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Balancing the Grind with Courtney Branson, Culture Designer at Courtney Branson Consulting

Courtney Branson is a Culture Designer at Courtney Branson Consulting where she partners with startups to lay the foundational people ops programs.

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

My mission is to bring femininity into the workplace. I have a niche as a first-in people hired for tech startups. Currently, I work as a consultant, partnering with startups to lay the foundational people ops programs. 

My early work history was a lesson in experimentation; I test-drove teaching, agency recruiting, and communications. I found People Ops after being written up by HR; I believed there had to be a better way. So, for the past 12 years, I’ve been in tech, shifting the perspective of HR to be more human.

Today, I consider myself a culture designer; my career is about how to design the best future for a company through people. My efforts have been recognized by Fast Company, Fortune, Great Place to Work, Inc. Magazine, and People Magazine. 

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

Start the Day @ 7:00 am 

  • Wake up to hug my daughter goodbye before my husband walks her to school.
  • Get ready + have my morning rituals of matcha latte, deep breaths, and writing.

Work @ 9:00 am 

  • Check + follow-up on emails and Slack messages𑁋I have a small culture people community that workshops challenges going on in our respective roles. 
  • Start working on my content piece for the week𑁋I write for multiple publications, including my own. The research, drafting, editing, and publishing phases stretch across the week. 

Check-in @ 11:00 am 

  • Weekly status call with a client; since I support start-ups, most of my status calls are to discuss a people, culture, or policy issue that’s come up on the team in the past week.  

Lunch @ Noon 

  • I’m an “eat leftovers for lunch while catching up on the news at my desk” person. 

Focus Time @ 1:00 pm 

  • My creative bone kicks in at this hour, so it’s my in-the-groove time. I tackle pitch decks and client documentation + projects. On this particular day, I’m building a playbook for the candidate journey covering everything from employer branding to onboarding. 

Break @ 3:00 pm

  • I picked up my daughter from school. We walk home and have a snack together before I finish work. I had this time with my mom as a child, and it’s precious to me. 

Work Healing @ 4:00 pm 

  • My daughter describes my job as “helping people not be sad” because the afternoons are when I have work healing sessions. These are for individuals typically in leadership or people operations who need a safe place to unburden their feelings but also need a sounding boarding to find a path forward. 

Wrap-up @ 6:00 pm 

  • I like to close the loop on any pending emails or Slack messages. Then I journal + plan for the next day.  

Family Time @ 7:00 pm 

  • My family eats dinner, and if it’s nice in Austin, we’ll take a walk. Our dinners are no phones allowed with a focus on curious conversation. 
  • Evening rituals with my daughter𑁋goodnight books and songs are our calm time. 

Wind Down @ 9:00 pm 

  • I like to hula hoop and catch up on my TV shows; Top Chef is my current go-to. 
  • I’m working on my first book draft, so I also end my day with writing. When the rest of the world quiets, that’s when I feel most inspired. 

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

Yes! I’m 100% remote. Occasionally, I’ll meet up with peers or clients for tea or lunch, but usually, it’s just me and my 3 rescue pets at home. It’s changed my quality of life for the better to not commute. I created an office for myself by our garden window. Seeing the flowers, hearing the birds, and having easy access to fresh air helps me avoid feeling stagnant.

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

It’s 𑁋 am I creating a life where I’m present for myself and those that count on me? Balance is feeling that I’m prioritizing the right things and in spaces that I benefit + benefit me.  

My values are compassion, creativity, and connection. They’re how I add and receive value. So, I do a monthly inventory of me𑁋how I felt, what consumed me, and how my values showed up. If I don’t like the results, it’s up to me to adjust.

Usually, that means recommunicating boundaries to people or companies. It’s only natural if I don’t hold the line that others will cross it. Occasionally, it means that the relationship needs to come to an end.

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

I stopped working nights and weekends. In a startup, whether full-time or a consultant, there’s no shortage of work to do. I was working nights Monday – Thursday and all-day Sunday. That didn’t leave a lot of space for what I wanted to prioritize𑁋my family.

Now, I set expectations of what’s possible and by when. On rare occasions, I work odd hours now, it’s because the need and urgency are real and an intentional choice I’m making. My brain doesn’t ever stop thinking about company culture, but it’s easier now to jot down or pursue ideas when I feel in control of my schedule. 

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

Podcast: UNprofessional by Hilary Corna. Her guests offer a fascinating look at the complexities of people and why that matters for + benefits workplaces. 

Books: Radical Candor, Big Magic, Meaning at Work, and Crucial Conversations are canon for me. But the book I come back to year after year is Complications by Atul Gawande. It’s about medicine, but it always gets me thinking about ethics and humanity. 

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

Tally: This is how I track my habits. All of my habits purposefully connect to who I want to be as a person and what makes me feel whole. I keep tabs on things like books read in a year, conversations with friends each month, and time exercised in a week. 

Reflectly: I track my feelings day-to-day in the app and why I feel that way. My intuition typically guides me well, but it’s nice to have the data before making a major decision. There’s a difference between this and it affects my peace, and I’m uncomfortable because I’m still learning. 

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

I admire people who have the challenge of creating their version of balance while also working in a role that requires a lot of emotional giving or difficult subject matter. 

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

Balance doesn’t necessarily mean easy. It’s feeling that the efforts I put in are moving me closer to the person I’m becoming. When I can appreciate how something connects to my values, I can be present in it instead of dreading it. Dread is in opposition to balance for me.

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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.