I think a healthy mind can be the whole difference that allows us to thrive - Clo S. (This Too Shall Grow)

Clo S. is the founder of This Too Shall Grow and in this interview, she shares insights on the topics of mindful UX and digital wellness, but we also get to learn more about her work, projects, and her favourite tools.

I think a healthy mind can be the whole difference that allows us to thrive - Clo S. (This Too Shall Grow)

Clo S. is the founder behind This Too Shall Grow, a one-person UX studio, consultancy, and coaching practice. This Too Shall Grow combines Clo's experience of working in tech for 6 years as a web project manager, UX designer, UX researcher, and conversational designer. She strives to help you bridge the gap between your tech and your wellbeing.

The two core focus points of This Too Shall Grow are Mindful UX (tech that respects people's mental health and privacy) and Digital wellness (improving relationship between our devices and our mind). Besides running her studio, Clo publishes articles, writes a newsletter, and takes on speaking engagements, to spread knowledge and experiences about privacy online, designing mindful notifications, making our email inboxes calmer, and much more. In one of her most recent articles, Clo wrote about what designers can do about internet addiction. It is an insightful piece of content in which you will learn about internet addiction disorder, persuasive and addictive design, design implications, and more.

Clo's Digital Wellness newsletter quickly became one of my favourite reads within my inbox. She sends out a carefully crafted email packed with the best resources, tools, and tips on mindful UX, digital wellness, mental health, and privacy, every two weeks.

In this interview you will get insights about the topics of mindful UX and digital wellness in general, but Clo also guides us through her work, projects, and shares her favourite tools with us. Let us get into it!

Thank you so much, Clo, for taking your time to become a part of Creativerly's interview series. To kick this interview off, please gives us an introduction about yourself.

Hi Philipp, thank you for this chat! I’m a UX researcher, mindful design consultant, and digital wellness coach. I’m the founder of This Too Shall Grow, where I work to bridge the gap between our tech and our wellbeing. I help designers create mindful products, and I share advice on how to make our devices actually work for us, our attention, our mental health, etc. I also have a newsletter covering these topics, that I send twice a month.

Currently, you are working in the field of Mindful UX and Digital Wellness. How would you define those two terms?

Mindful UX is all about design that respects people’s mental health, mental state, and privacy. It also has a role to play on a societal level: what’s the impact on the community of users, on non-users, what values does it foster, what behaviours does it encourage, etc.? Making sure that our work is mindful should be embedded within the design process, not be something that we think of afterwards. To give you a few examples, it can be about avoiding dark patterns, using well thought-out notifications, etc. If you work on a social platform, it includes even more dimensions, such as preventing harassment and doxing.

Digital Wellness is about ensuring a good relationship between ourselves and our devices. Tech can have a heavy influence on our wellbeing, including on our habits, our thoughts, our sleep, our body, our attention and memory, etc. It’s important we make sure, first, to understand how our devices influence us, and second, to make them work in our actual best interest - which is, to some extent, person-specific.

What role are digital tools, apps, and software playing in the field of Mindful UX and Digital Wellness?

Our digital ecosystem is key. It can have, ultimately, a huge impact on our psyche and our behaviour. As end users, we have a very limited range of action when it comes to customising our software to make it work for us. It’s getting better little by little, including with Android and iOS implementing digital wellbeing features, but we don’t hold much decision-making power here. However, by learning how these mechanisms work and affect us, we gain awareness and we can adapt our digital habits. We can’t take addictive design patterns out of an app, but we can learn to recognise and avoid them.

Are there any techniques or actions everybody can incorporate to become more mindful about tech and the way it affects our wellbeing?

Absolutely! A good first step is to do an audit of what you spend time on, and how it makes you feel. Write down all the sites and apps you use regularly - you can even check your browser history to help you out. For each item you’ve listed, write down how it impacts you. Maybe it makes you feel connected, maybe alienated, maybe it’s useful to your daily life but you spend too much time on it, etc. Knowledge of your habits is key to then pick relevant actions to look after yourself. For those who are interested, I cover this whole process in my Digital Wellness workshop, from time audit to concrete solutions.

What does mental health mean to you personally?

I think a healthy mind can be the whole difference that allows us to thrive. For me, that includes feeling fulfilled, interested, at peace, and functioning well. I wish mental health was fully recognised as an inherent, make-or-break part of our holistic health, instead of being pushed into the background.

Do you think there should be a more general discussion around mindful products and how they are protecting our mental health?

Yes, and I’m happy we’re seeing progress on that side. These concerns and discussions are making their way into the non-tech, mainstream sphere. I see more and more products taking mindfulness into account, whether they’re mental health apps or non-mental health-related products that incorporate wellbeing features. It seems that lockdowns in particular have accelerated these discussions, due to the severe impact they’ve had on our mental health.

