on productivity.

1344 melissapher I'll be honest.  I'm not the most studious person.  I have to play tricks on myself to get work done.  When I was in college I realized when I took 12 units a quarter I couldn't get my work done, but when I was taking 20 units I was majorly productive.  I am the kind of person that feels alive when I have endless amounts of work. (Don't get me wrong, it stresses me out like a mother.   But part of me likes the excitement and race against the clock.)  With all that said, I know what makes me more productive than my natural tendencies.  I definitely have problems being productive, but these items certainly help me boost productivity and maybe it could help you!

1. Go to bed early.  Wake up early. I get more work done between 8am - 12pm than I do from noon to midnight.  Something about the mornings and the beautiful daylight that helps me focus.  I remember what the light looked like in the mornings when I was in college in my lab.  I remember how the air changed, and I loved working in that fresh environment.  My labmates and I used to tune into the same jazz radio station on each of our computers to have surround-sound jazz as we worked on our projects.  I know how great it feels to wake up early to start work and see the sun rise as I work.  I long for it most days, in fact.

2. Exercise and drink lots of water.  Whenever I'm tired and exhausted exercising and drinking water gives me the long lasting boost of energy I need to get through the exhaustion.  It's pretty good for health, too.

3. Work in good light.  Sunlight and compact fluorescents are best for me.  I like daylight light.  Yellow light really kills my mood and makes me tired. very tired.

4. Separate and prioritize to-do lists.  I break down my to-dos to the very basic of tasks.  Say I have to edit a wedding.  I list all the tasks needed to complete that project such as import photos, add meta data, cull first round, cull second round, edit, retouch….and so on.  That helps me feel like I'm making progress however small.  I try to remind myself that any progress is good progress.  I easily and often feel overwhelmed with work nowadays so any little accomplishment is crazy empowering.  I also have lists for all the projects I need to edit, my business projects and my personal projects, and within those lists I prioritize my projects.  Sorting all my tasks into the days of the week, enables me to plan out my week so I know which projects are most pressing and which can hold off a bit.   I keep all these lists and tasks in order with the website/app, TeuxDeux. It syncs on my computer, phone and ipad, so I can easily keep track of all the things I need to get done.  I like it because it shows a week of to-do items and all project lists on a single browser window on the web.  My favorite part of it is the ability to cross items off my lists and the ability to move around tasks.

5. Listen to the same music or watch the same movie in never-ending loops.  I always get distracted and have always had a hard time focusing.  For the month of January I pretty much watched "You've Got Mail" the entire time I was working.  So that's about 12 hours a day, seven days a week of one single movie.  If I'm not watching a movie I'm usually listening to a single song on repeat.  My most played song was played 2507 times which means I listened to it for about 126 hours.   So this also why I've also watched the Band of Brothers Series more than 20 times.

6. Allow myself small victories.  I've always been my toughest critic.  I'm not sure where it's from.  Some might thing it's from growing up Chinese, but my parents were actually pretty good about not pressuring me.  They just always encouraged me to do my best in whatever I was doing.  But somehow I'm always criticizing my best until I reached adulthood and allowed myself small victories.  I try to remind myself that "small" accomplishments are still accomplishments, and I shouldn't be so hard on myself.  So relishing in these small victories actually encourages me to keep going.  Whereas when I'd beat myself up about everything I couldn't get anything done because I felt so defeated.

7. Keep an organize desk and keep a trash bin close.  Seems pretty easy, but it really helps me.  It eliminates distractions while I'm at my computer and prevents things like going through my mail from piling up to unmanageable sizes.  Keeping a trash bin close has been good for me to constantly throw stuff away to be clutter free.

8. Keep a (nearly) empty inbox.  I feel overwhelmed when my inbox is full, as if all these emails are pressuring me.  I need to have a mostly empty inbox to feel sane and get work done.  When I get emails I try to respond as soon as I receive them to keep them at a manageable level as well.

9. Insert personal joys to break up the endless work. Having a quick half hour break to read or clean or scrapbook or watch Nashville is lets my mind rest.  The break makes me feel like I've just pressed the refresh button on my productivity.

10. Turn my phone on "do not disturb" mode or turn off my wifi.  So this is a major thing for me.  My phone and the internet are the worst time wasters.  And the sounds and screens lighting up seriously distracts me.  So when I really need to get work done I turn it all off.

11. Love my work and feel challenged.  This of course is the most important to me.  I have to do what I love.  That's just always been me.  I've never been a person to do a job for the money.  I have to enjoy it to really be productively.  And it certainly can't be mindless work.  I'd get bored, miserable and overwhelmed much too easily if I didn't love the work and the people.

*The picture above is of Melissa Esplin doing her thang at Alt Summit.


1315 cambodia When I think about my life I can honestly say that if I died today I would have died happy.  I have few regrets and am so very happy at my core because my driving force in life, the thing that makes me most happy, is to see God in my life.  It's not an easy task, and it's not something that comes naturally.  Nor is it something I'm constantly doing, but it is something I strive for. But truly, my aim is to see God in everything in my life.  To become so in tune with Him that I can learn to love as He loves, to feel compassion and forgiveness as He does.  To see beauty through His eyes in the most unlikely places.  That's the kind of God I believe in.

