Balancing the Grind with Chris Wilkins, COO at LLEAF Greenhouse Film Technology

Chris Wilkins is the COO at LLEAF Greenhouse Film Technology, an agriculture deep-tech start-up that began in the University of New South Wales.

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

Sure, for about 18 years I’ve been working as an entrepreneur, mostly in agriculture technology, specifically horticulture. As a kid when I was asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d always say “a farmer” so I guess with my curiosity for technology it’s not a great surprise I’ve ended up here.

Currently, I’m working as the COO at LLEAF Pty Ltd which is a venture backed climate / agtech startup. We are providing technology that makes plants grow 20% faster in greenhouses without any additional power consumption.

I joined LLEAF about a year ago to lead commercialisation and then moved to investment capital raising. Previously, I had been working as a startup founder – building indoor farms and advanced hydroponic systems, or as a startup consultant providing business development services.

I love helping first time founders get started, so I will often mentor founders and have also spent a few years teaching entrepreneurship and consulting on innovation projects at The University of Sydney.

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

6am – Rise, shave, shower and get dressed. Next… coffee. I really take my time and use all the gadgets in the kitchen. I’m a morning person and am pretty productive first thing. I’ve tried doing creative work early but tend to gravitate towards admin – some easy wins and structure to start the day – calendar, emails and messages. I’ll generally skip breakfast unless it’s sunday or I’m staying at a hotel. 

7am – Get outside with the dog, 15 mins around the block or I’ll meet friends for a brutal sand dunes sprint session. I’ll avoid driving whenever possible and take the train. For me it’s often 45mins each way.

Over the course of a week that’s a full work day in transit! So, it’s laptop out, hotspot on, and straight into it. I really like using wireless noise cancelling earbuds on the train, bus or plane. If I have to drive, then it’s an audiobook.

9am – In the office, I’ll split my time 50/50 between meetings and computer work. I find it’s important to use the office to connect, talk things through and stay on the same page. So I’ll save any larger tasks for home where I can lock in 1 – 2hrs for undisturbed work.

I try not to schedule more than 2 meetings per day and will aim to be out the door in time to beat the traffic. Ideally, I’ll skip lunch and run on 1 meal a day (dinner) but I often end up having a lunch meeting.

Afternoon – Dog park, sunshine, light exercise, quick stop at the supermarket, home. I’ll stay in work mode the whole time, thinking things through, emails on the phone, calls etc. and try to knock over some more involved tasks in the early evening. 8pm I disconnect from work. I need at least 1 hour before bed to switch gears, otherwise it’ll be work dreams and I’ll wake up exhausted.

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

I love my work and I live it. I engage my friends in my work and my workmates as friends. For me, work life balance is about being happy and healthy while doing both. I get it that for other people it’s about separating the two and finding a balance between them, but for me they are one and the same.

The balance is all about performance – how hot can I run without burning out. So to achieve that I focus on my physical, mental and emotional health as if it was all part of my day job.

4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

About a year ago I gave up the booze. There are so many great alcohol free beers on the market now, I’m probably drinking more beers than ever before, guilt free and with zero downtime! I can always drive home and even do a gym session after a couple.

I often get the question “how long did it take you to start feeling amazing?”. People seem to have this idea that after 1 month you suddenly feel a million bucks. My experience is, it’s more like you feel 1% better each day and don’t have any sluggish days. Now nearly a year in, my energy levels are high / stable and my cardio is better than it was in my 20’s. And I still get to go out for beers all the time!

5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Books: Breath by James Nestor, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, Antifragile by Nassim Taleb, Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, Atomic Habits by James Clear, The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape, The Dogs That Made Australia by Guy Hull. Podcasts: Hardcore History by Dan Carlin and anything by Seth Godin.

6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Richard Branson, he’s achieved a lot as an entrepreneur and radiates happiness and health. So, I’d be curious to know how he keeps his life in check.

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

Sure, I have three key philosophies that generally inform my daily choices. 

Firstly, I take the stairs. I do this literally but also metaphorically. Regularly choosing the harder option means I’m exercising my mind and body with manageable stressors. It increases my baseline strength and makes me more comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

It also means I have less competition and therefore a higher chance of getting from A to B quicker – while everyone else is lining up for the escalator, I’m taking the stairs two steps at a time. 

Secondly, I’ve stopped looking for the silver bullet. It’s kind of obvious, but as humans we really aren’t wired to consciously focus on doing lots of little things that add up to success. We want to do the one big thing that will change everything. It’s not relevant in modern society to work like this and only leads to imbalance. I get motivation from observing how lots of small improvements accumulate and compound. 

Thirdly, I don’t borrow from tomorrow. I’ll actually invest in tomorrow by doing things like: picking out my clothes the night before, leaving notes in my calendar for things that I need to remember to do – anything that is going to make tomorrow easier – so that I have space in my day to choose new hard things to do. Being able to proactively seek challenges rather than being forced to react to them.

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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.