Balancing the Grind with Craig Swann, Director at _SOUTHSTART

Craig Swann is the Director at _SOUTHSTART, Australia’s human-first innovation and impact festival connecting humans to ideas, possibilities, and each other.

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

I’ve been a digital pioneer since the early 90s, discovering the wonders of the Internet and BBSing on my Commodore 64 in the 80s. My love for music and technology collided at a Grateful Dead post-concert drum circle in 1991, where I saw the potential for the two to merge. This realisation led me to drop out of university and chase my dream. 

In 1995, I founded CRASH!MEDIA, a boutique Internet Marketing agency that created interactive solutions for clients such as the University of Toronto and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

My design innovations earned me recognition, in particular, a SxSW International Design award in 1999 for the Web’s first drag-n-drop interface, and a Webby award for the Internet’s first online music platform, Looplabs, in 2000 later demoed by Steve Jobs at an Apple Keynote for the launch of Safari. 

This led to global opportunities to license my music technology for top brands and international speaking engagements as an interactive thought leader. My passion for community, both online and offline, led me to co-launch Canada’s largest design and technology conference, FITC, and numerous unconferences around the world. 

My love for music technology eventually led me to launch two successful start-ups, each, with online communities exceeding one million members. Arriving in Adelaide 5 years ago, provided me the opportunity to build community once again through the re-launch of the _SOUTHSTART event, growing it into the premier innovation festival in the country. 

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

As a dedicated father of two amazing children, I have carefully structured my schedule to prioritise and support my family. I focus on starting my mornings device-free, spending quality time with my kids before taking them to school. 

Working from home, I divide my day into four 90-minute blocks, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Each block is dedicated to specific tasks, goals, or meetings, with 75 minutes of focused work and 15 minutes of break, based on research that suggests this is an optimal balance for productivity. Groups of two blocks are typically dedicated to a specific type of work, such as design, copywriting, strategy, marketing or administration. 

At 4 PM, my focus shifts back to my kids until 7 PM. Afterwards, I have two more 90-minute blocks dedicated to my personal pursuits, such as playing music, pursuing creative endeavours, side projects, and spending time with my partner. 

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

I approach work and play with a holistic perspective, as I believe that what most people consider as “work” should be enjoyable and fulfilling. To prioritise my family and children, I have strict boundaries to ensure that I make the most of our time together. 

During their school hours, I focus on deep, distraction-free work and when the children are home, I devote my time solely to them, playing and spending quality time together. Maintaining these boundaries and strict focus during work hours enables me to give my best self to my family when we’re together. 

Breaking the routine with something powerful, join Craig Swann at _SOUTHSTART, March 8-10, 2023 for an incomparable three-day event that celebrates the Australian spirit of innovation.

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

I have embraced a routine of “bush-bathing” where I spend 2-3 hours, 4-5 days a week, walking alone in nature. This quiet and peaceful environment allows me to reflect, think, and imagine, and has generated many of my innovative ideas that I later focus on in my deep work sessions 

The last few years I’ve further made a concerted effort to shift my attention into the act of creation versus consumption. Focusing on picking up new skills, such as learning to play the drums, and creative pursuits in my ‘off-time’ rather than allowing myself to be sucked into patterns of consumption. 

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

My preference, when I do consume content, is generally passive content that I can consume while commuting, or walking or performing low-energy admin work.

Examples would be long-form podcasts such as the All-in Podcast, Joe Rogan, Lex Fridman, Tim Ferris, Duncan Trussel (and anything with Naval Ravikant)- which allow me to learn from their incredible guests, inquisitive and thought-provoking conversations while getting in-depth perspective on issues facing as humanity. 

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

I am agnostic, and interested in anyone who has achieved incredible success, or is able to demonstrate ability to successfully work on multiple endeavours while living a rich life full of experience. People that extract as much joy and value out of life are the people I am most keen to learn from. 

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

As someone who values work, life and balance, I find it’s all about finding what works for you and sticking to it. For me, this means prioritising my children and family and creating boundaries that allow me to give them the time and attention they need.

At the same time, I approach my work with a sense of purpose and enjoyment, allowing me to find a balance between the two. The key, and biggest factor for me, is to be intentional about how you spend your time, and to make sure that you’re dedicating enough of it to the things that truly matter to you.

Whether it’s work, family, personal pursuits, or something else entirely, it’s important to be mindful about how you allocate your time and energy. After all, time is the most valuable asset we have.

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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.