Balancing the Grind with Claire Bristow, Investment Associate at Skalata Ventures

Claire Bristow is an Investment Associate at Skalata Ventures, one of Australia’s leading seed-stage venture capital firm.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

I started my career in Academia where I was working as a researcher and tutor while finishing off my PhD. After I submitted my thesis, I became a Lecturer in Public Health where I taught in both undergraduate and masters degrees.

Late last year, after 7 years at the University (first as a student, then staff member) I was yearning for change. I couldn’t see myself staying in Academia for the long-term and was ready for new learnings and new challenges.

I’d been through a start-up accelerator program with my own company Her Society a few years prior, and felt drawn towards the space after the great experiences I was fortunate enough to have. Initially I thought I’d end up working for a start-up, but through a series of conversations landed myself a position as an Associate Investor at Skalata Ventures, where I’ve been for the last 6 months.

I see a lot of confused faces when I’m asked what I did before I entered VC, as it’s a pretty non-traditional pathway. The transferrable skills aren’t as obvious as other industries (banking/law/finance), but there’s a lot of stuff I learned over the years that have set me in good stead.  

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

Sure! I’ll take you through a typical Tuesday which is when a lot of the action happens for us.

I hop on my usual 7:20 am train and scan through my emails and Slack to catch up for the morning. After a short walk from the station, I’m at my desk by 8am where I spend the first half hour responding to any time-sensitive items and filing anything that needs following-up later. I then catch-up on a few regular newsletters that land in my inbox every morning, and make sure I’m across the agendas for the day’s meetings. Today is a big one with 6 hours on the schedule.

First up is our all-hands team meeting where we catch up and share our priorities for the week. Immediately following, I’m jumping into our monthly IC meeting, where we present companies going up for investment. I oversee the IC process so I’m taking minutes and noting action items while the team debates the opportunities presented. I make a mental note to tidy these up and send them out later in the week.  

Next up is our weekly selection meeting, where the investment team discusses current opportunities in the pipeline. I’m leading a few deals, so update the team on status and seek input.

After this, it’s well past lunch time so I quickly duck out to grab a bite to eat. I’ve then got an hour before the next meeting so I send a few follow-up emails and tend to some action items. Before I know it, it’s time to jump into a mock advisory board meeting with one of our portfolio companies. I’m minuting this one too, so I’m typing away and making sure everything is captured. I make my second mental note to tidy up and send out later in the week.

The day has flown and it’s 5pm but I’m behind on a few email and Slack messages from the day, so spend the last hour catching up and addressing anything urgent, and noting what I need to attend to tomorrow.

At 6pm I’m shutting the laptop and heading home before doing it all again tomorrow (with a few less meetings).

Not every day is this full, and I block out most Mondays and Fridays for deep work (deep diving companies for due diligence and writing investment memos). Between this, I’m reviewing pitch decks, jumping on calls with founders (new and existing) and working on our investment strategy.

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

I think the concept of work-life balance and our desire to achieve it is curious. In many ways, I think we actually set ourselves up for disappointment by searching for it. The standard work week in the majority of societies is 5 days ‘work’, 2 days ‘life’. We spend the majority of our waking weekday hours at work.

This is inherently imbalanced, and I don’t subscribe to the belief that we can actually achieve this elusive work-life balance until we make significant social and structural changes to the way we view work. Unfortunately, most of us are not in a position financially where this is a reality.

That sounds really grim, so I’ll give a bit of a lighter answer too. While I don’t think you can necessarily maintain it, there are some things you can do to create a little more separation. A lot of these everyone is already familiar with (turn off notifications, delete apps from your phone, go for walks etc.), but the biggest one for me is having really strict boundaries around weekends, and I pretty much refuse to engage in work during them.

It can be tempting to feel it’s necessary at times, but I know that If I do, I’ll go into the week half-fried already, and rest is really important to me to ensure I’m ready to face a new week when it rolls around.

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Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

I recently had a penny-drop moment where I realised the irony of efficiency/productivity hacks and the illusion that we can get on top of everything; the more work we get through, the more we create for ourselves. E.g., the sooner I reply to that email, the sooner a reply is coming back at me – likely with another action item.

As such, I’ve started building strategies around this that still work for my personality as someone who feels an unrelenting sense of urgency to get everything done as soon as possible. For example, I’ll often prepare my response to an email so I can tick off that I’ve dealt with that item, but I’ll schedule to send it for a time that better spaces out the rate at which they’re coming at me.

Finding acceptance in the fact that to-dos and jobs to be done are constants is also helping. I know now that there’ll always be work to do no matter how efficient I make myself, so I’m trying to get into the habit of walking away from my desk at a reasonable time, despite the temptation to stay and tick off more tasks.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

I do! The above response is based a lot on the book 4000 Weeks which I’m currently halfway through (slow reader).

Essentially, it’s based on the premise that on average we only have 4000 weeks in this short life, and that despite all the productivity/time management hacks that fool us into believing we can make more of our time, time in an absolute sense cannot be manipulated. 

I don’t know what the solution is yet (spoiler – I think the point is there isn’t one), but so far it’s really changing the way I think about my own desire to achieve optimal output and that maybe I can chill on that a bit.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Yes – no work-related content (books/podcasts etc.) after hours. So much of our time and thinking is occupied by our jobs – it’s essential to let our minds wander elsewhere.

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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.