March 30, 2023

Five things I've gained from quitting my smartphone

Sarah Hart Unger recently put out a call for screen time input and of course I couldn't help but message.  I decided to think about what I like about my no-phone life right now and here's the list I came up with.  (for more info - I quit my smartphones in 2021)

More time.  After quitting phone use I had to find something else to fill my days and I started reading.  I read 5 books in the entire 10 years of smartphone life and now read about 50 a year.  

More focus.  I found before I would have trouble focusing on things that were less entertaining than a smartphone.  For instance... a toddler.  But now that I don't have the option of something shiny I pay better attention to what is happening around me.

More friends.  This is a weird one, but when I stopped having lots of whatsapp groups to contribute to, and when long form text conversations became burdensome, I started contacting people far more for in person play dates and social hang outs.  I am now so busy/social and have far more people that I actually see  on a regular basis.  When I used WhatsApp I had lots of groups with only occasional in person hangouts.

No FOMO.  I thought I was going to miss things, but as per the above, I am busy!  I am too busy to miss things.  I never find myself at a loss for what to do.  Sure, I miss some photos of my kids that get posted on facebook by the nursery, and I may not find out about upcoming holiday camps or free events, but I don't miss these things.  If I needed more photos I would ask nursery - I love hearing from my kids about their days more than I miss seeing photos of their days.

No Comparison: I don't have any artificial comparison.  I find out about my friends and their kids through natural conversation.  I don't know who is on holiday until they tell me.  I don't think everyone else's life is better than mine.  I think everyone's life is probably great. And I always look forward to hearing about whats happening with my friends in a non curated, real life interaction.

Not using a Smart Phone seems awkward and weird, and sometimes makes my life harder (like, when I don't have access to google traffic or I can't check if my train is on time).  But overall, while individual moments may be more complicated, the balance is definitely pro digital minimalism for me.

March 23, 2023

Myth of the Nice Girl by Fran Hauser

This is a very belated review of my professional development book choice for February.  I actually started this one ages ago and lost interest, but decided I should finish it so I could get it off my shelf.

The book follows the career of Fran Hauser, a big wig from Moviefone (remember that??!) and AOL.  I assume she was a Sheryl Sandberg sort of level, before Sheryl Sandberg created her own orbit. (Edit: actually, maybe they were contemporaries?  I assumed this came out before Lean In but it actually came out 4 years later)

The best point the book made is simply, "what is wrong with nice?" The argument that being nice is antithetical to leadership is a highly outdated notion.  I think this may have been a more counterculture assertion in the earlier 2000's, but I still liked the question.  

When people say, professionally "you're too nice" what do they mean?  That you are a pushover?  That you aren't making good decisions?  Checking the use of nice professionally benefits women because it means the person pointing out the "niceness" needs to reflect on what the actual issue is.  "Nice" can include lots of professional foibles, or it could just mean female.  Getting people to explain why "nice" is an issue can help break down what the issue actually is.

And then, Hauser talked a lot about her own career, and how being nice helped her.  She talked about giving and receiving feedback.  I particularly liked her points on receiving "negative" feedback and how that helped her grow professionally, so when giving feedback to others it's actually "nicer" to be honest and straightforward rather than using generic "niceness".  As someone who generally gets silly glowing reviews in work, I have definitely learned and developed more from anything "negative" given to me than the generic "you're doing great!" which I often get.

Overall the book is not super memorable.  Hauser is clearly very smart and makes strategic career decisions.  I love her emphasis on values in the later half of the book, and using values to guide decision making.  This is my continuing goal/process at the moment too.

She has great chapters on networking that make me wish I was living somewhere where more was happening.  

My professional development book for March is Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu.  I'll need to make sure I have more for April!

March 20, 2023

14 minute Monday - Work Task Management Systems

I've started using a task management "system" at work and finding it helpful.  It's based on this Cal Newport Podcast  and is an interesting experiment for me.  My current work has a larger barrage of incoming small tasks than I'm used to, and I found I was forgetting/missing things more than usual.  I usually use email as a sort of task management system, but email's big failing is the followup: if I ask someone to do something, I don't really have any reminder set for myself to check they have done it, or replied.  Same with teams - it can all get lost in the ether of chat.

