First Contact Transcript

Episode 18: It’s “Boss Level Mode” Time: Remote Work Pioneer Matt Mullenweg On Staying Productive

First Contact with Laurie Segall is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio.

Matt Mullenweg: It’s worth saying that this is kind of boss level mode in that this is the hardest version of working from home that you could imagine, because a lot of people might have kids or they didn’t really have a chance to prepare for this.

Laurie Segall: This definitely feels like boss level mode, I’ll tell you that much. As you talk about kind of boss mode, I, I think, you know, it’s, it’s an interesting time to start developing those routines, the things that you said you would and you never did.

Matt Mullenweg: You know the hardest barrier to that-

Laurie Segall: What?

Matt Mullenweg: … is distractions.

Laurie Segall: Yeah. 

Matt Mullenweg: So I think part of what makes this harder is that there’s so much going on in the world. Do you use, uh, any meditation apps yet?

Laurie Segall: Well, no, but I certainly should because I- I think one thing I’ve noticed in isolation is, um, the mental gymnastics are maybe the hardest part of it.

Okay, wow, well, we are in some very strange, strange circumstances, so Matt I wanted to bring you on first contact. Matt Mullenweg you are the founder of Automattic, which is the parent company of WordPress.com. 

Laurie Segall: If folks don’t know what WordPress is, I like to say, you guys power a good amount of the internet, you power 34-35% of websites are hosted through WordPress. And something that I have always thought was really interesting is, you’ve been doing the whole work from home or work remotely thing for a very long time, right? Like, I think, um, you guys have never had one space, right?

Matt Mullenweg: Yeah, you know, we came out of the open-source world, so.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: My first colleagues were actually, we were working together as volunteers over the internet before the company even got started. So our founding, in fact, was, uh, was on the internet.

Laurie Segall: Wow. So first of all, to give you little bit of a backstory. We just had to create this whole setup at my place remotely,  my colleague Jack was literally remoting into my computer to help me set this all up, um, because in the last couple days everything has changed and we’re all grappling with what this virus means for us and what it means for work and, I mean, I’m self-isolating right now, and so, I’m not leaving my apartment, and- you’re- you too, you’re self-isolating?

Matt Mullenweg: Yeah, I’m doing kind of the physical distancing, so my mom is- is a little bit older, so I just try to be extra careful with these things and, uh, so I came down to Houston a few weeks ago.

Laurie Segall: Well, I think, you know, as a lot of us are kind of grappling with this moment, I think a lot of us are trying to figure out how to work from home and I’ve never really done this before, so there have already been some mishaps, like, truthfully, this is embarrassing to say to you as like a tech founder, like, I- I think I wore pajamas for my first, uh, four days in self-isolation and people would try to FaceTime in and I was like, I don’t think this is the right thing, so I realized I had to put on real people clothes, like, about a day ago, um.

Matt Mullenweg: Hmm.

Laurie Segall: And- and so I really wanted to help give people a sense of best practices, like, how many employees do you have working remotely?

Matt Mullenweg: Yeah, so we’re around 1200 people now. The company’s been pretty much completely remote from day one. We did do an acquisition last year of Tumblr, actually near you in New York and so, we have a WeWork space for them, but it’s declined to where only about, I think 50 people are going into that office regularly, of course before, all the, uh, the virus stuff started. So, what we try to say is that our- our center of gravity is online, so we use the word distributed instead of remote to imply that, that’s not like essential and remote, but really like, every node is connected equally and you wanted that sort of equality of access to information and ability to participate between everyone in the company.

Laurie Segall: I wanna get started, like, with you know, because you’re the expert in this, but I- I guess maybe, just to start because I know this is a really emotional time. I know for me, uh, maybe the hardest part of self-isolating is the mental gymnastics, so I wanna just start by asking, I know you talk about being in, um, Houston and being close to your mom. How are you doing, you know how are you mental health wise?

