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S02 E05b – Remote Work

Part two of our remote work episodefocused more on the day to day tools and processes that we use to work remotely.

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Tao of WAO S02 E05b

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:23] Welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I’m Doug Belshaw.

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:33] And I am Laura Hilliger. This podcast season is currently unfunded. You can support this podcast and other. We are open projects and products at Hey Doug, what are we talking about now?

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:50] Well, so Laura, we’ve just snuck in another episode of our podcast into this season five B as it were, because when we talked about remote work last time, we got all philosophical and we talked about a bunch of stuff and we didn’t get a chance to talk about kind of tools and day to day kind of practical stuff and like approaches that we take. And I thought, well, we thought we’d geek out on this, um, in this episode. So I think we’ve both got a lot to say, even though we haven’t planned it in loads of detail. So where should we start?

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:24] What if we do this in, like, you know, a time continuum kind of way? What do you do? How do you start your week?

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:34] Oh, interesting. So I try and start my week as slowly as possible. So what I’ve learned is that it’s not that I hate Mondays, I hate capitalism. Um.

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:47] And that has what to do with Mondays?

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:50] Well, so it’s in on a Monday. We have our co-op meeting at 10:00 my time. It’s 11:00 your time. I don’t really want to do any work before that because I want my first kind of experience of the week to be collaborative and collegiate and all that kind of stuff. So I will look at my emails after 9:00. 9 a.m. on a Monday, but I’m not like planning my week and stuff really. I use the co-op meeting as, as my kind of planning for the week. Really. That’s what I do. How about you?

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:26] I find that really interesting because you always come into that meeting as if you have a plan. So in our. For listeners who don’t know what our co-op meeting is like, we have a section that is essentially like a stand up for the week. What are you intending on working on? And we just list out the days Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And we we say, you know, 2 or 3 of our big things that we’re working on. So generally we’ll say, okay, well this afternoon on I’m going to be spending all of my time on Climate Client A. Because I have a meeting at 5 p.m. and I want to make sure I’m prepared or whatever. And everybody else then knows, okay, Laura is spending Monday afternoon on Client A. Where is my client work kind of thing. And so we, we tell each other what we’re doing and when. And Doug always has a plan. He’s like, I’m doing this today, this today, this today. So how do you make that plan? Do you make it up on the spot?

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:28] So I have this ability and I think it comes from my days as a teacher and a senior leader to sound like I know what I’m talking about when I’ve got literally no idea. Awesome. Right. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is I live off my calendar, right? So I’ve got my co-op calendar, which is most of it, my dynamic skillset calendar, which is for stuff which isn’t quite co-op things, is not that much on there. And then the Belshaw’s calendar, which is for, you know, which has got the majority of stuff on my calendar, is things to do with home. So really I should have either meetings and work and workshops and that kind of stuff in there, or I use Google tasks as well as us using Trello. I use Google tasks for like, Oh, I must get that thing done on that day. So like today I had I’ve got to pick up my prescription from the doctors, but I’ve also had I need to review that slide deck from that conference and that kind of stuff. So it’s just like reminders and that kind of stuff. So if I look at my calendar for the week ahead, even though I haven’t really thought about it, I should be able to see what I’m doing and what I need to be thinking about plus. Yeah, you think about stuff in the shower and weird times, so you kind of mentally prepare yourself or your body or your, your brain does tend to find anyway.

Laura Hilliger: [00:04:41] Yeah. So before the co op, so for me, the co op meeting is at 11 a.m. on a Monday and I generally start work between 930 and 10. I’m pretty much not really there before 930. Just not a morning person. So, you know, I’ll read the news and stuff like that or maybe like scroll Twitter if I’m online, but I don’t actually turn my brain on until 930 or 10, depending on the day. Um, but you just said that you basically you can look at the calendar for the next week and have a basic idea or the week ahead and know basically what you’re doing.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:19] I’m surprised that you think that I’m always knowing what I’m doing, given that when I put into that etherpad for some days, I’m literally putting the emoji shrug, emoji, emoji. I’m literally putting the shrug emoji for like a Wednesday or something. So I’m surprised that you think I know what I’m doing. Okay.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:33] But see, wait, wait, wait. I think I misinterpreted the shrug emoji. Like, I think I was always interpreting the shrug emoji as nobody has told me what to do. So w-t-f. Kind of thing. But actually, it’s just.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:48] I just don’t know what I’m doing.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:49] Okay, cool. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:53] I tell you what, I used to do a lot. Um, pre-pandemic. I don’t know. I feel like. This is going to sound terrible. I feel like I care less about work since the pandemic. I don’t think that’s true.

Laura Hilliger: [00:06:06] I think you I think you care more about the type of work that we’re doing. And I mean, because we since the pandemic started, we’ve been doing predominantly non-profit support.

