CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with George Hedon, Founder & CEO of Pause Fest

George Hedon is the founder & CEO of Pause Fest, the world’s leading festival for business and creativity which started off as a small creative event in Melbourne.

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

I started Australia’s finest innovation event ten years ago, Pause Fest. Pause Fest focuses on people, culture and mindset, bringing creative, tech and business minds together – because I believe that’s where all of the magic of innovation lies.

My career has always been in creative industries. I couldn’t not imagine myself doing anything else. While Pause Fest is more in the management and production space, I still use it as a creative outlet.

Before starting Pause, I was Art Director for a local ad agency, and before that I spent time in Europe for travel and work. I stationed myself in London and worked with some of the best brands in the world, including Puma, Sony PS, Body Shop, to name a few.

After London, I went to Belgrade for what was meant to be a stopover but I ended up staying almost three years. I was encouraged by friends to apply for work with top ad agency Leo Burnett and I got the gig.

At Leo, I led on creative projects for a number of clients, working with a team of fifteen incredible people. Before returning to Australia, I went to DDB to open their digital arm of services.

Through my role with Pause Fest, I bring together the world’s most innovative companies and leaders in tech and innovation. It sounds kind of crazy when I say to others that I’m speaking to the likes of NASA, Disney, Netflix, Google or Adidas almost on a daily basis to help shape or speak at our annual event. That’s my reality now, to bring people from vastly different backgrounds together to act as the catalyst for change.

For me, innovation is all about the people, mindset and culture. When these three come together, that’s where the magic happens (or not). Pause Fest surrounds me and those who follow or with us with the best people in the industry and enables you to believe you are the part of something bigger. 

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

Working for someone is one thing, but running your own business is totally another. You have to be always on and foresee things that others don’t even think about. Working in events is yet another crazy level up.

The flow of work for me fluctuates over the year, but on a typical day, I wake up around 9am but sometimes later, around 10-11am. I try to take my mornings easy and have them to myself. I start with my morning tea or hot water with lime, go over the news and reply to messages from friends.

I usually go for a 3-5km run in the mornings but after a recent knee injury, I’m having to rest. I’m looking forward to getting back into my routine of a run and smoothie before midday once I recover.

But right now, because it’s busy time and because I have to rest my knee, I’m finding myself at the desk with smoothie around 10am.

The most important part of festival organising is dealing with your inbox; reading, responding and reaching out. I try to do this within dedicated blocks of time and have been embracing the scheduling option lately.

On top of arranging Pause Fest 2021, I’m extra busy at the moment coordinating the Pause Awards. The Pause Awards are one of the highlights of the year for me – Pause Fest gives a lot of airtime and platform to established brands and speakers, but one of my favourite things is unearthing new talent and the leaders of tomorrow.

Pause Awards champion people in the startup, scale up and big businesses that not only go the extra mile but are also entrepreneurial, driven by purpose, plugged in the community and are aware of the impact they are making in the world and their business.

Zoom fatigue is real. I spend most of my day talking with my team or suppliers and partners during the day. It’s really hard to get anything done unless I block all incoming traffic.

Depending how the day pans out, I sometimes take the bike out for a sunset ride.

I have my first meal of the day anywhere between 3-5pm. I’m off coffee and alcohol at the moment. I take a proper break from 5pm and log back on around 7pm, working till around 11pm or even 1am at busy times.

Before going to bed, I try to get off the computer and chill out. I might be watching Netflix or chatting on socials. I go to bed around 2am and try to get 8 hrs of sleep.

My daily routine timeline is perhaps not what is recommended to follow, but everyone needs to find whatever works for them. After a burnout earlier this year, I have found this works best for me. I’m naturally a night owl.

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

Well, since I set the rules the answer is yes. Me and my team have been working remotely for the most of the year. It’s not easy but we are learning and adapting. We are a small team of three full-timers with a couple of part-timers, and few groups of people that help us from programming to business advisory.

I spend the work day managing the team, emails and comms. After hours is when no one bugs me and I don’t have to answer to anyone and I get to do actual work. It’s been like this for years, even in the office.

I’ve found that I’m more productive in office setting than working remotely, as I have to dedicate more time to managing the team when we can’t physically be together, to make sure we are on the same page.

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

In my position as a business owner of a creative entity like a festival, it’s hard to draw the line in the sand between work-life. I’ve tried many times but especially as the festival draws closer, I end up with no work-life balance whatsoever. 

The problem is that Pause Fest involves dealing with so many random and changeable things and suppliers that it’s hard to predict when something is going to go wrong – and it does all the time! Being there to fix the problem is one of my main responsibilities but depending on how difficult the problem is and its deadline, the tasks quickly stack up on me and it gets hard to crawl out of the deep hole.

I started 2020 with a fresh new strategy for how to improve my work-life balance, based on past learnings and mistakes. This year, I’ve told myself to not over-deliver too much. That is my personal issue, to delight my customers. I get excited too easily and I add more work to myself and the team that not necessarily is needed or we can be without.

I’m now keeping myself accountable to not build a monster I can’t feed. I refer to the festival sometimes as ‘the dragon’. We’ll see if I can manage to contain myself this year.

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

Many. I change habits and routines, which I call rituals, as often as needed. This must be one of the most difficult things that I force upon myself all the time.

Daily exercise is my new thing, I haven’t done it much in the past. Or I tried and just couldn’t be consistent, injuries would happen, etc. I’m trying to turn myself into a sporty person which is waking up the teenager in me.

Eating habits are also important. I’m trying to get off some foods and consume more veggies so I can lose the weight I stacked up from stress and crazy working hours last year. I’m eating lightly and having one less meal a day, and fasting one day per month.

I stopped drinking coffee and alcohol for almost 6 months now, just to clean myself from it. Now I have one coffee per month and it feels like a crazy rush that before I could not feel.

I bike to the beach to watch the sunset as often as I can. I find it gives me energy and relaxes me. I’m also trying to meditate on the beach, which I learnt in Bali. This is super hard for me to do but with sunset it works.

I have dark showers. I find it relaxes me a lot more than with lights on. Similarly, I have pulled down blinds to keep my bedroom dark so I can sleep better. I used to love being woken up by sunlight in the morning but that was during the time when I didn’t have serious business to run.

I regularly go for massages, once per month at least, and take supplements for my immune system, brain function and anxiety which I update from time to time.

I also find that travelling for me is part of the healing process so I try to travel and explore new places after the huge event is done. I haven’t been able to this year obviously but I try to take up to two months off travelling around the world for conferences, but also chilling out and visiting family.

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

Due to my intense working schedule and focus on building and running a business with a small team, I have to limit consuming additional content so that my head doesn’t explode with all incoming traffic. One of our speakers this year was talking about the ‘information diet’, so I have to watch how much content I consume.

I’d say check out following podcasts:

  1. Business of Hype, with Jeff Staple
  2. A Lot to Say, with Garry Williams
  3. In Your Shoes, with Mauro Porcini
  4. Humans Aren’t Robots

And ‘Nir and Far’ newsletter for work-life balance and focus.

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

Right now, my wireless speaker, and my bicycle.

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

I often read the habits of the most successful people but it’s hard to apply all or any of that to yourself. I’d like to read more habits from other independent festival organisers – not those funded by government or corporate initiatives. It’s very niche I know.

Organising a big festival is so hard, most people don’t understand how much work is poured into it and how much stress organisers need to deal with.

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

Be exceptional in whatever you do. Don’t cut corners. Be real. Be honest. Be kind. Be you and victorious.

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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.