(Here’s how my life works was originally written in June 2017, Updated June 2023)
Stuff – or the lack of it.
In 2010 or thereabouts I decided enough was enough and that I was choking on all the Stuff in my executive home. In one fell swoop I decided to get rid of it all. Well pretty much anyway. I continued the momentum and started a blog. I called it Two Less Things after the fact that most things I got rid of seemed to almost automatically mean there was something else I could get rid of along with it. I became part of, if not the Minimalist movement in the UK. I was interviewed by James Wallman for his book and featured on Radio 4 talking about Digital Clutter, even The Telegraph did an article on my seemingly unusual ways. Years later I really don’t write much on the blog, I keep meaning to write one last entry about there being a finite amount you can talk about when on the subject of minimalism. I’ve not written it yet. I do still have very little stuff. What little I have left is spread across the world in the UK, Czech, Cambodia and now Vietnam.
A change of life
Once I’d removed all of the unnecessary physical clutter from my life I had a bit of space to think about life itself. I realised that I was really unhappy, and so as one does, decided to make work, relationship and living arrangement changes. It would be fair to say that I changed everything but my children. I became much happier. [ I appreciate I’ve oversimplified a very complex and emotionally challenging part of life here.]
I love to Travel
I’ve worked all over the globe in my previous corporate life. The US, Europe, Asia. Too many countries to list. Surprisingly though, for someone living in the UK most of their life, I’ve never been to Scotland or Northern Ireland. I started tracking the places I’ve visited in the blog category ‘Where’s Chris’. I always wanted to be come a Digital Nomad and work anywhere. I think I’ve pretty much achieved that now, but actually after you’ve not had a ‘proper’ home for some time you do tend to miss it. Even Natalie Sissons the Suitcase Entrepreneur has admitted that it would be nice to just settle for a bit. I still post the odd Instagram picture with the hashtag #digitalnomad and watch and wait for the follows and likes to appear.
The Packing List
I always travel light. More often than not I’m actually forgetting to take things these days. I’ll post up a separate entry that goes into all the details at some point in the near future. Save to say that travels consist of two kinds.
This is one big suitcase, generally empty on the way out. Then one small wheelie suitcase. Occasionally the smaller case is put inside the bigger one and I take a rucksack as a carry-on. The whole purpose of this is to take as little as possible on the way out and then bring as much as possible on the way back (generally food), maximising the 23-30kg as check-in luggage with the heavy stuff in the wheelie case.
Basically travelling as light as possible. One rucksack. This is mostly for holidays where a lot of the time I’ll have the rucksack on my back.
Often items get discarded along the way, mostly clothes that wear out or stretch or become so mud covered they are beyond ever being clean again.
Despite working in Digital, I succumb very little to it. Probably as a consequence of knowing its tricks. I have social media accounts but really don’t use them for personal use much. Despite the fact I really mean to make more use of them. There’s an awful lot of crap out there, some terrible writing, some truly awful photographs and lies and more lies. Its a shame that this completely overpowers the true gems on the internet. One day I hope it will be the other way around.
In 2017, I’ve put social media on the back-burner. I know I run a Digital Agency and it would seem unusual to not be consumed by social as that’s what a lot of my customers use, but I rarely find new customers that way.
I love good tech. Stuff that lasts and just works. I normally buy just one thing that I’m in to and buy the best I can afford, then stick with it until it wears out or breaks. Technology wears out quite fast, so new smartphones every two years or so. Computers every five or six years.
The lineup consists of:
Computer – Mac Mini M1 ( I have a 27” top of the range iMac gathering dust in London, its too big and heavy to fit in my luggage)
Laptop – 14” Macbook Pro M1 – I went around the loop of buying second hand MacBooks and old versions with the terrible butterfly keyboard. Basically they were all crap in one way or another. Apple finally sorted out all the issues, and re-introduced MagSafe connector. Back to what I said earlier about just buying the best spec you can afford and keep it a long time.
Tablet – iPad Pro M1 – I don’t use it that much but the Apple Pencil support is perfect for drawing.
eReader – Kindle – Rarely used these days, but you can’t beat it for beach holidays and its the only screen that truly works in full sun.
