Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Anna Mackenzie, Co-Founder of lady-brains

Anna Mackenzie is the Co-Founder of lady-brains, a platform dedicated to helping early-stage founders and their businesses grow, so they can live more fulfilling, meaningful and sustainable lives.

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

I studied Commerce and Arts at the University of Melbourne and landed a graduate role with Japanese retailer Uniqlo, as part of the founding team to launch the brand into the Australian market.

This took me over to Singapore and Tokyo, where I learned how the retailer operated from the store level right up to individual head office departments, providing me with the context and understanding to help establish the brand here. This role was my first look into how a global business operates across markets, and how processes, procedures and structures can be built to create efficiency and make teams more effective.  

Next up came my dream job at Mecca, Australia’s largest beauty retailer. Here, I worked directly with the Creative Director and founder Jo Horgan as the Concept Development Lead, leading big teams and large projects to develop and deliver ‘store of the future’.

A large part of my role was spent travelling overseas to places like New York, Bangkok, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, LA, and Singapore, to discover the most exciting innovations in retail. This role was a massive step up and big stretch for me. Jo really believed in my potential, and I’ve always been grateful she backed me despite being young and green. It was a wild time in my career!  

During my time at Mecca, my friends and I started a passion project; the lady-brains supper-club, which was a dinner series for entrepreneurial women to connect and share ideas over great food and wine. This expanded to include a podcast interviewing female founders, and after landing a big network contract we decided to take the leap into the business full-time. Scary! 

It was a hard decision to leave my job at Mecca, but I knew that if I didn’t take a chance on the business I’d always regret it. 3.5 years later, my business partner Caitlin and I have grown our community and launched lots of new products and services, travelled to New York to interview some incredible guests, landed a partnership with Afterpay Australian Fashion Week two years in a row, been nominated as the best business podcast in Australia, and invested in our first female-led business from our community. It’s been a wild ride! 

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

My co-founder Caitlin and I have a loosely structured week: Mondays are for internal meetings, Tuesdays are for external meetings, Wednesdays have a strictly no-meeting policy, Thursdays are spent in the podcast studio or running workshops with clients, and Friday is a day of admin, catch-up and clean-up. 

On Mondays, I write down the big-ticket items that I must complete by the end of the week. These include tasks that will move the business forward and importantly, drive sales. Each week and each morning I look at the tasks on my to-do list and ask myself ‘what is the highest leverage thing I can do this week?’. It’s so easy to get distracted with emails, meetings, and admin, so by identifying important tasks upfront I’m clear on where my focus needs to be. 

I can’t start the day without coffee, so getting my morning caffeine fix is the priority! But once I’ve done this, I tend to get straight into work. Mornings are when my mind is the clearest, so I try and spend the first few hours of the day working on new product development, big partnership proposals, or writing. 

In the afternoons I focus on smaller tasks, like responding to emails, talking to our community, taking phone or Zoom meetings, managing our cash flow, catching up with brands, or doing research on upcoming podcast guests. 

While it’s not always possible, I try and clock off around 5 or 6pm and go to a yoga class. Intentionally winding downing after a day’s work is critical for my wellbeing. Throughout COVID I got into a bad habit of working 24/7 (there was little else to do!) and it wasn’t uncommon for me to be checking emails until midnight.

This always-on behaviour really impacted my mental health, and so now after a day’s work I have some non-negotiable rituals like journaling and building Lego while listening to a light podcast that help me switch off and rest.

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

One of the big upsides of being our own boss is that we can design our work situation to suit our lifestyle. Given most of our business operates online (apart from IRL events), we can really work from anywhere!

My business partner Caitlin recently moved from Melbourne to Sydney, and we have contractors from all around Australia, so we’re well versed in how to work well together from afar. I tend to work from my desk, in the garden if it’s a nice day, at cafes, on my apartment building’s rooftop or by the pool, at the podcast studio or from a co-working space, depending on how I feel on the day.

I do love the flexibility this setup provides, but I’m not going to lie, there are times when I miss seeing Caitlin face-to-face or going into a hustling and bustling office (like I did earlier in my career). Sometimes working for yourself can be a bit isolating, so I always try to make an effort to catch up with friends or work acquaintances a few times a week.  

