Lessons in Photography

Redbuds

Sometimes it's good to not only smell the flowers -- or redbuds -- but also to photograph them. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Today is day 88 of my 365 days of photos. I confess there have been a few days where I thought about simply stopping. However, just when I think it’s not worth my time, something catches my eye, and I have the photo for the day.

Early in my 365 project, I photographed many sunrises and many moons.  That didn’t bode well in terms of enjoying the moments of the day. But almost 100 days later, I’ve already learned some things, including:

  1. Photography is hard. Yes, I know that is an obvious statement. I’ve always taken good photos. I had never pushed myself as a photographer, though, and now I find myself trying to figure out lighting and distance and angles to get the right shot. So while I’m capturing my moment or grace note for the day, I’m also practicing my photography.
  2. It’s the little things. One day at work, I observed a big square of sunshine. It made me smile, and I photographed it. It was winter and it had been bleak for some time. That square of sunlight made my day.
  3. All the senses matter. As I try to capture the moments of my day I’m struck by how much more aware of my other senses I am. How do I capture the laughter at book club or the smell of the first spring day where the sun warms the air?
  4. Live in the moment. Sometimes I get home and think, “Why didn’t I take a picture of that?” Sometimes we’re so busy that we do forget to enjoy the moment.
  5. Share your passion. I’ve been telling friends and even strangers about my project. I’ve photographed the handyman who fixed all kinds of things around the house. How wonderful to know those are off my list of things to do. I’ve photographed library events and lecturers and other runners.

Simple pleasures include walking and gardening in the same day. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Will I make it another 265 days (and then some)? I’m not sure, but I hope so.

In my first 100 days, I’ve already learned a few lessons. I suspect there are more lessons yet to be learned.

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Time for Spring Cleaning

My grandmother used to make a big deal about spring cleaning. She would scrub cabinets and clean rugs and get into areas of her home that weren’t touched any other time.

It always seemed to be a bit much. Why  not just keep up with it throughout the year?

The answer is simple: Who has time?

When my life is feeling chaotic I find cleaning and organizing extremely helpful. One of my friends and I joke about how we end up with the neatest closets during the most difficult times in our lives.

This year already is proving busy for me and adding to the chao is that I’m moving my office — twice in the next 30 days. At first I was frustrated because I like a calm environment. Then I realized that the move was nothing more than a forced spring cleaning. I’m thinking I need to spring clean each year. When I do I’ll tackle the following:

1) Pull all the files out of the cabinet and determine if I still need them all. I’ll recycle the paper that I don’t need and reuse the folders for the next projects.

2) Look at how I accessorize my office. Do I need lots of tchotchekes or can I keep just a few? Another option is to rotate them throughout the year to always have something new to look at.

3) Toss any pens that don’t work or leak. Pencils that are missing erasers should be tossed.

4) Eliminate any folder that says “Miscelleneous.” You will waste time looking for it. You are better off with a folder with only one piece of paper in it.

5) Toss magazine articles about leadership, social media, time management that I have not read in a year. Do the same with books, only donate them to your local library or school.

When I move into my temporary quarters, there will still be some chaos, but there will be a lot less!

Do you have any spring cleaning tips to share?

Living in the Details

As a young police reporter, I questioned why the police department couldn’t tell me the color of the car involved in the accident. It was the kind of detail I wanted to have in my news story. My journalism professors had drilled attention to detail as a key attribute of a good reporter. Miami Herald reporter turned novelist Edna Buchanan also touted the attention to detail.

Rainbow

Yesterday I paused in my work and looked up to see a rainbow. Jason Womak says his camera "is a reminder of the fact that there is more to see, if I’ll stop to see it.”

Turns out they were right, according to Jason Womak, author of Your Best Just Got Better. In a press release he warns that we are often forced to sacrifice quality for quantity. Because there is so much information to take in, he says, we’ve become a nation of skimmers.

The downside of that, Womak says, is we miss essential details that could “help us improve our productivity, build better relationships and live more gratifying lives.”