I've started recording all my incoming "tasks" onto a Trello board - in the following categories:

  • Ready to action
  • Scheduled to action
  • Waiting for reply
  • Complete

I don't always need to move everything through the system - sometimes I do just reply to emails - but this morning I added a new column called "Today's Top Priorities" as I noticed some of the less important "ready to action" bits had been sitting there for a while.

Weirdly, the less important bits were all bitty emails that old me would have sorted right away.  Which shows how email really isn't a task management system.

What I'm trying to avoid is reaching the end of the day with my head feeling like a whirling string of email and teams messages.  I don't know how everyone else puts up with it.  I see their screens in constant blips of incoming messages.  How does anyone focus?

I'm reading "drop the ball" and really enjoying it.  Dufu had a great argument on comparative advantage - that you shouldn't do something you're good at just because you're good at it.  You should do whatever brings the highest value to you / your company.  For me, I am really really good at churning out a lot of work.  But that's not what I'm best at, and I don't think that brings the company the most value.

As an parallel, I can type 120 words per minute with 80% accuracy or 90 words per minute with 99% accuracy.  My job is not typing fast. This ratio is probably true for more than just typing - what can I do better than other people?  What's my highest contribution?

Have you read Drop the Ball?  How do you sort your professional tasks?

March 16, 2023

Some Random Book Thoughts

The month is half done!  How did this happen?  

I've read three books so far this month.  Months when my mom visits are always slower reading months because I can go out in the evening (thanks grandma childcare!) and I don't do as many dishes - my primary audiobook time. 

Book 1: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I knew this book had a pandemic theme and was a bit hesitant to read it as I'm not too keen on pandemic lit.  I really enjoyed Sea of Tranquillity even though it had pandemic-y parts - it was the first book I read since pandemic that included pandemic and it certainly made me feel a bit... uncomfortable.
However, the pandemic in Station Eleven  didn't bother me at all.  I found it to be an interesting and engagig post apocalypse world and I so love how St. John Mendel weaves narratives through time and through different books.  I had the thought while reading this book "wow, after this pandemic people are struggling to survive, and in our current post-pandemic we're trying to get everyone to be less obese."  I think that the reason the Sea of Tranquillity pandemic bothered me more is that narrative was more around impending lockdowns than pandemic, which I do relate to and don't want to relive through fiction really.  I wouldn't even say the pandemic is a major plot points in either book - like all St. John Mandel her real creativity is in her relationships and people as they move through the weird worlds she constructs.

I really enjoyed this one.  Sad that I've now read all her offerings at our local library.

Book 2: Atomic Habits by James Clear

This is a great book on Habits and probably the one I would recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about habit formation.  I found it more readable than "The Power of Habit" which I finished in January, and more science backed than the [evil] BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits.  Also, more realistic.  I'm far more likely to put on my exercise clothes like James Clear suggests than put them on and yell "Go Rachel! you put on your exercise clothes, yay!" like Fogg recommends.

I've also realized that I've read a lot of habit formation as I read about digital minimalism and time management, since time and habits are so intertwined.  Nothing in this book was earth shaking for me - but that's probably because I'm pretty saturated on this topic.  It did get me thinking about how my habits have changed - I became a reader after a 10 year reading gap.  I stopped eating (most) processed food.  I started waking up early every day.  I had a strong running habit, then stopped entirely.  I used smartphone technology, whatapp and instagram, up until I didn't.  All these are habits I've changed - the book gave me time to consider what other habits do I may want to change.

I think I'm mostly happy with my current big habits, but I'm keen to keep working on the small ones with the strategies from this book. Definitely recommend this one for an accessible guide to habit formation.

Book 3: Quit like a Woman by Holly Whitaker

I had this one on audiobook and then returned it because I thought it was about quitting your job, then I realized it's actually about quitting drinking. I've been recently toying with the idea of not drinking anymore since alcohol has started to noticeably decrease my sleep quality.  I'm not sure if this is because I have noticeably increased my sleep quality recently... but it's a definite thing.  The book was fascinating discussion on why we were so obsessed with alcohol and why that might just be a good marketing campaign.  One pretty persuasive argument is that the way we treat alcohol now is how we viewed cigarettes in the 70s - we know it's probably not so good for us, but we wonder if it might be a little good for us, and there is a lot of money keeping people drinking.  

