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Sali Hughes: Finding the Focus to Write and Report Remotely

Sali Hughes Freedom App user

At Freedom, we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, bestselling authors, editors, journalists, developers, illustrators, designers, academics, coaches, podcast hosts, explorers, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and passionate go-getters. We love to share their stories, advice, and process because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?

Meet Sali Hughes.

Sali Hughes is a journalist, presenter, and broadcaster, specializing in beauty, women’s issues, and film. A former magazine editor, she has written extensively for Grazia, The Observer, Vogue, Elle, Stylist, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Net-a-Porter to name a few. She is Contributing Editor for Red magazine and a popular resident columnist on The Pool and Empire. She is also a Beauty Editor for The Guardian, where she is known for her intelligent, straight-talking advice and honest product recommendations that are recognized across the beauty industry as having “the Delia effect” on sales.

Sali is also a very experienced radio broadcaster, appearing frequently on BBC Radio 4. She has made many guest television appearances on Sky News, BBC2’s Newsnight,  ITV’s This Morning, Good Morning Britain, and Lorraine. She has also appeared as a beauty expert on a number of consumer shows and her own popular YouTube series of “In The Bathroom With…” interviews has won three major beauty industry awards.

In 2016, she accepted a prestigious invitation to address The Oxford Union, arguing that beauty, feminism and substance are not mutually exclusive. In 2018, she co-founded Beauty Banks, a non-profit collective providing essential toiletries to Britons living in serious poverty.

In addition to her already impressive resume, Sali was written two bestselling books, Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion, and Pretty Iconic: A Personal Look at The Beauty Products That Changed The World, both published by 4th Estate. Her third, Our Rainbow Queen, was published this spring by Penguin, and her fourth is due for publication by Fourth Estate in spring 2020. When she’s not writing, reporting, or presenting, she lives in Brighton with her two sons and husband, TV comedy writer Daniel Maier.

With so many roles to juggle and an extensive list of accomplishments to match, we decided to sit down with Sali to learn a little more about how she finds the focus to do it all.

How did you know that you wanted to be a journalist, writer, and broadcaster and what were your first steps in making this your career?

I never wanted to be anything else. I told my father when I was four that I planned to become a writer and he just said “fine, go on then.” I realize now that this was an incredibly big deal. We didn’t have any money, there were no professional writers in the family. And yet despite my family’s many faults, no one was ever assumed to be incapable. After that, it was a lot of hard work and some really good luck – like everything good is. I don’t believe in fate at all.

At what point did you realize that tech was taking a toll on your productivity, time, and relationships?  When did you know that you had to do something about it?

I don’t think there’s ever been a time since social networking began when I haven’t known this. It’s a tricky balance for writers because social networking has become a significant part of our job – especially for us at-home freelancers who in Twitter, finally found an ‘office environment,’ and a water cooler around which to gather and chat. It’s also vital for my career that I maintain Instagram. But there is a tipping point where you realize you’re giving all your time, and all your thoughts and ideas, to the internet, and that’s standing in the way of your professional and creative progress. I think I downloaded Freedom for the first time (on a fellow author’s recommendation) when a reader tweeted me to say they’d just pre-ordered my first book on Amazon. I had barely started it and it jolted me into terrified action. There is simply no way I would have completed that book, nor many projects since, without the software.

How do you prioritize what gets your time and attention each day?

What I’m being paid for comes first. It sounds mercenary, but I’m a freelancer. I am paid only for what I do and my family needs food and heating. 

How do you stay focused and motivated on a daily basis? Do you have a routine, ritual,  or process that helps to get into a productive flow?

It is incredibly difficult when you work at home. I am a natural procrastinator and some times are worse than others. It can be crippling. My advice would be to keep your phone in a different room and don’t pick it up first thing. It’s extremely easy for a “quick check” to turn into an hour (I use Moment to try to keep iPhone use under 2.5 hrs a day). I do think that being showered, dressed and made up at a reasonable hour makes me more productive than writing in my pajamas, tempting though that is. It just gives demarcation to the day, which is important. I also think a healthy amount of fear is a good thing. If I don’t work, I get into trouble and I don’t get paid. And someone else might write what I was going to write, and it’ll be all my fault for not getting there first. I can’t let any of that happen and so it scares me into acting. It’s a fine line though, as too much fear can be paralyzing. 

How do you optimize your environment for productivity and focus? How do you incorporate Freedom into your schedule?

When writing, I need to make sure all my research is in front of me before I switch on Freedom, otherwise I’ll have to pick up my phone, which is a disaster. And so I’ll always have multiple tabs open on my browser, so that I can access them without connectivity. If there’s too much I need, I’ll have copied and pasted all the important stuff onto a Pages document before I start. I get around 3500 emails a week, so I’m a huge fan of an Out Of Office reply. I frequently let people know that I’m writing offline and they’re unlikely to hear back until I’m done. 

What resources or tools do you use daily and have found most beneficial to your working process?

If I’m writing a column on a news story, I will use only the BBC or broadsheet newspapers as sources. I have apps and subscriptions for The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Washington Post and The New York Times, and the BBC site is kept permanently open on my laptop. I do all my research and leave open any useful tabs, so I can still access the information I need when Freedom cuts me off. I use the Moment app to track my phone use, which is vital. Every time I start a book, I decide to finally get my head around using Scrivner software, as many of my writer friends find it indispensable. But I always get completely confused, abandon it, and go back to writing on Apple Pages.

What projects are you currently most excited about?

I have a book called Our Rainbow Queen that was published in May 2019. It’s an exploration of how the Queen communicates subtly through clothing. It was a hugely fun and joyful project to research and write. My next ‘proper’ book comes out next spring and will cover fashion, beauty, relationships, food, friendships and more.

What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay healthy and productive?

I walk a lot. I have always been someone who’s prone to a disappearing act. I like to just leave my environment and be on my own for a bit. I find cooking extremely calming and reassuring – the chop-chop-stir-stir routine is great for winding down, and the process is creative. Also, feeding my family is a useful way of diminishing guilt over my stupid working schedule.

Where are you currently based?

At home by the sea in Brighton, which I love. I feel very lucky indeed. I travel to London twice a week for meetings and there’s frequent overseas travel. But most writing happens here.

To learn more about Sali or her work, you can visit her site at or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @SaliHughes