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Balancing the Grind with Elana Robertson, Founder & Managing Director of foundher

Elana Robertson is the founder and managing director of foundher, a start-up aimed at helping ambitious leaders of change develop a sustainable pace for work and life. 

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

I’m the founder and managing director of foundher, which equips ambitious entrepreneurs, CEOs and founders with a toolkit for work and life so they can amplify the results they create, ultimately making a positive difference in the world.

This year, in addition to private coaching partnerships, we’ve expanded into short, small-group online programs to help more people define their best version of self to navigate work and life on their terms.

Before launching foundher I spent more than 20 years in the corporate world, working across strategic innovation, project management roles in IT and consumer product in the financial services industry.

While these roles were vastly different to what I do now, they taught me to pay attention to human performance and behaviour – how people respond to pressure, build resilience and connect with their purpose. 

An incredible mentor ignited my courage to combine what I know about leadership, innovation and strategy with my purpose to help people positively disrupt the status quo.

So, after post-grad studies in executive leadership and coaching, as well as ongoing accreditation with the International Coaching Federation and Harvard’s Institute of Coaching, I launched foundher in 2018. 

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

I believe in creating daily routines and rituals that energise you to do your best work – for me, that includes daily movement, meditation, learning and reflecting. 

I’m an early bird, so my days start at around 5am when I take my beaglier, Beatrix, for a walk. On the way I’ll listen to an audio book – the early morning is ideal for learning and priming the mind. What we put in it sticks!

When I get back I’ll usually do a morning yoga practice before getting ready for the day. Starting the day includes a gratitude practice and a meeting with myself to check where I’m at mentally, emotionally and physically and how that will affect what I have scheduled.

Right away, it gives me the opportunity to set up the day based on the reality of who I’m being and what’s really a priority – I can then reschedule meetings or shift tasks to suit. It’s about putting into practice the famous Jim Rohn quote, “Either you run the day, or the day runs you.”

My day from here could be a mix of coaching calls or planning and performance workshops, supporting deliverables for my own business with the team or working on my own mentoring and coaching training. A commitment to supporting others grow is the ability to always be available for growth yourself.

My day always ends at different times, however the constant is finishing with writing daily reflections and gratitude (not tomorrow’s to-do list) then signalling to my body that switch-off mode has been activated by lighting a candle.

This external signal supports my senses in knowing that it’s time to wind down, let the cognitive function take a break and allow for relaxation. 

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

Absolutely. Many of my clients are international and I have team members based all over the country, so we connect daily via Zoom, WhatsApp, Asana and all the other great ways that our digital world does good to keep us connected.

I’m often working to others’ time zones, so my daily routines and rituals are non-negotiable yet are also flexible, which I know helps me stay out of autopilot mode.

It’s interesting, back in 2008 I started working for an Australian financial services company that had fantastic People and Culture policies, which included a work-from-home policy that was rolled out and refined year on year.

So, flexible and remote working has been part of my DNA for over a decade, which has been great for some of the advisory work I do with CEOs in supporting transformational change.

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

I don’t believe in work-life balance so much as work-life blend. Too often, my clients are worn out from trying to perfect this idea of ‘balance’. They are anxious and frustrated, and attempting to walk the tightrope of always getting the mix ‘right’ is a lot of pressure. 

Instead, I encourage them to personalise their daily, weekly and monthly rhythm and routines. There’s an overload of information out there on daily routines – the shift I encourage clients to make is to create a best-self routine that works for you, rather than following a perfect version of someone else’s.

I support them to frame it around the idea of creating a ‘sustainable pace’ – that is, a daily, weekly and monthly rhythm that supports you to do your best work. It has replenishing routines and rituals built-in, so you can continue to perform consistently over a sustained period of time.

This is the concept underpinning our work at foundher. My aim is to give people a toolkit to work sustainably, so they can make a positive difference in the world. 

I’m mindful of my own work-life blend, too. I have daily and monthly rituals that help to keep me energised and I really notice it when these slip out of rhythm.

Routines and rituals – the very things that help us stay healthy and support cognitive function – are usually the first things to disappear when the pressure is on.

I recently went away for a week of combined work and change of pace, and for the first few days I dropped my usual morning routines and replaced them with more movement and walking as I was staying by the beach.

Within two days I knew that my morning meeting with self was missing as I kept noticing through the day that I felt behind or unclear on what the day ahead was looking like.

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

Always! Humans are biologically wired for pattern-making and finding our comfort zone. We often get so good at it that we can live on autopilot even when we don’t like the habits we have. I adjust my exercise habits and sleep routines seasonally.

For example, right now I’m experimenting with my wake-up times given that here in Brisbane the sun is surfacing at around 4.30am! I’ve also been jumping about and having resistance to some of my meditation practices so I’ve recently subscribed to Deepak Chopra’s app for meditation based on my ayurvedic dosha – some of it is really connecting.

I’ve added an evening practice as well, as my workload this time of year is at its peak.

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

So many!

Brianna Wiest’s 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think is a rich philosophical book that wowed me recently. 

I am pretty disciplined about keeping up with studies around neuroscience and developmental coaching, so I tune into the Coaches Rising Podcast, which gives the latest research and practices for coaches.

In the personal development space, I often suggest clients who work with me read the Jen Sincero book You Are A Badass as a step into transformational work, because it’s light-hearted and an easy step into the world of self-awareness and how helpful and unhelpful our own mindset can be for work, goals and switching off autopilot. 

And I’d love to give a shout-out to the foundher journal, The Ripple Effect – each month we share insights on modern work culture, write articles that shift conversation and action around high performance and productivity, and offer a round-up of thought-provoking reads and exciting moves in the sustainability space. 

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

Yes! I’m a huge fan of technology that gives us the space to do creative work and strategic thinking. 

The project manager skills I used once for constant hustle are now helpful tools for building a constant pace, so I love to use Asana to build a rhythm and way of working with the team and WhatsApp every day to connect more personally with team members to get away from death via email.

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

I’d love to hear more from the 35-45-year-old age group. The work we are doing at foundher is drawing me towards this demographic and I’m paying attention to how they are disrupting old ways of working.

I’m finding that they are using their experience and wisdom to be more committed to a change of pace that doesn’t compromise themselves anymore. That dialogue is very exciting.

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

I’d love to share the foundher definition of productivity with your readers. 

I’m committed to redefining productivity because for too long, it’s been equated with hustle culture – working around the clock to get as much done as quickly as possible and delivering at all costs. 

With rates of burnout rising, particularly among entrepreneurs, there is an urgent need to redefine productivity for our dynamic, modern world and acknowledge that who we are being affects what we are doing, 100 percent of the time. 

Productivity doesn’t have to mean ticking off every item on your to-do list or feeling guilty for procrastinating. Instead, it’s about developing self-awareness so you can activate the right mindset and work mode for the task at hand, respond rather than react to challenges and recharge daily so you can continue to perform at a high level over time.

Busy is no longer a badge of honour. Instead, working at your own unique sustainable pace is the real definition of high performance. 

With our planet in peril, it’s more important than ever that we look after ourselves so we can go the distance to make a difference in the world. 

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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.