The book was a bit "woo" towards the end but I'm interested in the feminist issues around drinking and alcohol.  And also, why is not drinking so weird?  Are we in an alcohol mass delusion?   Why is the only socially acceptable form of not drinking considered a disease (alcoholism?).  No one tells a vegan to just order meat or doesn't invite them to a restaurant, but often if you don't drink you face a bit of gentle encouragement to drink, or you don't get invited out.   Weird.

How has your reading month been?  Have you read any of the above?

March 14, 2023

Live from... a train!

 I am currently on a Train!

I had to go to Edinburgh for work, and decided it would be fun to stop in London on the way.  This morning I caught the 7:23 train from Cardiff to London, spent a day working in the London office, and then boarded a 5pm train to Edinburgh.

The train is an enjoyable 4.5 hours.  I bought myself sushi, which I immediately devoured.  London has many passable sushi-to-go chains.  I wish we had those in Cardiff.

I sort of wish I had downloaded a movie or something - 4.5 hours of train solitude is a lot!  I could do anything... I could do work.  I could work on some strategic work stuff that I seem to always be putting off.  I could listen to an audiobook, I could read.

This feels like a mini 4.5 hour holiday.

When I boarded the train they announced the food service was closed because the card machine was running updates and they can't take cash.  At one point the helpful man said "it's at 38% and it needs to get to 100% so it will be a while."

I love overhearing conversations on the train, and this morning I listened to a conversation that could be mine. It was all about defining objectives, strategizing, reports, authorities matrix, operational efficiency.  Sometimes I wonder if everything I do is made up.  

If what I do is made up then other people who have made it further than me (i.e. the illusive C suite) must be doubly or triply made up.  

What skills does a CEO have that a really good PA doesn't?  Strategic thinking?  Or really good report writing? 

Ability to synthesize lots of data?  There's nothing that has more data than a human, and a very good PA needs to understand all of the human they support.

Why isn't there a career track from PA to CEO?  Weirdly, PAs are much closer to the decision makers and see more than the people three steps behind the CEO, but the PA will probably never be CEO, and those three steps behind the CEO on that weird ladder scramble to know what the PA does.

Edinburgh in 3.5  hours.  I probably should work on my "strategic objectives".  The CEO would probably work on strategic objectives. But also, everyone 3 steps behind the CEO might be working on strategic objectives.  

Maybe I don't want to get started because it feels like we all have too many strategic objectives?

March 12, 2023

Weekend Warrior Again

On Saturday I told Andy I didn't want to do park run if it was raining.  The weather forecast was rain, starting at 9, but when we woke up it was SNOW.  As Andy pointed out, snow is not rain, so off to Parkrun we went.

This run went much better than last, and I was 2.5 minutes faster, which puts me in the realm of generally slow and not horrifically almost walking slow.  The main improvement this week was the addition of music - I have trouble getting music to go in my non data connected world.  So I bought and downloaded Hamilton, which I listed to on the run.  

There was also a photographer there, and I am a total ham, so I got this AMAZING photo:

That's 25 minutes into my 5k and I still had probably 2k to go.  

On Sunday we went to Mountain View Bike Park with the kids, and I managed to do some riding as well

(I did some bigger jumps too but also enjoyed chasing kids around the pump track)

We bought Lilah a new balance bike, which now means that we own 3 balance bikes.  Isaac is so ready for a pedal bike but wont try it, and Lilah is so desperate for a pedal bike but isn't ready.  

She is a great MTB poser and I can't wait till she's a mountain biking superstar so I can use this as a "way back when" photo:

And, even more excitingly, I hung up my bathroom art and Andy put up my office mirror!  This has been on the to-do list for AGES:

That's all from my busy weekend.  This week's meal plan is pretty simple:

Monday: Beans and rice and chicken
Tuesday: I'm in Edinburgh
Wednesday: I'm in Edinburgh
Thursday: Spagetti and Meatballs
Friday: Pizza

I mean, maybe I'll eat a vegetable this week?  But don't count on it.

What was your weekend highlight?  Have you ever been to a jump park or a pump track?

March 9, 2023

Banff Film Festival at Home

Yesterday started with SNOW!

We don't get a lot of snow in this part of Wales - when I moved here I was told it "never" snows, which is definitely not true.  This was a heavy snow for us - about 4 inches or so, and the kids ran around outside before nursery while said "snow! it's snow!"  Isaac got far too cold, especially when Andy hit him with a snowball (accidentally) but after a short meltdown (both of snow and mental fortitude) everyone went to nursery.