Doug Belshaw: [00:06:21] No, yeah. Maybe I’ve maybe I’ve miscommunicated that. What I mean is I recognise my own mortality a lot more and what’s wrong with the world? And I think what I’m doing is I’m actually having. An appropriate adjustment with my relationship with work. Like literally before work was my identity. Yeah, yeah. I’ve got my kids and stuff and the things I do, I said. But like work was what I did. And I remember like just working crazy hours, doing all this kind of stuff. And I think I have a much more sane relationship with work now. One thing that I used to do and I still do do when I’m feeling stressed is I’ve got literally paper planners. I’ve got like, I’ve come up with this approach and I was using them reasonably. I used them a little bit during the pandemic as well, like a weekly planner. What I’m going to do on different days and what I actually did do and when I’m doing things and whatever, but the daily one is the one. If I’m feeling super stressed, I’m literally like. This is the client or the theme Breaking it down by subtasks. This is what I’m going to do it. This is the most important thing, like literally getting it out of my head onto the paper.

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:32] And it’s always three subtasks.

Doug Belshaw: [00:07:35] It’s always three subtasks, three main tasks, three subtasks, all that kind of stuff. But I feel like I have a much more sustainable way of working now. Like, literally, I don’t want to do more than 25 hours of work a week and that sounds really low until you realise that I’m working as fast as I can for that time. And I’m not like just messing about, you know, I’m not clocking my time when I’m getting a coffee.

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:59] Yeah I don’t. I don’t think it’s I don’t even think it’s like, you know, you’re working as fast as you can within a certain amount of time. I think that you are. It’s about the energy level, really. It’s not that you’re working that because you’re still your brain is still processing a lot of stuff. When you go to get a coffee, when you go for a run, when you’re in the shower, like the things that you wrap around your work life is still processing time. And the reason that you can work as fast as you work, you know, within that 25 hours a week, you know, where your brain energy is, is because you, you know, you have that extra 15, 20, 30 hours every week where you’re actually doing the processing work. You’re not processing while you’re on the clock, per se.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:47] Interesting. Yes. So that’s a good way of putting it. Let’s get back to the tools and stuff and the automation.

Laura Hilliger: [00:08:53] We were we were already really interested.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:55] So I was a big Evernote user ten years ago. I believe. You still use I’m saying it’s terrible. I’m saying you still use as if it’s a pejorative kind of thing. You still see value and you use Evernote a lot in your day to day work. Yeah. So what are you using?

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:12] So let me let me talk a little bit about how I plan my week. So basically, I try not to work on Fridays or at least not client work. And I definitely don’t have meetings on Fridays. So usually on Fridays I arrange my day so that I do some of the admin tasks that I like, the easy kind of work, the not thinky work. So I’m online for a couple of hours on Fridays and then Friday afternoons I do other things. It’s just a habit that I’ve gotten into over the past five years or so. Like Fridays are a day for me to kind of, you know, do the little things that fall to the wayside. Part of what I do on a Friday is do a broad plan of my next week, which is I write down Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday in Evernote, and I put tasks under each of the days. I look at whatever meetings I have scheduled for the next week and I say, okay, I have a Greenpeace meeting on Wednesday. I’m going to work on Greenpeace on Wednesday so that it don’t have to change context as much. And then on Monday mornings I have a look at my week plan, I have a look at my inbox and I check is what I planned for my week on Friday. Is that still the same? How has it changed? What kind of slack messages have come through? You know, whatever I do all of that planning in Evernote. Now, here’s the kicker. I really want to switch to the open source software Joplin. It is awesome, it looks beautiful. It has a great community. It is basically exactly like Evernote, except better with a better interface. And the reason that I haven’t I’ve had it on my to do list to make the switch forever because actually with Evernote I don’t really use all of the features. I don’t use any of the features, I just make notes. That’s all I do. I have no tags, I never search it. You know, it’s just a note library. It’s like a it’s like a finder window with a folder and a bunch of Google docs. You know what word docs. Sorry. Anyway, so the reason that I still use Evernote is because of the automation that I have attached to my working life. So I can say stuff to my phone and it will add stuff to the proper note. In Evernote, I have my backlog where I can tell. I can basically yell at my phone, Hey, Google, I’m doing this and that, add it to my brain and it adds it like, of course, my assistant just went on just now. No, I’m not talking to you. Stop it. Stop listening. Yeah. And so Evernote has this automation. Like with FTT, I ftt. Yes. If this, then that if.

Doug Belshaw: [00:11:57] If that. Then this.

Laura Hilliger: [00:11:58] If that. Then this. Yes. Or if this. Then that. Wait a second.

Doug Belshaw: [00:12:04] It’s If that then this. Are you.

Laura Hilliger: [00:12:05] Sure? Google it.

Doug Belshaw: [00:12:13] If this, then that. Ooh, I’m wrong. Hang on. What did I say?

Laura Hilliger: [00:12:19] If that, then this. But if this. Then that. Then that. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:12:24] Anyways,

Doug Belshaw: [00:12:24] Iftt.

