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Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind With Liz Ross, Commercial Marketing Program Manager at Microsoft

Liz Ross is the Commercial Marketing Program Manager at Microsoft Australia where she works with the team to develop integrated marketing programs.

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

Prior to joining Microsoft, my experience was mainly within the insurance industry. Given that insurance is largely looked on as a grudge purchase and is often deemed a dry subject, my experience within the industry has heavily shaped me into the marketer I am today.

It forced me to really understand the audience and display how the product or service can add value to the customer. Gone are the days of speaking at the audience about things that they may or may not even care about, it is all about measurable customer centricity these days.

After leaving the insurance industry, I moved to tech and can say that while I am marketing vastly different products and services, the importance of solving for the customer is exactly the same.

I am currently a member of the Commercial Marketing team at Microsoft Australia – it is a high octane team that manages all the marketing related to the commercial offerings across industry and product.

Our team drives business growth by developing engaging integrated marketing programs that build brand preference and drive customer action​. We work towards winning the hearts and minds of our audiences through powerful storytelling.​

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

After logging into my device, I kick off my day in Teams and Outlook where I do a quick audit on whether any urgent items have cropped up overnight.

I try to stay reasonably rigid in my morning sessions – if it isn’t immediately urgent, I try not to action anything just yet and leave the inbox actioning until my designated batching times.

Instead, I try to pump out the task from the top of my priority list to progress a project. I will then attend our weekly team meeting where after we have provided updates to the team on what we are working on, myself or a colleague will lead an education session on a topic of their choosing – they are always informative and enable you look outside your silo.

Then at 11am (diary permitting), I respond by doing my first inbox deep dive of the day – what action I take next falls into 3 baskets.

  • Basket 1, this will take me less than 2-5 minutes to action
  • Basket 2, this will take me more than 5 minutes to action and requires some attention (and some blocked out time in my diary), and
  • Bucket 3, this is an interesting read or a nice to have email that I look forward to engaging with during my weekly think time on Friday mornings.

I will pop out for some lunch after this or jump into an informative lunch and learn session that our Digital team presents. Returning from lunch, I will inevitably have my time blocked out so that I can work through another action item on my priority list.

Then we will see the second inbox deep dive at 3pm which I run through for about an hour. After the second batch, I will work for a few more hours in the evening and try to pump out another project milestone.

Carrying on much the same throughout the week, rinse and repeat. Sometimes with days packed full of meetings and sometimes with project milestones rearing their heads.

The key for me is intent, the day doesn’t always pan out the way it is planned but having some structure really alleviates any stress caused by the unknowns cropping up.

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

Oh, Microsoft is super flexible – we have all the tools at our fingertips that allow us to work remotely with immense ease.

For those members of my team based in Sydney, we aim to be in at Head Office in North Ryde on most Mondays and Wednesdays and then there is usually a mix of days spent in the CBD offices or working from the home office.

Each week is different to the next and depends on what you have on in terms of meetings. Sometimes it is nice to work in solitary at home when you have a project you really want to get your teeth into – conversely, some projects are heavily collaborative and being in the office with your colleagues really accelerates the progress.

No week is the same as the next.

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

I have lots of tips, tricks and shortcuts that I have learnt from colleagues and productivity experts over the years.

Batching: I use two hour-long periods throughout the day to action my emails or sort them into the baskets discussed above. It is important to note that my mentality has changed regarding saving emails to be read on a raining day when you have nothing else do.

I think that is a pretty laughable concept – when is this rainy day? And if it was raining … would you spend your time going through your emails?

Notifications: I have learnt to turn them off and incorporate them into my twice-daily batching rhythms. I feel like you are seldom needed immediately to attend to an item and the person contacting you will often prefer a considered response as opposed to just shooting something back.

Once I heard the study that purports that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after you get distracted, I started to view notifications as the devil reincarnate.

Diary management: The head of a division we work closely with, called the centre of excellence, taught me this one – check your diary a week ahead on the Friday for the coming week and start blocking out time around your meetings to ensure you have enough time to prep and ensure you aren’t double booked or clashing in any way.

This trick always shows that you value other people’s time and gives them ample notice if you can or cannot make a meeting.

Priorities: This is done with the best of intentions but sometimes doesn’t pan out as planned. l identify 3 things I want to achieve in the week and scribble them on a post-it note (hot tip: doesn’t seem work as well when it is neatly typed on a device) – it helps with choice management, you can stay true to what you wanted to achieve during times of overwhelming workload.

To and cc: My manager often talks about having a separate folder for all emails that she is cc’d in as opposed to being included in the primary ‘to’ section. She checks it weekly in an attempt at ensuring focus at the right time From what I understand, it has turned out to be a pretty solid move.

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

The lines between work and life are often blurred in our hyper connected world. I would say that I am reasonably disciplined in my approach – I try to not allow my work day to seep to heavily into my down time ensuring that I switch off completely.

While I have my various Microsoft apps on my phone – they have absolutely no notifications on and I do my best to not look at them outside of designated work hours (i.e. if I close my laptop my phone should follow suit).

I find that while I am doing something else and looking at my email, both tasks are receiving a fraction of my attention and inevitably both parts of my life deserve better.

And in that same vein, during the work day – I turn off my personal notifications on my phone with a breakthrough for contacts within my favourites which includes those people that when they call, you always pick up and my family of course!

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?

Develop a life plan – but be completely okay with chucking it all out the window and starting again.

Give the task at hand your undivided attention and give it a time limit to self-impose urgency.

Don’t engage with work until in the office.

The wider Marketing and Operations organisation blocks out 9am to noon, every Friday for every member of the team to use as focus time to enable us to realise our own personal development goals and to complete the courses required in our role.

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

The most instrumental books I have read over the years relating to self-improvement within a work setting include absolutely anything Brené Brown has ever written, Scrum by Jeff Sutherland, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, and Smart Work by Dermot Crowley.

Each book taken with a pinch of salt has enabled me to foster habits to help me be a better employee, colleague and mentor and aided in the clarification of my thoughts and processes.

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

Look at my work day as chunks of time and assign blocks of activity in this way, trying to remember we always think we can do things quicker than we end up doing them.

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

I think the one thing that I try to remember is that in trying to dedicate my time to one task at any given time, I am doing myself the biggest service.

Having constant distractions and interruptions only impacts my output and ends up blurring the lines between work and life. I try not to rely too heavily on my best intentions – I put super silent reminders in my phone or in my inbox as gentle nudges to what I should be doing.

A reminder at 11 and 3 to look at my emails, an alarm at 9 to wind down and a cute little reminder at 10 that I ‘best be snoozing’. They aren’t forceful, I don’t need to guilt trip myself they are just gentle nudges to keep myself accountable.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.