Smartphone – iPhone 11 Pro Max – I gave my version 6 to my other half. I can’t justify over $1000 for a phone so took the second hand route. Maybe I’ll do the same to upgrade to a 14.
The phone thing is odd but I loved the Samsung Gear Fit watch and bought a Samsung Galaxy S5 the day it came out. I thought the bigger screen was better, but it just doesn’t integrate to Apple ecosystem at all well, and some apps are not available for Android. In 2016 I bought a Fitbit watch and new iPhone 6+. I need a big screen, my eyesight just can’t cope with these small screens any more. Fitbit really do the activity tracking far better than anyone else right now and I love the Fitbit Blaze. I bought some Apps to integrate the Fitbit into the Apple health system, but I never got it to work.
As with all things the technology moved on and I abandoned the Android ecosystem and moved back to Apple. I have an Apple Watch Series 5 which I’m very happy with.
My photo gear doesn’t get used anywhere near as much as it used to. I culled all of my studio gear and accessories before we moved to Cambodia. We had two Canon 5D’s but then started taking taking the Fuji X100s as it’s smaller and lighter and the results are just as good. We both upgraded to new Fuji’s but in honesty fell back to using the X100s. In honesty we just took fewer and fewer photos.
In 2020 I started getting into video and abandoned using the Fuji’s – I ended up with a second hand Sony ZV-1 which I carry everywhere. The local camera shop then offered me a Sony A7s iii – only 6 weeks old for a price I couldn’t refuse.
I also have a Polaroid Land Camera, a 1972 classic. It costs £3 every time the shutter button is pressed, which is scary expensive. It’s in storage, so for now I make up for it with some of the iPhone apps that do the whole polaroid thing.
By essential, this is the stuff I can’t do without.
Dropbox – I took the Pro version and have 1Tb shared between my partner and I. One feature that tipped me over the edge, was the option to sync only certain folders to my computer, avoiding the filling up of my hard drive. This feature is now commonplace and I’ve ended up with every cloud storage solution and can’t seem to do without any of them.
Evernote – Again I took the Premium version, this time I was pushed as they removed the e-mail to Evernote feature from the free version. That sucked as they moved the goalposts. However given I’d been using the free version since around 2009, paying for it going forward seemed fair.
Fantastical and Google Calendar – I have them sync’d – my Google calendar is the default place for appointments.
ToDoist and Notion – I went through Omnifocus in 2017, then Things 2 and 3 and eventually ended up with ToDoist which just seems to work and integrate with everything. I moved to the paid version but now the free version is perfect for what I need. Notion is awesome, it mostly took over from Evernote and is now my tool of choice. ToDo lists are really a personal thing so I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer. I do still stick to the GTD method though. This book and the GTD methodology really was a revelation to me when I first read it.
Asana – The essential business project tracking tool. I love the fact it’s free for the first 15 people, has an app and just works. Nothing complicated about it. The reminder feature is great. I became an Asana consultant and tech other people how to use it too. Trello – disappeared in 2017, I knew it wasn’t a tool I was going to keep.
Noisli – A great way to remove the distraction of a noisy environment, of for those of us who need something audible to allow us to focus. The end of last year saw me struggle to concentrate, like I was extra-sensitive to noise. Blocking it out with Noisli seemed the only way get back into ’the zone’. I like the rain and thunder background noise, but there’s so many other variants. Its free.
We build websites for clients. We’re 100% WordPress, with our own code thrown in. I have a standard pack of plugins and just about everything runs on the Elegant Themes Divi creation. We sort of know it inside out now and it’s incredibly well supported by the makers and the development community.
Being a life long learner
I did school the wrong way round really. I used the school system to build a social life, not collect exam results. This of course meant I had to do resits and than go to college in my own time. Since then I’ve continued to learn outside the education establishments, I read a lot, mostly reference and personal development books. I’m also spending time on Skillshare (previously it was Udemy) for software development and I’m an avid TED and TED-X viewer. I would definitely consider myself a lifelong learner.