Laura Hilliger: [00:12:25] So I So I have a bunch of automation that makes my work life easier. It helps me save links for my newsletter. I can just copy and paste things right into the task bar of Evernote because I’ve set it up to always save my links to my newsletter document. Yeah, and I just have all these processes around Evernote and that’s why I haven’t made the switch. That was a really like long monologue about Evernote and my processes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:00] I find that really interesting because I was a heavy Evernote user and I have a bunch of so I use a like if I was listening to a client or whatever, I would be using my lovely Muji pens with a Leuchtturm Leuchtturm Leuchtturm 1917 term. Um, like dotted notebook, which, you know, um. They’re not cheap, but they’re not expensive. And I like those. And previously I use moleskine ones. And so I’ve got all of these notebooks. And what I used to do with Evernote was I’d scan them all in and I used to scan them in like when I worked in an office and like it would go straight into Evernote and then it would have the OCR and then I’d be able to search those. And when I was doing my thesis, that was like an absolute lifesaver. But I haven’t used Evernote for quite a long time because what I used after that was something called notational velocity. Um, and there’s one called Envy Alt, which I’m going to put into the, the chat there. And you can’t, you basically can’t get it for anything other than a mac. You might be able to go for windows. I don’t know, there’s a Linux version, but it’s so fugly. I can’t I can’t bring myself to use it so, so bad.

Laura Hilliger: [00:14:16] Feel like it’s so Fugly is a good tagline for Linux.

Doug Belshaw: [00:14:21] Mike. Hey, let me tell you, I’m using pop, and it is beautiful.

Laura Hilliger: [00:14:25] I was kidding you. I was kidding.

Doug Belshaw: [00:14:27] Anyway. How dare you? So where was I going with that? So notational velocity for anyone who hasn’t heard of it and used it. It can work locally on your machine, but it can also sync with simple node, which is now owned by the people who own WordPress. Yeah. And basically, you know, like on Finder or I’ve got the equivalent on Linux. You know how you can press like what is it option and and space and then search stuff. You can do that. But for all of your notes and you can start typing and it will just find that string of characters within the note or the title or whatever. And that works for my brain so well because sometimes I can’t remember the title of something or a tag or whatever. I can’t be bothered to tag things, but I can remember like a form of words. And so I really miss using that. And the people behind Notational Velocity have been apparently making something called env ultra but literally for the last seven years. So I don’t think that’s coming out any time soon. But if you haven’t heard of it, I’d definitely give it a go if you’re listening to this because it’s pretty awesome. Joplin As far as I understand, I have tried. Joplin Um, you have to if you wanted to do like Cloud Sync, you have to like bring your own cloud, as it were, so you can sync it with nextcloud or whatever as well. Yeah. And that’s what you talk about, Zapier or Iftt. I don’t think you can do that with the things I’ve just been talking.

Laura Hilliger: [00:15:56] Exactly. And that’s the reason that I haven’t switched away from Evernote because every year. So like in December when it calms down, I have a look at my work processes because I’m always interested in changing things up. Like it gets, you know, being really good at a particular process is, you know, gets kind of boring actually. And I like to mess up my workflows. But this one, the week planning thing, I’ve been doing it for a decade and I just I can’t get away from it. Like, I just, I need that one little bit of structure and the like, the perfected process that I’ve built around it. Otherwise I just like, I have no idea what I’m doing all week.

Doug Belshaw: [00:16:36] So I’ve got two quotations to read at you. I’m saying reading at you because it is. Yeah, I’m going to do it anyway. Here we go. They’re both favour quotations of mine. First one is by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said a foolish, consistent sea is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Laura Hilliger: [00:16:53] Okay, but can I just point out that it says foolish consistency, not consistency?

Doug Belshaw: [00:17:00] No, exactly. It’s not saying that all consistency is bad. What it’s trying to point out is that people who are like, Oh, but you said the exact opposite of that in 2015, like, those are small people. People change their minds. You don’t have to be consistent just because previous version of you said that that’s the best way of doing stuff. Times change, situations change, whatever, agreed Clay Shirky, who I had the privilege and it did feel like a privilege of meeting in December 2019 at a thing in New York. Um, there’s a there’s a interview that he did on a website called The Setup, which is it uses So in 2014 he said this, he said, the last bit is like, what would your dream setup be? That’s the question. He says, That having been said, I don’t want a dream setup. I know people who get everything in their work environment just so. But current optimisation is long term anachronism. I’m in the business of weak signal detection, so at the end of every year I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favour of awkward new ones. Same. And then he goes on in a bit to say some of those changes stick. Most don’t. But since every tool switch involves a period of disorientation and suboptimal use, I have to make myself be willing to bang around with things I don’t understand until I do understand them. This is the opposite of a dream setup. The thing I can least afford to get. The least thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore. End of quote. I just thought that was so spot on.

Laura Hilliger: [00:18:41] Yeah, and that’s exactly how I go about it as well. At the end of the year, I awkwardly bang around. I try to mess up my own, my own processes and, you know, force myself to, you know, play around with some awkward tech, awkward change of the way that I do things. And, you know, I mean, I’ve discovered over the years I’ve discovered loads of really interesting tools like this. I’ve just, you know, I’ve tried out things, which is super helpful in our business because like clients, they don’t always have the same needs, you know, and like having a good, like a good view of the landscape, trying out different things. Going through that awkwardness means that, you know, six months from now, when I have a client that is looking for something very specific and they have a very specific user group who needs to be able to use it, I’m going to have like a huge portfolio of, okay, well, hold on now. We’ve got we’ve got Joplin, we’ve got Evernote, we’ve got simple task. We’ve got, you know, whatever it is.

