Directors / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Ashleigh McInnes, Founder & Director of Papermill Media

Ashleigh McInnes is the Founder & Director of Papermill Media, a digitally-led, integrated PR, communications, events and social media agency.

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

My first professional job was at a property PR agency in Melbourne. I started as a receptionist straight out of uni and had a goal to work my way up from there.

Two years into the gig, the agency closed its doors and my boss at the time suggested I freelance for a while.

That was the catalyst for me starting my own PR business out of my spare bedroom nine years ago, and from there it has grown to become a fully integrated PR, social media, events and communications agency, along with a new sister agency, Paperweight, which offers in-house content creation, photography and graphics for social media.

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

I used to be more of a night owl by habit but recently I’ve been trialling a new way to work, which sees me try to wake up anywhere between 6am – 6.30am and get straight onto my computer to get the jump on the day ahead. I use the time to reply to emails, clear out the inbox and write up a clear plan for what I need to achieve throughout the day.

Then it’s into the office to start the day in earnest. That usually means catching up with my senior team and providing guidance, strategic oversight and suggestions for their current projects, and getting status reports on the campaigns that are currently live.

As the director I’m heavily involved new business and the strategic side of our clients’ campaigns, so I might be out of the office for large parts of the day attending new business meetings, strategy workshops, client meetings and the like.

Then it’s usually back to my desk to work collaboratively with my project teams to craft strategic media plans, campaign proposals or pitches as a result of the meetings throughout the day.

As PR and media consultants, a lot of our work can be reactive based on how our clients are being reported in the media or perceived by various stakeholders, so we may get briefed on an urgent issue that requires the full attention of our director team.

If that happens, we are sometimes in lockdown for days, maybe even weeks at a time, monitoring media and social media sentiment live, addressing any incoming media requests, helping to craft key message responses based on our client’s position, and working to minimise any long term reputational damage as the result of the issue at hand.

Those days are intense but exhilarating – you have to be ‘on’ all the time and ready for any outcome.

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

Yes, I’m personally really passionate about flexible working hours and think it’s important to practice what you preach!

Within our office we encourage at least one ‘work from home’ day per month, and unlimited flexible hours.

We have a number of mums in our team so we encourage an environment that works for them – whether it’s part time hours or flexible start or finish times, we want Papermill to fit into their lifestyle, not the other way around.

Personally, I try to work from home at least once a week, or sometimes most mornings in the week, especially when I need uninterrupted time to think through a strategy or crisis management response.

I treat my office time as collaborative and highly engaged with my team, whereas my work from home days are opportunities to tackle anything meaty or strategic.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I’m not sure if you can count these as tips but I use my inbox as my to-do list. Nothing is deleted from my inbox until it is actioned, and once it’s ticked off my list, I file or delete the email immediately.

I still keep paper sticky notes of course but having a digital reminder of the work at hand helps keep me accountable throughout the day.

I also use my calendar to block out chunks of time throughout the day. I.e. I might have two hours for team collaboration and check ins, then an hour for phone calls and meetings, then two or three hours to settle into ticking off big items of work.

I think scheduling is also a really important tool and it can either help you be really efficient or it can be one of the biggest challenges of your working week. As a consultant I’m always on the move, always visiting clients and going to meetings.

So if I know I’m going to be at a meeting on a particular day or few days, I’ll try to schedule all my meetings over those one or two days, in order to ensure I can carve out the other days uninterrupted in the office.

There’s nothing I hate more than a 12pm or 2pm off-site meeting – just when you’ve settled in for the morning or afternoon to get some work done, you have to get up and travel to another meeting and then back again.

My favourite meeting times are between the hours of 8am – 10am, meaning it’s early enough to get back to your desk afterwards and get through your day with minimal disruption, or 4pm, ensuring you’ve had a full day to be productive and you can set up a meeting as your last port of call for the day.

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

Work-life balance means finding the right structure to suit your own needs. For me, I work long hours which I don’t mind, but in order to find balance I’ve structured my schedule around a four-day work week.

I still work pretty much full time hours but I have a full day off during the week which allows me to schedule appointments, go for long walks and generally decompress from what is otherwise I busy and intense schedule.

I’m much happier working 4 x 9-hour days than I was working 5 x 7.5-hour days so it’s a method that I intend to stick to long term.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

As a firm rule, I always clock off at 5pm to spend a minimum two hours with my husband – walking the dog, making dinner, going out with family, etc. That time is non-negotiable and it means I don’t get stuck in the office on other things.

More often than not I’ll get my computer out at night and finish things off that I need to, but it means no matter how busy I am, there is always time in the day for the people who matter most.

When I go through particularly busy periods at work, I treasure this time immensely. For me, walking the dog every night signals the end of the working day and the opportunity to change pace.

I also have carved out a four day working week. I still work a full time load, but by taking Fridays off I can start to rebalance my life and catch up with friends or family that I might not be able to see otherwise.

It makes all the late nights and early mornings worth it and keeps me motivated for the four days that I am required to be ‘on’.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Sadly I hardly ever get the time to read! But one book that has always stood out to me is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Written in 1936, it is still one of the most relevant and influential books of our time and reminds me that humans are creatures of habit and our need for positive reinforcement, validation and respect has remained unchanged for almost 100 years.

While I don’t get the chance to read as much as I like, I have taken up the habit of keeping journal which is another strategy that has helped to ground me when things get busy or overwhelming.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Communicate! With a team of 20 it can get really hard to balance different objectives and ensure everyone has access to me for various things throughout the day, while still leaving time for meetings, quiet work time and reflection.

Communication is key – each morning I’ll email my senior team and let them know what my day is looking like and when is the best time to catch me.

Other times are off limits and that allows me to effectively split my time between team collaboration and solo work output.

Without setting these boundaries, it’s so easy to get distracted or end up spending the whole day with your team, meaning I then play catch up that night or throughout the week.

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

Just find the method that works for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

I used to work really late into the evenings but I recently identified that I needed to reclaim my nights back away from work in order to set some boundaries and feel more connected to my friends and family.

I’ve now flipped my work day around to start early AM when my brain is more alert, which has helped me achieve more of a balanced lifestyle that suits my needs.

I really believe that an effective workplace should be geared towards outputs, not hours, so a modern employer should be flexible to a certain degree to find the best solution for getting the best out of their team. That may not mean working from 9 – 5pm each day but a custom work week that suits the individual.

I think work-life balance is all about finding that structure that works for you and allows you to give 100 percent to your work but leave something in the tank for the other areas of your life.

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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.