So how does one pay attention to the details? Womak, a workplace performance expert and executive coach, offers several suggestions:

1)      Stop multi-tasking. “When you multi-task, you can’t give your undivided attention to the things you’re working on,” says Womack.

2)      Carry a camera. I’ve been doing this all year in an effort to focus on the grace notes of each day. Womak says his camera is “a reminder of the fact that there is more to see, if I’ll stop to see it.”

3)      Set a timer for 15-minute intervals. Womak says 15 minutes is just about the right chunk of time for us to be able to stay focused, minimize interruptions and work effectively. “When you’re first getting started on paying more attention to detail, setting a timer can be a great way to self-monitor yourself,” says Womack. “When you know that timer is ticking down, you’ll be encouraged to really dig in and focus on the task at hand.” I often use this approach when I’m trying to clean the house. It’s amazing what one can accomplish in one room for 15 minutes.

4)      Reduce your information stream. One important way to help yourself pay more attention to detail is to simply reduce the amount of stuff vying for your attention.  I’ve recently let several magazine subscriptions expire. If, after a few months, I miss them, I’ll resubscribe. Right now, it’s nice not having a pile of magazines in the house.  I’ve also unsubscribed from several email lists. Just because I purchased an item from the company doesn’t mean I have to get an email every time they have a sale.

“Because we’re so overloaded with information, we often approach our days focused on getting as much done as possible,” says Womack. “But when that is your big goal, you end up ignoring important details, and the details are where big opportunities are found. When you retrain yourself to live in the details, you can improve everything you do and truly make the most of your relationships.”

What are you doing to live in the details?

Thanks to Cathy Jett, president of Virginia Press Women, for sharing a press release about Womak’s book with me. The release and reading his book inspired this blog.

Doing More by Doing Less

My trainer frequently reminds me to breathe when I’m working out. It seems silly to need to be reminded to breathe, but I’m so focused on completing the set of repetitions and using the correct form that I do often forget to breathe. Fortunately, he’s there to remind me.

Glass sculptureUnfortunately, the same is not true at work. I run from one meeting to the next. I multitask. I eat lunch at my desk. Frankly, I’m tired, and I’m not alone. Seventy-seven percent of workers say they are sometimes or always burned out in their jobs and 43 percent of workers say their stress levels on the job have increased over the last six months, according to a CareerBuilders survey.

The other week, I met with a business coach, who reminded me of some simple things I can do to make myself feel less overwhelmed and even more productive. They include:

  1. Take a break
  2. Schedule vacations
  3. Do one thing
  4. Follow 18 Minutes

The idea of taking a break feels counterintuitive. And yet, he was right. When I stop and take a short walk outside around my building, I return to my office reinvigorated and with a clear head.

One thing that keeps me going is knowing I have a vacation scheduled. It’s a carrot for me. I realized several years ago that I needed to sprinkle my vacations throughout the year and get them scheduled. Also, because I know it is coming, I like to wrap up loose ends. It’s a great way to complete assignments that have languished.

My office recently installed WiFi. It’s a blessing in that I can meet anywhere with anyone. It’s a curse because the temptation is great to take my laptop to a meeting and answer emails during a meeting. When I do that, I’m not giving my full attention to either the email or the meeting so I try to avoid it. I put my purse with my cellphone in the trunk most days so I’m not tempted to drive and talk. It seems like a great way to combine two activities, but it’s also a great way to cause an accident. They key is to do one thing only.

My coach also suggested I follow 18 Minutes, written by Peter Bregman and based upon his weekly Harvard Business Review columns. Step 1 takes 5 minutes and is about setting the plan for the day. Bregman says that before turning on your computer, we should sit with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. In Step 2, we refocus for one minute every hour. At the end of the day, we review for five minutes. It sounds simple. I’m fairly consistent with Steps 1 and 2. Step 3, not so much.

However, the more I follow it and focus on doing one thing only, the more I accomplish. I also breathe more – and that’s a good thing!

Modern Definition of PR

In the past 30 years we’ve seen social media emerge as a powerful communications tool. We’ve seen the line between news and entertainment blur. What we haven’t seen is a definition of public relations to keep up with the times.

