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S01 E04 – Look a pine tree!

In this episode of the Tao of WAO podcast, Laura Hilliger, Doug Belshaw, and Bryan Mathers discuss the importance of taking breaks from technology and the impact of hyperconnectivity on burnout. We share their personal experiences of disconnecting from the internet and the positive effects it had on their mental wellbeing and creativity. We also explore different strategies for managing time and tracking work hours, including the use of tools like Toggle.


Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.

Digital Detox


Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:28] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with the dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I’m Laura Hilliger.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:41] And I’m Doug Belshaw. Laura Today we’re joined by our esteemed colleague and fellow. We are Open Corp member, Brian Mathers. Hello, Brian. So we can’t sum up Brian. We’re going to ask him some questions, but he’s such a man of many talents that we thought Brian could maybe sum up himself. And if he doesn’t do it properly, we can poke him with a stick. So, Brian.

Bryan Mathers: [00:01:03] I’m happy to be poked with a stick. That’s that’s. That sums me up really well. Actually, no, I’m originally some sort of programmer and. And I suppose I’m now some sort of artist and, and those two worlds sort of gently collide as I sort of seem to be thinking about technology, but drawing pictures, is that a good sum up of the sort of stuff that I do?

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:29] It is, absolutely. Now, usually when you’re doing things virtually, you point out the fact that your six foot ten, but you’re always seen sitting down on Zoom calls. So obviously listeners to this podcast can’t even see you. So I think that’s an important thing to to get across as well. So when you’re imagining Brian’s voice, just imagine it coming down at you from above.

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:52] I was actually going to suggest that that means that I can be taller than Brian for once, which sounds fun for me because I’m. I think you’re taller.

Bryan Mathers: [00:01:59] Than me in many ways. Laura.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:01] Laura’s six foot 11 and I’m four foot two.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:05] Did you ever want to be taller? Doug I mean. Brian No, but. Doug Did you ever want to be taller? Well, like.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:12] As an adult.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:13] Yes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:14] No, I feel I’m six foot one and I feel like six foot one is an awesome height because everything fits in terms of clothes and stuff. And you’re just above the crowd usually, but you’re not so tall that you kind of stand out and stuff, although, well.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:27] I am five foot 4 or 165cm for those of you who are, you know, not understanding our empirical numeration system. Wait, what is this actually called?

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:40] Imperial metric?

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:41] Imperial, not empirical. Um, anyways, I have many times wanted to be taller because I’m very short and sometimes can’t reach things. And in crowds I’m always like at armpit level, which is not a good to.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:55] Be, not a good height to be at. No, no.

Bryan Mathers: [00:02:59] So I can’t, I can’t possibly reveal what height I actually am because then you’d be able to look me up, track me down and steal all my data so I could be anywhere between five feet tall and 17ft tall.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:13] I can remember being in Washington, DC with Brian and being asked by almost everyone that we stumbled into whether he’d just retired from the NBA, which was funny the first time.

Bryan Mathers: [00:03:27] Yeah, that’s that’s the story of my life. Doug It was funny the first time It was obvious the first time.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:33] Oh well, anyway, Laura has been away for three weeks, which is why those of you who have binge listened to the first three episodes of this podcast have had to wait for this fourth instalment. Laura has been travelling around Scandinavia looking at trees, enumerating lakes, that kind of thing. So what’s up with that law? Why did you do that?

Laura Hilliger: [00:03:54] Well, my niece did a study abroad program in Rovaniemi, Finland, which is three kilometres south of the Polar Circle. It is the official hometown and birthplace of Santa Claus. He lives there. And apparently she told me that people actually fly to Rovaniemi for like a day just so that they can meet the quote unquote, real Santa Claus. And they stand in these massive lines. Meet him, say hi, ask for something for Christmas, even though it might not be Christmas time at all. And then they leave again the same day. And I found that to be a very interesting and weird thing. Like why? Okay sure people you do you. Um. Anyways, so we decided to go and pick her up. Had a camper van, which is something I have never done before. And it was really weird to be. I don’t know if you guys know about motorhome subculture, but it is a. Interesting, interesting experience People have like potted plants and carpets that they roll out in front of their camper vans on the campsites where you have to go to a campsite every couple of days, at least for a shower, but also to get fresh water and these kinds of things. And yeah, and so we did some wild camping all the way up through the mountains of Sweden and then all the way back down, down the coast. And we picked up my niece at the border between Sweden and Finland because the Finnish folks are taking Corona really seriously and we weren’t allowed in. So she moved back to Germany over the Borden, over the border between Sweden and Finland.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:40] Huh.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:40] Weirdest move ever. We were we were schlepping all of her stuff back and forth over the border with a bunch of Border Patrol officers looking at us like we were crazy people.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:52] So. So you told me that you basically and, you know, I can attest to this, I think you sent me, like two signal messages. You pretty much didn’t use the Internet apart from Google Maps and a couple of messenger apps for the entirety of the three weeks.

