Balancing the Grind with Clark Carter, Head of Productivity at Blackbird Ventures

Clark Carter is the Head of Productivity at Blackbird Ventures, a technology venture capital fund based in Australia and New Zealand.

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

I started my career as a film producer and ran a digital agency where we made documentaries and corporate explainer videos. After 8 years of doing that, I started to get bored of my day to day work and decided to try something new.

I leveraged my project management skills and pivoted into tech, where I worked for a few years at the Australian software company Atlassian. My role there was to optimise the systems and processes for one of the founders.

I now work at Blackbird Ventures, as the Head of Productivity. It’s a very similar role to my Atlassian job, except I now optimise the processes for a company instead of a single person.

I see my job as a way of reducing the admin in everyone else’s role so they can spend more time doing what they do best. I do this through automation, process optimisation, championing better habits, and generally streamlining how we work. 

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

Any given day will look very different, but I would say half my time is spent reactively dealing with internal help requests from the company (I view everyone at Blackbird as my customers), and the other half proactively improving our systems and processes. 

Here’s a typical day: 

  • 6:30: wake up
  • 7:30: arrive at the office and study physics for an hour
  • 8:30: grab a coffee and plan my day.
  • 9:00 – 12:00: push each of my major projects forward, and deep work. 
  • 12:00 – 12:30: lunch away from my desk. Usually a walk as well. 
  • 12:30 – 17:00: deal with incoming requests and prioritise my time accordingly. Continue pushing my projects forward if possible. 

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

Yes, I work remotely from Tasmania. Most of the company is based in Sydney, Melbourne or Auckland. There is a lot of autonomy in my role.

Work and home life are dynamic so it’s no problem to deal with little home dramas like dropping the kids off at daycare, or going to the dentist.

I work from a shared office in the city and find this useful to differentiate home and work life. I work from home when it suits me, like if I have an early Zoom call, or need to wait around for a delivery or something. 

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

I like to differentiate my work and home life. Else I’m the sort of person who could easily spend too much time working, or too much time NOT working. My way of dealing with this is to put rules around my work life.

Lucky for me, we have some built in rules at Blackbird already. One example is the company-wide policy of not sending Slack messages before 7am or after 7pm (or on weekends).

We’ve set up a slack-scheduling tool so if you do need to send a slack message after hours, you can get it out of your head but schedule it to post the next morning instead of 11pm when you had the thought. 

Having kids has also been a great level-setter. My son is three years old, so when I get home, I fall straight into dad mode. Play for a while, then get him fed, bathed and ready for bed. By the time he’s asleep, I can either relax and read before bed, or do a bit of work if I choose. No pressure either way; that’s my time. 

I’m also a believer in being present. I avoid splitting my attention at all costs, especially when I’m spending time with someone. This means the iPhone goes in my bag and not in my pocket (or worse, on the kitchen table!). 

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

I’m a life-long experimenter. I am forever trying apps, or ways of working, and iterating if needed. Some recent experiments include: 

  • Switching from an iPhone to an old flip phone for 6 months. This reset my habit of constantly checking my phone. An added benefit is I now really enjoy those down moments like sitting on the bus, waiting in line for coffee etc, and don’t feel the need to fill every moment with something. 
  • I carry a small notebook and pen with me everywhere. This means any thought can be noted down and dealt with later. It also means I don’t use my phone to set reminders. Once I open my phone there’s a risk of quickly checking email or refreshing social media feeds. I triage the notebook to my laptop every morning. 
  • I’m self-studying physics, and initially found it difficult to read for more than 10 minutes at a time. I suppose having a context switching life (forever multitasking, jumping between slack, email, writing, reading etc) meant my ability to concentrate on one thing for a while was diminished. A habit I set up to re-build this muscle was to read, a lot. Physics text books make this somewhat easy, since you need to follow a bunch of logic steps in a row to understand what you’re reading and are forced to read entire chapters at a time, or risk falling behind. 

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

 I have a million, but only if you’re interested in physics! I’ve tried to reduce the number of newsletters as these just take up brain space and are mostly junk. One that I love is the weekly Hacker Newsletter, which is a curated list of the top posts from Hacker News each week. 

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I love my Fisher Space pen. It fits nicely in my pocket so I can carry it everywhere. This means I can always write something down when a thought hits, without the need to carry a phone. 

I also use Roam Research daily. It’s my all-in-one note taking, project management, CRM, and todo app. 

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

I’m always interested to hear how founders manage their work/home life. Sometimes there is no balance, but when people are short on time, they tend to come up with interesting ways to combat this. I’d like to know what systems any major tech founders have to enjoy life outside of work. 

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 two things for work-life balance. 

1. Flexibility: because something always comes up (either at work, or at home). 

2. Systems: take the thought out of it by identifying what you want your life to look like, then build systems to make this happen. For example, if you don’t want to work late every day, set a rule saying you won’t ever work after 5pm. You could also schedule non-work things at this time to help enforce it. 

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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.