Matt Mullenweg: Uh, thank you. Um, you know, I’m a little bit of a hermit with a computer screen in a lot of ways anyway. So, I would say that, um, because I travel so much, normally, and you know, with your friends, you kind of figure out ways to stay connected even though you’re not together, you know, they might have had, you know postal mail or telegrams or something, now we can do FaceTime, I have friends doing, um, dinner, where they Zoom hangouts, you know, uh… which is also the principle for remote work, is to say, like, well, what- what is really the thing that I was getting out of X, Y, Z? You know?

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: Kind of like a first principle thinking, well, I really like just hanging out with my friends and hearing what they’re up to, it’s kind of a ambient intimacy there. Um, what’s a way you can get, not 100% but maybe 80% of that without being physically co-located or even being in the same place at the same time. And that, uh, helps a lot, you know, one of my favorite things, I am not good at this, but I have a lot of friends who do voice, those voice messages, do you have any friends like that?

Laurie Segall: Yeah, like voice memos, I have, my friends Aza does that, we leave each other voice memos, I think that might be kinda cool to do during this time.

Matt Mullenweg: It’s, uh, it’s cool because it’s- it’s intimate in that it’s audio, but it’s asynchronous, right? You don’t have to be on at the same time, which can be hard, especially if you’re having a busy day, so, when you think about that, like, what are the kind of levels of communication, you know, text, audio, video, and then can things be synchronous or asynchronous, that’s actually a really good framework, to imagine, uh, all communication, whether that’s personal or professional.

Laurie Segall: So, as everyone, um, is basically beginning to self-isolate, to stay at home, what are the- the best practices, like, for, for working from home would you say, like, what are the top three things that you need to keep in mind as you begin to, like, setup your work from home space? People have kids, you know, some people are alone, I mean, there’s so many other factors when it comes to working remotely when you’re not around this community and- and in a physical building. You, as someone who has built  a whole successful company based off of this, so, like, could you give us, like, three of your top key principles, um, and advice for people who are beginning to do this setup?

Matt Mullenweg: Yeah, of course. And it’s also worth saying that right now is a little different than normal working from home.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: Right? We have people doing it unexpectedly or might be, actually trapped in their home, which is- is not usual. But three things I would say are pretty universal, are first, have some good routines. So, this is… sounds basic but we forget it, you know, like. Shower, get dressed, do some home exercise, you know, kind of do those check-ins, like, am I hungry, am I tired… the routine also helps you build the boundaries, right? One common mistake people will make when they start working from home is, they don’t stop working. It’s actually the one… most common thing we have when people join Automattic, is overwork, not under work. So, building those boundaries and creating the space for yourself, I think is, uh, around routines is a- is a really good step one.

Laurie Segall: What’s your routine?

Matt Mullenweg: Uh, well it depends on the day but I try to, uh, read a little bit in the morning.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm.

Matt Mullenweg: I meditate, I do a little stretch and if I have extra time before my first meeting, try to do some exercise, so, and, uh, there’s all sorts of hacks, like the seven minute workout’s the one that, uh, you don’t need any weights or anything besides, like, a chair and your body weight to- to do something, so if you can get movement it helps a lot.

Laurie Segall: Yeah, I just started doing a, um, this is very embarrassing to admit, but I- I’ve never… I am not someone who is use to being home just- I just signed up for something called, like, Dancing with Jessica or something and it Live stream’s, a dance class in… somewhere in the south and it’s almost like you’re… it’s almost like we get this, a little bit of serendipity back, because I’m watching this- this random class in the south and they’re doing, um, you know, she- she did a random prayer before they started, it was very different than a- a New York, uh…… Workout class and prayed for the soldiers coming back who were gonna be in quarantine and it- it almost reminded of that serendipity that we used to have on the internet back in the day a little bit, so I’ve been attempting to do that too, um, and you are talking to someone who is terrible with, uh, with routine in general and working out in general, so I- I appreciate that and I think that’s gonna be really, really important during this time.

Matt Mullenweg: I started using a app called, uh, Fitbod, which is kinda like a- a weight training but you can program in whatever equipment you happen to have.

Laurie Segall: Oh, cool.

Matt Mullenweg: And it gives you a set of exercises. Some people prefer live classes, obviously if someone has a Peloton, like, that is kinda built im, um, so there’s a lot of cool ways there.