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

I think the concept of work-life balance is fundamentally flawed. There are so many things competing for our attention: our job, career or business, family, friends, health, adventure, fun, money, passions, hobbies, travel…the list goes on. But can you ever truly ‘balance’ all these things? And what does balance actually mean? Does it mean allocating time and energy to each bucket equally?

This definition of balance; allocating time and energy equally to important areas of our lives; really sets us up to fail. Honestly, I think it’s an impossible task. We only have 24 hours in a day and our energy is a finite resource, so we’re limited in terms of what we can do. 

I don’t think about balance like a seesaw, I think about it as something more amorphous and fluid. Sometimes areas of my life need more, sometimes they need less, and all I can do is make the best, most conscious decision about where my priorities lie and communicate that respectfully to those around me. 

For example, the last few years the business has taken most of my time, energy, and attention at the expense of other areas of my life. Now, while a lot of my attention is still on the business, I’m also spending more time looking after my mental and physical health, and prioritising fun activities like travel. 

I think a better label to use is ‘work-life harmony’. A harmonious relationship between work and other areas of your life may not look like balance. At times, it may be imbalanced but harmonious.  

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

Building healthy habits after creating some unhealthy ones during COVID (did anyone say workaholic?) is one of the hardest but most rewarding things I’ve done. 

In order to move my body and find a way to switch my brain off, at the start of this year I took up Poi, a form of dance which uses weights at the end of tethers that are swung through rhythmical patterns. On a nice night, it’s not uncommon to see me in the backyard for 2 or 3 hours, listening to music and learning a routine. I love it! 

I’ve always written a journal and doing a daily stream of consciousness entry is almost like my personal therapy. It allows me to clear my head and leave my frustrations on the page.

Another ritual that keeps me present and helps me wind down before bed is my skincare routine. From working at Mecca for almost 5 years, my skincare cabinet is overflowing. I love to spend 10-15 minutes before bed doing my routine, and it’s another signal to my brain that I’m slowing down and getting ready for rest. 

All of these are really important for my wellbeing, but a change that’s had the biggest impact has acutally been the simplest; leaving my phone on its charger at night in the office instead of next to the bed. It’s such a tiny thing but I cannot overestimate how life changing the impact has been.

Without the temptation to stay up scrolling until all hours of the night, I’m getting better sleep, waking up with more energy, and generally feeling happier and healthier throughout the day. Highly recommend!  

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

I’m a book and podcast addict and I listen and read constantly! My favourite style of podcast is the anonymous one; I can’t get enough of ‘Where Should We Begin’ by Esther Perel and ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich’ by Ramit Sethi.

Both are anonymous therapy and coaching sessions and they help the audience reflect on their own behaviours, beliefs and internal narratives. I also love ‘Everyone Has an Ex’ by Georgia Love for a bit of light listening. It’s an anonymous documentary-style podcast that shares the wild stories of breakups. 

When it comes to books, I read absolutely everything. Fiction is a bit of an escape for me, but I also love reading non-fiction to learn. Some of my recent faves are Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday, Principles by Ray Dalio and anything by Nora Ephron. 

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

I’m not much of a gadget person – all I need is my phone, my laptop, and my AirPods. 

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

As a chronically ambitious person I’d love to hear how pioneers have achieved some sense of work-life harmony: Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, Hilary Clinton, the first female nominee of a major US party, Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. The questions I’d be asking would be ‘how much did you have to sacrifice?’, ‘how happy and fulfilled were you?’ and ‘if you could do it all over again, what would you change?’.

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

All I’d say is that wellbeing looks different for everyone. Just because someone else’s habits or self-care routine works for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you. You have to take the time to figure out what’s right for you! I will never be someone that gets up at 6am, goes for a run and takes an ice cold shower, but that’s ok! I’ve taken the pressure off myself to find the ‘perfect’ routine or ‘perfect’ balance, and I’m doing what makes me feel whole, happy, and fulfilled. 

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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.