Laura Hilliger: [00:06:05] Correct. I opened my laptop one single time. On the second day I took my laptop with me, of course, because I take it with me everywhere. It’s, you know, I’m scared if my laptop isn’t there. Um, yeah. And I was not scared. Uh, I didn’t care about my laptop at all. I opened it once on like the second day because I got an urgent message from somebody needing some document. And the rest of the time I basically looked at pine trees. There were a lot of reindeer all over the place. Um, did a lot of wild camping up in Lapland. A lot of roads are just dirt roads and even though the camper we had was not a off road vehicle, we took it off road.

Doug Belshaw: [00:06:52] So you’ve put some stuff in the show notes for today about the kind of about going offline and and that kind of stuff and looking after yourself. But I’m interested before we go into that, Brian, have you ever kind of. Completely disconnected from the Internet. In recent years, you know, like have you completely disconnected for a period of time? What was it like?

Bryan Mathers: [00:07:14] Well, I do believe in a summer holiday, and I think I’m suffering as a result of not having a proper, detached summer holiday of at least two weeks, you know, with family. And I, um, because I’ve always, I suppose I’ve always been had a head in technology, so, you know. Yeah. Just getting, being able to sort of pull your head back out of that. Sort of technological world seems to bring with it creativity and life and appreciation of other things. And so I think I used to enjoy that sort of every year, but obviously didn’t go on holiday last year really. Um, and yeah, yeah, I think I’ve sort of suffered as a result of that. And obviously in the UK just now I don’t quite know what the situation situation is still unfolding, lots of uncertainty. So the potential of sort of missing another sort of proper break where you’re able to sort of shut down and recharge. I suppose so, yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:16] I think there’s something about a three week break. So I had the last three weeks of of last year off. And whenever we’ve been camping as a family like around Europe and stuff, the third week is when you almost feel yourself for me anyway like bodily unwinding. Like in the second week you see that you’re relaxed, but in the third week that’s like when you feel the difference in your body, like you, you start unwinding and stuff. So yeah, so for those of you listening to this, if you haven’t had an extended break and you can afford to do so, go and do it. Even if it’s local.

Bryan Mathers: [00:08:50] Good for the soul. I think. I think as well for us, adventure is part and parcel to that, you know, so, so, you know, rather than just sort of sitting on a beach, you know, and I know that some some people’s idea of heaven, but our family love to sort of go and discover places and, you know, sort of figures. So the idea of a camper van is also very appealing to me and to to my lot, as it were. So, you know, of just, well, shall we go down here? Shall we try that Look, that looks like a bit of interesting coastline. Let’s check that out. You know, uh.

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:25] Yeah, I think the I mean, I think that the. The full offline experience for me pretty desperately needed because 2020. I mean, I think that a lot of people who work in technology and internet spaces really didn’t have the same kind of a break as maybe the rest of the world. I know certainly we are open, had plenty of work on last year, didn’t really have time to slow down and so many people needed help with digital transformation that we were that’s what we were doing. And so we were really kind of tethered. And I hadn’t I mean, I hadn’t been really offline at all since like the winter break around Christmas time when literally the whole world is offline. Um, well, not literally, but a lot of people are offline at the end of December, just taking a bit of a break. And I hadn’t done that in a good six months, just coming online every day, doing all the things. And I it didn’t take me to the third week actually to to really unwind. I started to feel it probably the third day, which is really weird for me. But I think that I was just so exhausted and it’s such a new experience too. Like I’d never been in a camper van before and driving, you know, all the way to the north, the north of the north. Um, there was just so much other kinds of input that I didn’t, you know, I was quite quick before I, you know, when I realised that I didn’t need the Internet at all and I didn’t miss it at all.

Laura Hilliger: [00:11:02] But the thing I like best is now that I’m back. Hello. Um, I still am maintaining that sort of Zen nature kind of calm that I got over the past couple of weeks. Don’t feel stressed. Um, feel interested, inspired, creative again and ready to, you know, use the online tools to, I don’t know, express myself, help others express themselves too, you know, funny things like the Tao of Wow or some of the work that we’re working on. It’s interesting. Again, I’m passionate about it again. So I think digital detox should definitely I don’t know, I feel I kind of feel like it should be a requirement for people who work in tech. Um, but there are some people that don’t like it, which I read this article earlier today called The Useless Agony of Going Offline, which we’ll link to in the show notes, and I kind of retitled it Feelings I’ve Never Had, but it’s an article written by a guy who decided to try a digital detox and he only did three days of no devices, three days. And he was like, No, I don’t like this. And I was like, Huh, okay.