Laurie Segall: Fitbod, that’s good to know, okay, these are- these are very helpful tips, I- I mean, honestly I- I don’t mean to say like “asking for a friend”. But, like, I’m now asking for all of us because we are in this insanely,  unique period and- and I think for me, I thought we have access to people like you who have this… who have these understandings, so the specific stuff actually really does help, um, so anyway I’ll do Fitbod if you do Dancing with Jessica at some point.

Matt Mullenweg: Alright we’ll sign up for the same class. Do you use, uh, any meditation apps yet?

Laurie Segall: Well, no, but I certainly should because I- I think one thing I’ve noticed in, uh, in isolation is, um, the mental gymnastics are maybe the hardest part of it, so, I- I should, what meditation apps are you using?

Matt Mullenweg: Uh, my two favorites are Waking Up with Sam Harris, which is a good-

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Matt Mullenweg: … it actually has a 50 day course, which you really learn how to meditate quite well, but, uh, Calm, which, I’m actually, uh, was an Angel Investor in, is really great because they have specific kind of things, like, if you’re feeling anxious they have a couple day program just for that. 

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: And so, Calm, I- I try to do that at least 10 to 20 minutes everyday, so that’s routine. Two, I would say, think about your communication, try to be intentional in your communication.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Matt Mullenweg: Uh, especially, you’ll find yourself probably communicating a lot more over written form, try to add all the context to the messages to give whoever’s on the other side of the screen, all the information they need to respond and, if you can fluff it up all little, because text can sometimes be abrupt, we can often, uh, tend towards brevity when we’re communicating online, uh, because we treat if just like texting a friend and quick. But try to fill it out a little bit, um, use emoji liberally. Put some gifs in there-

Laurie Segall: Oh, I like that.

Matt Mullenweg: Try- try to make it a little bit more human, even though we’re communicating via text.

Laurie Segall: That’s a really smart thing, I- I really like that ’cause I’m just realizing, and I think Sabine’s listening to this call, I was responding to her via text and I realized, like, my text messages probably sounded short, this was for actually prepping for this interview with you and I didn’t mean them to, it’s just some- some of the humanity gets lost, behind a screen when you’re moving quickly and you’re doing work and- and we don’t actually get that ability to look at each other with the… and soften, if- if that makes sense so I- I appreciate that.

Matt Mullenweg: It helps quite a bit and I make this mistake all the time too, of course, if you can ever jump, if the person wants to, if I’m just saying, “Hey, can we hop on a call?” I almost always say call, not video for much of the reason that you said you were in your pajamas, like, not everyone’s always ready and has the setup or a good hair day or whatever it is to be prepared for video, but audio, you can hop on pretty much anytime. And there’s some really great tools, I recommend a good audio headset. Sennheiser makes some really good ones, the SC 30 or SC 130. They’re 30, 40, 50 bucks and it gets rid of the dog barking, it gets rid of everything else going on. There’s also some new software that’s pretty neat, uh, one called krisp.ai that you can run-

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Matt Mullenweg: … on your computer that removes all background noises.

Laurie Segall: Huh.

Matt Mullenweg: So, it uses-uh, machine learning algorithm to essentially remove everything except for your voice, so you can actually be in like, a crowded restaurant even, which I guess we shouldn’t be right now, but you could be and, um, more likely, you might have, like, street noise or air conditioning or a washer and dryer or something going on in the back. The audio quality makes a huge difference. It also makes it so when you’re on calls, people don’t need to mute, you know, when everyone’s muted, it’s weird in two ways, one to the speaker, it’s totally silent, so it feels, like, very strange just talking to a completely silent room and two if you want to respond, you have to unmute first, which jilts the conversation, it slows it down, uh, so checkout those. It helps quite a bit, and you know, if you’re gonna be on video, put a lamp on your desk, better lighting, you don’t wanna look weird. All those sort of things, like, help quite a bit.