So sometimes when people ask me how I've been doing since my mom passed away, I have a difficult time finding an answer.  On one hand I still feel lost.  Three months have already passed, yet I still can't imagine living the rest of my life without her.  It feels as if the mourning will never end.  I feel myself constantly slipping in and out of dark bouts of deep sadness.  But on the other hand I remember that my mother is no longer suffering.  I remember how much good has come from her life and her passing.  I see how I've become stronger because I've clung to God during this time.  I see the doors God's opened.  I've felt such an overwhelming sense of thanks for the people, encouragement and experiences He's given me since.  I've learned that it is possible, and even okay, to feel such conflicting emotions all the time.  And even when I weigh both sides, the sadness and the hope, I find that my faith in God wins out.  I know that as long as God is my constant and I seek to find God in my experiences I always come out filled with a sense of that true peace that passes all understanding.


(The picture above is from my April 2013 trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia.)

the journey

Hawaii I'm at a point in my life where I realize I don't know where I'm going.  Where is my life headed?  What am I doing with my life?  To be honest, I've been coasting through life these past three months, in an almost constant state of fog.  I feel both numb and full of emotions.  Is that possible?  I've been to this crossroad many times over the years, but for once, I'm not worried.  It's strange to admit that I'm at an incredibly confusing state in my life, yet I feel at peace that I've ended up here... because it means that I have choices.  I have the choice to move forward or fall behind.  The choice to grow or the choice to regress.  The choice to choose myself or choose God.  And amongst all the conflicting thoughts and emotions, I know in the end, I'll make the right decisions.  I'll end up with the best life for myself.

That's the thing about bad spots.  They only last so long.  So I'm holding on to that hope that is the rainbow after the storm, the toy at the bottom of the cereal box.

hello, september!

1205 pup01 Goals for september :)

Stay focused.  I want to use September as a means to regroup.  To reevaluate my focuses in life.  I want God to be my main focus, but I also want to focus on how to find new balance in my life.  I want to see how I can balance grief and relationships and work in a healthy way.... something I'm learning as I go.

Keep it up.  For me it's difficult to move forward without seeing "progress", so my goal for September is keeping doing what I'm doing.  I want to remember that it's okay to make small steps; well, any steps are good steps.  I want to keep up the pace I'm at out.  I'm slowly getting back to some sort of normalcy.  I'm also slowly meeting up with people, which is good for me.  I want to remember that it's okay to be by myself.  And most importantly not to pressure myself to heal or move faster than I'm capable.

Connect. September is going to be a busy month for me.  Between shooting weddings and portraits, I'll be traveling a lot.  I have some trepidation being alone while I travel, especially since the last trip I was on was when I found out my mom passed.  I fear I'll relive that flight/day when I cried uncontrollably for 13 hours.  It's easy for me to retreat and default to being myself when I'm scared, so I want to connect with people.  I want to open myself up to them and let them know when I need help and prayers.  I also want to connect with all the people I'll be working with this month.  Thankfully, travel always rejuvenates me, so maybe my fears are unwarranted.

As scary as it is to go through another month of grieving, things are slowly getting better, and I'm excited to see what else God will bless me with in this new month.  :)


thankful thursday 16

1207 san jose diridon station01 I've been on a little hiatus.

Over the past month it's been difficult to keep anything straight.  Somehow I've been constantly cleaning and working and grieving yet I neither feel or see progress in any of those areas.  It's strange to live a life like that.  As much as I fight it, I find myself drifting through life, incapable of finishing things or moving forward.  And really not feeling any courage or emotional strength to spend time with people I love.  So where do I go from here?  How do I break away from this longing to stay the same as if staying the same will keep my mother here?

I can't say I know what to do or how to act.  But I reread a note from my friend over and over where she writes that she hopes that I can feel.  That whatever it is I need to feel, whether it is happiness or sadness, that I let myself feel.  Seems like an easy concept, but it's been difficult to execute.  I feel numb to so much.  I don't want to feel sorrow because I fear I won't be able to ever come out of it.  Yet, I fear happiness because I feel guilty enjoying moments without my mom.

Then there's love.  Whenever I start to cry I try to remember love.  I try to remember my mom's love.  My friends who've been there as I cry say the same thing over and over, "Your mom would want you to be happy."  It burns in my heart to hear that, but I know it's true.  She loved God so much.  And I know that she was such an incredible woman because of that love.  Even when she endured chemo she continued to praise God for every blessing, even the smallest victories.  So when I cry I try to remind myself of my own victories and blessings.  God has a love that is so great and encompassing that in Greek, they had to have a separate word to describe His love.  Life recently has been a lot like "My Favorite Things" from Sound of Music, only when I'm sad I think of God's blessings... And there's a lot of them.  So, here are few of my favorite things that I've been thankful for recently.

- My youngest niece falling asleep in my arms. - Facetime.  Because I guess that's the only way I can figure out how to not hang up on people abruptly.  woops! Sorry! - Cleaning.  It's daunting, but it's a step towards a new start. - My family who acknowledges my social anxiety and tries to accommodate it. - Friends who won't stop bugging me to hang out.  Right now I need friends like that who pursue me and won't allow me to disappear.  Even though I don't feel ready, their desire to spend time with me helps me as I grieve. - Friends who give me space.  Right now those same friends who pursue me also manage the perfect balance of space and care.  They don't get offended when I don't feel ready to hang out.  And I truly appreciate that as well. - My friends really are just the best.  I know that each one of them was placed in my life for a reason.  I love each of our special relationships. - Bleach.  Who knew it was so magical. - Grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Always the perfect complement to a book. - Hugs.  I honestly do not like anyone really touching me at all.  But... every hug feels so good that in that moment I forget my personal space bubble and just enjoy that good squeeze.  So I'm grateful for everyone who's been hugging me. Thanks.