Doug Belshaw: [00:19:44] So. Yeah, well, I saw something recently, I think it was on Hacker News and this person was describing themselves as an early tester, but a late adopter. So they would see something new. They’d get in, have a play with it, see what it was useful for. But they’re likely to change their stuff on a much slower thing. They’re not just going to jump on whatever’s the latest new thing. And what I what I realised, having worked in organisations large and small, is that we can be a lot more nimble than most people. So on the podcast yesterday with a friend from Code Operative, I was saying how much I hate Microsoft software and just their approach in general. And one of the things I really hate is Microsoft teams. I can’t stand it. I really like there’s something about it which really irritates me. Um, now if you’re in an organisation that uses all Microsoft products, you don’t really have a choice. If you’re an organisation that’s decided to go all in on Slack, you don’t really have a choice. If you’re doing what we’re doing, owning your own business, working with a few colleagues, working with different clients, whatever, you can change things all the time. And that suits me and I think suits you better than being forced to use the same thing all of the time.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:00] Yeah, I mean, we’ve had conflict there as well, though, just to be clear, you know, we’ve definitely had conflict where we’ve had people who really need to use a particular tool and others who couldn’t use that tool, didn’t want to use that tool, couldn’t couldn’t get it into their workflow. So I definitely feel some I feel solidarity with people in organisations that are, you know, have particular tools forced at them. Um, but at the same time it’s like if you are, even if you’re working in a small group of people, like what can you do to make your own workflow match with other people’s workflow and you know, like tell you, yeah, how do you, how do you because you know, if you find conflicts in the tools, you have to somehow find a way to collaborate, especially, I mean, because we’re working remotely, you know. So if the tool isn’t working for one person, but it’s working great for another person, it’s not just the tool that’s failing, it’s the remote work collaboration.

Doug Belshaw: [00:22:00] No, it is. Absolutely. And what I think is quite interesting is how the technological landscape is different in terms of interoperability and also data privacy than it was before. So I’m thinking about when I worked at Mozilla, we were almost encouraged to be like, Oh, if you don’t like the email setup and the way it is, you can just forward all your emails to your Gmail account. Yeah, nobody cared. No one was talking about privacy and all this kind of stuff then. So that’s a problem. Um, APIs you’ve talked about like Iot and Zapier and just moving things between places, that’s harder than it used to be because things are kind of kept and locked into kind of different vendors. So it’s much more difficult to kind of say, Well, you’re giving me this, but I’m going to turn it into that and I share my calendar with you and my wife and other people. And people can see some people can see if I’m free or busy, other people can see the exact event I’ve got. There’s all that kind of stuff. Using the example of my wife, again, they use, um, all my Microsoft stuff at NHS Digital and I don’t know if it’s just the, the default way of doing things or what, but she has to screenshot her calendar for a day and send it to me to see so I can see what she’s doing. Like there’s literally and I’ve tried every single way to help her see how this works, to share her calendar into a different system, which is actually a barrier to working with people outside of the organisation or just getting stuff done in general. So yeah, it’s a it’s interesting when you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk. Yep.

Laura Hilliger: [00:23:37] Where should we go from here? What else have we?

Doug Belshaw: [00:23:39] Well lets talk about let’s talk about the way in which we work and the assumptions that we make and what happens when someone else works quite differently to you. Um, even though you work well together, you work differently apart.

Laura Hilliger: [00:23:53] Do you have a specific situation in mind?

Doug Belshaw: [00:23:56] Funny you should mention that, Laura. Yes. So, um, the example I’m thinking of is we were doing earlier this week and at the end of last week we’ve been doing some digital strategy work for a client. Um, now the way that I approach that kind of stuff. Is first principles. Let’s think about an ontology here and map it out in a mind map. And then I’ll go and see if I’ve got anything to put into there. And have I got anything which I could plug into this thing which I’ve just created. Whereas my understanding is from the way that you work is that you think, hang on, that’s very similar to what I’ve done before and that was awesome. So I’m going to remix that. So you take that thing and then you kind of chisel it and rip it apart and figure out how you can shape it into this new thing. And they are very opposite approaches.