Laurie Segall: I know, I would say to our listeners right now, um, Matt, I’m looking at him on video and he has a very good setup, in the back he has, like you know a nice bookshelf that has, like, cool stuff. Like, is that like an album, a guitar, some kind of cool album. Like, you- you’re back set up looks much, and more interesting than mine. I have a staircase in mine, and I also have, I don’t know why everything is shut down, but there is construction happening outside. So, thank you to all our listeners who are bearing with my home self isolation attempt at giving them advice on working from home as I’m not sure if I’m 100 percent doing it the best.

Matt Mullenweg: I actually think your background is great; you have flowers, it’s pretty tidy. And some software, like Zoom, actually supports like a virtual green screen, so you can put an image behind you.

Laurie Segall: Oh wow.

Matt Mullenweg: Um, but it is good to take a few moments just to make your background a little bit more professional or try to design it a little bit. Like, put some pictures of your loved ones there, or something, where it just feels a little better.

Laurie Segall: That’s cool. Yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: You know, finally, I would say, if the first tip was around- the first set of tips around like just being healthy, so you’re in a good place. Second is around kind of like the work communication. I’d say third would be around like, what are things you can do to actually make it way better than you would be if you were in an office? So uh, some examples. I have a candle on my desk. 

Laurie Segall: Hm.

Matt Mullenweg: I love candles. It smells really good. You can’t really do that in an office. 

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: You know, maybe you’re hot or cold in the office, so set the temperature exactly how you like it. Something I like to do that I guess you can do in an office, I would just be embarrassed, but in between meetings, I like to do just like a little micro exercise; like 20 pushups or 20 squats or something.

Laurie Segall: Hm.

Matt Mullenweg: So think of things that are actually better because you’re at home and by yourself that you can kind of build these healthy micro habits. Put the music on you like, as loud as you like. I like to dance around a little sometimes. So , if I’m feeling a little low energy in the afternoon…

Laurie Segall: What’s your song? What- what’s your song, what song are you dancing to?

Matt Mullenweg: Uh, there’s uh, there’s, it’s called the Days Without You, Crusson Remix, is one that always gets me moving.

Laurie Segall: That’s amazing. Umm, I’ve decided, where’s the song, I’m just going to look for it for our listeners. I’ve decided to wake up every morning, to, yeah, Kylie Minogue, the song, Dancing. Uh, by the way, I wasn’t even like a huge… I mean I wasn’t like a die hard fan at all. It’s just such a great song, and it’s such, I realize um, there’s something about moving your body and smiling uh during this time.

OK we’ve got to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. More with my guest after the break.

Laurie Segall: When I said mental gymnastics earlier, I mean, you know, to give you more context. You know, it is easy to get stuck in our own heads, it is easy to not only just be working from home, but to be dealing with issues, like fear and anxiety about our loved ones. Not just ourselves. I think, you know, both of us are in our thirties, right? I have um, you know, my mom is back in Atlanta, you know, was sick in August. You know I think we all have family right now, and I think the mental gymnastics of, of not knowing and knowing something scary is to come, and you know, I think that can be really hard, and I think music for me, and I love hearing you say music, has has always played a role in just making us smile during times that are unprecedented and things we don’t know how much control we have over. Although, I will say, I think we have control in that we should be staying inside, right now.

Matt Mullenweg: Yeah. It’s the fastest way to shift your mood. To change your brain. And uh, you have the advantage that you’re not going to know any co-workers. Maybe your neighbors, but… Uh, so these tools I think are just things you can look to. Just like the way you put your oxygen mask before helping others.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: Uh, it helps, and I think about it a lot. In some ways, you know, I’ve struggled a little bit, but because it feels a little silly to talk about these things while there is a crisis going on. But also I think that if, you know, you or I, maybe not in the health professions, we’re not going to be able to contribute in that way. Keeping the economy going, keeping lives as normal as possible, being strong for our friends and loved ones, is one small contribution you can do. Sort of keeping things moving even in a challenging time.