Doug Belshaw: [00:12:13] Yeah, but I haven’t read it in loads of detail. I just scanned it quickly, but like there’s different phases, you know, a bit like the film Inception where there’s different levels of reality or whatever, like there’s three different levels. I feel like there’s three different levels of, of relaxation and going away and recovering from burnout and stuff. And the first phase your body or your mind or something like rebels against the fact that you’re not tethered to the Internet anymore. It’s like, but I’m not. I’m. I don’t know what’s going on. Like, what happens if someone needs me. And then you realise like after the first week or whatever, there’s no such thing as an emergency in, in my world anymore. Like maybe when I was a teacher or like worked in a big organisation. But these days, what would an emergency look like, like that someone else can’t handle? So there’s that level. And then the next level is kind of the bodily thing. And I feel like this guy in this article just didn’t give it enough time. It might make for a good article in The New Yorker. But it’s not really a really good experiment.

Laura Hilliger: [00:13:21] Yeah, I felt that way too. And I also I also felt that his use of technology is at a at a completely different level than my own. And like I do consider myself quite addicted to technology. I use it every day, I work in tech, etcetera. But the way that he described screen watching so he described having literally five screens going at once with different, you know, different threads. And I don’t do that. I mean, I, you know, I sort of at this point in life, I barely even switch over to Twitter anymore like I used to. I used to look at social a lot more. And now I’m just like.

Doug Belshaw: [00:14:01] Is that because you’re a geriatric millennial? Like, yes.

Laura Hilliger: [00:14:05] Totally. What about you, Brian?

Bryan Mathers: [00:14:08] Yeah, no, just. Just thinking about what you’re saying there. Yeah, that, that article seemed like, you know, you justify your own position to suit yourself, you know? Uh, you know, I don’t think there was any intention ever to discover freedom there. It was to sort of to embed, embed his own position already, I guess. And yeah, I find my, my, um, my angst is more about just getting away from a screen. There’s lots of interesting uses of the things, the devices I have in front of me, but it’s my eyes that actually need to breathe, you know? Uh, and I sort of, I enjoy what I do, but I resent it a little bit in that I can, you know, especially if I do some drawing in the evening, I can spend, you know, maybe nine hours looking at a screen in a day. And I know that’s not good. You know, Um, and I also know just how, how tired your eyes, your eyes can get. So it’s, it’s maybe less about the. I’m like you. I’m not really addicted to social media. I don’t have much time for it, to be honest, you know? Um. Uh. But yes, more my eyes and screams. That is the wrestling.

Doug Belshaw: [00:15:26] That’s a good point, actually. So two things on that I can remember. Steven Downs Hi Steven. If you’re listening about 15 years ago, I remember him telling a story on his on his blog or his newsletter and I’m going to the opticians. And if I got this right, he said something like, The optician said, Oh, so how much time do you spend on screens? And he said, About 16 hours. And the optician said, Oh, yeah, a week, okay. And he goes, No, a day. Which is interesting, isn’t it? Because it depends, especially now, what counts as a screen. And I’ve got the little Google assistant devices all around my house, which I know is a privacy nightmare. Yada, yada, yada. But it’s a different kind of interaction because you’re not looking at a screen to interact with the Internet or to get, you know, to augment or have some kind of answer to your questions. And so it does it is a very different kind of interaction. So I think you’re right, Brian, It’s the it’s the looking at a screen a lot of the time which causes the problem. And the other thing I was going to say actually was sometimes I don’t know about you and I try and counsel my kids not to do this. It’s like going on a screen. And because the phone has so many different things on it, you go for one thing and you end up spending ages doing other stuff as well. And I remember one person saying it might be on a podcast, like when you pick up your phone literally saying out loud what you’re going on your phone for. Which would be very strange thing to do in public. But I can understand that because you pick it up and say, I’ll just check my crypto thing and oh, what I’ve got tomorrow and what is Oh, that. I’ve got notification on it. And you end up just half an hour later. What was I doing again.

Laura Hilliger: [00:17:07] My friend Kelly told me the other day. Hi, Kelly, If you’re listening, um, she’s, she’s the Greenpeace international website manager. And she told me the other day that when she went to get her second vaccination in Amsterdam, they’re grouping people by by age group and she’s she’s our age a little bit older. Um, and she she said that she was amazed by the fact that when she went to get her second vaccination and was sitting in the, the waiting room, nobody was looking at their phones. There were about 7 or 8 people all, you know, between the ages of, you know, end of end of 30, early 50s. And they just weren’t looking at their phones. And she she thought it was really interesting because she wasn’t looking at hers either. And she started talking about the ability to self-soothe without, you know, without needing a device to give you something to think about. And that was that was something else that I was thinking about over the past couple of weeks is like I you know, I didn’t consume media at all. I mean, I read a book, but, you know, no TV, listen to some music while we were driving and stuff. But, you know, at night I was staring into the forest and I was fully entertained by, you know, in German they call it FOIA glossen, which is a nice way to describe staring at a lot at a bonfire or at a at an open fire. And I think that that that, you know, that kind of detachment from your device is something that you don’t often see nowadays when especially when you live in a city. Um.

Doug Belshaw: [00:18:42] Right. Yeah.

