Balancing the Grind with Ashlee Chapman, Chief of Staff at Vygo

Ashlee Chapman is the Chief of Staff at Vygo, a company empowering students to support each other and universities to create impactful peer mentoring and student support programs.

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

I studied Law and throughout university spent time working in prisons, interning at a death-row firm, volunteering at legal clinics and paralegalling at commercial and tech law firms. I also spent a year as an associate to a Supreme Court Justice.

I accepted a graduate job as a management consultant at Bain, where I got to work in various industries, solving unique business and social impact problems. I’m currently the Chief of Staff at Vygo, an EdTech startup, working with a devoted and passionate team to give every human a world-class educational opportunity.

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

No day ever looks the same in my role, mostly due to the fact that the Chief of Staff role at a startup is responsible for juggling so many dynamic priorities. Yesterday is a good example of what a work day could look like.

I started my day with a quick session at the gym, and logged onto my computer at 8.30am, to go through my various inboxes and collect my tasks, using David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” task management system (I always start my day like this).

At 9.30, I wandered down to my local cafe and spent 2 hours doing some deep work (mostly analyses and sharing relevant insights) as I sipped on my soy cappuccino at the cafe. At midday I had a zoom meeting with another executive at Vygo and afterwards, I took a 30-minute lunch break with my housemates.

After lunch, things got a little busier, as I flicked between some follow-up emails, sent out company-wide communications and created some agendas for upcoming meetings. As I know my energy is usually lower in the afternoons and because I had an early evening interview with a candidate, I took a half an hour break at 4.30 and chatted with some family.

At 5pm, I logged on for my final meeting, which went great, and at 6.30pm I closed my laptop and did not open any work-related messages for the rest of the night.

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

Work-life balance for me means that I can do my job and don’t have to compromise on any of the things I value. I’ve thought hard about what those include and they can be summed up in 4 buckets: 1) Quality time for relationships, 2) Good physical health, 3) Mental well-being and 4) Time to myself. 

To achieve a good work-life balance I make sure I constantly set and communicate my boundaries with the people I work with (both my managers and my team). For example, outside of hours I do not check any of my work inboxes, I have all notifications switched off and no apps on my phone.

Everyone knows that to reach me out of hours they have to call, and the threshold for calling is “this call can’t wait until tomorrow”. I also keep my calendar extremely visible and detailed. If I have lunch with a friend, I will put that lunch in my work calendar, so that people know I am unavailable because I am having lunch with a friend.

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

I change habits a lot, sometimes those are good and sometimes those are negative.

For example, I’ve probably not gone to the gym as much as I would like, mostly because I’ve been a little lazy. But I have told my boss that I am not going as much as I would like, which has made me feel more accountable.

I recently signed up for a new gym with more regular classes at all hours of the day and no requirement to sign up in advance, and in the past month I have been going a lot more.

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

I read a lot, so it’s hard to narrow it down (I’ve read about 40 books so far this year). At Vygo we have a book club – we do a mix of books that are non-fiction – work-related and fiction – just for the enjoyment of reading! The best non-fiction I have read this year was Culture Code by Daniel Coyle and the best fiction I’ve read lately was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

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

Jacinda Ardern! Because she’s wickedly impressive with such a full plate and family life. 

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

I want to stress the importance of leadership at companies having a visible healthy work-life balance as their example helps shape a culture where all employees feel comfortable creating and maintaining their own healthy balance.

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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.