CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Jillian Ezra, CEO of Ezra Productions

Jillian is the founder and CEO of Ezra Productions, an award-winning creative agency and video production company with offices in Los Angeles and New York.

This conversation is sponsored by graphic design platform Canva. Empowering millions of people around the world to design.

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

I graduated with a degree in economics from NYU, and started my career working in public relations for Cartier and marketing for Lazard Asset Management in New York.

While playing around on my new Mac, I discovered the power of filmmaking as an emotionally compelling storytelling medium, and I fell in love with editing. I learned to film and edit, and eventually started producing my own docu-narrative promotional videos for companies.

Through hard work, trial and error, and letting my passions guide me, I’m now the CEO of Ezra Productions, a video production agency that creates branded content for companies like Herbivore Botanicals, La Perla, JCPenney, and Lowes.

We are passionate storytellers whose mission is to empower women and marginalized populations to thrive in the production industry, and to represent those populations powerfully on camera.

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

I try to start my day with the same routine: make a cup of coffee and walk my dog, meditate for 20 minutes, do my core exercises, and only then do I start looking at my phone. I answer some emails, make breakfast, and go to the office (if I’m not working from home or abroad).

My work varies quite a bit from day to day, but I’m generally strategizing with clients, providing feedback on scripts and rough cuts, meeting with new clients, working with our writers, working with our designers, and mentoring the younger people at the company.

If I’m not meeting with friends or colleagues at night, I typically go home, make dinner, and walk 4-6 miles while answering emails, learning about investing, and listening to courses on Insight Timer.

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

Yes, I’ve designed my life and my company in such a way that I’m able to work from anywhere in the world with internet. I have an extremely competent staff that loves working remotely as much as I do, and we make sure to communicate often through Google Hangouts, phone calls, and software like Smartsheet and Airtable.

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

As a passionate entrepreneur, the line between work and life can be a really fine line to walk. When you love something so much that you create a successful business around it, it’s bound to seep into your personal life.

I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so I tend to work more than I need to just to get something exactly right. I also tend to take care of everyone else before taking care of myself. These traits can be helpful in some circumstances, but not in achieving a healthy work-life balance. When I first started my company, I worked around the clock to get it off the ground.

Later, I was told by my CFO at the time that I wasn’t going to grow my business working 9-5 (meanwhile I had been doubling my revenue every year). So, I kept pushing and pushing. My physical and spiritual health took a backseat to work. As my company grew, so did my overhead.

At one point, I found myself working just to make sure my employees had jobs, and that was no fun. I was burnt out and no longer involved in the “fun” parts of the business.

In 2019, I ended up taking a two-week vacation that turned into a six-month retreat/adventure across Europe and the Middle East. I had no itinerary, just a few core goals: to release the pressure of having to have everything figured out, to work on my physical and spiritual health, and to have experiences that pushed me outside of my comfort zone.

I spent most of my time in Stockholm, Nice, and Tel Aviv, and I did things that I normally (because I believed that I “should” be working every moment of the day). Every day started with my morning routine.

Then I would walk to multiple attractions throughout the day in order to get my 4-6 miles of walking in. It was an amazing way to experience life in different cities! Instead of doing tours, I did a lot of Airbnb “Experiences,” which allowed me to experience things I would’ve never had the ability to organize on my own.

I had so many amazing experiences and moments on my trip. In Berlin, I did an art walk with a local. I took a cooking lesson from a Syrian refugee in Turkey and language lessons in Germany and France. I went on a boat ride to a secret cove in Antibes, and I visited a refugee camp in the West Bank. I went to a conference on impact investing in Sweden and I toured the Rothschild Villa in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat.

I went stand up paddle boarding with a behavioral scientist through the canals of Amsterdam, and I stayed at Soho Houses. I attended the Cannes Lions without the pressure of having to do business. Of course, that’s when my true passion for my work came out and I ended up forming great connections. Throughout the trip, I let my intuition guide me and operated like I had nothing to lose, and that left me with an overwhelming sense of freedom and possibility.

I would work for a few hours before dinner because that was when LA starting work. I also worked in the mornings sometimes before going out for the day, and there were occasional periods where I was working all day for a few days. But other than emergencies, I never did anything that wasn’t mission critical unless I felt happy and light doing it. It was very hard to let go, but things just sort of worked themselves out!

While I was away, I slimmed down my team, took on only the projects that really excited me, and developed a much simpler approach to my work. When I returned home, I decided to spend more time the parts of my work that I love (like developing the strategy behind video production and the stories themselves) as well as to pursue hobbies like investing.

I dreaded going back into the office every day, so I just went with it: I kept everyone working from home and started holding twice-weekly workdays at the Soho House, which I was paying for anyway. When we’re not together we communicate throughout the day via Google Hangouts, phone calls, and software like Smartsheet and Airtable.

When I close my laptop for the night, that’s it. I let go. Whatever didn’t get finished will get finished the next day. I don’t go back online to check emails except for very extreme circumstances. The next time I look at my email again is after I’ve completed my morning routine the next morning.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

The routine I developed while I was traveling sets me up for success every morning. It consists of meditating after I wake up, doing my core exercises, and only then looking at my phone.

It’s also important for me to get 4-6 miles of walking in every day, to consume material that feeds my soul, and to indulge myself in activities that push me out of my comfort zone.

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

  • The 4-Hour Work Week (which is particularly relevant right now when most people who could never imagine themselves working remotely are reading this while they’re working from home!)
  • A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
  • The Happiness Hypothesis
  • Outliers
  • Choose Wonder Over Worry
  • Nudge
  • The Artist’s Way

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

If I don’t have time to do my whole morning routine, I choose between meditation or exercise, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.

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

I would say Arianna Huffington but she created a whole movement around that topic with Thrive Global.

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

As I’m writing this, I’m (lucky to be) working from home during Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Everyone who is reading this is likely working from home too, and perhaps feeling frustrated about having to stay home. My wish for everyone reading this is that you take this time as a reset. Use it an opportunity to reflect and nourish yourself.

When I was traveling, I used the structure of The Reset Ritual to turn the experience into a “DIY Retreat,” and I found it extremely helpful. Anyone can download the template right here and create their own little DIY Retreat during this tough time.


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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.