Laura Hilliger: [00:24:48] They are totally opposite approaches. And I was like, I was trying to think of like a metaphor for this. And it’s a little bit like sculpting sculpture for me. So I think, like, I feel like you get a wad of clay and then you mould that piece of clay into a sculpture and I get a piece of stone and I chisel it into that sculpture. Right? And you are very additive in the way that you work. And I am very reductive in the way that I work. So when I’m remixing things, I’m, I’m often taking things that look like they don’t really match, jamming it up with something else that doesn’t match and then whittling away to create the new piece that is whatever it is that I’m that I’m working on. And it’s interesting because they are opposite ways to work, but it’s like. I think I think the really interesting thing is, is that we have the ability to understand each other’s process enough to be able to say, you have not whittled down enough for me to know what the hell is going on. So I’m going to step back and let you whittle some more. And for me, it’s like I see some kind of skeleton, but I don’t see any meat on the bones. I don’t really understand where you’re going. I’m going to wait until the skeleton is gotten. Some skin.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:09] Mm. No, I think you’re absolutely right. And it takes, um, you know, we’ve known each other for over a decade. It takes time to learn how each other works and that kind of stuff. And the more connections you have within an organisation and the more people you have to work with, the harder that’s going to be. And I think what’s actually quite useful is. Kind of remember when we did that gamer profile thing recently where we figured out what kind of gamer we were? We play games. Playstation games on a Sunday night. And we did it with our other friends as well. Now, I don’t like being pigeonholed, but I do like sometimes something which reinforces the view that I have of myself and also provides a way in which I can communicate that to other people. That’s quite a useful thing to do. And I remember again, going back to when I was working at the university, that Belbin team roles kind of thing, which I actually is on my blog somewhere and it talked about everyone else in the organisation was like a completer finisher, somebody who takes pride and gets energy from finishing their work and finishing it like, you know, crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s and doing all that kind of stuff. And I was like full on plant, like huge amounts of energy at the start, like figuring out things from first principles or whatever and complete the finisher was like, over here somewhere. Now, I’ve learned over time to make sure that I actually finish my work, which is a good thing to do. But also it shows. It helps me understand that other people get energy from different parts of the process. And what I think is interesting for you and me is I think we’re quite similar in terms of getting loads of energy at the start. It’s just that we approach that in different ways. So there’s so many different variables involved. There can be a bit of a minefield collaborating with people.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:58] Yeah. Yeah. I remember early in my career somebody was upset with me and called me a quitter and it took me a really. It took me a really long time to understand that I’m not a quitter. I’m more of a multi pod, a polymath. I’m interested in things like I’m really interested in things until I understand them and when I understand them, when I’ve figured it out, when I when I’ve really kind of grokked the way that a particular thing is going to go. And I’ve set it up so that somebody else can see that vision, I’m more than happy to step back because I’m basically bored with whatever it is that I’m doing, which is part of the reason that I, you know, I’m very I’m great at starting projects. I’m great at, you know, looking at a long term strategic direction and being able to paint a picture like, I’m great at that, you know, ten years in working at the same company. I’ve never been at any company for ten years. So like, pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to like hang on to something that rigid for any extended period of time.

Doug Belshaw: [00:29:03] You get energy from like me, you get energy from doing new things, different ways, that kind of stuff. Yeah. When I see on LinkedIn, like such and such is celebrating their ten year anniversary at this organisation, I was feeling like I would be dead inside. Everyone’s different. But you know.

Laura Hilliger: [00:29:19] Although I mean, you know, to be fair, I have been working with Greenpeace for six years now.

Doug Belshaw: [00:29:24] Yeah, but in different ways, like you were.

Laura Hilliger: [00:29:27] And different projects, different departments. And yeah, Greenpeace’s so it’s.

Doug Belshaw: [00:29:31] Almost like in name only kind.

Laura Hilliger: [00:29:33] Exactly.

Doug Belshaw: [00:29:35] Um, I was wondering whether people might be interested in, given that we’ve been working remotely for so long and given that we’re always trying to make our setup like not perfect, but like be appropriate for what we’re doing, I wondered if it might be interesting to go through some of the, the kit that we use, like the tech that we use in different situations like you and your office compared to at home or when you’re travelling or whatever. Um, just in case someone is on the lookout for something and we can make a recommendation or just some considerations of the kinds of things to look for when you’re doing things remotely, not because we’ve got all the answers, but we’ve just got some experience in this area.

Laura Hilliger: [00:30:14] So are you talking about tech like hardware? You have specific software questions. What should we.

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:20] Let’s start with hardware, actually. And then maybe like we’ve we’ve touched on software a little bit, but um, yeah. So for example, you’re very proud of your microphone. Let’s start.

Laura Hilliger: [00:30:31] There. Yeah. So when we started this podcast, I decided that I wanted to have a proper microphone. So because I think, you know, if you listen to a lot of podcasts, you can definitely tell when people are using crappy mics. And so I got myself a focus, right, and I will have to go look up what the name of the model is, but it’s a very pretty red Mixer and in a proper voice mic. It was I’ll look it up. I’ll include a link to the kit that I bought. It’s very basic, but the mixer can plug into proper speakers, so when I’m editing the podcast, then I have really good speakers so that I can actually hear what people hear as they’re listening in their headphones. So that’s what I use for that. I’ve got a pair of Sony Bluetooth headphones that I use on a regular basis when I’m in my office. They actually stay in my office. And the reason that I got some Bluetooth headphones was because when I’m working, I listen to I listen to all kinds of different music. As long as it doesn’t have lyrics when I’m working and I like the headphones because I can step away, get a coffee and I can continue to listen to music or be if I’m in a meeting, I can get up and walk around and still hear and talk to people. So those are my two main like office hardware things. And then of course, my laptop. I have a 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and it is starting to crap out because Apple is really good about planned obsolescence.

