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Balancing the Grind with Anna Marshall, Founder of People Mastery

Anna Marshall is the founder of People Mastery, a leadership development consultancy, and is the author of On Your Marks, Get Set…Lead!: A Beginner’s Guide to People Leadership.

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

I emigrated to Australia from Scotland in 1995.  I was in the throes of completing my thesis for my Master of Science in European Policy Law and Management program when I arrived in Broken Hill, far west New South Wales. 

I discovered there was not much call for European Policy, French, German and Spanish there, so I undertook a variety of roles  – legal secretary, business guide writer, Executive Assistant – before landing in human resource management. 

I secured a human resource manager position with Australian Inland (who were later acquired by Country Energy) and then moved to a learning and development role with Snowy Hydro Ltd, who run the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme and the current Snowy 2.0 expansion project.

I supplemented my on-the-job learning with a Graduate Diploma in HR through Deakin University and coach development.  From small beginnings I developed and led the learning and development team and worked with the CEO and his leadership team to transform the culture.

In 2013, chasing variety I founded my own leadership development consultancy: People Mastery.  I’ve been leading People Mastery for eight years now. We offer leadership development, culture transformation, systems design and development services to our clients.

This year I’ve taken on a new role: author.  I’ve written my first book: On your marks, get set… Lead! A beginners guide to people leadership which is available in good bookshops and online now).

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

I like to get up at 6 AM and enjoy a quiet and calm beginning to my day – breakfast followed by some focused, uninterrupted work time in my PJ’s as my brain works best in the early morning.  Then as my kids rise, I click into mum mode – breakfast and school drop-off.

Back at my home office, I checked in with my Systems and Logistics Manager about our plan for the day. My day may involve a three hour virtual classroom, coaching sessions, meetings with clients, project meetings with my team, writing articles for the media, or putting together a proposal for a client and often all of the above.

I always take a break for lunch and eat something healthy and sustaining. And since I broke my neck in a car accident in 2015, my routine has also included a 26 minute power nap to boost my energy.  Then it’s back into it until school picks it up in the afternoon. If I’m lucky I might get a few more hours after afternoon tea to keep moving a few things forward.

Then I go for a twalk (walk and talk) with my friend and my chocolate Labrador, Baxter, to get some fresh air and exercise.  I’m very grateful that my husband usually cooks dinner for the family and we all sit together and chat through our days.

The evening is usually full of domestics and if my husband and I can squeeze in an episode of a British crime thriller on TV we’re winning! Bedtime for me ideally is at 10 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. I’ve been working from my home office since I started my own business in 2013. My whole team works remotely, and I have previous experience working in a fully remote coaching team – they are the most connected teams I’ve worked in.  I don’t think I could go back to working in a shared office space as I find it highly distracting.

I’m fortunate that I get to visit my clients, and work on-site in their workspaces when I’m in programme delivery mode. I enjoy the variety this brings.

Many people believe, mistakenly, that running your own business provides complete flexibility in how and when you work. Whilst there is flexibility to choose, there is also a huge responsibility to flex for your clients. Managing their expectations and family commitments can be challenging at times, and in a small business cash flow can at times dictate the extent to which you can flex or not.

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

Balance for me means harmony, and that does not necessarily mean that there is a clear split between work and life.

I think running my own business and having a family means I need to be agile and I am grateful that I have a husband who considers family and home duties a team sport so that we can both flex to meet both family and work commitments as they arise. 

As Confucius said “choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”.  Whilst I certainly don’t think I have it nailed, I have way more harmony running my own business than I’ve ever had working for an organisation.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

When I’m out of balance my remedies are: baking a cake (my husband calls this therapy baking), listening to the sound of the ocean, going for a walk and sitting quietly in nature and writing haiku.

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

This year I’ve been writing my book, so I developed a writing routine.  I started each day at 6 AM with the goal of writing 1000 words, which would take me between 1½ to 2 hours every morning. I did this until the book was complete, which ended up being around 75,000 words. I was really proud that I stuck to my commitment and achieved my goal – I can be tenacious when I choose to be.

Whenever I’m starting a new habit or routine I use Michael Bungay Stanier’s formula (author of The Coaching Habit): triggering event + stop doing + start doing.  For my book project, this becames: I get up in the morning (triggering event), instead of focusing on a work project (stop doing), I will write 1000 words for my book (start doing).

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

Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, changed my world. Such an excellent depiction of what goes on in teams and is my ‘go to’ book for the work I do every day.

I’ve just finished reading What happened to you; Conversations on trauma resilience and healing by Dr Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey.

I consider it essential reading for anyone who wishes to deeply understand people and how they’re showing up in the world.  For fun, I’ve devoured all the Jane Harper books, she has an exceptional talent for creating evocative settings.

On occasion I tune into Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us.  She has excellent questions and interesting and knowledgeable guests.  I’ve also recently discovered Chat 10 Looks 3, Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb’s podcast.  They are such talented, insightful, intelligent women and I enjoy listening to their banter.

A newsletter I love is 3-2-1 Thursday by James clear, author of Atomic Habits. It fulfils its promise of being “The most wisdom per word of any newsletter on the web”.

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

I love my reMarkable. The calligraphy pen makes my messy handwriting look neat! And it has been a fabulous step towards my goal of having a paperless office.

Audible enables me to learn whilst I drive, or do mindless domestics.  Cleaning never seemed so good! I also rely on WhatsApp as a way of keeping in regular touch with my family and friends who live overseas. 

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

I’d love to hear Dame Quentin Bryce’s advice on work-life balance. I still remember her comment in an interview with Kerry O’Brien some years ago, “You can have everything, but not at the same time.” I reflect on this insight frequently.

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

One upside of Covid has been that it has detoxed our diaries.  If you’re lucky it may have restored some balance to your life. 

As restrictions reduce and the social aspects of our lives increase again, take a moment to pause and reflect: which items should remain banished, never to darken your diary again, and which enriching and invigorating items should rightfully return to your schedule?  Take full advantage of this incredible opportunity to reset.

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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.