As part of your studio This Too Shall Grow, you are also creating content. How do you structure and manage content-related projects compared to studio-related projects?

I don’t have any particular way to manage them. I stick to sending my newsletter every 2 weeks, and I aim to publish one article per month, but this isn’t always feasible. I’m in the process of getting settled in a new country, where I don’t speak the language, so I don’t beat myself up if I don’t publish a new article every month.

What is your number one goal while creating content for your blog and for your newsletter?

My essential goal is to write something digestible and applicable. This means that I pay extra attention to making my writing approachable, to balancing straightforwardness and nuance, and giving relevant advice that’s easy to put into practice.

Building and growing a newsletter involves discipline and consistency. What else do you think are important factors while building a newsletter?

Consistency is a great one. Beyond the obvious factors such as quality and sharing your newsletter with the right audience, I think that putting your personality into it is often overlooked. Let your mind shine through both the content and the form. This will allow you to create a more sincere bond with your readers, and to get known not just as “a newsletter” but as the person behind the newsletter. Asking for feedback can also be useful: let your readers know they can contact you, take the time to ask directly for their opinion, etc. Another aspect I care about is to be, well, mindful of your readers. Avoid the shady moves of clickbait content, selling your mailing list, or even guilt-tripping those who want to unsubscribe. If you want to learn more, I’ve written a whole article about 15 lessons I learnt building my newsletter.

How does your process of researching and evaluating new topics to write about look like?

I don’t have to do any research specific to find new topics. I already read and watch a lot of content for my newsletter, which naturally springs a lot of ideas. I am also enrolled in a digital wellness coach training, for which I have essays and case studies to write, and that’s yet another fertile ground. As ideas come, I jot them in a Notion table and add a few lines to expand on my thoughts or to leave a few relevant sources.

When it’s time to write a new post, I look at the list and pick a topic based on 2 criteria: 1) Do I feel compelled to write about this right now?, and 2) Is it relevant to something else I can point towards, e.g. my coaching sessions, a workshop or talk I’m giving, etc.

Do you follow any productivity techniques? If yes, which one? If not, why?

I have a few ingredients that work well for me, including:

  • Going to the gym regularly
  • Sleeping early, waking up early
  • Changing work environments: sometimes at home, sometimes from a café, etc.
  • Co-working during pomodoro calls, where we work together for chunks of 25 minutes, and we check in in-between

When it comes to deep work, I also enjoy putting my phone away and using site blockers. If you want more tips, I also have an article about mindful productivity.

Mindful products also have an effect on our privacy. What are some personal digital privacy measures you encourage everyone to take?

Here are a few measures that are rather easy to implement:

  • Use end-to-end encrypted software, especially for sensitive content such as sexting and sending nudes. End-to-end encryption means that the company via which you’re sending this content can’t decipher it, they won’t be able to read it. Signal is a great app with end-to-end encryption.
  • Use a VPN. This prevents your online activity from being linked to your unique IP. ProtonVPN is a good example.
  • Don’t use the same password twice, make sure each account has its own password. You can use password managers to help you out. For instance, LessPass is a stateless password manager: it doesn’t store anything, so you don’t risk being locked out or someone else stealing your codes.
  • Regularly check Have I Been Pwned? to verify if your phone number or email was part of a data breach. If that’s the case: change your password on the account in question.
  • Use Multi-Factor Authentication. With MFA, you have an added layer of security: you have to provide username, password, as well as a third authentication means. As a result, if someone gets a hold of your email and password, it still won’t be enough for them to log in your account.
  • A camera cover can also be useful protection.

If you want to learn more, this digital safety checklist is well done, digestible and also contains scenario-specific recommendations, e.g. sexting, stolen devices, travelling to countries with censorship, etc.

Are there any dedicated projects, areas, or action points you want to focus on over the course of 2022?

Yes, there’s a lot I’m hungry for, for 2022.

First, I’ll be finishing my digital wellness coach training at the end of April. If you want help getting to a better relationship with your devices, you can book coaching sessions with me.

I’m also looking forward to launching my digital wellness workshop.

When it comes to writing, I have many ideas of articles, that I can’t wait to get out there. I am going to keep growing my newsletter, for which I recently created 3 free PDF resources. They are a thank-gift for anyone subscribing to Digital Wellness.

And finally, this year, I plan to launch my very first product. For now, however, I’ve just arrived in Berlin, where I’ll be settling in and learning the language!

Since Creativerly is all about creativity and productivity-boosting tools, let us know what your current favourite tool is, and why?

I’ve started using Obsidian to take notes for my coaching course, and I absolutely love it. It’s a super convenient Markdown tool, locally stored, with bidirectional links, a nice graph view, and lots of plugins and customisation features available. I also love how cosy and comfortable it is to use. Oh, and the personal plan is free!

Till next time! 👋‌‌‌‌

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