Doug Belshaw: [00:32:17] Cool. Well, I’ve got a blue snowball microphone, which I bought one for me and one for Dai when we did the previous podcast today in Digital Education. I’ve got. What are these headphones I’m wearing? Um, these are Anker. Soundcore. Soundcore. Headphones. They were £40 off Amazon and they’re noise cancelling but ridiculously noise cancelling better than my Sennheiser. Noise cancelling to the extent I can’t literally can’t hear hardly hear. I have to speak loudly to hear my voice kind of thing. Um. I have a Dell 4k monitor, 28 inch 4k monitor. I’ve got a Sony soundbar underneath my monitor with a big subwoofer so that when I play music it is loud in my office. I’ve got a lumi sad kind of light, sad light that my parents bought me for the winter months to make me happier. I’ve got a vertical mouse which I use most of the time. Again, an anchor one. It’s only about £11 so I don’t get RSI. I have also got Apple do like a magic trackpad and I’ve got version one of this magic trackpad which I usually use when I’m on podcasts and meetings and stuff. So don’t you don’t hear click, click, click. But it’s run out of batteries. I need to replace them. Um, I’ve got a sit stand desk and oh the thing I bought I got, I got for my 40th birthday, um, is a, is a secret lab chair. Like it’s a gaming chair. And this is my main 40th birthday present and it is so comfortable and I forget about it, but when I’m sitting on it, it’s just the best. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:33:58] Um, I also have a standing desk in my office, and it is awesome. Really?

Doug Belshaw: [00:34:05] Which one did you get, do you know?

Laura Hilliger: [00:34:09] If we were to plan this episode, I would have looked all this stuff up. I can’t remember some German company, but it’s great. And actually everybody in the office has one. So there’s there’s three of us in this office. And so then we say, as I said in the last episode, the only thing we ever say to each other because we don’t work together is, do you want a coffee? But throughout the day, you hear when we raise and lower the desks because we’re all up and down with our.

Doug Belshaw: [00:34:39] So I’ve got the Ikea beckhand one and I actually was one of the first people in the UK to get this desk just randomly because I was waiting for it to come out and I put people asking me about it on Twitter and stuff and I put a video just to see how high it went on YouTube. And that’s had a lot of views. I have to go back and check, but it’s had a lot of views to the extent that I was seen as like a desk influencer and started getting sent, like, do you want to test this desk out? And I was like, No, I’ve got nowhere to put it, which was ridiculous for a 22nd video, right? Anyway, Hannah, my wife, comes in here sometimes to stand at the desk because she she quite likes that. And you have to get her one at some point. Other random things that I’ve got that people might want to pay attention to. I’ve got a Netgear Orbi mesh network, which is amazing and you should go and research, etcetera. I’ve also got this little aukey um, diffuser that you can put essential oils in. So because my exercise bike is in my office as well, if it gets a bit, uh, I can open the window and put my lemongrass diffuser on. And I built my own PC before, just before the pandemic, um, to make sure that it was all Linux compatible and that it had all the functionality that I wanted. And I think. I think that’s it. Oh, no it’s not. I’ve got some Philips hue lights so I can have different colour lights behind my screen and behind me when I’m presenting and I’ve got a Logitech. Nine, 2010 ATP webcam. There we go.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:20] Wow. That’s, that’s a lot of stuff. I did not tell you all the other stuff I had. I just woke up. Come on. Well, you know, I mean, like, I have an external keyboard. I also have a Dell monitor, but mine’s super old and definitely not a 4K. Um, I. I try not to buy too much stuff or over the years, like, every time I. I. I use things until they break. So my Dell monitor, for example, I’ve had for probably 910 years not great resolution, but it’s still on and it’s enough. I’m not doing I’m not doing any kind of like really hardcore pixel, very small pixel design or anything. You know, I am a designer, but I don’t really design stuff. So yeah, I’m not.

Doug Belshaw: [00:37:10] Juat wait until you’re 40 plus. Right. And your eyes aren’t as good. And you, you need your, your monitor to be, like, super, super sharp. Just you.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:18] Okay. I will look forward to that when I am 40. In 15 years.

Doug Belshaw: [00:37:25] Sorry.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:28] Yeah. I mean, I have a pixel for a for a phone, which I use a lot in tandem with work because as I’ve said, I talk to my phone and tell it to put things onto my to do list. I have a bag of chips on my desk. Look at this permanent marker that I have really fat.

Doug Belshaw: [00:37:48] I’m not going to that love detail just in case people are wondering about my phone. I have a OnePlus seven Pro 5G and hilariously, I’ve never used I’ve never been in a place where I’ve had 5G.

Laura Hilliger: [00:38:02] Oh, you should go to the United States because the isn’t that where the 5G is causing the the anti-vax? What’s the conspiracy about 5G? I forget. Yeah. Anyway, um, I don’t know. Shall we? I don’t know what we should geek out on next. We, we’re going to geek out on all of our remote work processes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:38:23] Well, I think it’s interesting. I actually talking about like YouTube videos and things one of the things so the other thing I’ve got when I’m in the house, I use a Pixelbook, so that’s like a high end Chromebook. I’ve also got my Dell X220, which I love because of the keyboard and it’s running Linux and stuff as well. But usually I pick up the Pixelbook for two reasons. Firstly, it’s instant on it’s browser based, all that kind of stuff. But secondly, you can fold it back and it’s touchscreen, you can use it like a tablet, which is quite good for like reading documents or whatever like that. Um, where was I going to go with that? Oh, so in terms of setup, in terms of how you use your device, this isn’t something which is very suited to, to audio. It’s much better like showing people what you do. But um, I’m interested kind of just at a meta level. Do you use, for example, virtual desktops on your Mac or do you keep everything on one?