Laurie Segall: Yeah. I totally agree. You know, part of I think what’s important during this time is for us… I mean especially for people like you. You’re um a tech founder, a very successful tech founder. And you know, you have all these systems in place, and you’ve been doing this for many years, and I think for people to have access to someone like you during this time, because we’re all turning to technology. I would say in a way that we were all using tech, but now I think we’re about to develop a very new relationship with tech, because we are so dependent on some of it. So I tried to do it a different way to send in voice memos, which I wasn’t sure if that would be a little bit creepy, but I’m like all for human connection right now, as I sit here isolated in New York. Um, and so we had some people send in voice memos to ask you questions. Because I want people to be able to access some of the tech founders in a way that I’m able to kind of get on the phone and call you guys. So I would love to play some of those for you, and then have you just respond to them and their questions. Is that cool?

Matt Mullenweg: Sounds great.

Laurie Segall: All right. Uh, here’s the first one. Let’s see.

Voice Memo 1: Hi Matt, I work at a real estate tech startup here in New York City. Like many others, my company made the decision to close the physical office last week in response to the Coronavirus pandemic and have all employees work from home. Um, this is likely to be a period of prolonged disruption. It’s so important to have the right culture for making a distributive work force succeed. So what advice would you give to leaders and companies, who don’t have a distributive work culture, as an inherent part of their operation, but who have been forced to adopt such working style because of this crisis? And secondly, do you think that this Covid-19 outbreak will jumpstart a paradigm shift in the way we think about work, and perhaps get businesses to become more permanently amenable to distributed working styles?

Laurie Segall: What do you think?

Matt Mullenweg: Two really good questions.

Matt Mullenweg: One is, I think we’re trying to answer through this whole podcast, right? Is the advice for leaders. The only thing I would add on top of what we’ve already said bis, is just to try to reexamine everything you’re doing, from that first principle’s place. So, don’t look at the input, look at the output. Not like, we need to meet Monday in this conference room at 9am every week, let’s say, what’s the result of that meeting? Why do we do that for the business? And is there a different input that can get the same output? So I think that, you know, unusual times are a perfect opportunity to reset habits, including work habits that you might have fallen into just doing things by default. Doing it this week because we did it last week. Versus really looking at it from scratch and saying, well, if we’re reimagining everything, what is a different or better way to address these things. And that is I think, you know, if there’s a way to make lemonade from the lemons here is uh, one of the best things any of us could do. To his second point, which is how things might permanently shift. You know they say about democracy, that once you’ve had a taste of freedom, it’s hard to return to your previous state. My hope is that after the initial toughness that a lot of folks are going through, through unexpectedly working from home, that they can start to find some of the autonomy, agency and joy that can come from having more control over your work environments, your work schedule. Um, again, being judged on the output, not just the input of what you’re contributing to your organization. And that, we also will understand that this is the first of these that we’ve really experienced, but probably not the last. So just like, everyone’s probably going to be a bit better prepared at home for whatever you find that you’re missing this time, um, I hope that everyone spruces up their home set up a little bit there. Thinks about where they’ll work from. The plans for their kids or their spouses. If there’s two calls like this going on at once, where is each partner or each person in the house going to do it from. And there’s some pretty small and inexpensive investments you can make, like a lamp on your desk, that can be of a huge help to the quality of your- your ability to work from home and the comfort of working from home. So, um, make a list. Whatever you find challenging now, write it down, talk to your colleagues and friends about ways to address it, and uh, you know, when, as things settle down, or if Amazon is still working wherever you are, start to uh, you know, make those small investments and tweaks to allow you to be as productive or ideally even far more productive, uh,  in your own environment then you are in your shared office environment.

Laurie Segall: I think that’s great advice. Someone I know, who’s a leader of a big company, messaged me today and said something along the lines of, you know, there is so much more efficiency too and some of the, when there’s something like this that happens, people are cutting right to it. Some of these video calls are very, very efficient, and so I think there is something about this moment, where we’re, um, we’re cutting through the fat and some of the important things are rising to the top as well, and I think that- that’ll probably manifest itself in some capacity into our work as well. 

