Balancing the Grind With Charlene Li, Senior Fellow at Altimeter

Charlene Li is the Senior Fellow and Founder of Altimeter (acquired by Prophet in 2015), where she helps leaders and organisations thrive with disruption.

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

I’m currently a Senior Fellow at Altimeter, a company that I founded and which was acquired by Prophet, a growth consulting firm. I primarily write and give speeches on what I write, with some advisory work thrown in for some balance.

I’ve been an analyst and author since 1999 and covered topics ranging from Internet and search advertising to digital transformation and the future of work. I also have experience in newspaper and online publishing as well as management consulting. I graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Business School a long time ago!

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

A lot of what I do is in the whelm of “thought leadership”, creating new content to appear in reports, articles, posts, and tweets or speaking to an audience about the ideas.

For example, one day last week I did a speech on disruptive leadership to a company, recorded a podcast, and did a prep call for a leadership workshop the following week.

The rest of the day was spent connecting with people on various platforms, creating more content, and doing some research for future posts.

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

Almost all of my work is done with people not in the same location as me. And because much of it involves “thinking” work, I work mostly from home unless I’m traveling.

I go into my office about once a week for a few hours to connect with people. Because I live on the West Coast of the US, I often have calls very early in the morning or very late at night. Being able to do those calls from my home office makes a big difference.

As a result, I work pretty much anywhere and anytime, from coffee houses and airplanes to in Ubers and waiting in the checkout lines at the grocery stores.

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

I block out time on my calendar to work so that I’m not subject to meetings being scheduled throughout the day. I also simply don’t go to meetings unless there’s a concrete contribution I can make with my participation.

This means that there are big open spaces on my calendar to get things done. It also means that if I need to do a last minute meeting, there’s enough space in my calendar to have it and it doesn’t throw off the rest of my schedule.

Bonus tip: I use Calendly to schedule all of my external meetings — it reduces the back and forth a lot!

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

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as work-life balance. Instead it’s a series of less-than-optimal compromises. Balance implies that unless everything is perfectly in sync with each other, you’ve failed.

Compromise allows me to be perfect in my imperfect journey of finding fulfillment. I find fulfillment at work to be helping people experience an “a-ha” moment. I find fulfillment at home when my child grows in their confidence in a new area. And I find fulfillment in celebrating milestones with my friends and family.

To attain that fulfillment, I have to constantly make compromises and trade-offs, but it feels like it’s worth it.

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?

The most important is that I make time and space to connect with people, professionally and personally. Some of the best insights I’ve gotten came when I stopped and had a conversation.

Connecting with people fuels me and the networking that comes from having deep relationships is invaluable. This is not networking with as many people as possible — it’s about making meaning bonds that you can tap into for years to come.

The second is that I continually examine myself and my situation to see if I’m doing what I really want to be doing. I’ve found that people invest more time and energy into managing their music than they do their career!

I look out 18 months from now and think about what my next step is going to be, what change I’m going to create. And I take the steps today to make that future come true.

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

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris changed the trajectory of my life. It freed me to think about what I could do outside the traditional confines of a “job”. As a result, I left my company and started Altimeter, continue to write books, speak and travel around the world and have what some call a “portfolio” career of several activities cobbled together.

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

I live by this saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I have it on my coffee cup and on a little plaque on my desk! It reminds me to put curiosity, adventure, and discomfort into my day, to say “yes” to things and to intentionally throw things out of balance to see how I can grow.

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

Don’t let other people define what balance should mean for you. Instead, figure out what will make you be fulfilled and set that as your goal.

If you found the above conversation helpful and inspiring, be sure to check out Balance the Grind’s guide to achieving a healthy work-life balance.

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.