Balancing the Grind with Frances Clayton, Chief Strategy Officer at DDB Sydney

Frances Clayton is the Chief Strategy Officer at DDB Sydney, where she has worked with brands like Westpac, Volkswagen and Johnson & Johnson.

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

I’m from New Zealand originally. I started out as a researcher about 20 years ago, but soon discovered the role of creative strategist and I’ve been doing that ever since.

I spent my early years at Mojo Auckland before heading over to Saatchi New York where I helped run a global ethnography practice and was also the planner on a number of different P&G and General Mills brands.

I’ve been in Australia for over 10 years now and have spent most of that time at DDB working with wonderful people and brands like Macca’s, Westpac, Volkswagen and Johnson & Johnson. I’m now the Chief Strategy Officer, DDB Sydney.

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

Most mornings I’m woken far too early by my kids who are four and eight years old. Thankfully, my husband makes a very good cup of coffee.

I love my drive to work as I’m a closet introvert and it is literally the only time I have to myself. I’m currently enjoying Bill Gates and Rashida Jones podcast, or cheesy music that I can sing along to without embarrassing anyone.

Honestly, after that I don’t follow a set structure or routine. I do have a tiny habit I’ve managed to maintain which is to write down the just one thing that I most want to get done that day before I get out of my car and go into the office.

My favourite sort of day at work is one where we are briefing creative teams or reviewing ideas. Ideas have energy, nothing beats the feeling of hearing a great idea for the first time.

Most of my time in the office is spent having conversations and working sessions with strategists, clients and creatives. I love the momentum that comes from that personal interaction.

But unfortunately that means that the deep work – writing strategy, analysing data etc – tends to happen after I’ve put my kids to bed at night. It’s a bad habit that I’d like to change. Any tips?

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

I’m really lucky that I’m able to work a four day week. Most Thursdays I do the school run and enjoy hanging out with my four year old.

A few years ago I was working five (plus) days and I felt time speeding by so quickly. I realised that childhood is really short in ‘adult years’. So I made a really personal choice to change things up a bit.

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

Work-life balance is not just about time management, it’s also about resource allocation and by resource I mean energy. You can be physically there with your family or your colleagues, but if you’re exhausted you’ve got nothing to give.

Despite having young kids, I’m still a big fan of sleep. For me sleep is transformational – more sleep equals more brain power, more optimism, more courage, more fun.  

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

My daughter has discovered a love of reading so each night we read a chapter together. Sharing a story with someone else is a lovely way to finish the day.

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

I quite like listening to things that aren’t directly related to work. Song Exploder is a great podcast where musicians tell the story of how a song was created. I think it’s on Netflix now too.

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

  • FaceTime to stay connected to my family in New Zealand
  • Surfcam
  • Mac Ruby Woo red lipstick

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

A police officer.

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

No one has it all figured out.

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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.