Bryan Mathers: [00:18:45] Do you there’s a question. Do you have like a checklist, you know, a subconscious checklist. So that, say, for example. Right. Um, it’s been a while since I have checked my phone. Right. And, and so there’s a trigger that that sort of makes me sort of want to check something. Often it’s the weather. What’s the weather doing? You know, And essentially, I will run through a list without even thinking about it. I’ll go. Uh, what were the corona stats in the UK yesterday? Because the government does them sort of 4:00 pm every day, right? And I find myself sort of dialling in to go, are we going up or are we going down? Right? So there’s a Czech koruna stats. Uh, I mentioned whether emails front page of the BBC news. Usually even though I know the BBC is pretty warped these days. Um, and maybe check a crypto price, you know, there’s this almost like a check. Check, check, check, check, check. Right. I can sort of step away. Do you have a similar list to that or is that just me?

Doug Belshaw: [00:19:45] I hadn’t thought about that, but yeah, I guess in the morning. So I have my phone on aeroplane mode plugged in overnight and when I and it’s always downstairs as well. So when I get it and pick it up, the first thing I look at is Mastodon and just see if I’ve got any notifications, see if any notifications on Telegram and Signal. Then I look at the Guardian front page, then I look at the BBC front page. And. Yeah, that’s it, I’d say.

Bryan Mathers: [00:20:12] To messages and news.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:14] Messages and news. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Bryan Mathers: [00:20:16] Is that because you can’t actually predict the weather where you are?

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:20] No. The reason is that is because voice assistants. And so we not only have the we’ve got the screen ones as well. Yeah. So they’re all around the house. So the first thing I do without even looking at a device is ask what the weather is going to be like.

Bryan Mathers: [00:20:35] Right? Yeah. What about you, Laura?

Laura Hilliger: [00:20:38] I think that the only thing on my checklist is really messages. I have a couple. I have a couple of groups in telegram or signal that I have muted because they’re just very active. And so when I pick up my phone, then I always go to those two, to those two messaging apps. But otherwise it’s usually it’s I’m usually checking for something specific. So I’m like, what’s the weather like going to go look at that? And then I put my phone down again, but I check the messages. So I look at the weather and then I’ll check the messages, you know. But it’s it’s not really a checklist, I would say. I also do the I really need to know what the origin of the word Oregon is. So I’m going to read that on Wikipedia. And it’s a really interesting story. Everybody. You should totally go down that rabbit hole. It’s not what you think it is. And then I check my messages and then I put my phone down again. So I don’t know. Don’t, don’t do the don’t do the list thing. It’s more sort of sporadic.

Bryan Mathers: [00:21:40] I think I need to break the list. Throw it away.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:43] Yeah. So this is a bit of a rabbit hole, but just the way that people organise their phones and trust me. So, for example, if you use an apple device, you haven’t got a lot of flexibility. Like you can put icons into folders, but really Apple controls the way that you organise your screen on Android though. Well, it’s like the Wild West. You can have all the different launchers. I think every member of my family has a different launcher for Android. Um, so I’ve got this one where literally and I’m showing this on the video to, to Brian and Laura, but that’s my, that’s my home screen. Um, so it’s just like a black background with white text with five things that say photos signal Firefox, photo focus, telegram and calendar. And I have to literally swipe across to get all the rest of the apps. And I’m really interested in how that affects your mental model of how you interact with devices if you can change the way that it’s structured.

Bryan Mathers: [00:22:44] Yeah, that’s as an Apple user, that’s really interesting to me because it takes me, you know, seconds to even find because I’m reasonably disorganised anyway. So I’m sort of scrolling through and where did I put that? You know, I’m trying to watch the cricket highlights right now. Where did I put YouTube? It’s here somewhere, you know, because a lot of.

Doug Belshaw: [00:23:04] The apps have a similar colour icon. Lots of them are blue, for example, or it came up when Google changed their icons for all the different apps. So it was quite it was this year and all of a sudden, you know, I think my wife, Hannah was just like, oh my goodness, where is everything? What’s going on? Um, yeah, it’s fascinating to me.

Laura Hilliger: [00:23:26] I actually group my similar apps on my on my phone, so I have loads of apps, but then I group them and all of the grouping names have a Y at the end. So I’ve got, you know, I’ve got the, the workI group that has social media kind of stuff and Trello and I don’t know, Slack is in there and then I’ve got the healthy kind of stuff that has any health related apps, yoga app. I’ve got the Shopee, the Shopee one that has like my second hand clothing app and Etsy and these kinds of things. I’ve got Banqi, which has, you know, all of my bank apps. I’ve got Divvy, which has a bunch of apps for scuba diving, even though I haven’t been scuba diving in way too long. And then I have gaming which has games in it. So I just have, I only have to remember the meta category.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:17] Do you have cheesy?