Doing Challenging and Intelligent things
I love doing new things, or doing things for the first time. Especially if there’s a mental or physical challenge attached to them. So open water diving, cross country skiing, learning to speak Khmer, riding a motorbike and many others that have somehow been needed in the last few years. We wrote a research paper, and I started two new businesses in a developing country.
As a by-product of this I realised that I love working and interacting with smart people. Intelligence is fun and becoming more intelligent should be everyone’s goal. I also discovered that being very intelligent is also a very attractive quality in women. It must be something deeply rooted in ones genes as I’m sure I can feel them stirring. Needless to say, my partner is super, super smart.
I also discovered that there seem to be less intelligent people in the workplace. ( A sweeping and no doubt incorrect assumption perhaps )
Perhaps there are less people who want to challenge the intelligence of others.
I’ve worked in so many places where as a ’senior’ manager I suggested that we should do things in a specific way. That’s fine, I’ve got years of experience and a fair number of successes under my belt. I believe I have the best of intentions when setting out team plans. But the best thing about being in this position, is when someone challenges or questions what I’ve said.
Why is this ? Well because it can’t be possible that I’m going to be correct 100% of the time. So when I’m challenged, either I learn something, the challenger learns something, possibly both. Either way we’ve just validated that the approach stands a better chance of success.
This questioning and challenge seems to be becoming a rare quality. Perhaps the workplace has become more of a tell-do environment. Maybe I’m just working with the wrong people.
Mind & Body
Lets start with the mind. A marvellous piece of machinery that is just so under-utilised. I really love trying to get just a little more out of mine.
I suffered from depression quite a few years ago now, but it changed the way I look at everything. When your mind plays tricks on you and you can’t trust it, it can be devastating. Deadly in far too many cases. My stepfather committed suicide shortly after I recovered, and I’ve taken a whole new view on the positives and negatives of depression as an illness and of how I see the world. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger as the saying goes. I’m mentally much stronger now than I ever was, and far less stressed and worried about things. My resting heart rate is low and I put a lot of that down to my mental calmness.
I learnt to meditate using the Calm App and guided meditation to start. I still love the app and especially the sound of falling rain, but I don’t need any external tools to take on a session of meditation any more. I can just switch it on at will now.
Between writing the original article and now I gave up alcohol and I generally look after my body now. I eat a balanced diet, I love fresh vegetables, good meat, mostly chicken and stay well away from processed stuff. I love a bit of nice quality bread. I learnt to cook properly a few years ago and can generally whip up something healthy in 15 to 20 mins from scratch.
I run, less than I’d like to, but successfully beat my running partner at the Angkor Wat half marathon by 25 minutes with only three training runs. My significant other said I should have run faster as “I wasn’t out of breath enough”. I had a thorough medical a while back after a bit of a change in my asthma, my report was ‘enviable for someone of my age’ said the doctor. Since moving to Cambodia and despite the awful air quality and moto fumes, my asthma has almost completely vanished.
I do struggle with my weight. Whilst not yo-yo’ing it does move up and down more than I’d like. Like most men, the weight just sits on my belly. Chris’ pizza as its known. When I’m very fat it moves to my face.
I found the 5:2 diet very successful and have moved from a whopping 14st 4lbs down to less than 12st. My waist went from a 34 to a 30. Now I generally skip meals and do lots more walking and exercise to lose the pounds.
I love swimming. From someone who couldn’t really swim at all in 2012, and was a bit anxious in open water, I’m a pretty good swimmer now. I had lessons, and see it as one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I invested in a Moov fitness device that tracked my swimming automatically. I gave that up in place of the Apple Watch and have definitely seen an improvement in my swimming overall. By watching YouTube videos I learnt to do the tumble-turn, I was so proud of myself when I learnt how to do this consistently.
I’m a natural sceptic. I question everything, mostly for the fun of it. The media is entirely questionable. Along with getting rid of my stuff in the Minimalist period of my life, I got rid of TV too. I do watch the News to find out what’s going on in the world and watch films on Netflix and computer. TV has also become like the internet I feel; the crap far outnumbers the gems.
