Balancing the Grind with Ai Mawdsley, Chief Operating Officer at Private Media

Ai Mawdsley is the Chief Operating Officer at Private Media, the digital media organisation behind publications such as Crikey, The Mandarin and SmartCompany.

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

I’ve worked in sales, operations, M&A, finance and owned my own restaurant. I love broad ops roles where I can take care of all the backoffice functions of a business so that the core staff can best focus on what they were hired to do.

Currently I’m at Private Media, a growing digital media org with 3 online news publications – Crikey, The Mandarin and SmartCompany. 

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

I can’t sleep in anymore (I blame the kids and getting old), so I’m often exercising before work then cycling into the office by 7:45am. I block out 2-3 hours every morning to be meeting-free, so that I can zone on deeper work.

As COO of a growing biz, I get pulled into so many directions, often to solve problems or fight fires. I’ve found that protecting my best brain time in the mornings is essential to progressing chunky or difficult work – otherwise I can feel like I’m spending my whole day in meetings or reactionary, and not getting any “real” work done. This has been important for feeling like an effective human being!

My workdays are very varied e.g. yesterday I ran a training session on asynchronous communication, conducted an interview, troubleshooted a martech problem, wrote Board notes, reviewed a new HR policy, approved tax payments, reviewed 3 JDs, redefined a business process, sense-checked financials, led contract negotiations and contributed songs to our company #tunesday compilation.

At 5pm I was on pickup which meant a harried transit, cartoons, dinner, bath, stories and bedtime sequence before I could get back to work to clear a few things I wasn’t able to get to at around 8pm. Then it’s strict no-work time from 9pm onwards, otherwise I’m not able to fall asleep!

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

Absolutely. We’ve implemented a hybrid work policy where staff are required in the office 2 days a week. I’m a part-timer with my youngest not yet in Primary school, so I spend 1 day hanging out in playgrounds with him – and the other 4 days in the office.

After 2 years of working from home, I’m preferring to head in as I enjoy the bicycle commute to exercise and be a circuit breaker in the transition between work and home.

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

 Being able to manage a challenging and intellectually stimulating leadership role as a part-timer is fundamental. Key to this is being super organised so that I can set up the team to work smoothly without me.

My husband and I both work part-time and share domestic duties 50/50 via a carefully orchestrated schedule (which sometimes feels like a military operation). Book-ending days with drop offs or pickups mean I can’t afford to be inefficient, and I actually believe that I am more productive as a part-timer than I ever was when full-time!

Wednesday is my day off – which means never working more than 2 days in a row, plus it’s often the way I stumble upon work epiphanies. Many flashes of inspiration or insight have come whilst idly pushing my kid on a swing. Another reason why I firmly believe that I work smarter and better as a part-timer.

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

I was running 20km a week but unfortunately developed plantar fasciitis so have switched to CorePlus instead. Dumbbells, heaters blasting 30+ degrees and an instructor yelling at me – love it!

I’ve also switched my phone to grayscale (so that it is less stimulating) and turned on night-time mode to reduce my device time.

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

I’m a massive Jim Collins fan (Stanford research methodologies backing business strategy / tactics), Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, No-Drama Discipline by Dan Siegel, Lies and Falsehoods by Bernard Keane.

Also love anything by Lee Child and Liane Moriarty

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

 My Garmin watch and Reading Eggs (for keeping the kids occupied).

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

William Wilberforce. 

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

Give part-time parents a legitimate go, even for demanding leadership roles. You could get more out of a part-timer than a full-timer. 

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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.