Laura Hilliger: [00:24:18] I do not have cheesy. I’m kind of hungry though.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:25] So this stuff you’ve put in this here, I put a link into a thing I put on thought shrapnel and lots of stuff upon thought. Shrapnel is kind of me bookmarking with a bit of a comment and this one in particular would easily I’d easily lose. So it was a there’s a website called Hacker News, which I know Brian and Laura know. But for those who are listening, it’s kind of like a people submit links to news stories which might be of interest to people who are kind of nerdy and people vote them up and down. And this one was about how to recover from burnout. And there was some interesting comments and I wanted to capture I’ll not read it all out, but the reason I thought it was interesting was because the advice that this person gives in this particular comment. Is basically what Laura’s done, which is taking a big chunk of time off. He suggests six months off work. But like just taking time off and replacing what you’re usually doing with something completely different. Um, and this person’s 36 and he was scared about. If not dying from overwork, certainly having health conditions by the time he was 50, if he didn’t do it and it seems to have worked for for him. So I just thought it was really interesting to like see other people who don’t just complain about being burnt out or overworked, but people who have come through the other side like you, Laura, like this person here, just really interesting to see what kind of advice they give.

Laura Hilliger: [00:25:58] That would be an interesting study to take a look at how, you know, if you were to there probably is a study on this. But to take a look at how many people recommend getting away from technology in order to overcome burnout and, you know, how does that actually apply to people who don’t work in the space of technology? Um, I haven’t done a lot of academic reading about burnout, but I’m, I’m quite curious to know how, how much of the, the kind of emptiness is emptiness that you feel with burnout or the tiredness or, you know, that listless feeling. How much of that is really because of our hyper connectivity, um, versus, you know, versus using your brain in a particular way versus having a particular kind of boss versus, you know, I think there’s a lot of things that influence person being burnt out. And I don’t think all of them are related to technology. So I think that would be an interesting thing to look at. And if any of our listeners have actually looked at that, do you feel free to send us send us a note.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:03] Yeah, I read an article earlier this week. I want to say that basically it was in The Economist and it was and I’ll try and find the link in a moment. It was basically saying, Hey, remote workers didn’t work like smarter during the pandemic. They just worked longer hours as if like, Oh, that now explains everything right back to where you were. But what I found really interesting was that when you dug into the kind of survey in the report, what it said was these remote workers were basically being held to ransom by their bosses who were forcing them to be on endless Zoom calls to prove that they were working, which was the opposite of what you should do when you’re managing people remotely. And I’ve put a link into this thing called the State of Independence report on. And the thing that I found really validating in there was that, you know, if you consider what full time is, people would say, oh, 40 hours or 37.5 hours or whatever. But I don’t I think that’s that’s taken from a baseline, which was a long time ago for a different kind of work that we do. So I often say that four hours solid knowledge work is all you can really do in a day.

Doug Belshaw: [00:28:13] Yeah, you can do emails and meetings and stuff on top of that. But four hours of solid knowledge work and your brain is toast. So what I found really validating about this report was that the when people were asked how many hours work do you do a week as an independent person, as a freelancer, it was mainly kind of the 30 to 35 hour mark, which I thought was really good. I often don’t even get to do 30 in a week because I don’t count certain types of work as work, if you see what I mean. Creative work counts. Building stuff counts, but sitting in meetings and things like that or replying to emails doesn’t work, doesn’t count so much. So yeah, that’s a bit of a long way of saying that. I think there’s different kinds of there’s different ways of counting your work and just remembering what it is that we’re working for at the end of the day, like we’re working so that we have time to be able to do the things we want to be able to do in life. Right.

Bryan Mathers: [00:29:09] Right. Yeah. Um, yeah, this is something I wrestle with because I’m generally in the business of creating or visualising ideas, and I know that, you know, I have a certain process for doing that. Um, and. Ideas can come thick and fast, you know, At least that’s how it appears. But I’m also aware that, you know, if I space things out, so. So usually I sort of have this the ideas are coming from a conversation. And if it’s I usually leave it till the next day before I then start to process what happened in that conversation, try to turn it into ideas. But I’m not counting any of the time my subconscious has been playing around with, you know, some of the things that it has absorbed. So but I’ve also found that, like, because I track all of my time, just because I just don’t know how much to bill people if I don’t track all of my time because I, I lose I lose a sort of a sense of what the totality of a project might be, especially if I’m balancing a bunch of projects at the same time. But, uh. I have realised that actually by mixing different types of work, that’s the best way to get the most out of me in a day. And I don’t necessarily mean I’m striving for peak productivity, but I’m just saying I’m striving for peak enjoyment, you know, of my day, you know, and therefore I can only do maybe, you know, maybe two hours of of sort of mining ideas.