Unfortunately my trains were canceled (because of 4 inches of snow) and so I did not make it to the office.  I didn't do particularly well with the quick pivot and felt out of sorts all day.

Other than normal work stuff, yesterday was the Banff Film Festival.  I didn't realize this until about a week before, when I saw there were still tickets available and wanted to go.  I messaged EVERYONE I knew but no one was available on a short notice Wednesday.  Instead Andy and I did Banff at Home.

Basically, we pretended it was 15 years ago and watched some awesome films on my computer.

The first film was Bridge Boys - an insane documentary about two climbers who started climbing the underside of bridges during lockdown.  It was funny and light, but sometimes I can't fathom how much time some people had during lockdown.  They got bored training in their basement while my husband and I was at home working 70 hours a week and watching a 15 month full time while 3 months pregnant.  But, besides the lockdown/Covid stuff (which was very minimal) the film was entertaining.  Climbers are crazy.

The second film was FKT, a Canadian Salomon runner named Jeanelle Hazlett aims for the Fastest Known Time up Mt. Brunswick in British Columbia.  The running was impressive, the mountains looked amazing.  I was never able to run up things very fast but man oh man do I like seeing lots of mountains.  Also, she talked about her training routine and it was 15 hours of running and 5 hours at the gym a week, which didn't seem like that much time.  

The third film was The Nine Wheels, about a french family of mountain bikers.  It was really touching and a bit sad - the mom had a degenerative disease so the family has taken to adventuring in a camper van.  She had a three wheeled bike which she used as a wheelchair.  Her young sons were incredible mountain bikers and the film was them biking, the family traveling, and some conversation about her illness.  It was sort of hard to watch and sort of awesome.  

Because that was sad we decided to watch a new Danny Mcaskill film called Do A Wheelie.  This was classic Danny MacAskill enjoyment.  I don't think I'll ever be able to pop a wheelie. I also liked this film because Danny included a diverse cast including a female artistic cyclist.  The representation game was strong.

Although I missed the big screen, the Patagonia clad hipsters, and the prize draws, it was still fun to watch movies with Andy at home.  I think it counts as a little adventure for the week!

Have you ever seen the Banff film festival?  Have you ever done a film festival at home?

March 7, 2023

Tuesday Updates

Work: Today is my third Tuesday in a row with kids/off work.  My normal working schedule is alternate Tuesdays off. Although I'm enjoying the kid time I can definitely see how 80% time is way harder than 90% time.  At 90% time I think I'm basically getting paid 10% less for the same amount of work but the privilege of being unavailable once a fortnight.  With 80% time I'm just stressed about getting things done.  

Fun: The Banff Film Festival is coming to Cardiff on Wednesday and I did not plan ahead but really want to go.  I texted everyone I know who might be interested, including people I don't know so well who might be interested, but unfortunately everyone is busy. Having kids with your adventure partner means it's hard to find new adventure partners.  Even people who couldn't come seemed happy for the invite, so I still think I'm laying groundwork for future friend dates even if this friend date didn't work.

Sport: I have found the most amazing yoga class on a Monday AND I can go for the next 4 weeks due to mom visit-childcare. It's 90 minutes of strength and yoga and I feel battered and amazing after.  

Food: Last week I made a lentil lasagne with white sauce.  This week I pulled some out of the freezer and OMG why is lasagne so much better after being frozen?

Books: I am currently listening to Better than Before by Gretchen Ruben and even though I'm 2 hours into the book I can't tell if I have read it before.  I then started Quit like a Woman by Holly Whitaker on audiobook and I am LOVING it.  I did not realize alcohol is a feminist issue and this book might be a life changer - I was already going off drinking but this might just send me towards total teetotal. 

What are you reading?  Have you ever been to a mountain film festival?

March 5, 2023

Sunday Fun Day (and Meal Planning)

This weekend started abruptly, without my usual "plan on Friday".   Andy and I did have a longer F.L.O.M at a pub Friday evening (thanks grandma babysitting!).  

On Saturday morning we took the kids to the Bike Park for toddler takeover.  I'm fairly sure Lilah would chose to ride a bike until she fell asleep and fell off (or fell off then fell asleep).  She was borderline delirious when we finally got her home, where we had a lunch of cheese quesadilla and Spaghetti Hoops.

