Balancing the Grind With Ronen Benatar, Digital Investment Director at Wavemaker

Ronen Benatar is a New York-based Digital Investment Director at Wavemaker, a global media agency network with offices based in over 90 countries.

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

I was born in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. Growing up in zimbabwe there was complete censorship by the government and no freedom of speech, which is why I so value the power of media today.

I moved to Australia when I was 15 and had to adapt to a new way of life. This is also why I have a truly strange accent that not many people can actually identify.

After high school, I completed a double degree in both International Business and Business, Property Development before entering the advertising and media industry after graduation.

I loved the marketing and psychology classes I had taken throughout school, so advertising seemed like the ideal way to meld the two subjects.

Also, the fact that my friends who graduated a year prior to me who ended up in finance and accounting seemed truly unhappy- I took this as a sign.

I moved from Sydney to New York almost 4 years ago after being offered a job with MEC, which is now called WaveMaker. In my opinion, New York City is the greatest city in the world and I feel so lucky to live here.

I’ve worked for Mediacom, Universal McCann, and Wavemaker across various parts of the business including planning, investment, and strategy.

Digital is definitely where my passion lies. I love that it’s an industry that is constantly evolving — forcing me to constantly change how to think about media on an almost daily basis. I’ve worked across a range of verticals from retail and real estate to QSR, government and telecoms.

Currently, as a Digital Investment Director, I have the good fortune to work on some incredibly interesting clients including as IKEA, DoorDash, Xerox and XFL.

I love where I work and most importantly, the people I work with. I’m incredibly blessed to work with some of the greatest talent in the industry.

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

My routine has changed since moving to NYC. When I was in Sydney, I would get up and start work much earlier and I would go to sleep far earlier. The New York lifestyle suits me much more as I’m not really a morning person and love to stay up late at night.

I tend to wake up at around 7:30am, go to the gym for an hour and get to the office by 9:30am or 9am if I have early meetings. I drink 2-3 black coffees in the morning and I don’t eat anything until about 1PM. You could say I unintentionally intermittently fast.

The first thing I do in the office is go over my to-do list that I create the night before. I spend a good 30mins going over any emails I’ve received throughout the night and then I tend to have some form of a status with one of my teams.

No day is ever the same and that’s one of the reasons that I love my job. My day consists of the following:

  • Status with my team
  • Conference calls with our client in the UK
  • Vendor presentations
  • Constructing media briefs
  • Brainstorms
  • Reporting check-ins
  • Proposal reviews
  • Tagging conversations
  • Performance check-ins with our campaign engineers
  • Presentation finessing

I finish the day at very different times depending on what’s going on and the time of the year. The great thing about the media industry is that it’s so busy you never actually look at the clock thinking when it going to be 6PM? Rather, you look at the clock and wonder where your day has gone.

When I head home I re-write my to-do list for the next day and file my emails from my mobile while at the same time typically toggling my vision between a new series on Hulu and playing a Tetris game.

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

Fortunately, the company I work for allows flexible working. This is great because we have the option of working from home when we need to or alternatively, we can work in the office.

We recently moved to the 3 World Trade Center building which is an open plan layout and everyone has floating desks so even if some people are in the office, you sometimes don’t know where they’re floating around.

While I am given a lot of flexibility, I don’t really take advantage of it. Certainly not as much as I thought I would. The reason for this is that I work across three teams and I don’t like to be too far removed. I love being in the thick of it, engaging with various teams, being present when issues arise and of course, ad hoc brainstorming sessions which often result in the best work.

I don’t believe I would be able to gauge the general vibe of the team if I were sitting at home on my couch in pajamas speaking to my team via a conference call. There is something to be said for being in the weeds with your team.

I have no doubt I’ll take more advantage of the flexibility options available when I have kids and my priorities evolve.

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

This is something that has taken me years to get right and still to this day, it’s something I try to refine as much as I can. My “trick” is to essentially micro-manage myself by identifying every single possible task I need to complete in a day or a week, or any given period of time.

