Balancing the Grind with Doris Spielthenner, Managing Director for Australia & Regional Manager APAC at SMA

Doris Spielthenner is the Managing Director for Australia & Regional Manager APAC at SMA, where she is responsible for the whole APAC region.

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

I have enjoyed a diverse career that took me from Europe via San Francisco, NY, Australia and Asia. My background in international commerce and psychology took me to data analytics, then software and finally renewables.

I always followed a passion for emerging technologies that needed embedding into the psyche of business, politics and communities. I feel we have succeeded in weaving data analytics into business practice, software and online engagement. And have made software the core of most industries.

I have always had a sustainable mindset in ensuring I drive sustainable growth, push for sustainable supply chains, diverse work environments and a sustainable work life-balance. In my current role I am the Managing Director for SMA Australia/NZ, based in the Northern Beaches in Sydney.

I am responsible as MD for the whole APAC Region with substantial offices in Australia, India and Japan and an additional growth focus on solar and energy storage for the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. I am excited about the future of our industry and often 24 hours are not enough hours in the day. 

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

I’m writing this at 6pm on a Friday evening in Manila, catching the last of the sunset, enjoying a Campari soda. I’ve just completed a very successful but demanding two week marathon of meetings across Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Whether I’m in Sydney or travelling I tend to get up early enough to carve out 2 hours before work to do some sport and get ready for the day. In Sydney that may mean Standup Paddle Boarding in the Harbour.

When travelling I Google “best coffee near me” and select a decent barista looking coffee shop about 2-3km away. I then usually run there and walk back, listening to the BBC world news or other podcasts. It’s a great way to explore a city, be it Tokyo or Bangkok or Munich. I tend to skip hotel breakfast because business travel means too much eating and drinking anyways. 

I work long days Monday to Friday, travelling or not, including late calls with Germany, where SMA is headquartered. I strive to finish all matters pending and needed by Friday night such that I can enjoy a full Saturday and Sunday to recharge.

For most of my 13 years in Australia, I’m making a point of not stressing on Sunday nights. Living in Sydney has helped with that, as even Monday mornings I am many hours ahead of Asia, Europe and the US.

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

During COVID I reflected a lot on what I wanted to get out of my job or out of life and what defines me. I realised that before COVID I had placed not enough importance on building relationships in my local community or sharing important moments with friends and family. I was either travelling for work or working late at the office.

COVID offered a circuit breaker and I started having walk-and-talk meetings within my 5km radius, sometimes with strangers in my industry I contacted through LinkedIn. I also realised it’s not unprofessional to have meetings on my phone while walking along a beach, working on the porch looking into trees, or walking around our house fixing myself a cup of tea, paying full attention to the person I’m talking to.

So in short, I became more conscious about making room for things that nurture me and when it’s time to close the lid on the laptop and put the phone on silent. 

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

With that post-COVID consciousness I am checking-in with myself more closely, making sure I make room for sport, fun, adventure and the people I care about. However, I still try to burn the candle on both ends sometimes.

My partner Mathew is my best reminder to look after myself and stop. The best habit I’ve ever had was regular practice of Bikram Yoga 2-3 times a week. It keeps me sharp, focused throughout the day and fit like nothing else, but it’s extremely time consuming.

During COVID I stopped practicing and with late working days I don’t want to commit to a 6am weekday session. I’ve recently started to get back into it on the weekend. 1 session a week is better than nothing. I think that is the mantra. Even if you can’t establish a routine. Doing something good for yourself, even if irregularly, is better than not doing it at all. Don’t be too hard on yourself. 

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

To wind down on an evening and to get away from screens on weekends I enjoy reading books, mostly fiction. Many recommendations but I’ll leave this for another time. Mornings, when running or walking I listen to the BBC world news, or the BBC tech-tent, or various other podcasts I gravitate towards over the year.

I don’t do doom scrolling on my phone, instead, daily I use a few minutes here and there on the AFR app. I have a habit of getting the paper AFR on the weekend, walking or SUPing to pick it up, sharing back and forth the sections with my partner over breakfast/lunch. 

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

I don’t know what I don’t know. I invite your readers to get in touch on LinkedIn to discuss their routine over a brisk morning walk and spill their secrets. Especially if they work in the renewable energy industry. Let’s do life-balance and success together. 

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

I’ll share a few tricks that give me sanity and satisfaction. I won’t let myself get terrorised by phone or laptop notifications. I proactively design my time and attention and turn off all notifications except known urgent channels.

When travelling long distance I connect to Outlook, ensure to stay off-line in air, then work through a prioritised list of emails or strategic things. That allows me to reflect or clear my plate, and gives me the artificial satisfaction that there is no immediate response or action to take. I try to also carve out at least 3-4 hours a week for “off-line” think-through time. 

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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.