Work and Not Work
I find it difficult to describe what I do. The Freelancer Paul Jarvis described it best when he said, “I put words and pictures in the internet and money comes out”. In honesty I do this on behalf of my clients, but the principle is the same. Saying that you run a Digital Agency isn’t that exciting, most people I think, wouldn’t know what a Digital Agency does.
Really this is only the tip of the iceberg, well maybe the tip of the tip of the iceberg. My partner once said that “my skills lie in the overlap of people and technology” how she quite managed to say it so succinctly where I’ve been struggling for years is beyond me, but she’s spot on.
This overlap has manifested itself in the following forms:
- Being an Operations Director for numerous technology firms.
- Being a photographer
- Running a few startups
- Teaching people how to run businesses
- Being an eCommerce consultant
- Coaching and Mentoring
- Running online stores
- Working with industrial robots
- Being a business advisor and mentor
- Teaching technology businesses how to better project manage
- Being a technology consultant
- Working on a long term contract with the UN
Sadly I’m of an age where only very few would consider me as an employee. I really believe that my age and experience has got me to the point where I’m now unemployable. I stopped applying for jobs, I don’t ever believe I’ll ever be given one. Hence why I always fall back on my own skills and just find people who need help with stuff and somehow turn it into an income. I think this is the way that work is moving these days.
My Morning Routine
I’m a sixties child, as a consequence my musical tastes are highly influenced by bands of the eighties. The interesting thing was that the eighties was a real musical mix. Punk, New Romantics and Rock/Heavy Metal. Which means that for those of us who like everything we have a varied and eclectic mix of tastes.
The first album I bought was Blondie’s Parallel Lines. A truly awesome album and to this day my better half uses it to accompany any sudden urge to clean and tidy. This was closely followed by the first Dire Straits album when it came out, and then Supertramp’s Breakfast in America. These are really what can all be considered as Classic Albums.
One of my school friends was a fan of this Canadian band I’d never heard of called Rush. The first time I listened to to the album A Farewell to Kings, I was simply blown away. I’d just never heard anything like this before. From then on my love of rock music grew and grew, I discovered Pink Floyd and others. As the eighties moved forward, I discovered the more popular bands of the time, The Police, Duran Duran, as well as some of the lesser known artists of the era.
There’s a line in a song that goes ‘you still listen to the same shit you did back then’ – which aptly describes me. When we visit Czechia the radio station of choice is Radio Impuls, which you may have guessed it, plays a whole raft of eighties music.
After the period in my life where I made some significant changes, I started thinking about the things in life that made me happy. Music being very high on the list, yet here I was with this great pile of vinyl albums from my teens and twenties, with nothing to play them on in my forties.
I thought to myself I could go back and buy the HiFi of the eighties that I could never afford back then, and so a plan was formed. In my head I could pick this stuff up on eBay and probably spend no more that a few hundred pounds.
How wrong was I. This stuff is still as desirable as it was back then. So that few hundred soon turned into a few thousand, but I was the man who was so proud of this retro hifi, and the sound….. it was just incredible. Putting vinyl side by side with a CD and the quality of vinyl is without a doubt far far superior to its digital counterpart.
Sadly my travels to Asia have meant putting it all in storage, worse than that, I had to sell the speakers as I just couldn’t fit them anywhere. I keep saying to myself that I’d really like somewhere to call home, where I can just sit and listen to my LP’s.
For the last two months I’ve been living in Hanoi in Vietnam. For the last
two eight years I’ve been living in Cambodia, before that in London and Cambridge between my house and that of my partner. My partner has a flat in Prague, (which I’ve only ever been in once), and her grandmothers cottage in the north of Czechia close to the German border.
The cottage is ‘work in progress’ and has been this way since I first visited. We love the cottage. Which is a good thing, as she did say once that she didn’t think she could love anyone who who didn’t love her cottage too. I once said that I felt that the cottage was the closest thing I had to home. Though home for me is where my retro HiFi and my LP’s live. (They are currently in storage)
So that’s about it. This is how my life works right now.
The post Here’s how my life works first appeared on the blog of Chris Wray in 2017 and was updated in 2023