Balancing the Grind with Colleen Pender, Head of Technology, Technology Services at National Australia Bank

Welcome to another Balancing the Grind conversation. Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Colleen Pender, Head of Technology, Technology Services at National Australia Bank, who shares her journey from a computer programmer to a leader in the tech industry.

Colleen offers a peek into her daily routine, her approach to work-life balance, and the lifestyle changes she’s embraced to ensure she stays energised and fulfilled.

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 as a computer programmer. I loved the challenge of solving problems and the logical approach I needed to follow. That role morphed into a systems integrator and business analyst role. This type of role took me to working throughout Asia as well as in finance, logistics and IT industries.

As much as I loved the technical aspects of my work, I found project management interesting and an exciting career move from my existing skill set. Yet, I wasn’t sure how to make that transition. In addition, I felt I did not have the right skills or experience to just fall into this role.

So, I decided to go back to University. I have a huge love of continuous learning, so it wasn’t a hard decision. Soon after, I ended up with two Master’s Degrees (in Information Systems and Business Administration), learnt quite a few new skills that were directly transferable to my current and future role, made some great connections along the way and most importantly built my confidence in this new area. Project management was not only fun (clearly, I need to get out more!), but I loved the people aspect, delivering the seemingly impossible and presenting to stakeholders. 

That was 15 years ago. Since then I have obtained a few more certifications, transitioned to more senior roles in the areas of project management, technical change management and release management. However, my various roles keep bringing me back to some form of project management in a variety of shapes. 

So, what’s next? I recently built a house, managed it (in my free time) and found a love of construction. This has led to me having just completed a Diploma of Building and Construction. I’m excited to see how I can combine this new skillset with project management …stay tuned!

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

My favourite day is Thursday which I spend in the office. I like to get in around 8:00 am (traffic permitting), we have a ‘hot desk’ policy so any later and I don’t get to sit with my team. The day starts with a coffee (I limit myself to 1 a day) and a review of my calendar and meetings for that day. I am invited to quite a number of meetings and I am often overbooked. So, I need to prioritise where my time is best spent and with areas most need my attendance and decision making. 

Next, I catch up with my team leads. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to update them on what has happened so far that week. In addition, it gives them a chance to talk about their challenges, where they need help or sometimes just to vent. 

The rest of the day is spent attending a variety of detailed and high-level meetings. Using the small gaps in between meetings to chat to my team (without zoom) and respond to emails/messages. Lunch is non-negotiable for me.

I block out 30 mins to get food which can be an overpriced Caesar salad from within the building or takeaway ham and cheese toasty from the little shop next door. I do admit that I eat at my desk whilst doing emails, but after years of just drinking coffee all day and no proper food, I am focussing on a healthier sustainable balance.

I try to get out of the office by about 5:30pm and ensure that my team knows I am leaving. I don’t want them to feel they need to work long hours to be successful or that I expect it. Consistency is important.

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

Previously, I used to try to set the goal of putting boundaries around my work time (e.g. not looking at emails after 7pm). This is something at which I have always failed. It used to frustrate me that I could not achieve this goal, however the nature of my work does sometimes mean that I need to login at night or over the weekend. My team also needs to work late sometimes, and it is important to me to support them where I can.

This year I have changed my mindset. Instead of getting stressed about setting the 7pm time limit, I have implemented a 4 hour per week target on ‘Colleen time’. These 4 hours can be anything from going for a swim, reading a book, tap dancing, NOT watching TV. Basically, it is anything that gives me energy and recharges me.

At the start of the week, I plan out what I am going to do and it goes into my calendar. This mentally prepares me for something to look forward to each week and gives me a sense of balance and achievement at the end of the week when it’s done.

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?

Yes! I have just started back tap dancing after a break for 3 years. It is a great outlet. I can catch up with friends, it is very energetic and most importantly I can forget about everything else…it also goes with the juggling I have to do at work!

Working from home a couple of days a week also helps with work life balance. This year I have focussed on getting outside more. Instead of the hour sitting in traffic on the way home, I try to use some of that time to go for a walk and see nature. I feel I come back more energised, sleep better and my dogs love it! 

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 recently went to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in Queensland for a week of detox. No technology, dairy, caffeine, red meat, alcohol, gluten and sugar. Sounds like a nightmare, right? It was an amazing experience! The days were filled with chill out time, lecturers on health and wellbeing, massages and 1:1 time with various therapists.

I did equine therapy for the first time; it was so insightful. One of the lecturers was Sharon Kolkka. She did a presentation on being well, the importance of looking after yourself and techniques to achieve this. The insights were so great that I bought the book too. How to Be Well by Dr Karen Coates and Sharon Kolkka, definitely worth a read. 

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?

There is a lot of information in the media on achieving work-life balance but there is no secret formula on how to get there. You need to find something that works for you and keep adapting to suit the demands on your time. Don’t beat yourself up if you need more or less balance than your colleague or you don’t always get it right. Learn from it and move on…life is too short!

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.