Debbie Pask is a Transformation & Performance Coach, helping business leaders and owners improve their energy levels to thrive at work.
1) To kick things off, would you tell us a little bit about your career background and current role.
My career started in the world of advertising and publishing where I worked on magazines in the design department, quickly growing up through the advertising agency world. It was a tough gig back then.
I started my first part-time job at 11 years old and I started earning a lot of money by age 14 so I was used to working hard. I completed a university degree in philosophy as I landed my first big role at Saatchi and Saatchi advertising.
At age 25, I transitioned to George Patterson Bates as their Operations Director. 12 months later and managing a team of 65 people I was hired on to the board of directors at age 26 years.
Rising to this very senior position early on in my life eventually took its toll on my health. Long working hours and insane politics meant that by the time I was 27 years old – I burned out. Stage 3 cervical cancer.
My work life balance was terrible and I remember working 16 weekends in a row. By the time I hit burnout, I realised this wasn’t a good nourishing life. It had crept up on me and nobody thought to tell me this. The more money you earn = longer working hours.
So I quit my board role job, retrained into mindfulness, meditation and healing; coming back to me with a clear mind and headspace. Over time, I transitioned my career into personal healing and coaching – running retreats, coaching people around burnout, to be more in tune with their heart and to have work-life balance. After 10,000 client sessions I have pretty much heard every life challenge there is to hear.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
After my work burnout, I really worked hard on creating good routines and structures around having a more balanced life. It is different for everyone, but my flow works best when I have the morning completely to myself and start work at 10:30am.
My morning starts with exercise, hikes out in nature or a gym session followed by some meditative time down at the beach. Living on the east coast of Australia means I have access to amazing beaches. I eat a relaxed breakfast before I start work.
Occasionally that routine changes if necessary. I don’t work long days; finishing around 7pm. In terms of a workday, I try to balance lots of tasks with fun creative work. I set up my working day with clear intentions, a theme for the day and a mix of client sessions with product development.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I work for myself in the business with my partner, so my life is extremely flexible. The previous question probably answered that. I prioritise meditation and fitness routines in the morning.
Of course, that can change if I’ve got an important event to attend. I fit all the personal things that I need to in my day first and work-related things around that. I oscillate between the two states of personal and work.
A lot of people struggle going between the two worlds however I have practiced and now it’s a lot easier to manage so I find my daily routine nourishing. I find sales and marketing a bit draining and coaching sessions really nourishing so I mix and swap them.
I did leave my board role to get more work-life balance back in the day, so it’s really important to me that I have a flexible working life for myself, and I’m in control of that routine.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you? And how do you work to achieve that goal?
I spent my whole life, since my burnout at 27 years old, to find my work-life balance. I now teach that to other people which is fantastic as it forces me to reflect on myself when I get too busy.
My big philosophy and theory is that we need to be oscillating between what’s called a Yin state and a Yang state. Once you get the oscillation right, your life becomes a lot more nourishing and productive.
A Yin state is a feminine state or a creative state or a slowing down of the mind state where you’re creating ideas, connecting, you’re taking time to fill up and contemplate and take things slowly. This helps to give you bigger and intuitive leaps.
Whereas Yang is very much about the doing – giving out lots of bitsy tasks, volume, getting through a lot of workload and driving completion to things.
So, if we work through oscillating between Yin and Yang, and go into a thinking, creative, nourishing state versus a more taxing giving out state, we find that our energy gets to repair in those downtimes.
Those Yin times aren’t unproductive by any means. In fact, some of the most amazing ideas come up in the Yin state. Work-life balance to me just means that we’re able to oscillate between those two states throughout our day or our week.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I often review habits and routines, and I like to mix them up every so often because I get bored of the same habits. Lots of people I know love their routine staying the same yet I like to change mine a little bit.
I find that if I don’t get my movement and fitness in the morning though, it just doesn’t happen so I rarely give that one up. I’ve definitely made a very strong move toward locking in my morning routine as well as some sort of mindfulness practice and journaling or just watching the birds.
I tried to stop morning coffee recently but I freaking love coffee!! An example of a failed attempt at giving up my caffeine. I guess you cannot win them all.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts, or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts or newsletters, which might sound strange, but I find that most people multitask listening to a podcast while they’re walking or trying to exercise.
I like to be very single focussed so that I’m not draining my attention when I move my body. I want to feel the whole experience without layering more in.
So, I select books that are very intentional that I want to read at the time for a reason. The ones that I’ve read in the past that are my absolute favourites, especially for managing behaviour and mindset is one called The Untethered Soul by Michael Alan Singer.
The other one is The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson, which is a profiling book around how you think and what personality type you are. This tells you how you use your mind to think or create dysfunctional or functional thought patterns. That is an epic read for anyone wanting to understand their headspace.
7) Are there any products, gadgets, or apps that you can’t live without?
To be honest, I don’t have any apps, or gadgets for health and wellness, and work-life balance that I use regularly. I like to do things without my phone and without tech when I’m unwinding, or getting out into nature and balancing creativity and downtime.
However, I’ve found that apps like Slack, which is an instant-messaging, amazing, incredible system to manage my workload with my team, and Trello, which is like a task-based board, have been game changers.
Those two apps honestly keep me sane, because they hold all my thoughts and ideas for work in one place. I can converse quickly and easily on them. They keep me very organised and clear with myself and my team.
When I’m organised in my headspace, and when I feel like my workload is in command, then I feel like I’m a lot healthier in the mind. My apps or gadgets tend to be my iPhone, Slack and Trello. Simple as that.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’ve thought long and hard about this. This is actually a hard question for me. I admire people who come across composed, calm and creative.
People such as Deepak Chopra and Gregg Braden. Those two people are fascinating. I’m very interested in people that cross business with spirituality and science, and they feel to me like, whenever they talk or speak or present, they are balanced and feel very nourished inside. So, if I was to read a work-life balance book by anyone, it would be those two people.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work-life balance that you would like to share with our readers?
Yes, I absolutely do. My big philosophy is the yin-yang balance, which we talked about earlier. It’s an equation that, if you roughly stick to an even balance, I feel like you can absolutely achieve the work-life balance that you’re seeking.
So, just a reminder, yin is all about creativity and downtime and stillness, and yang is all about doing and giving and granular logical tasks. If you can roughly track your yin-yang spend at home and work, you will have a whole lot better time here.
If you have a really, really big yang week, where you’re on the go, giving out a lot of energy, you’re packing a lot of things in, you’re highly productive and you’re highly task-oriented, then the next week you would hopefully have a more yin-based week. This is where you come down, you’re a bit slower, you’re more creative and inwardly reflective and you’re more thoughtful.
If you have a really big yang day, hopefully the next day could be yin. However, you can manage it, oscillating between yin and yang days is fantastic, or yin and yang weeks.
Obviously, if you can get the yin and yang in one day, where at moments throughout the day you’re more logical and granular and motivated with tasks, versus more creative and thoughtful and mindful, that is the best option.
It’s kind of hard to do that oscillation very smoothly if you’re not used to those two different states. A lot of us just work in yang constantly, and hence the burnout. So, it’s definitely a practice, and I like to think that my days go into yin and yang continually.
So, that’s my rough science and division between spending time in the two states, that helps myself and a lot of clients I work with. With that concept in mind – they can think about what they’re doing and adjust and balance, and that’s the whole idea of work-life balance.
That is, constant adjustment of what you’re doing, and having the observation and inner reflection to be able to make changes on the fly when you know you’re out of whack.
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