Bryan Mathers: [00:30:48] And whereas, I can do maybe another four hours off, then once I’ve got those basic ideas, then sort of sketching them up and making them, you know, sort of visual. In fact, a lot of stuff I can do, you know, sort of in front of the TV, you know, so I can one one hands drawing and and, and one eyes just keeping an eye on what it all goes horribly wrong when me and my wife are watching something with French subtitles because just, you know, just. And my French is so bad, I just have to watch the subtitles. But and we like that sort of thing, so, you know, anyway. But yeah, so it seems like a mixture of work has been a real, um, a really interesting meandering for me in sort of recent years and realising that actually if I can construct my day so that, you know, so that things, yeah, I’ve got a variety of things without too much context shifting because I know that that is a, is a real pain if you’re shifting between projects. But that, that really that really makes my day much more enjoyable. You know, um.

Doug Belshaw: [00:31:52] That would be an interesting study. The number of context shifts that you can do in a day. I know sometimes, you know, Laura and I were we often complain to each other about having to context shift like three times in a day. Seems to be too much like maybe once is okay, I’m not sure. But all the different things which work and don’t work in that regard, you know, um, shifting modalities, going from like writing on Post-it notes to going on screens to doing this is quite nice, but like having to switch between clients is hard. I wanted to pick on something you said there, which reminds me of a case about 6 or 7 years ago where a lawyer billed a client for thinking about the case while in the bath. And this was ridiculed in all the newspapers, but I had loads of sympathy about and I did write about it, but I can’t find out where I wrote it. And I was like, I totally have sympathy with this. Like lots of people. I think about work when I’m running. I’m in the shower when I’m going for a walk. Like, how do you even capture that? And the way that we capture that in organisations that you work full time for is we’ll take all of your time. And sometimes if your program or whatever, if you do any work in your spare time, then we’re going to take that as well. In terms of the intellectual property. In fact, when I was a teacher in Doncaster, I had to write and I think I’ve said this on other podcasts before. I had to write to the local authority to ask to be free of their intellectual property obligations so that I could do some work for a publishing company, because by default, anything that I did in relation to education, the IP went to my employer because they were assumed to have all of basically owned me. So I find all of this really interesting. What counts as work and what doesn’t.

Laura Hilliger: [00:33:41] Yeah, I’ve had this conversation a lot as well the the processing time and I’m, you know, when I get into a new problem or a new project, a new client, I’m often quite quiet in meetings because it takes me time to process whatever it is that I’m hearing. And then, you know, and then I find creative space. And, you know, my day has. It’s not just day but weeks. There’s there’s a flow to my creativity and my thinking. And I’m often wondering, you know, when I’ve had the idea, the idea I was looking for and I’m standing in the garden and I, you know, drop my little gardening shovel and run in the house to write down the idea because it’s Saturday and I’m not going to start working on the idea. Surely I’ll remember it, but I need to write it down. Does that you know, does the 25 minutes it takes me to write it down, to explain myself? Is that a billable 25 minutes? Because that’s not 25 minutes I bill for and the you know however much processing time between you know the meeting I had on Wednesday and the big idea congealing together in my head on Saturday that processing time is also not billed for.

Bryan Mathers: [00:34:51] I think I think a lot of the time it doesn’t. Those times that we described don’t feel like work, You know what I mean? It doesn’t feel like, Oh, I’ve really worked that one out or really solved that puzzle or I’ve sort of written that document or whatever it is. So if you want to get peak, Brian, you know, you get him after a run in the shower, right? And there’s something about the sort of the processing stuff in a run. But in the shower where there’s where I’ve got water sort of hitting my body. So there’s something happens there that that, you know, the lights are, you know, I’m in full. My brain is just flying right now. Sadly, I only have a shower once every seven months. So that that’s I need to work on that bit. Right. But but that’s definitely where peak Brian idea time is but it doesn’t feel like work you know it just so.

Doug Belshaw: [00:35:40] Brian has to be naked to be creative. That’s what we found about this podcast. That’s why I’m a freelancer.

Bryan Mathers: [00:35:45] Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:35:46] Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:35:47] I feel like, I feel like we need to, you know, install some devices in Brian’s bathroom so that whenever he’s, you know, taking a shower, then a little light comes on in my office and then I can be like, Oh, hey, Brian, you’re in a creative space. Great. I’ve got a creative problem. Can you?

Doug Belshaw: [00:36:02] As long as it’s not a webcam.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:02] Yeah, yeah, said device. I said device.

Bryan Mathers: [00:36:06] You need to tell me before I go running because that’s the processing. It’s like a wrestling with it while running and then it’s just like the ping.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:13] Okay, so the light goes on and then I say, Brian, what’s the answer?

Bryan Mathers: [00:36:17] That’s it.