But that’s changed with the announcement of the PRSA-led “Public Relations Defined” initiative. Following a public vote in February, the profession’s choice for the modern definition of PR is:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

This definition received 671 votes, or 46.4 percent, of 1,447 total votes. PRSA will adopt the winning definition to replace the 1982 definition of public relations. That was the last time the definition had been revised.

A review of the word cloud from the definitions submitted closely aligns with the winning definition. Among the key words are “public,” “communication” and “relationship.”

In a letter to members Gerard Francis Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, and chair and CEO of PRSA, said, “The ‘Public Relations Defined’ initiative has not only modernized what many considered to be a medley of dated concepts of public relations; it has reshaped an important conversation about the future of the profession and its value in the 21st-century business landscape.”

What do you think of the definition?

Social Media Tidbits

The social media platform continues to evolve. In the past few weeks, I’ve read several good articles and found some helpful apps. I’ve collected several of them in this blog to share with you.

Linkedin Follow Company Buttons

Companies will be adding this button to their websites, making it easier for any consumer on the web to begin following companies of interest, on LinkedIn. Whether you are looking to stay up-to-date on company news, career opportunities or industry trends, following companies on LinkedIn is a great and easy way to gain insights and stay connected.

Copyright Issues and Pinterest

I love Pinterest. It’s fun to get inspiration. For the most part I’ve been pinning photos I’ve taken, but I’ve repinned photos of others that I liked. I don’t always know the copyright of those photos, and I suspect you don’t either. And that’s a problem. Pinterest’s Terms Of Use itself requires that “you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content as contemplated under these Terms.” Megan O’Neill wrote a clear piece on the problem for Social Times.

Telling a Story Using Video

I started my career as a print reporter. A photographer was assigned to capture an appropriate image to accompany the story. When I moved into PR, I took my own photos for newsletters. I had studied photography so it wasn’t too much of a stretch, although I would have preferred a professional photographer on staff. Today, I have to think about videos to go on my company’s blog, Facebook page and website. I do the same for my personal blog. If you want to learn more about how to tell a story through video, Poynter has an article with 9 helpful steps.

Favorite Apps

Trello organizes all of your projects and tasks.

Trello organizes all of your projects and tasks and who is assigned to them in an easy-to-view format. Even better, the mobile and web versions contain the same features.

Now that the weather is getting nice, my trainer is encouraging me to get outside and run. I want to know my distance so MapMyRun is my go-to app.

I’m always finding articles to read. Sometimes I go down scary rabbit holes and forget what I started off searching for. Now I use InstaPaper, an app that lets me bookmark interesting web pages for later reference. The best part is I can read it on my phone when I’m waiting for an appointment or stuck in line.

What have you read lately that’s worth sharing?

Author Ellery Adams Stays Busy Plotting the Next Kill

Ellery Adams, who also writes as J.B. Stanley and Lucy Arlington, told a group of mystery writers and readers, that having worked at a bookstore, she was convinced she could write a mystery better than most that were on the shelves. “I was feeling very snobby about it.”

She also was a school teacher for eight years so “you can see why I wanted to kill people,” she said with a friendly laugh.

She chose the name Ellery Adams because she loved the works of Ellery Queen and because she wanted to be in the front of the bookshelves.  The name Lucy Arlington originated when she was in Arlington, Va.

The different nom de plumes are helpful, Ellery says. “You can completely fail and come back as a different author. You start with a clean slate.”

She does, however, get confused when she attends writer conferences. “I’m never sure who I am.”

Ellery follows a strict schedule, writing 1,000 words a day. Then she revises those words. She aims for 4,000-4,500 words each week and edits on the weekend. She writes blog posts while she watches TV.

She blogs, even though it takes away from time on her books, because “people getting to know me sells books.” Editors also are requiring authors to blog and post to Facebook and Twitter.

Because she has three separate series, Ellery works in chunks and marks her calendar with the topics of her series: Pies, Agency, Beach.

“I’ve got so many people to kill,” she said, before dashing off to another appointment and then home to write.