Joseph Paul is a Senior Creative at a London advertising agency, who happily walks through life with his wife Sarah and dog Harper. In Febuary 2022, he rallied a group of friends for a phone-free weekend at Basil and Gruff, our cabins in East Sussex. A seasoned digital detoxer, Joseph regularly punctuates his working week with time offline, seeking out the simplicity of the small things to spark his creativity.
Unplugged: You happily walk through life with your wife Sarah and dog Harper. What’s life like for you at the moment?
Joseph: We’re in the most transient stage we’ve ever been in. We’re currently living with friends in East Sussex while renovating a tiny house that we bought in London. We’ve taken on a lot in the past year, and everything feels up in the air as a result. But it’s exciting at the same time. Sarah’s very good at thriving off change, whereas I am praying for a bit of certainty and normality. We’ll probably look back at this time and think, “that was a fun few years.”
You are a Senior Creative at an advertising agency, and describe yourself as an art director who sometimes writes. Where does your interest in the creative world stem from?
I feel like it’s just how I see the world, process things, and envision ideas. It stems from within, but then there is an element of sustaining it from how you experience the world and what you expose yourself to – being a part of an agency, living in a big city, and immersing yourself in music, art, and architecture fuels creativity.
You count several household names as clients – Nike, Sainsbury’s, Dove, Hellman's, National Trust, Warner Bros Studio Tour of Harry Potter – to name a few. What’s it like to work with some of the world’s biggest brands?
It’s a privilege to work with brands that people care about. When you do the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, you know that most of the nation will see it. Nike has such an important voice in the world of sports and athletes. Half the world are Harry Potter fans!
That’s quite a fan base! Do you feel a lot of pressure to get it right?
We’re a bunch of friends trying to figure out the best thing for the brand, so I don’t feel pressure to get it right. What I do find challenging is the blank page at the start. It’s a pressure that comes from doing any sort of creative work. You often put yourself on the line when you do something that hasn’t been done before; you’re trying to make a dent in the culture, get people to pay attention, and create something unique. What we create also has to be of a certain level – and we’re almost never quite satisfied!
How do you overcome the fear of a blank page?
I get myself into the same rut every time. I sit down and expect ideas to come to me when I’m at my desk – but they rarely do. It’s usually when I’m out for a run that I have my best ideas. It’s a combination of pushing your body to its limits and being out in nature that allows my mind to wander. It sounds cliche, but I also get ideas in the shower. Your body is doing a process that you don’t have to think about, so your mind is free to start making those connections. That’s all creativity is; it’s making connections with things.
Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist?
I am quite a perfectionist. But the more campaigns I do, the more I realize how much is out of your control. You can give it your all, but maybe the budget wasn’t quite there, or the timings didn’t quite work, or the dream director was already on another job. You may have a great idea, all the ambition, a team around you, and the perfect track. But you also need the right moment culturally for whatever you are doing. So many things have to line up. I still strive for perfection, but I’ve let go of the idea that things have to be perfect for them to be successful.
You recently experienced your first stay at Unplugged. Why did you book a digital detox?
What drew me to Unplugged was being cut off from everything. I was chatting to my grandparents before we went, and they couldn’t believe that we were striving for a digital detox – when we are the generation that came up with social media. Why is it a novelty to go away and not have a phone or WiFi? But sometimes, we need to have that discipline. We’re seeing Apple and Instagram introduce features to help, like “Do Not Disturb” and screen time controls. People are desperate for a break. We just need to get ourselves off this drug of social media.
How would you describe your stay? What did you notice about spending time with friends without your phones?
We kept talking about the easing of pressure and time. We often feel as though we have wasted the day if we haven’t done a certain amount by a certain time. So we kept thinking, we’re here, we’ve got nothing to do or achieve. We don’t have our phones, so we can just be. Some people stay on their own, which is brilliant, but having this shared experience was amazing.
What did you learn from your stay?
The importance of being present. It helped me to reset and figure out my priorities. The thing I struggled with most was not taking photos. I thought about putting my phone on airplane mode. But I’m glad I didn’t because we used the polaroid camera instead. Even if I did take photos, I wouldn’t be going through all of them now. We pretend that we will look through memories all the time. But actually, it’s way more special to have 10 polaroid highlights of the trip.
This is not your first digital detox – last year, you took a whole month off social media. Why was it important for you to take some time offline?
I had loads of annual leave stacked up because I had been so busy. So I took the whole of December off. It was insane. I decided to go off all social media and delete everything from my phone at the same time. I’d had such a big year and just needed nothing. I didn’t want other people’s lives. It was a massive privilege, and I didn’t want to look back feeling like I’d wasted hours scrolling.
What will you take away from this experience?
I will take away the importance of the small things. To enjoy seeing people and taking the day as it comes. Not filling a day with a packed agenda and not being glued to my phone. Sometimes we need time just to be, which I got from being off my phone and away from distractions.
Unplugged gifted Joseph Paul a stay at Gruff and Basil.
Interview by Harriet Osborne // @harrietosborne
Photography by Joseph Paul // @josephedjohn