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:18] No, I do have virtual desktops. I prefer to always have two monitors and then I’m always working on the big monitor and on my laptop screen I have my email I use. Okay. So really when I’m working, I don’t use the laptop screen at all. I just use the big monitor. But I have my email there and like a lot of times I’ll be drafting something and working on something at the same time.

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:42] So you use Apple mail, don’t you?

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:45] No, actually I recently I used to use Apple mail meal all the time, actually Chrome I use on my laptop. So and zoom, so video conferences I have on my laptop screen and then everything and and email and then everything else is is on my big screen and. But yeah, I used to use Apple mail. I recently switched I bought for like five bucks a program called Made for Gmail because all of my email accounts are actually Google mail accounts, including, you know, like all of them. And I was really just I’ve been I hate Apple mail. I just used it because like I could never really get used to Gmail in the browser. Like I need my email application to be separate from my browser. So I need to be able to tab between programs. And if email is in my browser then I wasn’t able to tab like command tab.

Doug Belshaw: [00:40:44] Oh, interesting.

Laura Hilliger: [00:40:44] Program. And that just really irritated me, which was the only reason that I used Apple mail.

Doug Belshaw: [00:40:50] So for me and again, experimenting all the time, whatever I use Brave as my main browser and because I’ve got a reasonably large 4K monitor, I don’t have two screens, I just have one. But because I’ve got enough space, I can just I’ve got like brave to the left hand side of that screen. Then I’ve got signal and telegram open all the time so I can message people. But like now we’re using Zencaster to record. I can just take that tab and then move it over the top of telegram and signal so that that’s covered while I’m doing this and I’m getting notifications on my watch while I’m working. But I’m not. I can’t see what, for example, my wife is telling me on Telegram until that gets moved to the next level down. So on Pop OS, the workspaces go vertically, which is unusual compared to like Mac OS goes horizontally. I think the next one down, I just have full screen slack, so I kind of control was it control? Special key down to do that. So I’ve got Slack full screen. I can go between the different workspaces I’m in. And then this is the interesting thing, based on what you’ve just said. Underneath that, I have Chrome and I only use Chrome for Gmail and I’ve got two tabs open. I’ve got we’re open and dynamic skill set, which is my company. And so my email is two away from my main screen, my two workspace away from main screen, and I don’t have it on notifications. So I have to like, I have to choose to go to my emails. It’s not just there.

Laura Hilliger: [00:42:22] Yeah, yeah. See I, I don’t look at my email very often. I do it in batches. So like I’ll look at my email in the morning for ten, 15 minutes and, and then maybe I’ll look in my email like right after lunch. But I am in no way distracted by my email because or by Slack for that matter. I’m very good at ignoring things that do not currently sit within whatever it is I’m doing, but I have, like I said, I have the email open on my laptop screen, but then I have other virtual desktops as well. So like Evernote is its own desktop. I use a writing program called Scrivener, which I love. It’s its own virtual desktop. And then I just have anything else that’s my TweetDeck. I use TweetDeck and that’s also a virtual desktop, as is Spotify. So I have five virtual desktops and I just use command tab to to cycle through different applications as I’m working. But mostly mostly I’m in Firefox and I have Tab groups which I wrote about recently on on my blog.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:32] You did? You should put that link in there. Yeah. One thing that I haven’t mentioned which might surprise people who know that I like my privacy and stuff, is that I have a Google smart display hub thing.

Laura Hilliger: [00:43:45] Yeah, that thing talks to you sometimes, like randomly, and it’s always really funny when you talk to it because like, there have been times when Doug and I are trying to work out maths and Doug will be like, Hey, Google, what’s something, something? And then the Google will always say the wrong thing, which I find hilarious.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:03] Hey, Google what’s two plus two?

Google Autonomous AI: [00:44:07] The answer is 4.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:09] Right. So we got that right, which is good. All right. But I use that because it’s connected to my Bluetooth soundbar for music, but also to control the lights because I can touch it on the screen and send it over. But a lot of the time, sending messages to the house, sending messages back from the house, like broadcasting messages, like if my son’s on the PlayStation or whatever.

Laura Hilliger: [00:44:31] Just To mess with people. I’ve seen you messing with your family by turning lights on and off.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:35] I do do that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:44:37] I do that with my I do that with my I robot vacuum when I’m away. And, you know, just to scare either, you know, anybody in the family who happens to be home when I’m away, I can I can use the vacuum the iRobot vacuum from far away. So on my phone, you know, it’s got an app, so I’ll turn it on just to freak people out, which is always tuck mode. It’s kind of well, it’s kind of like a, Hey, love you. I’m not there. But here’s the vacuum scaring the shit out of you. It works really well.

Doug Belshaw: [00:45:10] We should probably wrap this up. Is there anything that you’re thinking like, Oh, I’m considering starting to use that app or I’m going to buy that thing? Or there’s a bit of hardware that you’ve got your eye on, that kind of thing.

