Interviews / Writers

Balancing the Grind With Sarah Goff-Dupont, Principal Writer at Atlassian

Sarah Goff-Dupont is the Principal Writer at Atlassian, a leading provider of collaboration, development, and issue tracking software for teams. She is also an executive ghostwriter, blogger, public speaker.

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

I’ve always worked at tech companies, even if my role hasn’t been technical. I started as a receptionist, then moved into QA. After point-and-click testing got dull (which didn’t take very long), I learned Java and SQL through night classes at a local community college.

That opened the door to becoming a test automation engineer. But I was never really passionate about coding and knew I wouldn’t put the effort into developing that skill to the point where I’d finish my career as an architect.

So after eight years in QA, I took a gig as a scrum master. That job introduced me to Jira and Atlassian in general. I was so impressed by their customer service and the fresh, funky vibe that when I learned they had an office in San Francisco, just across the Bay from where I was living in Oakland, I ran to their careers page and applied for the first job I felt even roughly qualified for.

That led to me becoming a marketing manager for Bamboo, our continuous delivery tool. Through that role, I discovered my passion and aptitude for writing, which led to me becoming Principal Writer at Atlassian.

About five years into my tenure at Atlassian, my husband and I decided to move back to the mid-West to be closer to our families. My manager said she’d rather keep me on as a remote team member than replace me, and here we are!

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

The alarm goes off at 6:15 so I can get my workout out of the way first thing. By 8:30, the kids have been sent off to school, I’ve had my first cuppa, and am at my desk eating breakfast and going through emails and Slacks from overnight.

Since I’m in a time zone two hours ahead of most of my teammates, my mornings are a glorious bastion of quiet, focused time where I can really get some good writing done. The pace picks up around 11am when my team gets to the office, then afternoons are a mix of focus time and meetings.

I close my laptop between 5-5:30, and keep an eye on my phone as I cook dinner for anything urgent my team needs from me. (Mostly, though, my off-hours Slack activity consists of witty banter with my colleagues and sharing pics of the ever-changing weather here in Minnesota.)

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

It does! I work remotely from my home in Minnesota full-time, with trips to our San Francisco office 3-4 times a year. I absolutely love the remote work lifestyle – especially after 17 years in the hustle-bustle of San Francisco and Oakland!

No commute means mornings at our house are super chill, whereas before, we were like drill sergeants trying to get the kids to hurry up and brush their teeth so Mom and Dad don’t miss their train.

Going remote was a massive win for work-life balance. The quiet environment is great for writing, too. But I never feel cut off from my team, thanks to Slack and video conferencing – I’m the queen of impromptu 2-minute video chats.

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

You’ll never “find” time for deep, focused work. You have to create it. (And by “create”, I mean “claim and defend”.) Here’s what works for me:

  1. Create recurring events on your calendar for focus time. I have seven 2-hour blocks scattered across my week.
  2. Use a descriptive title on the events and make sure the event name is public so others can see what these blocks are for. I name mine “Focus time – please ask before scheduling”. And guess what: people see that and really do check in with me before scheduling a meeting during those times.
  3. First thing Monday morning, think about the big things you need to accomplish that week and make notes inside each focus block even as to what you plan to use that time.

It’s not a perfect system, but it works well enough that I’ve been using it for at least three years.

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

I know my work-life balance is in a sustainable place when my mood is generally good and I have the strength to be patient with my kids, husband, and teammates. When I notice myself snapping at people frequently, I know I’m stretched too thin.

At that point, I have a candid discussion with my manager about it and we find some way to shuffle things around. Maybe a deadline can get pushed out by a week. Maybe we can enlist a teammate to partner with me on a project. Maybe there’s something on my plate that isn’t valuable anymore but I’m still doing it simply because I’ve always done it, and can drop it now.

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?

Maintaining a good work/life balance is all about being intentional with how you spend your time, both at work and at home. And that means saying “no” sometimes. Even when it’s hard. A cool idea for an article or social media campaign might pop into my head, but I can’t just run at it blindly.

I have to consider whether pursuing that idea will bring me closer to reaching my goals or distract me from them. (Spoiler alert: at least half the time, the idea would be a distraction or just more work I’d have to take on. So I let it go.)

When my work/life balance is in a good place, I’m engaged in my work and tend to make better decisions. That makes being successful a whole lot easier!

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

Seeing as I’m a writer, it’s no surprise that I’m an avid reader. But since I write non-fiction for work, I’m all about fiction in my off-hours. Consuming the product of another writer’s creativity helps fuel my own.

In the realm of work-related books, I love Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s not something you’ll find at airport bookstores, but it should be. It centers on the idea of quality over quantity. As in, not just doing the right thing, but doing the thing right. It’s so easy to get into busy-busy-busy mode at work where we’re rushing from one task to the next.

Zen and the Art is great for getting grounded and remembering that meaningful outcomes are more important than outputs of effort.

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

Sleep! A solid seven hours sets me up nicely. (Good nutrition and exercise go a long way, too.)

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

Don’t get wrapped up in other people’s definitions of success. Find your own definition and let that be the North Star that guides your choices.

Maybe success means a corner office and a 3-car garage. Maybe it means making an impact on your community. Maybe it means having plenty of time outside work for your personal life. However you define success, calibrate your internal compass to it and go!

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.