Matt Mullenweg: It’s worth saying that this is kind of boss level mode in that this is the hardest version of working from home that you could imagine, because a lot of people might have kids or something at home that aren’t used to, or are unexpectedly at home, or they didn’t really have a chance to prepare for this. So, I do hope that there’s a positive outcome, but I also would say that if this seems extra rough for you for the next week or two, think about what might make it easier the next time. This is a- this is a highly unusual situation in every sense of the word, and don’t, if it doesn’t go well, don’t- don’t write off work from home just because, you know, the time when we weren’t really allowed to leave our apartments it was extra hard.

Laurie Segall: This is boss level mode. This definitely feels like boss level mode, I’ll tell you that much. Alright I’m going to play the next one. 

Nick Smoot: Hey, it’s Nick Smoot from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, with Innovation Collective, and I wanted to ask what are the things you’re doing to hold onto routines, as they’re being completely destroyed? Routines, usually come from a place of priorities, and uh, you know, I’m on day six and trying to rediscover how to implement my priorities through new routines, but um, it’s a struggle to be honest. And I have two boys who are seven and nine, and their routines are being completely jacked up as well. So any advice on personally rediscovering routines and things to experiment with, and how do you help your kids rediscover and redefine their routines.

Matt Mullenweg: That is a tricky one, because as we just talked about, this is an usual situation. So I’ll answer for me personally. As Laurie knows I travel a lot because we have a distributed company, so I would travel a lot to meet people. I did over 500,000 miles last year, so that means my average miles per hour, 24 hours a day, was over 57 miles per hour. So staying still for a couple of weeks now, and and maybe a month or two more after this, is highly unusual. So I am using it as an opportunity to look at things I found harder when I was on the road, that I’m trying to like build into good habits now. So for me, much like you said earlier Laurie, like I actually found working out really hard, because I might be in a different hotel or AirBnB a couple times a week, and it was just kind of hard to get that routine. And so I’m using this, one thing being the same every day, which is where I am, to try to build in that routine. It’s gone pretty well so far, but I’m also trying not to beat myself up if I miss a day, because it’s a really, really busy work day or something like that, or… but I think that that is a good opportunity to re-address. In terms of kids, family members, spouses, all these folks being thrust into this situation as well. What I found most effective is just taking a little time to zoom out and check in with folks. So, often we kind of go from day to day just doing, doing, doing, doing, and it’s nice to reflect. And just take, you know, 10 minutes at the beginning of dinner for every person to go around the table and say, how has this been? What have they found challenging? What have they found easy? What have they liked? What have they disliked? And just take that without judgment, and then have just a little brainstorm. What are some things we can try over the next few days? It might be different, then do that, check in a few days later and see how it went. That sort of iterative process is so simple. It even feels silly saying it, because it’s so simple, but it is the most effective way to drive change in any organization or group of people.

Laurie Segall: Hm. I love that advice and I- I think for me personally, you know, before this happened, I had all these things I said I wanted to do, right? About taking care of myself, and I’ve like you Matt, like we’ve know each other for how many years, like, I don’t even know.

Matt Mullenweg: Well over a decade now.

Laurie Segall: Well over a decade. I should mention, this show is called First Contact. Our first contact we had I think, I ate ribs for the first time with you in Brooklyn at our first contact . And I think there have been so many years I’ve said… because I, you know, as a reporter for CNN for 10 years, I was on the road all the time. I was moving so quickly. And I think, um, you know, there are so many things on the to-do list of how I could take care of myself better. Right? And self-care. And something like, you talk about having a candle, dancing a little bit, you know, for me, it’s on the list of self-care. It’s been, you know, try to take a bath. Right? Like, enjoy something like that. It’s been, try to learn to be home and work out. Try to be still more. And I think, to a degree, this is potentially, for me, when it comes to routine, forcing me into that in a way that I said I was gonna do it and now that’s, it’s almost a survival technique for me, uh, having been in isolation now for, I would say, seven days, and we don’t know how long this is gonna go. So I think using this as an opportunity for some kind of self-reflection. Someone messaged me the other day and said, “I’m an extrovert. What do I do?” And, by the way, who am I to give this advice, right? But I think for me personally, using this to look inwards and say, “here are some of the things that I wanna work on personally.” And,  this is horrible, what’s happening, but to be able to actually spend some time to try to do those things because you don’t really have another option, as you talk about kind of boss mode. I think, it’s, it’s an interesting time to start developing those routines, the things that you said you would and you never did, you know? 