Laura Hilliger: [00:45:24] Actually, no. So it’s not hardware or an app per se, but I have decided that I need some I need some virtual desktop of some sort because I have recently I’ve made a number of notes to myself that are like, Hey, you know, remember this thing? And then I completely forget about the note and then randomly stumble upon that note with a quote or something. And I’ve been thinking that maybe I maybe it’s time for me to swap out some desktops or landing pages or like new tab page or something so that I’m reminded of some of those. They’re not really inspirational. They’re more like, Hey, Laura, you know, just remember to check yourself before you wreck yourself kind of notes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:12] Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Laura Hilliger: [00:46:14] Exactly.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:15] One thing that I use. What’s your new tab? Do you just have, like, the default new tab when you in your browser?

Laura Hilliger: [00:46:21] It is a default duckduck go search screen.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:27] Uh, okay. So I don’t have the search engine as the main page on a new tab because I can just go to the address bar and do that. But I use momentum, so momentum dash dot com or something. So the reason I love this is it tells me the time. It says like now it says good afternoon, Doug. It has this beautiful picture which changes every day. It has a quotation which is inspirational at the bottom. And if you pay for it, which I did for a year and then stopped, you can it tells you the temperature where you are, that kind of thing. You can have a little to do list at the bottom and also it’ll integrate with like Trello or this or that. Um, so I actually find that pretty cool. I don’t know if it’s got a Firefox thing, but it’s definitely all Chrome compatible browsers, which is nice. All right. Last night I had a bit of a fail, so I’ve got this lovely Dell 4k monitor. Um, and I read in a roundup there’s this wonderful website called Hotukdeals, which I go on relatively often and it’s got like, you know, good deals on different things and it’s a user submitted kind of forum thing. It’s useful not only for the fact that you get great deals, but the people in the comments underneath are so knowledgeable. And I was just looking at this random monitor saying, Oh, that’s interesting. In the comments, someone was like, Oh, I always get this particular brand of like gas powered arm for my monitors so I can move them around my desk and whatever. I was like.What? This is amazing.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:55] Yeah, like a hydraulic kind of arm thing. So and it was like £25 and I like insta purchased it on Amazon. So it arrived yesterday and I went to put it onto like the Vesa Mount. You know what you use to attach your monitor to a wall. Guess what? My monitor is one of the only ones in the world that doesn’t have a vesa mount. So I want to get something like that where I can move my not only just move it up and down like I could on my previous monitor, but like move it closer towards me, you know, have it tilted, all that kind of stuff. That’s what I’m looking at potentially getting next, but I wouldn’t be able to do it on this monitor.

Laura Hilliger: [00:48:29] Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:48:30] Well, then you should wait until it’s time for a new monitor.

Doug Belshaw: [00:48:34] Well, that’s the thing. I don’t I don’t use things until they break. I use them until they’re almost not worth very much on eBay. And then I sell them.

Laura Hilliger: [00:48:41] Huh? Okay. I should. I hate. I hate selling stuff on eBay because I’m.

Doug Belshaw: [00:48:49] It’s much worse than it used to be. We we sold, you know, like a Nintendo. It’s much worse. So people sell things on Facebook marketplace now, which I can’t do because I don’t use Facebook, but my wife does And you know, like a Nintendo Wii, like it’s not worth that much money anymore. But like we’ve got the Wii and the Mario Kart stuff and the controllers and everything like that. She put it on Facebook marketplace for like £20 for all this stuff. It was a amazing deal. And someone brought it back because they couldn’t get it to work properly, so.

Laura Hilliger: [00:49:19] They plug it in.

Doug Belshaw: [00:49:20] It was working and it was so.

Laura Hilliger: [00:49:21] Annoying, yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:49:22] Like so much hassle. You get people on eBay like trying to get money off by saying it’s not working properly. Can you give me a partial refund after they’ve received it? And it’s just so different.

Laura Hilliger: [00:49:33] You have to do things. Used to be, yeah, you basically have to do tech support for random people on eBay. When you when you sell your tech, which is like which is.

Doug Belshaw: [00:49:41] Doing tech support for your is bad enough.

Laura Hilliger: [00:49:44] Exactly. Yeah. Um, mom, if you’re listening, I am perfectly happy to continue being your tech support person.

Doug Belshaw: [00:49:53] I switched. I full switched my parents over to Linux in 2007. I want to say eight because I was like, I am not supporting Microsoft Windows anymore on the phone. If you don’t switch to Linux, I am not you know, I’m not supporting you and you’ll have to go and get help elsewhere. So they did had five years of happily using Ubuntu, then they switched to a mac and now they’ve got a pixelbook like me and love that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:50:19] Cool.

Doug Belshaw: [00:50:21] We should probably wrap this up.

Laura Hilliger: [00:50:22] We should definitely wrap it up. We’re at 50 minutes. Um, so that was an interesting random chat. Again, if you are listening to Doug and I talk to each other about all this stuff that we find interesting, we would love to hear from you. So do let us know what you think. Feel free to toss some topics our way. As you can tell, we have no shortage of opinions.

Laura Hilliger: [00:50:45] Um. Good!

Doug Belshaw: [00:50:47] Cheers for now!