Founders / HR & Culture / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Kelly O’Connor, Owner & Chief of Operations at Up!Cycle

Kelly O’Connor is the Owner & Chief of Operations at Up!Cycle, a premium rhythm riding indoor cycle studio in Sydney. She also provides people and culture business consulting.

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

I think my dad had 3 goals for me – to be someones secretary, someones wife and then someones mother! He got 1 out of 3!

I had my daughter when I was just 21. I actually started my career as an Accountant having completed an Assoc Diploma in Accounting & Finance after finishing school in year 10. Not happy with accounting, and with a my daughter at school, I wanted to achieve more and really be able to provide for her.

Like many girls from my generation, doing your HSC and going to university wasn’t an option for me. So, while working full time as an Accountant for a global building and construction company (KONE Elevators) in Sydney, I returned to college to get the required ATAR to get into uni. Then the following 6 years part time uni to get a double degree in Information Systems & HR.

I also worked hard at home single-handedly raising my daughter – the usual stuff, ballet, kids parties, crimping hair, costumes for book week.

Crazy when I think about the energy levels I had back then! My now 25yr old daughter tells everyone she didn’t know I actually had a face for many years, as it was always in a book!

During my final years of uni I was lucky enough to transfer into the HR team within the construction company, gaining hand-on experience in a very heavily unionised HR environment.

From there I continued to build my career in big corporates across higher education (Univ of Wollongong) property (Colliers International), Financial Services (Suncorp), Fitness (Fitness First), Entertainment (NOVA Entertainment).

And for the last 6 years in startup world. Firstly setting up Heinemann’s operations in Sydney International airport and eComm businesses Showpo, Stylerunner, Koala and St Frock.

Now I consult to startups setting up people infrastructure including – culture definition, change management, industrial/employment relations, policy, info systems, performance and hiring programs.

The flexibility of consulting has allowed me to really balance out my professional career, and my passion project and side hustle – Up!Cycle. I’m also mentor to 6 young women navigating their own corporate careers or starting out in business.

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

Up at 5am to open Up!Cycle for 6am for morning classes at our rhythm riding studio in Potts Point.

Then it’s either into one of my clients offices or onto the laptop to WFH from 8am, answering emails, working on people strategies for my clients, keeping track of socials, having mentoring sessions and finding for new music for the studio.

At 5.30pm its back to the studio for an evening classes, cleaning, bookkeeping, scheduling.

Home by 8pm, light dinner and usually in bed by 9pm.

The studio is open 7 days a week. Our busy studio feels more like ‘hanging out with friends’ than working, so I wouldn’t swap it for anything!

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

I am truly blessed in 2 very important ways:

Firstly, that my clients understand my commitment to the side-hustle and passion project (Up!Cycle) with many of them doing classes with us on the reg. And normal office hours mean I’m finished the morning at the studio and available to them when they need me, during business hours.

I truly believe I am more productive from the laptop at the studio than in an open plan and bustling office. And they don’t have to pay for a desk setup. Win-win!

I do go into my clients offices for face-to-face meetings regularly. And between Slack, email, video-conferences, socials, texting and mobile, they can be in touch anytime they need me. And they are totally fine doing video-conferences with a lady in Lycra!

And secondly, probably even more importantly, is that my partner takes up so much slack at home. She’s the cleaner, mid-week feeder, personal shopper, home-administrator, laundry lady and perfect dog-mum.

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

I don’t overcommit on social events. Up!Cycle demands a level of energy that wouldn’t work if you were tired. So getting enough sleep and regular downtime is essential. It’s a bit of a LOL for our friends that we will tap out at 1 or 2 champagnes and/or 1 or 2hrs at parties.

Food prep happens on Sunday afternoons when the studio is closed. Most of my food intake happens during the day midweek, so I usually only snack at night when I get home from the studio so I can get to bed early. I love cooking! But its a Saturday/Sunday night thing. Not an option midweek.

Social media (which is huge for Up!Cycle) is usually done in between classes. Studio business meetings with my partner happen during date-nights, car rides, dog walking and even while we are doing groceries. Every moment counts!

But I think the biggest survival tip is letting go of perfection – like having the perfectly clean home, being the perfect friend, having perfect hair/makeup, being the perfect daughter, mother and partner or having the perfectly big career.

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

It means working enough to achieve your financial goals while still having time for the other things. Whatever ‘other things’ are important to you – fitness, family, kids, dogs, friends, travel, wellness and even beauty routines.

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?

Definitely saying ’No’ without feeling super guilty. I used to really struggle to say no. I had a massive group of friends & my family that were constantly asking me to events, workouts, dinners, parties, renovation projects or even moving house for them and I really punished myself if I let anyone down.

Now I’ve got a smaller group of like-minded friends who get it. I say ‘no’ to events or jobs that I otherwise wouldn’t dragged myself to (and paid for later). Yes, that means I do miss out on family and friend events, birthdays, fun projects and even location weddings.

And I am really careful and selective on the clients I take one. But trying to be everywhere for all people all the time is exhausting and I feel like you just end up doing lots of things badly.

And my financial goals have definitely shifted. It’s not about having the latest designer clothes, the holidays, the biggest home and flashiest toys anymore. Or being snapped at every event. Now everything goes into the business and supporting my flexible work arrangements.

I guess my definition of success has changed over time. And I am definitely happier (and healthier) for it!

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

Absolutely! The Little Prince sits on my bedside table permanently. One Turn From Zero (Stacey Griffiths – Master Instructor of Soul Cycle) and Patty McCord’s Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility.

Along with a big pile of non-fiction books across theology, gender, health, politics and culture topics. I’m still a nerd at heart. And purist. Who has actual real books these days? I do!

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

Work out. It’s like a catch 22. The dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin & endorphins (feel-good hormones) give me the energy to give other people energy – my clients and our customers at the studio. I have feel-good hormone withdrawals and get tired without it.

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

Find out what you really love. And do more of it.

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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.