Matt Mullenweg: You know the hardest barrier to that is-

Laurie Segall: What?

Matt Mullenweg: … distractions.

Laurie Segall: Yeah. 

Matt Mullenweg: So I think part of what makes this harder is that there’s so much going on in the world, so …

Laurie Segall: Right.

Matt Mullenweg: You do have to create that space for yourself to get done whatever you feel like you need to do that day. I’m going to say this, but I will also preface it with, this is really hard for me, too. But the news will still be there in a few hours, Twitter will still be there, Facebook will still be there, so if you can turn those things off, you’ll find your mental health is a lot, your mind’s a lot clearer, and you’re not actually going to miss something that’s going to make a huge difference.

Laurie Segall: You know, I spoke to an entrepreneur in, who was, in quarantine in China, and I said, and I said to him, “What’s the thing about this that’s been hard?” And he said, “You know, I started being fully engulfed digitally.” Right? And because of that, it’s like, he jokes, he’s like, “I swallowed the red pill, man. Like, I went all in.” You know? And so it’s almost harder. Um, I- I think it’s incredible in that we can all find connection right now, and we all need human connection, in- in tech, which has gotten a pretty bad rap for the last you know, couple years, has helped us find some humanity again. But I do, I’m with you, I think we’ve got to be pretty careful, because some of the days that have gone by, like, I could spend easily without even realizing it, hours. Almost like, it’s almost okay now in a way that it wasn’t just completely going away. So I love this idea of like, maybe putting away your phone if you can for a couple hours, or finding some time to- to try to do that. 

Matt Mullenweg: And don’t do it just because someone on a podcast said to, try it. So for example, take a day and say, “I’m going to check Twitter as much as I want.” And then at the end of the day, just say how you feel. Write it down. And then try another day where you stop yourself from it, and at the end of the day just write down how you feel. I mean, all these things, the sort of opportunity to self-experiment, can be really rich, but you have to be a little systematic about it, so write things down, don’t just go with what you think you felt or how you felt. So it’s really helpful.

Ok we’ve got to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. More from my guest after the break.

Laurie Segall: We’ve got one more before we wrap, so hold on.

Manny: Hi, this is Manny. My questions are how to be more focused and productive when working from home given that I did not work remotely in recent past? Also, how to navigate around various distractions when working from home? 

Laurie Segall: So I know we’ve covered a lot of this, but maybe if you could kind of recap it.

Matt Mullenweg: It’s literally- What? Yeah.

Laurie Segall: I know! 

Matt Mullenweg: So-

Laurie Segall: I’m with you, Manny. Like, I- I- I am totally with you in dealing with that, so that is why I brought in Matt. 

