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Balancing the Grind with Az Yousaf, Managing Director at Elephants Can Dance

Az Yousaf is the Managing Director at Elephants Can Dance, a digital agency providing UX, UI, development, analytics and data services.

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

I studied Economics and then a Masters in Computer Science and sort of fell into the advertising industry in Australia.

I worked for global ad agencies for 13 years before setting up Elephants Can Dance because I just thought there was a better, simpler way to deliver digital solutions that actually worked and delivered value.

I’m the Managing Director at ECD and we offer UX, Design, Marketing Technology, Analytics and Digital Transformation services to clients across Australia and South East Asia. We also have a dedicated Salesforce Marketing Cloud Practice.

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

Typically I’m up around 7am (I need at least 8 hours sleep!) and start the day reading through local and international news for 15 minutes. Then a quick check of email and Slack and what the day’s schedule is with regards to meetings.

After that it’s all about getting my eldest daughter to school, spending a bit of time with Lucy, our very energetic Australian Shepherd and getting prepared for our first team meeting.

I follow a 18/6 intermittent fasting protocol so I don’t eat anything until around 1pm which I have found helps me focus. I’ll try and arrange significant meetings in the morning or early afternoon because of this.

Outside of that, the morning is for operations and business strategy. After being desk bound for the morning, I’m ready to get out and about and focus on our people and the relationships with our clients (both current and new).

We have our second team meeting at 4.30pm which is usually 15 minutes. The morning meeting is a stand up where everyone runs through what they are focusing on and the afternoon meeting is more of a casual check in.

Between 6pm – 7pm I spend time with the family and then head back to the computer again until about 8pm.

8pm – 9pm is usually when I get to do some exercise and from 9-10.30pm I’m winding down and trying to think about things other than work – this currently involves hitting the couch with my wife and watching a bit of Netflix. I’m typically in bed by 11pm

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

Providing flexibility and helping our team find a balance between work and the rest of their lives has been a fundamental part of our business from day one.

We provide the platforms and the equipment to allow for remote working. Moving the whole team to work remotely due to Covid-19 was relatively straight forward as we were already set up that way.

We also finish at 3.30pm every Friday which means the team can get on with their weekends.

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

There seems to be this obsession with getting up at the crack of dawn and then grinding it out all day. I know many people that have tried this approach but from what I can see, their lives lose balance and happiness over time.

To me, work doesn’t mean waking up in the middle of the night and focusing on my ‘tasks’ all day. And similarly life doesn’t mean doing an hour of work in the morning and heading to the beach for the rest of the day. I feel the two need flexible co-existence so that each can deliver a level of fulfilment that neither can individually.

I have a very clear vision of where my work life and my personal life are heading and I aim to move forward towards that vision every day but I try to stay flexible and relaxed so I can appreciate the journey.

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

The challenge most business leaders have is finding the time to work ‘on the business’ as opposed to ‘in the business’.

Building a super passionate team, enabling them to do great work and supporting them in whatever way they need is one way that helps take the leader out of the day-to-day running of the business and focus on strategy and growth.

As our business matures I’ve focused much more on team enablement to allow me to keep some balance in my life.

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

I listen to podcasts when I’m exercising – I listen to them at double speed which means I get through more information but I think it also helps me to go harder in training!

There is only one podcast I listen to regularly and that’s How I Built This with Guy Raz. I’m obsessed with stories about how people have built successful businesses and I’m always amazed how much luck and making the most of opportunities that come up have to do with it as opposed to simply working really hard. That is a great insight right there.

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

Unfortunately my phone and laptop have become an extension of me – similar to most people but I generally try and stay off social media and all of the different digital entertainment options out there.

I use Evernote to keep track of everything and the Google suite of tools ensures I can be effective at work from wherever I am in the world.

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

We’re constantly being fed information about ‘what successful people do’ which makes us want to emulate them – get 6 hours sleep per night, focus on work all day and be a billionaire by the time you reach 30.

Unfortunately we can’t all be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. But what we can do is think about what makes us happy and actively move towards creating that life.

If I could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, it would be with those people that are successful and genuinely happy doing what they love – Richard Branson comes to mind.

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

With our lives becoming busier it’s important to carve out time for family / friends and importantly, yourself. Everything is about balance and it’s easy to become too focused on one thing, which lets those other things not get the time they need to flourish.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.