Doug Belshaw: [00:36:18] Well, just I want to give listeners a little kind of peek into our into our co-op here. So there’s two things I want to say. The first one is just isn’t it interesting when you have clients in different time zones and how like whether you count time when you just did a quick reply at 8:00 at night because you have too many email inbox, do you kind of do you clock that time? And the other thing, just to give people like a little insight, I, I clock my time slightly differently to Brian and Laura who I understand press start and stop on toggle. Whereas I’m like, I am not doing anything less than a 15 minute segment here. And sometimes that counts in my favour. As in I’ve only done 11 minutes and I’ve count it as 15, but most of the time it counts as like I’m counting this as 15, but it’s actually taken more like 22 and a kind in my head it evens out. It would be interesting to to test that hypothesis. But one of the reasons I do that is, first, I don’t like being on the clock and secondly, because I don’t want to get into the like I did two minutes on this and three minutes on that kind of thing. I’m not sure if it actually works out that way in the end.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:26] Yeah, I’m really not very good about the start stop thing. I just started using Toggle at the beginning of this year because Brian and Hannah have been. Using it. And, you know, with with the co-op, we’re always trying to figure out how do we, you know, fairly, um, pay out when we work on projects. And so, you know, trying to clock ourselves is kind of part of the process because we all work together and we want to be fair to each other. Um, but yeah, I’m pretty bad with it and I pretty much I have to edit my toggle entries literally every single time I use the button. So now, for example, we had a client meeting just before the podcast recording and I’m still clocking on it, so I’ll change it. But you know.

Bryan Mathers: [00:38:11] I’m actually not I’m not too different from that, you know what I mean? And I think we’re maybe we’re saying here that, you know, the process we found of sort of tracking time here is the least worst solution, you know what I mean? It because it sort of heavily sits on top of trust, doesn’t it? Um, because I have a lot of sympathy for Doug’s position there in terms of because I often go, well, you know, I’m not I’m not recording that three minute thing, but actually to shift from one thing to do three minutes and then to sort of shift on it sort of disrupts my whole, you know, especially if there’s creative stuff to do that I’m procrastinating about, you know what I mean? It can result in another cup of tea, you know, and another sort of half an hour sort of gap in my day. So, um, so yeah, it’s definitely flawed, you know, And we’re all trying to sort of get some sort of measure of all, you know, how much work are we each doing on a project and let’s try to pay ourselves some sort of reasonable sort of rate to that. And and largely, I think that works really well just because it sort of sits on top of that trust, which is which is essential, you know.

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:15] Yeah, I think I mean, I think this is just another to tie back to the theme that we were talking about earlier. This is, you know, paying attention to what you’re doing. And I feel like mindful use of technology and mindful disconnection from technology as part of the way that we keep ourselves healthy when we’re working in the technical space, which I think everybody is at this point in time. I mean, the I mean a lot because of the pandemic, but really all every different industry is predominantly happening online at this point. And um, yeah, I think, I think paying, you know, paying attention to, to how we do things and being intentional about them is probably the best way to avoid burnout. I mean, I feel like that’s one of the big lessons I’ve had over the last couple of years since I’ve been coming into more Zen mode. I might still be in nature. I was in Sweden mode because you guys know me, I, I tend to get stressed out too, but.

Bryan Mathers: [00:40:20] I have to say, though, like sort of keeping track of my time does help to stop me getting overwhelmed because like, I might have 8 or 9 projects running at the same time, you know, all with sort of different sort of time spans or different schedules, I suppose. But sort of knowing, you know, having estimated the job from the outset and then sort of knowing where I am in that job. So sort of at the end of a week, knowing, well, actually, Brian, you’ve done a decent amount of work this week, sort of that helps me put it to bed and then come back at it on a Monday, you know, So it’s not without its upsides, but you’re right, we can be a slave, I think, to the. Yeah. To the clock as well. And. Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:04] Okay.

Laura Hilliger: [00:41:05] Well, how we.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:06] Looking at the.

Laura Hilliger: [00:41:08] I was just going to say, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, obviously. And looking at the time, um, where are you going to say, Doug, you were going to wrap us up?

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:19] Um, no, I was going to get you to It is. But I was just going to get you to say that quotation, and I don’t think we’re going to get to the the on the vaccine stuff that we’re going to get to, but maybe we’ve got time for one link after that quotation.

Laura Hilliger: [00:41:36] Sure. So our quotation of the week is the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction. And that is a Rachel Carson quote.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:54] Very nice. Very nice. Um, so there’s loads of links in here and I feel like every week we kind of want to, to punt them. But, um, we were gonna do some stuff about on the vaccine. There’s some really interesting kind of discussions happening around that. Um, but there were three links that I stuck in here which I thought were quite interesting. Um, the most fun one is pronounceable email addresses. There’s another one around generative art and one around digital fashion. So maybe the one around pronounceable email addresses and maybe this can be something that we can set as a bit of a challenge for, for listeners. So this, this person, um, I found this via Hackernews. This person, Dylan Shook wrote this post How hard is your email to say? And he turned it into a bit of a game. So he had these tests. You start off with zero, so you start off with the hypothetical perfect example, an inverted quote. Bob at Easiest email address ever to say verbally, but then let’s add some points on you want a low score like in golf? Um, if it’s not, it’s not like Outlook or Hotmail or Yahoo or iCloud or AOL, then people are going to look at you strangely.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:15] So if it’s not a popular email domain, you get one point. Okay? If it’s a domain with a sub domain because you’re like a part of a big organisation, like a university, well, that’s another point. If it’s not a common top level domain like for us dot co op, well, that’s another point. If it’s a really long username, like, um, like you’ve got loads of letters before that at There’s another point if you’ve got any punctuation in stick another point in there, if you’ve got any numbers, another point, any hard to say words that aren’t your name that’s in there as well. Another point, if you’ve got letters that sound the same like M and N, you need another point in there. And if you’ve got any Unicode or emoji in your email address, all bets are off. So I’m interested in what people’s points systems are here. I have one point for my personal email address and two for my co-op. Um, but Laura and Brian, I don’t know if you can quickly add up how many you might have for your different ones.

