Monthly Highlights is a blog series I do to recap everything that happened over the past month. I’ve been doing Monthly Highlight installments for a little over a year now, but have always struggled to figure out the right format for them. Initially, they were supposed to be a way to make my annual recaps much smoother so I wouldn’t have to spend weeks writing one long annual review. But these articles have always turned into listicles full of links to various photo shoots I did for the month, and I admit that even I didn’t find them super helpful or appealing. So in accordance with my theme of the month, which was productivity, this Monthly Highlights installment will set the precedent for a new structure.
Over the past year, I’ve slowly been getting more involved with the Quantified Self movement, which is basically self-knowledge through self-tracking with technology. I started with a FitBit Flex in April 2014, and over the past month have also begun to incorporate other trackers including Strava (for running and fitness), MileIQ (to track miles driven in my car) and Toggl (to track time). I’ll have a more comprehensive blog post explaining how I use all of these tools on a daily basis, but for the time being, I’ve managed to collect bits and pieces of data that quantifies aspects of my life.
Why do this? Well first, it’s really easy to do. In most cases, all that’s needed is the wearing of a physical tracker or simply pushing buttons and recharging batteries every once and a while. Second, these are ways that I’m attempting to create a better version of myself through mindfulness and awareness of what I’m actually doing each day, and using this data to spot areas that could be improved upon. Lastly, I figured there’s no harm in sharing my findings and overall Quantified Self journey to those who are interested. Think of it for now as a way to quantify the life of a freelancer.
Without further ado, here’s a little data snapshot of my month of February, taking note that I really only started using most of these trackers in mid to late February. The only areas that are pretty solid and comprehensive this time around are the business mileage, mileage on foot, and number of photo shoots for the month.
Business miles driven.
*tracked by MileIQ[/tw-column]
Average hours worked per day
*tracked by Toggl[/tw-column]
Photo shoots completed
*tracked by Sunrise Calendar[/tw-column]
*tracked by FitBit[/tw-column]
*tracked by Strava for only half the month[/tw-column]
What Went Well
Specific highlights of the month:
Photographing rock legend Billy Idol, photographing a swanky Academy Awards party, applying new off-camera flash photography skills to food shoots and a portrait session with a hip-hop artist.
Staying busy with photo shoots.
February is still a part of the notorious winter slump that many freelancers, especially lifestyle and event photographers, suffer through every year. Yet I somehow managed to avoid a dry and uneventful February this year, blasting through 16 photo shoots in the month. Some of those shoots were big ticket events such as rock legend Billy Idol, X-Factor winners Alex and Sierra, and a swanky Academy Awards party. However, I also managed to fit in a bunch of food and restaurant shoots towards the end of the month, and a portrait session with a local hip-hop artist. Some of these shoots paid top dollar, whereas others were for the sake of networking, maintaining solid relationships with influential individuals, testing out new photography skills in a stress-free environment, or pure and simple bartering, like that one shoot where I got paid in 7lbs of hamachi collars. That is to say, work doesn’t always have to be paid in cash money.
Diving deep into quantifying myself.
The first thing that went really well this month was all of the effort to get the above Quantified Self data fleshed out. As mentioned earlier, I’ve always had an interest in quantifying myself with trackers such as FitBit, but it took a bigger mental blow to finally dive in deep. The blow came in the form of a little nervous breakdown I had in the middle of February when I was really behind on deadlines and losing track of projects left and right. It was frustrating, but it also motivated me to really figure out a way to get back on track. The answers took a few days to research and test out with their own shares of errors and mistakes, but after a week or so of experimenting, I think I finally have a solid, relatively seamless solution in place. It’ll be really exciting to track all of this data for the next year or so, assuming I have the discipline to stick to it.
Practicing and applying new photography skills.
As is likely typical for most creatives, I go through many periods of disenchantment with photography. Luckily, they are few and far between, but every once and a while, the thought of picking up a camera to create a new work of art sounds exhausting and uninspiring. My typical approach to combating these down times is to learn a new skill. This not only exercises my brain and creativity, but it also has the potential to add another dimension to my photography skills, thus increasing the services I can offer to clients. This month was all about off-camera flash lighting, which is something I challenged myself to learn a year ago, but I didn’t take the right steps to properly apply what I had learned. This time, I used my refined off-camera flash lighting skills to write instructional blogs for Digital Photography School to hone in what I had learned, as well as use those skills immediately afterward at commercial photo shoots for food, product, and portraits. There’s still lots to be refined, but so far I’m proud of the results and can’t wait to share them once I have client approval to do so.
Improved home office ergonomics.
In last week’s blog post, I highlighted some spring cleaning tips that helped me spruce up my home office, as well as a little insight into how I changed my old standard desk into a more ergonomic stand up desk. This is something I’ve been wanting to enhance in my home office for a while now, and I was happy to have finally checked that off the list.
What Could Be Improved
While there were lots of high points to the month, some of those benefits also created areas of contention. For example, can you guess how often I’ve used my stand up desk since it’s been converted? Not often enough (this blog post is being written while seated). Same with the quantified self measures, which still require a commitment to stick to. In fact, I’ve caught myself spending way too long fussing over the format of my to-do list rather than checking items off of it. In essence, self discipline is still something I really need to work on, especially now that I’m committed to quantifying myself.
How did your month of February turn out? Is anyone else out there interested in or actively taking part in the quantified self movement? Leave a comment below with your thoughts, or shoot me an email!