Designers / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Nick Doherty, Senior Designer at Atlassian

Nick Doherty is a Senior Designer at enterprise collaboration software company, Atlassian, where he works on the Growth team.

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’ve had three career phases. After Uni I worked in the music industry for 10 years, then I moved to Australia and worked in TV with public sector broadcasters and a startup. I’ve now been in Tech for around 6 years.

I started out as a journo but moved progressively more into online and digital, learning harder skills all the time including the basics of full stack coding. I’m now a software designer (UI/UX) for Atlassian’s Growth team which is an amazing job utilising pretty much all I’ve learned and demanding new skill acquisition constantly.

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

When it comes to my routine, I’m always in a peak or a trough with how well I’m going. I don’t know why, but that’s how it is. When I’m on top of stuff I’ll exercise before work, see my kids and partner briefly, then get an early commute.

I protect my calendar like crazy and ensure any meetings are condensed into a block of at most a few hours so I get a decent run of uninterrupted design time. In that time I might be doing customer research, or working with our analyst to understand opportunity data, or documenting a design approach for stakeholders – and if I’m lucky I might get to open Sketch and do some UI.

I leave the office at 5 to get home for 6 and do the kids’ bath and stories, then we’ll typically have dinner and watch a show to unwind.

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

It does. Scott (Farquar, co-CEO and Founder) has gone as far as recruiting an entirely remote team so we can learn first-hand how to meet the needs of that sector. Plus, Trello is part of Atlassian and is an entirely remote company.

I’m not on a remote team, but I’ve arranged with my manager to work from home on Tuesdays to do daycare drop off and pickups and reduce pressure on my partner a little. She still needs to balance her own career, all of the other drop offs and pick ups, most of the cooking, serving dinners. I try and do what I can when I can.

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

Let’s see. Stay off Slack and use the snooze notification function. Don’t be a slave to email – remember the four magic words – ‘Mark all as read’. Guard your calendar – take time to plan it and lock it two weeks in advance.

Advertise where you are – be open when you are taking time in your day for non-work activities. Know your burnout signs and watch for them, don’t redline before taking action, take a day off and preserve your mental health.

Most importantly: I don’t get involved in stuff I don’t need to and try to avoid offering unsolicited opinions. I have enough to do without looking for more, I trust others to get their shit done and own their outcomes – I look after mine and block out the noise.

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

It has totally changed. Having a poor work-life balance used to mean I was working too hard and didn’t have time for my personal life, or passion projects, or travel, or just to re-charge. Now, work-life balance means fairly distributing attention to two equally demanding scenarios. In truth, I haven’t found a way to achieve that goal yet – I can only do my best, and try to be consistent.

What I’ve learned is I have to preserve mental and physical health else I’m useless. I also accept I need to make (hopefully temporary) trade offs. I don’t go out for lunch at work, I eat at my desk. I don’t do knock-off drinks very often, I get home. I skip a lot of team bonding events. It probably marks me out as one of the less social people at work, but them’s the breaks.

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?

I’ve redefined success. I care deeply about my job and the company, but for the moment I don’t care if I get X title or Y paygrade, I’m driven by a different set of personal values. The habit part is constantly reminding myself so I don’t get distracted from what really matters.

More tangibly, here’s a few other things:

  • I’m punctual. Like Woody Allen says, 80% of success is showing up.
  • I’m the person taking notes. And I turn them into actions, and I try to get them done. (And if it’s quicker not to write the action and just to do the task, I do that.)
  • I listen to music all the time, and use it to change my moods or get me focussed. If anyone needs a playlist, hit me up!
  • I disconnect. I have a 45 minute commute and I typically use that time to listen to podcasts – some are about design, but they’ll just as likely be about football, music, parenting.

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

For anyone wanting to write well I always suggest Stephen King’s On Writing. I learned far more about writing from that book than from journalism training.

Design-wise – and being a lover of practical and actionable books – I think Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions by Bruce Hanington is great. I dip into it a lot.

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


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

I try to focus on skill acquisition. Anything else is probably just distraction. And I always remember and monitor Dan Pink’s minerals of happiness – you need mastery, autonomy and purpose in your job.

I also remember other people and try to show up for them. The challenging experience of working while raising a family has made me prone to reaching out to others at work and checking if they are OK. It’s often easier for me to do that than their manager, whom they may not want to burden – especially if they are a new starter at Atlassian.

If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!

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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.