Andy and I got out for a walk/hike in the afternoon.  It was going to be an overnight but got scaled back to a local walk and a trip to a pub I've always wanted to visit.  We made it home by 6 and sorted kid bedtime.  Grandma was a bit tired by this point so we sent her home early.

Today (Sunday) I made it out on my mountain bike.  Unfortunately I don't really have a group to go with so it was just me.  Before I had kids I used to ride with Andy, but after kids Andy rides with his group and I haven't found new biking friends.  Or rather, I haven't found local biking friends.  I keep thinking there must be other local female mountain bikers... maybe someday I'll try and start a club.  In the interim, I enjoyed 2 hours out solo and even managed this classic photo from the "Instagram Spot"

This afternoon we have a play date with friends we haven't seen in ages.  It was arranged via a single text from me "hey, are you up for a playdate on Sunday or next week?" and now I have a playdate.  I sometimes feel like I need to plan something better than a house hang out when I invite people to things.. but house hang outs are great. And free.  And, she said "yes come to my house" which means we won't even be at our house.  All wins.

This week's food plan is a good one:

Monday:  Pasta and Roast Veg (must not eat too much before Yoga!)
Tuesday: Chicken Shwarma and Sweet Potato Fries
Wednesday: Slow Cooker Veggie Spagbol
Thursday: Turkey Burkers & Sweet Potato Fries
Friday: Grandma cooks dinner

What's on your meal plan this week?  Do you like "hanging out" or prefer structured events and invites?

March 3, 2023

5 on a Friday

It's Friday!  Yay!  Here are 5 quick things.

1) Thursday was world book day! Isaac dressed up as Fox in Socks. Lilah dressed up as Baby Shark:

2) This weekend should be good - we are taking the kids to the bike park on Saturday morning, then hopefully kids will take naps and Grandma will watch them in the afternoon so Andy and I can go for a hike together.  We haven't been for a hike since Summer (when it was 40 degrees and horrible) so I have high hopes for this.  And then we might even go out for dinner.  We decided against an overnight because it seemed expensive and a big ask for Grandma

3) It's probably weird to link to another blog with links, but San's link list had some absolute gold in it this month.  Especially the article about how people don't "hang out" anymore.

4) We had our house cleaned on Friday.  Not the whole house, just the bathrooms, kitchen, dining room and hallways.   We stopped having cleaners in November but realized we really hate bathrooms.  We kept the house in OK shape (minus bathrooms) but weirdly now that we have a cleaner I have been far worse about cleaning my own bedrooms.  I need to get back into a cleaning routine for bedrooms... I don't understand where all the dust comes from?

5) My citizenship application was approved!  The final step is the citizenship ceremony, which is later this month at City Hall.  Andy will hopefully come with me for the ceremony and then we are going out to lunch at a Steak restaurant.  The final FINAL step is applying for a passport.  How surprising that I will be British soon?

March 1, 2023

March is here! Goals for this month

March is here!  Luckily cold weather and grey skies are keeping me from getting too excited for spring.  I've got 12 daffodils poking up in my flower bed, and the other day it was LIGHT when I woke up at 7am.  Winter is ending, but spring is not yet here.  

Highlights for this month include a calmer month without visitors (both having guests and not having guests are a highlight for me), and a long weekend away near Bournemouth with the in laws.  It's also the end of Q1, so a last ditch effort to finish any Q1 goals!  I'll hopefully take a planning and general life maintenance day on 31st March, so looking forward to that as well.


  • Update Family and both kids photo albums for February
  • Visit 1 National Trust Site
  • Visit St. Fagans museum
  • Go on a Holiday!
  • Write Will (finally)


  • Barre3 (Just 1!)
  • Track Time
  • Eat 1 Fruit a day
  • Blog 3x a week
  • Do a parkrun


  • Networking on March work trip
  • Two work trips this month - making the most of each.


  • Dinner with former colleague friends
  • Yoga with Yoga friend
  • Writing Club
  • Bike Park Wales mountain biking trip with Andy and all MTB friends!
  • Dinner with NCT friends
  • Get second quote for mouldy toilet room
  • Declutter 2 bags of things on organization day
  • Do that wall decal
  • Frame and mount the poster
March Professional Development Book: Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu

Also, I am going to try and include more photos in my blog.  So, here's some recent very expressive four year old boy art: