Founders / Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Andrew Conner, Co-Founder at Levels

Andrew Conner is the Co-Founder at Levels, a health and wellness startup committed to advancing personalized health knowledge.

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

I’m a co-founder at Levels. We’re helping people improve their metabolic health (energy levels, weight management, athletic performance, long term health) using wearables and personalized analysis of body responses to foods and activities. I wear a bunch of hats, and primarily focus on engineering.

Before that, I led a team working in Google Voice, making business phone service modern and more valuable. And before that, I helped build Kifi, a social bookmarking product that Google acquired in 2016.

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

Having a daily structure keeps me focused on deep work and balance. I structure my day with my calendar, to clearly separate “maker” time from “manager” time. I also take advantage of our remote-first working style, and work over a longer period of time with large breaks during the day.

I wake up early, and start the day with an hour for myself, centered around reading, coffee, and time with family.

Once I start working, usually at 7:30am, I structure most of my day in 90 minute blocks. I’ve experimented with shorter and longer blocks, and 90 minutes seems to work best for me. It’s sufficient time to make meaningful progress on a project. These blocks are either dedicated to deep work, where I turn off all notifications, or process work like calls/emails/interviews.

My days vary based on how much deep work or process work I need to get done. Some days I’m meeting with several people—in and out of our company—and others I can focus on projects.

I usually take at least two hour-long breaks, often walking outside while listening to audiobooks, calling friends/family, or just being quiet. Having a dog helps.

Usually, by 6pm, I wrap up working, but there’s no hard limit.

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

We built Levels from the ground up to be remote-first. For a startup, capital efficiency and finding great people are critical. For a long time, these needs were at odds. Fundamentally, though, talent is evenly distributed, and you don’t need to live in Silicon Valley to be the perfect fit.

If you have a strong team with a compelling mission, hiring remotely means you will have a huge group of interested candidates. Even before quarantine, I’d estimate there’s easily 10x more candidates interested in remote-first teams than teams who are hiring.

Taking a co-located team and adding remote people is hard, though. The best way to approach this is to build communication strategies from the ground up to work well with remote schedules. This way, we can prioritize deep work, while having intentional ways of keeping everyone plugged in.

We rely much more on written documentation and memos, and have a lot of leeway for asynchronous communication. Many co-located teams rely heavily on immediate, synchronous communication, but this destroys deep work. Remote doesn’t mean the team immediately shifts to accommodate asynchronous communication, but makes it a lot easier.

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

Many people believe work-life balance means strict separation between “work time” and “life time”. In my experience, this is both difficult, and not the most important outcome. Often, even if you’re not checking email late at night, work can consume your thoughts so that you’re not really “off”. Other times, time dedicated for work is invaded by real-life.

Balance comes from being centered, providing fuel to all parts of you. For some people, this means they’re working many hours because they’re doing what they love. For others, this means there should be clear “no work” time. Importantly, there should be intention into goals, fulfillment, mind, body, and spirit.

Here are a few prompts I have written down and think about often:

  1. What am I doing physically today?
  2. What am I creating today?
  3. How have I played today?
  4. What have I learned today?
  5. What have I done to make progress on long-term goals?
  6. What have I done for someone else?
  7. Have I eaten well and practiced good sleep hygiene?

I’ve found having longer, intentional breaks mid-day provides a mechanism to answer many of these positively.

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

Writing things down into lists. I recommend everyone finds a system that works (GTD, Bullet Journal, Daily Manifest, or mine, Append List System). I certainly don’t have the memory to track everything that I need to do, so operate nearly exclusively off of lists and notes.

As a close second, over the past year I quit my obsessive habit of following the news and listening to quick-to-produce podcasts, and transitioned to listening to audiobooks. I’ve become a better thinker as I’ve trained myself to slow down and sit with ideas for longer.

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

It’s the budding age of the independent writer, and there’s many great writers building newsletters. Though specific favorites are quite individual, I recommend that everyone finds some blogs and newsletters that are about things you love.

Some of my favorite blogs include Marginal Revolution, Star Slate Codex, Epsilon Theory, Stratechery, Nesslabs, Derek Sivers, and Jason Kottke. I’m subscribed to too many newsletters to count.

Books are also incredibly individual. For something that’s perhaps outside of the normal productivity-centric reading many of your readers may do, I recommend Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt was also particularly meaningful to me to understand and empathize with America’s large political divide.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Sleep and eat well. For myself, quality sleep is incredibly important for me to work effectively. Food is also the single most important driver into long term health.

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

Derek Sivers. I admire how he’s structured his life after achieving financial success, and think what he’s done after making money has been more meaningful than before.

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

Don’t forget to move! A lot of people have learned recently the hard way that working in an enclosed environment and being stationary all day has awful knock-on mental and physical effects.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.