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Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind with Don McGray, Product Marketing Manager at Airtable

Don McGray is a Product Marketing Manager at Airtable, a low-code platform for building collaborative apps, headquartered in San Francisco.

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

Hi! I’m Don and at work, I’m a product marketing manager at Airtable. I work with my research team to deeply understand our users’ pain points, my product team to define and build products and features our users need, and with our analytics teams to see how users are responding.

Prior to Airtable, I worked at Dropbox as both a Product Marketing Manager and Social Media Manager. Before that, I didn’t work in tech, I worked in the coffee industry at both Peet’s and Starbucks, both in marketing and in the field.

Outside of work (that matters too!), I like to cook almost every night, read (less often than I’d like), and when we’re able to meet, I like to throw pottery at a community studio in the Bay Area.

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

The way a day looks can change a lot when you’re a product marketer. That’s what makes it exciting for me: It’s always changing. 

Last Tuesday might be a good day to look at as a recent example: The day kicked off with a brainstorm about how we can educate and onboard new users, then I attended a research readout with most of my team.

After that, I had a planning meeting to outline content needs and then my 1:1 with my lead. I took some time to eat lunch and then had a meeting block where I met to discuss an upcoming blog post, cover recent experiment results, meet a couple of new employees, and then check in on individual projects. Finally, I had a work block to catch up on email, Slack, and type up some docs for projects.

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

Airtable is currently remote, so I’m not in an office every day. I, for one, love it. It definitely allows me the flexibility to incorporate things I really value, like taking time for my morning coffee, working out, and taking time before meetings start.

Working from home has also really opened up my weekends: I can plan to run some errands late in the afternoon or do laundry between meetings so that my weekends are more relaxed and not filled with chores.

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

My career coach introduced me to the idea of work-life harmony a few years ago and it has really resonated with me. For me, work-life harmony is about ensuring that your work and personal life are integrated with each other in a healthy way.

For me, there’s a couple of really important elements that I worked with my career coach to identify:

  • Be present: I like to focus on work at work and focus on my life when I’m not. This is one of the hardest goals to achieve but it allows me to succeed at work and not bring it all home with me.
  • Practice saying no: Our current work culture makes it feel like saying “no” to something is a failure. We’ve been trained that saying “yes” to everything will lead to success but knowing when to say “no” to something is actually a much more powerful approach. 
  • Dive into a hobby: I had a boss once who made me write down a plan for what I wanted to learn about pottery in the next quarter. Though it felt pointless, at the heart of that exercise was a very valuable lesson that I should take my hobbies (and my personal life) as seriously as I take my work. 

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

It started as a silly joke, but I do “Bean Tuesday” where every Tuesday, I cook a big pot of beans. There is something nice about having a weekly routine, especially one that produces something as delicious as beans.

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

I can’t recommend How’s Work? with Esther Perel enough. There are very few podcasts that manage to balance humour, introspection, and sometimes, grief so well. 

For books, I spent time earlier this year in New Orleans and realised that even though I lived through it, I didn’t know much about Hurricane Katrina and the impact on the Gulf Coast, so I’ve been reading Five Days at Memorial, 1 Dead in the Attic, and Nine Lives.

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

As much as I hate to love them, my AirPods make working out and endless Zoom calls much better. I also love the Balance app for evening meditations.

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

I’d love to hear from Gaby Hoffman or Seth Rogan. They both seem to have amazing work-life harmony while still being ambitious and committed to their work.

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

I’d encourage everyone to experiment! There is no ideal state of bringing together work and life, so keep trying different things and stick with what works. It’s a life-long practice to figure out how to reconcile our work and personal life.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.