Balancing the Grind With Michael Ellis, Culture Strategist at Pragmatic Thinking

Michael Ellis is the Culture Strategist at behaviour and motivation strategy company, Pragmatic Thinking, and Contributing Writer to Lonely Planet.

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

I work for a behaviour and motivation strategy company called Pragmatic Thinking. I often need to explain what this means as well as my job title – Culture Strategist.

Essentially, what all this means is that I work with companies and leaders who want to build great culture within their organisations. People and culture, teaching and learning has always been a thread that runs through my life and work.

I was a rock climbing instructor, outdoor education teacher, a travel and expedition leader, a classroom teacher and a personal development coach. I’ve also worked in the wine industry and contributed to Lonely Planet as a wine and travel writer.

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

Today was a pretty typical day. I work from Melbourne with the rest of the team based in Brisbane and the Gold Coast so there has been plenty of phone calls and FaceTime chats. I’m currently working with a client on delivering training for their senior leadership team so there was time spent on that up-coming session.

We also work with companies to deliver epic conference experiences so there was time spent planning some really exciting activities for two-day conference in November.

I had a chat with our CEO about our internal culture and how we can capture some of the ‘how’ we do what we do to share with the team through our culture strategy. I tend to break the early part of my day into small 30 min sprints then spend the afternoon on more deep work.

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

Yes it does. We value culture over comfort when it comes to remote working so rather than spending all day at home in the trackies, we ensure that there’s a balance between working with each other and making the time and space to work in a way that is conducive to producing quality outcomes.

This means that I can work from Melbourne, however I make a point of spending at least a week per month in the office with the team in Brisbane to nurture those connections and relationships.

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

There are so many tips and tricks, but I haven’t come across any shortcuts yet! I think the key here is self-awareness and knowing how, where and when you work best, and that’s going to be different for everyone.

I have a morning routine that sets me up with a good mindset and physiological state for the day. I write a list of things I need to get done, I prioritise them and then get busy doing the most important things first.

It’s pretty old school – I use a pen and paper, write it down and cross it off! Coffee helps with this morning routine. I do use an app called Forest which helps me stay focussed, it’s great for people like me who are easily distracted by their phones.

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

It’s an interesting concept and I think what we understand this to mean is constantly evolving, as is how we work.

There isn’t that delineation between work life and home life, with so many people running their own businesses, side hustles, working from home or remotely, there just isn’t that distinction anymore. And I think that’s a good thing, so long as we get the balance right.

Work has encroached into our ‘personal’ lives, it’s time we bring more of our personal lives into work. Workplaces and employers need to be more conscious of meeting the needs of the entire human, not just their professional needs.

This will help bring some balance back to ‘work’.

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?

My daily routine – exercise and meditation in the morning and then acknowledging what I’m grateful for at the end of the day. These are my constant non-negotiables.

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

So many to list! Here’s a few – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav and The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. Each of these are essential reading.

For work, I’ve found Frederick Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations to be invaluable and inspiring.

I keep coming back to Chip and Dan Heath’s work and love The Power of Moments and I love Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering – it’s such a practical guide for anyone who organises events, meetings, gatherings.

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

Prioritise. Get really clear on what’s the most important thing and do that first. Eat the frog.

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

It’s time we make work personal. It’s time we apply the consciousness, self-awareness and spiritual awareness we’re experiencing in our retreats, yoga studios, personal development workshops to our workplaces.

Work is such an incredible opportunity for us to evolve as humans for the sake of more compassionate and empathetic work environment. The truth is, we desperately need this!

As does our planet – it’s time we start taking responsibility for our impact on others and our planet and I believe that the workplace provides an ideal place and opportunity to teach and facilitate this. It’s time to bridge the gap between personal and professional development to build more conscious, connected cultures.

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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.