I have to map everything out and stay organized because I’m constantly working on multiple projects and across teams with various stakeholders in addition to managing many different team members who also have their own deliverables.

I list everything out on a huge to-do list and then I go through a process of ranking each task between what needs to be completed today, tomorrow and by the end of the week. Once I have completed this, I group everything into one of three buckets and then start to add in estimated time it will take me to complete each task.

Once I have this listed out, I rank all of the items I need to complete for the day and I look at how long tasks will take me and base my ranking on my calendar.

An example would be if I have a 30 minute window of time free I know I can complete my 20 min task at 2PM. I also try and make a habit of tracking how long tasks actually take me, this in turn helps me accurately forecast the time I need to allocate in future.

Obviously, there are distractions throughout the day, so I ensure that I bake in time for that and if a task is highly important, I block time off in my calendar to complete that task.

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

I don’t know if there is a perfect formula for this. I think it’s very dependent on the person, the lifestyle, the job and family commitments. In my opinion, first and foremost health is the most important thing. I feel going to gym helps calm me after a stressful day while keeping me healthy.

My first few years in media, I would get really stressed and worked up as pressure built and I would feel burn out at times. I now consciously step back take a breath, think about where I am, how lucky I am to be here and it calms me.

I also make an effort to stand up and do a loop around the office every hour because, as we all know, sitting for prolonged periods of times is not ideal.

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?

Being hungry – What I mean by this is basically being up for anything. I have always been hungry to learn as much as I can. I don’t believe if you’re in one discipline you can’t learn another.

I also try and take part in any competition, pitch, team discussion etc. because firstly, you can network, but you can also learn at least one new thing that might very well help you in the long run. I try to soak in as much guidance and mentorship that I can and learn from everyone around me.

Pie cutting – In order to get through huge projects that at times seem incredibly intimidating and near impossible to complete, I go through a process of cutting.

What I mean by this is I look at a huge project and work out how to cut it into small sometimes tiny tasks and split it up on multiple days or weeks with check-in’s throughout. This means you are looking to complete a small task at hand and then tomorrow there’s a new one, etc.

This way huge tasks suddenly seem much more achievable and you don’t run the risk of procrastinating and waiting until the last minute. While this method seems quite obvious, it allows me to take control and ultimately gives me a sense of balance.

1 on 1 catch ups – Catching up informally with each team member on a regular basis is incredibly valuable. It creates dialogue with each person and builds trust.

Over time, the informal nature of the catch ups will allow the person to open up and give honest feedback on the state of the business, the team and even feedback on me as a manger.

Giving people a safe space to be frank without judgement uncovers a lot of truth and will often be a great indicator on the state of the team.

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

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. I love this book because it gives concise examples of the Kaizen method and where it’s changed organizations and people for the better.

I love the philosophy behind the method and since reading the book I’ve tried to apply this Japanese approach at driving continual improvement with tiny steps taken at a time.

The Art of Persuasion, Winning without Intimidation. I love reading about negotiation and psychology and this book does a great job bringing it all together. I fundamentally agree with the approach of negotiating and while making people still feel important.

So often we treat negotiation as a game you can win, but it’s a lot more than that and it can often be a win-win scenario that can foster long-term relationships.

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

Plan as much as I can, either the night before or as soon as I can the next morning. I find it important to have my to-do list ready to go the second I switch on my computer.

I use OneNote because we use Microsoft Teams and have it synced with my phone and laptop so I have can take notes or check in on tasks anywhere at anytime.

Also, before I go to bed I always have the clothing I’m going to wear the next day set aside and ready to go so as soon as I’m out of the shower I don’t need to think about which quirky socks best compliment my personality that day.

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

Say “yes” to every opportunity, be open-minded, and always focus on improving even the smallest aspect of your life. Spend less time dreaming about your next holiday and focus on improving your work life so you’re happy throughout year — not just your two weeks of annual leave.

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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.