Laura Hilliger: [00:44:18] Well I was kind of trying to get around a second point on my personal slash professional Laura at C3 because everybody says, sorry, you know, that’s super hard. But under any hard words to say that aren’t your name. It says if you have a user name, it doesn’t say anything about the domain being hard. So I kind of want to have one and a half points instead of two. Yes, I’m trying to get around the points there. And with the co-op, it’ll be the same as yours. One point for the co-op email.

Bryan Mathers: [00:44:52] Yeah. My my personal email address, which I’ll not mention, you know, because I know there’s over a million subscribers to this podcast and I don’t want them all emailing me individually. Right. But it must be about a 5 or 6. Seriously, it’s, it’s a product of my, my and my wife’s. I only have one wife, but my and my wife’s, um, surnames. Right. And, and seriously, every time it’s one is very long and two, I’m having to spell stuff out and there’s lots of M’s and ends in there and oh it’s a absolute, it’s awful. But I feel a lot of sympathy here as well because I, I once had a. A business or social enterprise that I gave a Swahili name to because I used to live in that part of the world in East Africa. And and seriously, it was the biggest mistake just because even though it was a sort of rolls off your tongue wapi Sasa which literally means where now as in where are you going? What’s up? Where are you going now? You know what? Besides that. But seriously, it meant nothing to everybody that it needed to mean something too. And. And they could not remember. And even though, you know, you were giving your email address and I’ll just have to write down my email address or I’ll send you an email and you just hit reply because it just got too complicated. So there’s definitely something in this about, you know, what’s the simplest, you know, the simplest email that you can have, or how do you make your email simpler, I suppose.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:23] But that story reminds me of when I left Mozilla Soap, my consultancy company, which I’ve still got dynamic skill set and on my own newsletter I sent out a thing saying I’m pleased to launch a digital skill set. And then I sent out a correction where I made the same mistake again. And then I had to make a third one where where I said dynamic skill set finally. And someone literally thought it was a like marketing technique that I was doing to kind of correct myself incorrectly and then correct myself properly so that it would make it stick. But it was literally me being stupid and not really remembering my own company name. Oh.

Bryan Mathers: [00:47:00] I’m writing down that marketing hack. That’s brilliant.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:03] Yeah. And the next episode, more marketing hacks from Doug.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:08] Yes. Shall we wrap things up?

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:11] Yeah, let’s wrap it up because we have a lot more links and themes to talk about and we have another episode coming. Soon. I mean, you.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:22] Know, next week. Next week.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:23] We were we were we were on a weekly text before I went and messed it up by going offline.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:29] Yeah. Yeah.

Bryan Mathers: [00:47:30] Can I ask, this is early days of this podcast, but how has it been having a special guest on the show, knowing that there’s people clamouring to get onto this podcast? So how’s it been Are.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:42] And hopefully we might have another guest next week or the week after. We won’t say who it is, but you know, we’re looking to have guests, but it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:51] It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:53] I think that you should be a regular guest.

Bryan Mathers: [00:47:56] No, I’m.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:58] I mean, think about it. A regular guest means that you don’t have to show up all the time, but you could show up regularly, which you can define as you wish.

Bryan Mathers: [00:48:08] You guys make this look easy. I tell you, like, I’m exhausted. I’m going to have to take a week off to recover from this episode.

Doug Belshaw: [00:48:14] I highly recommend that you don’t get burnt out.

Bryan Mathers: [00:48:16] Yeah, well, thank you. Thank you. Okay.

Laura Hilliger: [00:48:17] Don’t forget to go completely offline and stare at some pine trees.

Doug Belshaw: [00:48:21] Okay. For three weeks. Yeah. Yeah. Well, on that bombshell, thank you very much for listening. This has been the Tao of WAO. And you can get this if this has been a one off and you’ve been listening to this and you’ve been thinking, I want more of Laura and Doug in my ears and occasionally Brian as a regular guest on the podcast. You can get this now. I can happily say anywhere where you would usually get your podcast because we are now in every single output. So cheers for now and thank you, Brian, for coming along. And Laura, it’s good to have you back!

Bryan Mathers: [00:48:51] Thank you!