time to time with respect to being maximally productive.

A good starting point is to focus on being maximally EFFECTIVE and EFFICIENT.

These were two concepts I used to stress when teaching my DFSS (Design for Six Sigma) students (most of whom were PhD or M.S. scientists and engineers; needless to say, pretty dang smart folks) with respect to achieving their new product design goals and objectives:

Maximally EFFECTIVE is doing the RIGHT thing. Maximally EFFICIENT is doing things RIGHT.

EXAMPLE: using Design of Experiments to develop and characterize (new) functionality is MUCH more EFFECTIVE than OFAT (One Factor At a Time) experimentation.

These two basic tenets can really help with productivity and...just gettin' stuff done.

A great way to start is David Allen's book, "Getting Things Done". Allen is part of the VitalSmarts team.


Also a good website with tools and resources: https://gettingthingsdone.com/what-is-gtd/


[Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll look into that. --Mike]

I have a visceral reaction, rejection, of “normal”. For me it is “normal” that has been the cause of my lifelong depression, anxiety. It was a diagnosis four years ago that illuminated this and much of the cause for me - neurodivergence (in my case autism) in a world that punished, condemned, persecuted any variance, still does, from its arbitrary “normal” (sexuality being another area in which I experienced the same).

Every time you say the word above I feel a pang. Of course, I realise it is not your meaning, and don’t mean this as accusation, and I empathise deeply with your words - thank-you for being open about such things, there are few stronger reassurances than a hand reaching out in the dark*.

I don’t strive against “normal”, don’t commit to weirdness for its own sake, it’s just unavoidable. Masking what is me, whatever that is (hell, I still don’t know where to start), pretending to be “normal”, is what quite literally nearly killed me multiple times, and caused, causes, deep pain. And it has never been successful. I am weird. Not in a cool way, not in an interesting way... I say I am “weird but boring”.

I cannot be normal. I would like relief from suffering, but acknowledge that entropy, chaos, will bring it regardless, and that being traumatised and conditioned for so many years, decades... there’s a long way to go, rugged, unkind, shadowed. But better illuminated now, with diagnosis and the same decades’ hindsight.

So I now continue less scared, writing my weird sh*t, taking my “boring photos”, obsessing over my obsessions, finding, as you do, the ways that help me, the things that help me get to where I want to be, the things that just are me. And the people I feel connection with and hopefully ~cross fingers~ vice versa.

I guess I’m sorry, Mike. You struck a chord of empathy and a discord of lexicon for me, and I set off. It might not sound it, but I honestly thank you for this.


*an allusion to the Ursula K. Le Guin quote: “We’re each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?”

Although I’d add Eartha Kitt: “The price you pay for being yourself is worth it.”

I too wish I'd documented past abodes. But what I really want to address is this business of organizing a large-form piece of writing. I'm a technical and non-fiction writer and I like to work in the outliner module of Word. It automatically gives a spine, in Mike's metaphor, to the jellyfish. Except you can shift the vertebrae. You can move stuff around, store details and rough ideas, put stuff on the back burner, visually switch from the big picture to the small passages, and rewrite more freely. Of course it's still work. Give it a fair try. I can even imagine novelist A using it, though maybe not novelist B. Lyric poets, I dunno.

Great essay! Thanks!

I hear you Mike. I have been lazy, or "lazy", all my life. It's only in recent years that I have learned that it comes from fibromyalgia, chronic universal pain, and resulting exhaustion and depression. it got worse and worse. It's formidable barrier to say the least.

The only upside is that it taught me to be efficient. I sometimes have done things in a fraction of the time others did.


Very relatable, Mike. I think it's more likely that most people have been through periods of being low-functioning and high-functioning adults, depending on their life experiences and learning.

Since you're a writer, you might be interested in this book I'm reading: "How To take Smart Notes" by Sönke Ahrens.

Tks Michael, interesting and well written.

Thank you Mike for that very revealing article (at least for myself!).
I think that « well » organized people can still be creative but I would say that the « over » organized ones have the outmost difficulty to exceed their routine.
Good day!

There's important stuff and then there's everything else. I ignore everything else and just concentrate on the important stuff. My desk is a mess but my swimming and photography are right on track.

If you want to get more done I think the secret is not to work harder but to work faster.

Funny, I have the exact same '20 seconds to spare' way of looking at time since a few years. My wife loves it ;-). It started about the same time I discovered nutrionfacts and went plant based... Maybe just a coincidence.

Best, Nick

Thanks for posting this. I have similar traits, and I've nothing really to add, it's just good to know there are others out there. Thank you.

This essay and its comments are kind of shaking me up. The word "lazy" seems kind of harsh. What if one uses that extra startup time to work on something completely different to allow the subconscious time to process something creatively new?

Please do write your autobiography, Mike. Even if you don’t think you’ve led a particularly notable or consequential life, I’d happily read it and I bet many of your other regular readers would too. After all, how many of us have led “extraordinary” lives ourselves?

Or rather, how many of us don’t yet realize we actually may have? Aren’t each extraordinary in their own unique and particular way? As a portraitist (and a big fan of portraits generally), I’m just as drawn to unknown folk as I am to the famous. In fact I often prefer them. For instance, I like Avedon’s “In the American West” more than, say, his ‘76 Rolling Stone portfolio of political power players, “The Family”—though I love both bodies of work.

Anyway, you’re a great writer, and if anyone can help us see that a “common” life is anything but, I bet it’s you. And if that’s what it takes to keep you on course and motivated then all the better for the rest of us. I bet that once you’re fully underway you’d find it immensely satisfying too. Do it, Mike! Write your life!

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