Matt Mullenweg: There’s great software, like QB Serve, Screen Time, et cetera. So, I like the self profile. So, sometimes it’s very eye-opening to look back and see how much time you actually spent on a certain website, so check out Rescue Time, QB Serve, and of course, Screen Time, which is built into a lot of Apple devices to see where you actually spend your time, and whether that aligns with what your priorities are. On my desk, the candle’s actually a nice hack because I find it actually does help me focus. If you can have some kind of totem or reminder on your desk, um, that if you find yourself being pulled to distraction, which often is a symptom of some other feeling, like anxiety, loneliness, something else, if the totem can remind you of that to take a deep breathe, or to close the new tab, or something like that, it can be really, really helpful. I use a Chrome extension called Momentum, that when you launch a new tab, it can tell you what percent of the day you have left, or to show you a custom message, or a different image. So just use this as a reminder, because often opening a new tab is that point of distraction, um, it just, I just try to catch myself before I trigger the sort of, unproductive habit, and, those- those can be most helpful, but like I said, don’t beat yourself up and also just try different things. One thing I’ve started doing to kind of balance is I’ll set a timer when I go to a website. So I use, um, some software called Tomato One, but it’s any sort of pomodoro timer or set a timer on your phone. Just say, “Hey, I want to spend 15 minutes on Twitter,” and start it, and when that alarm finishes, close the tab or close the app, or whatever it is. These things sound silly, but you kind of need a little bit more self-discipline, especially in the beginning, to do this, and don’t- don’t rely just on your willpower. Like, use the technology to make it easier for you. Those would be the ones that- that I say. Uh, I’ll go a little extra. On that new tabs screen, it allows a countdown. So I actually went to an actuarial calendar calculator and sort of plugged in my date of birth and whether I smoke or not, and it- it gave me the- the age I would probably live to. So I plugged that into the countdown timer, so every time I launched a new tab, it says memento mori and the number of days until that day when statistically I’m likely to, uh, kick the bucket. So right now it’s 14,544. That’s about how many days I probably have left going around the sun, or, with the Earth rotating. And so, just reminding myself of that is just a really great thing to, to say like, “Is what I’m doing truly important right now? Okay, am I doing the thing that, you know, if, you know, 14,000 days left, is it how I want to spend those days?” Uh, so look just around your environment, your habits, everything you’re doing, and see where you can kind of insert either a reminder, or a trigger, or an interruption that can help you make good choices, to try to make it easier on yourself. There’s no reason to make it hard. Um we have a lot of technology and almost every piece of technology you use can be customized. There’s time well spent things on your phone where you can limit time on certain apps, you can get software for your computer that blocks certain websites between certain times of the day. Sometimes I put my computer on airplane mode just to like make sure I can read a document without interruptions, so just figure out what it is that- that makes it easy for you and do that.

Laurie Segall: I love that advice. We launched a a community number so people can text me, and someone texted me something they did when they were in the military to take care of themselves during tough times, was they would write down things they were going to do when things got better, uh, write down restaurants they wanted to go to. So, I’m going to start doing that, you know, because we don’t know how long we’re going to be, in quarantine and self-isolating, and we don’t know how long this is going to be. So, what are you looking forward to when all this is over?

Matt Mullenweg: Uh … You know, I think just getting together with friends without worry. It’s one of those things, like I said, I’m- I’m still trying to see my mom when I can, so that means that everyone else, I’m trying to avoid seeing, because I don’t want to be an unknown carrier, or asymptomatic carrier to her, so just that … you know what, I’ll pick one thing: hugs. I’m a hugger, I like giving and receiving hugs, and uh, we’re kind of not doing that right now, we’re doing elbow bumps if you- if you see someone. So just, I’m looking forward to hugs again.

Laurie Segall: Yeah, I’m- I’m with you. I can’t wait to give folks giant hugs. No time soon , no time soon, um, but- but wow. I can’t wait ’til all this is over and we can all hug each other, and I think that’s a nice way to end, with a hopeful future and hugs. 

In these times of social distancing when everything feels completely unknown, I have always believed it’s important to stay connected but I believe that now more than ever, so I say this and I mean it, reach out to us, reach out to me, keep an eye out on our social media, we’re gonna have ways to participate. You can text me, 917-540-3410. Also, if you have anything you’re thinking about, if you’re sitting in self isolation, and you wanna say something, you have questions, send me a voice memo to firstcontactpodcast@gmail.com. We’re gonna do our best to be there for everyone during this tough time, thanks for listening. 

You can connect with me, I’m self-isolating and here, I’m @LaurieSegall on Twitter and Instagram. The show is @firstcontactpodcast on Instagram and on Twitter you can find us, we’re @firstcontactpod and First Contact’s a production of Dot Dot Dot Media, executive produced Laurie Segall and Derek Dodge. I will say we’re executive producing it from home at the moment, uh, this episode was produced and edited by Sabine Jansen and Jack Regan. The original theme music is by Xander Singh.

I hope everyone is staying home and staying healthy during this time. We’re sending our thoughts to each and every one of you guys. 

So thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it and I know folks can find you on Twitter and- and all different places, and I’m sure they’ll tweet you questions, too. I- I know you’re a really, I think, important voice during this time as we all grapple, uh, you know, trying to figure out ways (laughs) to- to work from home and do it efficiently and take care of ourselves, so thanks for taking the time.

First Contact is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio.