About Jo Fairley

JO FAIRLEY is co-author (with Sarah Stacey) of the world’s bestselling series of beauty books, The Beauty Bible (most recent title: The Anti-Ageing Beauty Bible. She edits (with Sarah Stacey) the accompanying website, www.beautybible.com. A former magazine editor (Look Now, Honey), she has freelanced for everyone from The Times to YOU Magazine where for nine years she was Beauty Editor. (And has written about everything from Romanian orphans to sumo wrestling, via interviews with Yul Brynner and Bette Davis.) In 1991, Jo also co-founded Green & Black’s with her husband Craig Sams, and – in a continuing spirit of enterprise – opened an 11-room boutique wellbeing centre, The Wellington Centre, in their home town of Hastings. For fun (and reflecting her enduring love of fragrance), Jo – several times winner in The Jasmine Awards (the fragrance industry’s ‘Oscars’) - writes a scent blog, www.thescentcritic.com.

Posts by Jo Fairley

How To Follow A Social Media Diet

Book leafs in a heart shape

I’ve always been fairly convinced that nobody would go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter. But I don’t mind admitting that over the past year, my addiction to Instagram reached a level where I knew that action was required. When the first thing you do is roll over in bed in the morning, reach for your phone and scroll through photos of friends’ kids/pets/gardens, or swoon over inspirational houses or holiday destinations – well, by any measure, you’ve got a problem.

My Instagram ‘rock bottom’ happened one day just before Christmas, when my alarm went off at the usual time – and when I looked up, I realised I’d just spent an hour and a half on Instagram. I’d been suckered by their clever algorithm into frittering away 90 minutes of my life – and for what…? I wasn’t chatting to my husband, tucked up in bed beside me. I wasn’t reading a newspaper. (Not that I think there’s anything WRONG with not reading newspapers, BTW.) I wasn’t looking up from my screen to take in the beautiful view that I’m blessed with of our ACTUAL garden, out of the ACTUAL bedroom window. I was looking at pretty pictures.

Notwithstanding the fact that I’d implemented ScreenTime on my iPhone – which tells me when I’ve hit a self-imposed limit of a certain number of minutes – I was habitually over-riding the warning by hitting the button that says ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ – or (more likely) the one that says ‘Ignore Limit For Today’. (Initially, I’d gone for a 15-minute limit overall until I realised that was over in the blink of an eye. But I’d been hitting the ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ button four, five times in a day…)

The thing is, I don’t even have a particularly addictive personality. But this was bad – and I remembered a bumper sticker that my late father-in-law had on his car (he was American; bumper stickers are allowed). It read: ‘Turn off TV, turn on life.’ So I decided to adopt a similar philosophy, with Instagram. Living my life, not reading about other people’s – while also dealing with the challenge that I can’t go completely cold turkey on Instagram, because I actually have to use it professionally (@theperfumesociety and @beautybibleofficial). So: here’s how you can do the same, whether your problem is Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (or all of them).

Move your social media apps off your main screen

When you have to search for them, or even swipe for them, it gives you pause for thought. (It’s the social media diet equivalent of putting the biscuit tin in the cupboard.)

Set a timer

By all means use ScreenTime, if you use an iPhone. (It was in the most recent system update.) But pledge to obey it, OR – alternatively – set a timer on your phone that rings when your (personally allotted) time is up. I find that much, much more effective, actually; when you’ve got to leave an app to turn off an annoying alarm, you can’t ignore it – and you then have to make a conscious effort to reopen the app.

Don’t sleep with your phone by your bed

It’s probably emitting all sorts of hideous electro-magnetic radiation, anyway, which we shouldn’t have anywhere near our heads. In the early stage of my ‘diet’ I put my phone in a box on the other side of the bedroom. I’d have to get out of bed to get it (and frankly our bedroom’s so cold – I am married to someone half-Viking – I was reluctant to abandon my hot water bottle to do so). After a while I found this had helped get me out of the habit of rolling over and hitting the Instagram icon first thing, and I could safely return it to the bedside table. And beyond that, once I’d broken the habit of feeding my early morning Instagram addiction even before I’d fed my early morning caffeine addiction (which is of course an entirely different story!), it was much easier to put off my first foray into its photographic joys till later in the day because I wasn’t craving the next serotonin hit.

Make a list of your favourite accounts and restrict your ‘diet’ to these

That way you don’t have to miss out on a daughter’s smile, or your best friend’s latest baking triumph, or news from websites you really, really find valuable (like VH of course!) I’ve actually PRINTED the list of sites to check in with daily (or at least regularly) in order to ensure I’m not missing anything ‘important’, and I keep it handy. (In fact, actively visiting friends’ pages has kept me more in the loop with their lives than I was before – because the algorithm wasn’t showing them to me in my feed).

Give yourself a specific time when you’re allowed to binge

If someone keeps me waiting for an appointment or a meeting, I ‘allow’ myself to go to Instagram and gorge. Ditto: if I’m in the back of a taxi. Otherwise it’s like being told you can’t eat sugar: all you do is fantasise about cakes, sweets and ice cream. It’s easier to resist temptation if you know you’ll be allowed an occasional indulgence.

By all means post pictures – but don’t check on your ‘likes’

I still love taking photos for Instagram – it’s a real creative outlet (I’m a bit of an Annie Liebowitz manquée). And every day, pretty much, I still post something (@jofairley, if you’re interested!) But what I have weaned myself off is habitually checking who’s liked my posts or commented. I check in with that once a day (during that ‘timed’ session) – not every hour or so, as I had been. (To continue the diet analogy, this equates to a few squares of Green & Black’s at teatime, rather than a biscuit on the hour.)

It’s been quite a few weeks since I started this ‘social media diet’ – and it’s worked unbelievably well. I’m confident I’ve conquered that addiction and am not only up to speed on my magazine subscriptions – the media pile was a high avalanche risk, when I started this – but I’ve got through another pile that I’d hidden in a cupboard to stop me staring at them and feeling guilty about NOT reading them. I’ve finished several books (yes, BOOKS!) that I’d never have found time for. My Christmas ‘thank-yous’ were done and dusted in record time (I decided to write those first thing, in bed – and trust me, the feel-good factor exceeded that of Insta-scrolling, which never gave anyone a rosy glow of achievement). And I’ve had some remarkably sparkling conversations with my husband (although we can talk about his iPad Scrabble habit another time). You know what else (surprise, surprise!)? My overall concentration is vastly improved, because I am not constantly answering the tug on my attention from social media.

Let’s face it: social media isn’t going anywhere soon. But as I’ve found out, encouragingly, it is possible to control IT rather than have it control YOU – thereby avoiding a flood of regret on the day of reckoning that you’d frittered away so much time watching other people’s lives on a small screen, rather than enjoying real sunsets, real flowers and real conversations…

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Chalk board graph with icons on an ascending rightward stepped graph

I was never one of those kids who was afraid of the dark. I loved the cloak of invisibility that it gave me. And while there is nothing I love more than a bright, sunny day, I have become pretty obsessed with darkness over the years – not in an ominous way (as in ‘going over to the dark side’), but in terms of the important role it plays in my wellness.

You really ought to stay in a hotel room with me, sometime, to fully understand my obsession with darkness. I travel with a roll of black gaffer tape, the better to ensure a good night’s sleep undisturbed by the cockpit’s-worth of blinking lights that many modern hotel rooms feature. My first task, on checking in (even before switching on the kettle and attacking the free shortbread), is to eliminate as many of those lights as possible with two neatly-snipped squares of gaffer tape. Message lights on phones. TV control lights. Aircon on/off lights. Charging electrical gadgets. And of course, the light ‘leaking’ through the edges of the curtains.

What I’ve discovered is that gaffer tape can also be lightly stuck to pretty much any wallpaper (well, I mightn’t try it on a gold hand-painted mural) without damaging it. So yes, I am that weird (maybe certifiable) creature who gaffer-tapes the edges of the curtains to the hotel room walls – the most extreme example of which was in a ‘presidential suite’ a hotel once upgraded me to when they’d lost my booking. Last done up in the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency, is my guess, it featured ‘shortie’ curtains that ran along the entire 10-metre window which I then taped every inch to the wall. Exactly what kind of bondage game housekeeping thought I’d been up to when the found the tape I’d peeled off in the morning and put it in the bin, I’ve no idea – but I did enjoy a really good night’s sleep. (Why don’t I just wear a sleep mask? Because – along with earplugs – I find them a bit claustrophobic. Fine on an aeroplane when there’s no alternative, but otherwise, a no-no for me.)

By now, you may well think I’m completely tonto. But in reality, light has a profound effect on sleep. I realise I’m an extreme example in terms of how even a small level of light affects me deeply, but it’s been scientifically observed that insufficient darkness throughout the night can lead to frequent, long periods of wakefulness. Of course, we’re increasingly aware of the impact of the blue light from our phones on sleep; I’ve written before about the fact that if I look at my phone (never mind computer) after about 8.30 pm, it’s the equivalent of drinking an espresso in terms of the effect on my slumber. But experts now agree that bedrooms should be as dark as possible – which includes (as we do at home) having blackout linings to curtains, and ensuring window coverings are fitted to avoid slivers of street light or early morning light from seeping in. (Ah, so that’s why the pelmet was invented…!)

According to Cheng Chi Lee, who studies circadian rhythms at University of Texas Medical School, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests we should seek out darkness for its surprising effects on health and behaviour. There’s one particularly fascinating study in which tamoxifen was used on cancer cells in mice. One control group was kept kept in cycles of 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of complete darkness, while another the dark stage of the experiment was replaced with roughly the amount of light that might sneak under a hospital door. Even in such low levels, the cancer cells became resistant to the drug. And although this medical research was carried out on mice (and no, I’m not thrilled about that either), the scientists from Tulane University in New Orleans believe it could have implications for how cancer patients receive their treatment.

It’s well known that interfering with workers’ body clocks, meanwhile, can seriously impact on health. My hunch is that the winking lights in bedrooms and sleep environments will eventually be revealed to be more damaging than we currently understand. (But if you must have a clock with the time on? Make sure it has red digits, rather than blue or green; it’s been found to have the least impact on sleep.)

We were never built to live in such light environments as we enjoy now. For millions of years, people went to bed when it got dark and woke when it was light. Even now, when we’re lucky enough to find ourselves in nature, somewhere truly dark – and I support the Dark Skies movement, a campaign to eliminate light pollution – we feel connected to the universe in a way that feels truly primitive and (for me, at least) very, very grounding.

So while I’m eternally grateful to Thomas Edison for the invention of the light bulb – just miraculous, eh?! –it doesn’t surprise me at all to find that these unnatural, albeit low levels of night-time light may have impact on our wellbeing. If asked to make a list of our basic survival needs, food and water of course come top. Warmth, too. But I certainly know that darkness is essential for my quality of sleep, and my overall equilibrium. So if the Gaffer Tape Marketing Board is looking for a new ‘face’, I’m your woman.

Night, everyone. And lights out!

The Joy Of Lists

paper aeroplanes with single pink

If you stand still for long enough around here, someone will put you on a Google spreadsheet. Well, I exaggerate – but only slightly. Because without my list-making apps and online spreadsheets – not to mention a fair amount of list-assisting stationery – I think my life would probably fall apart. Lists, I’m fairly sure, are the secret of true happiness.

This is, of course, the ultimate time of year for lists. Does anyone on earth go Christmas shopping without one? (With the exception of my beloved, anyway?) There is something incredibly comforting about the tick, tick, ticking of people on your Christmas present list – every tick taking you closer to what we always hope will be a wonderful day with family or friends, sometimes at what feels like breakneck speed but would be even scarier if our list wasn’t basically whispering, silently: ‘Don’t worry. You’ve got it all under control here.’

I absolutely believe that lists are good for mental health. In this too-much-to-do-in-too-little-time-world, we constantly run the risk of forgetting stuff – and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t stress out. We’re juggling work, friends, family and countless other To Dos. The counterpoint to an overcrowded mind, a list ensures you don’t forget something. I think it works two ways. First off, when you write it down, you can sort of relax a bit. But also, for me, the very gesture of writing it down somehow fixes whatever it is I need to buy/do/reply to/ask someone else to do in my brain so that I’m more likely to remember that ‘To Do’ spontaneously without even needing to refer to aforementioned list. (Though I do, of course.) The key is not to fall into the trap of believing that by writing someone on a list, it’s actually been DONE – and I do know people who are guilty of that. Lists must be referred to, ticked off, referenced. Preferably several times a day.

It’s slightly against the conventional wisdom but I always have several lists going on at the same time. First off, there’s the lives-up-to-its name app Wunderlist (which I wrote about here, in another editorial, if you want to explore it in depth). I know so many people who’ve downloaded this app now that I really ought to be on a hefty commission from them. (Are you reading this, Wunderlist???) But nobody I know has regretted it or found it anything but invaluable.

Secondly, I have my 5 Days A Week planner, which goes everywhere with me and tethers me to the work I have to do each day. As a stationery junkie, I get these from a very wonderful company called Kikki K. – whose graphics are so, so appealing. I recently met Kikki K.’s founder Kristina Karlsson, instantly lapsing embarrassingly into fangirl-mode. Honestly, I don’t think I’d have been more excited to meet one of my musical heroes – perhaps Joni Mitchell or Madonna or Carly Simon (come to think of it I did once meet Carly Simon and it was just a shade disappointing, I have to report.)

Every Friday night, the last thing I do before I leave the office is to fill in the bare bones of the following week’s To Do list, with work actions for each day. These are fleshed out (and added to) as the week progresses, and it’s fair to say that a number of arrows appear on the page, moving things from Monday to Wednesday or even bouncing them into next week. But it means that every morning, when I sit down at my desk (before I do my ten minute Calm app meditation), I know about all the important things I have to prioritise that day. There are stars. There are asterisks. There’s underlining. But I honestly feel it’s like the framework to my week. Without the list, I am sunk; on the rare occasions I leave for a few days on the road for work without taking it with me, I have to get someone to photograph it and send it to me – because there’s bound to be something I’d otherwise forget, and I truly hate that feeling. (Strong word. Entirely accurate, however.) And if it’s a really, really, really busy week, I’ll ALSO use a daily planner, where I can make even more notes in the margins!

According to David Allen, a time management expert whose book on list-making – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity I have on my bedside table (yes, I am THAT sad), it’s not enough to scrawl ‘Mum’ or ‘Sainsburys’ on a Post-It note. He prescribes detail. Do you have to write an e-mail, run an errand, make a call – and what’s the purpose? Apparently, if the list isn’t clear, your tasks don’t get done. Which is why when I sometimes write a To Do in ink on my hand – like some kind of schoolgirl throwback – I can almost never remember it. I’m still staring at the ghost lettering ‘JS’ on my left hand, which I wrote yesterday and haven’t managed to remove despite several hand-washings, and can’t for the life of me remember what it means.

Of course I mentioned Google spreadsheets at the beginning of this editorial – only partly in jest. Because without them, Sarah and I, and Amy (our calm and patient Beauty Bible right-hand), and Jessie (who co-ordinates all our Beauty Bible testers and their scores/feedback) would be completely sunk. Ditto, me and my team at The Perfume Society. Different team, different Google.docs. But I am going to share a little tip that we’ve all found useful for fleshing out a Google.doc, which is to use a traffic-light colour system. Any ‘To Do’ action starts off in red. Then when the relevant e-mail’s been sent, or the call’s been made, it is turned to amber via the spreadsheet’s drop-down menu. When the action is satisfactorily concluded, it doesn’t get ticked off but is instead turned green. At a glance, everyone can look at a spreadsheet and see what still needs to be done.

Is my love of lists excessive control freakery? Am I wrong to map out my life to the enth degree, eliminating any possibility for spontaneity? I don’t think so. I like to be super-organised, sure. But personally, in what often feels like a very uncertain and scary world, lists somehow also make me feel a bit safer – even if it is a complete illusion. And if Google.docs are the equivalent of my comfort blanket, they’re probably more acceptable in an office environment than hiding in the corner with a threadbare soft toy.

On Not Giving A Damn What People Think

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I grew up with a grandmother who cared a lot about what people thought of her. She was a wonderful woman – incredibly generous, pillar of the various communities where she lived, from India to Malaya to New York and finally, the Cotswolds. But in all the years I knew her, I don’t think she ever truly relaxed – to the point I’m not sure I actually did know the ‘real’ her. Read More…

Why Sanebox Is Saving My Sanity

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I remember when so few e-mails came into my inbox – back in the mid-90s – that opening each one was exciting. Little could I have imagined then how one day, I’d find myself drowning in them. Because isn’t that what it feels like? Or if not drowning, then wading through treacle (which occasionally turns to toffee)? Read More…