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Balancing the Grind with Alex Draper, Founder & CEO of DX Learning

Alex Draper is the founder & CEO of DX Learning, a company that creates learning experiences that lead to new and compelling acts of leadership.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started things off as a trainee school teacher back in the UK. That didn’t workout so well when the kids I was supposed to be teaching called me Mr funny man and not Mr Draper!

I then turned a career in child education into adult education which led me to a management training company as my first job back in 2002.

This became my passion and I was very successful and due to that success they sent me to America to set up their US operations in Chicago. This is where I honed my passion and purpose around leadership and eventually started my own business, DX learning in 2015.

My current role as CEO and founder of DX learning is more about chief empowerment officer or chief empathy officer than it is anything else. We now have a team of 10 and our purpose is to wipe out bad leadership. We do this by working with people willing to listen and creating and delivering people first leadership training programs that ultimately create human centric places.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I tend to wake up around 4:00 AM, drink a glass of black coffee while reading the news and checking the business bank account. Then go to the gym for 45 mins which helps prepare myself for a day of craziness while keeping myself healthy.

That gives me about 30 minutes when I get back to prepare my to-do list and key priorities for the day before my kids, who are four and three years old, wake up around 6:30 AM. My wife has an awesome government job which means she needs to be out of the house around 7:00 AM.

So most days I play with the kids, get them breakfast, wash their teeth, get them dressed and take them to school and then start work around 9:00 AM.

I tend to have a few team member meetings to ensure that we have alignment and clarity in the morning and then it’s a mixture of replying to the hundreds of emails, client and supplier conversations or meetings. There will always be a client design session on how we can help solve a problem.

Taking a look at any proposals and quotations that the team have come up with. I usually have at least one check-in or two with a team member where I give feedback and coaching and support them.

Then spend an hour or so to tend to my social media needs and many LinkedIn emails and posts, and maybe write a blog or article. Then if I’m lucky, a little bit of thinking time to get ahead of the game for the next day or two.

We are only 7 years old, so working hard to build the processes to scale from. To lots of meetings and thinking around building these processes. I try to stop around 5:00 o’clock so that I can spend a couple of hours with the kids and my wife before the kids go to bed around 7:00 o’clock pm.

I try to get another hour of chill time with my wife and then an hour or two of replying to the emails I didn’t get to during the day and plan for the next day before going to bed about 9:00 to 9:30 PM.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes it does. even before the pandemic DX had a very flexible work environment where people could do the work where they see fit.

We did put some boundaries around that now that on Mondays and Wednesdays everyone would be in the office who are in Chicago, and apart from that people could work from home, including me whenever they want.

Before the pandemic when my kids were not at school, I used to go to the office every day as it was a chance to get away from my crazy kids and get some quiet time in the office! But now my kids are at school.

I only go to the office on Mondays and Wednesdays when my team members are there or if I have to go to the office to deliver a virtual training program. Having the ability to work from home or go to the office just means depending on the situation, I have the flexibility to do what’s right for both my family and my team.

If a kid is sick I can stay at home. If I am sick I can stay at home! if I am needed in the office I can get to the office. I think that’s the whole point of the modern workplace is to do the work where it best fits the person.

I’m also very lucky to have a wonderful mother-in-law who gives me the ability to be a little bit more flexible when she looks after the kids or picks the kids up from school.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

For me work life balance just means balance. I actually think it shouldn’t be called work life balance because we’re in a place right now where everyone should really love their work. Work should be something you are passionate about and you should enjoy it.

If that happens, there’s not really work, which means the most important word is balance. We all need balance in our lives. A balance between being there for all those that need your support. In my case it’s my team at work and it’s my family at home and how do I balance the two.

I’m working hard on ensuring those I support get what they need when they need it with a smile on their face, and everyone wins. I call that equity. The fair distribution of time, energy and resources to those that need it the most. I am not there yet.

In fact far from it. But everyone around me knows I am working hard to try to achieve balance. I am a big fan of Star Wars, so it’s all about bringing balance to the force. Right now the dark side is winning! I am trying to bring balance back.

To do that I’m blocking out my calendar with family time. I’m using my outlook calendar to ensure that everything is scheduled and within that calendar is both time for my team and time for my family. I’m working hard on saying no, but it’s not easy.

I’m a yes man and wrongly think that’s what all entrepreneurs should be. So, changing the habit from always saying yes, to sometimes saying no, is definitely one of those things I am working hard on.

I also use the Eisenhower Matrix to really understand what’s important, what’s not, what I can delegate, and what I can say no to. I try to use that at least once a week to give me the time and energy to bring balance. And that’s the hardest one for many of us is to be able to delegate and not do it yourself.

Stop tricking yourself into thinking it’s quicker and easier for you just to do it yourself, than it is for me to let someone else do it. So giving autonomy is also something I am working hard on which will give me more time to spend with my team both at home and at work.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I’m lucky to have a lot of mentors and a great coach to help me regain balance. One habit I’ve started is to write down three things I’m grateful for and one affirmation every morning.

This gets my brain in a good place and reminds me of what is good in life, so I don’t go down a dark path as I’m extremely stressed all the time. and that affirmation reminds me that I am doing good out there.

As a CEO you don’t get much praise, so giving yourself praise is ok! This replaces the habit of always getting annoyed with the things I don’t have, which stimulates negative thoughts and is just a bad way to start the day.

I also spend at least 30 minutes getting my heart rate up every day, and try to spend 30 mins lowering my heart every day. I’ve just started writing down the three most important things I must do tomorrow just before I go to bed to get my brain in a good place before going to sleep.

I’ve stopped drinking a glass of wine every night and replaced that with drinking a glass of tea. and I’ve stopped going to bed late and making sure now I am in bed by 10:00 PM. These have really helped me get back on track.

6) Do you have any favorite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

My favorite book is The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson. a great book for anyone who’s interested in psychological safety and how to build an organization that’s innovative and creative through human beings.

I also love Tasha Eurich’s book Insights. This is a book about self awareness and just how powerful it is as a human skill. We are not very self aware and in fact Tasha’s research says 95% of us think we’re self aware yet only 10 to 15% of us are. That’s another pandemic!

Adam Grant’s book Think Again is just something that helps us always be pushing the boundaries and not getting stuck in our old ways.

For podcasts I really like Freakonomics Radio and The Hidden Brain. Definitely recommend my newsletter, People First Leadership!

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Apple! All of it! Asana is a life saver for communication and project management. My reMarkable 2 is just the bomb, as I have to write everything down. Now I can write everything down and save trees!

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Richard Branson. How does that man smile so much yet get so much done.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

You can’t have balance unless you love your work. So if you don’t love your work you have no passion for it, you don’t enjoy the people that you work with, then get out.

There is no such thing as work life balance unless you love your work. This is such a great time in the world to reevaluate what we value in life, and we should all value balance and family should come first.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.