Balancing the Grind with Harshy Ugarte, Strategy Executive at Starcom

Harshy Ugarte is a Strategy Executive at Starcom, a media communications agency which has partnered up with brands such as Airbnb, Coca-Cola, and more.

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

I have quite a patchwork of experience and some highlights are: being a restaurant manager for five years, getting an accounting Degree but then pivoting to performance media buying.

After I did that for about two years, I made the move into media strategy and insights which is what I do right now. I really enjoy it because it blends a curious skillset: people watching, market analysis, storytelling, data-crunching: Everyday is different!

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

My mantra for organising a day is: “There will always be things that I can’t do, pick the most critical things, leave the rest for tomorrow.”

As a result, every day tends to be fluid between wake up and bedtime; those I don’t negotiate with, because the ensuing sleep problems are not worth it.

I wake up pretty early and go for a walk, sometimes I’ll write for my Medium publication. I must say I love the morning, it’s my time to do the things I love and work on my long term goals.

I’ll get my kids ready for school, make sure to give them a hug, write a note on their sandwich bags and get some reading done for them. Lately my partner and I have both been working from home, so after a good morning session of insights and creative work, we both take a minute to grab lunch together.

It really is lovely to have lunch dates handed to me like that! Once the kids come home we all settle down into the second half of the work day. I share my double desk with my younger daughter and mix homework help with admin.

We have dinner and a good chat around the table (some days I’m tired and flat, but others are filled with gales of laughter). Then it’s time to go to bed and work through the pile of books on my bedside table!

It’s not the most exciting kind of day, but that’s what makes it dependable and sustainable: that I do what I love, when I’m most primed to do so. I get to be unapologetically myself: the successful, nerdy, working mum I am.

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

I am truly blessed to work where I do, in the team I work with. At a firm level we have Publicis Liberte, where we work based on behaviours rather than guidelines and rules. As an example, some of the behaviours we cultivate on our journey to work life integration are:

  • Setting good boundaries: Opt for the best work hours to do better work.
  • Focus on the output: forget the clock watching, it’s the results that matter, great ideas don’t come under pressure.
  • We are all different: Flexible work is meant to do just that! Flex to fit different people differently.
  • Use technology to win easier: there’s a reason why tech enables us to do better!

Even before Covid-19 happened, our team would regularly work from home and flex to accommodate work and life so the transition to 100% remote was quite seamless!

I also work a 9 day fortnight which was heavily supported by the team and management: this allows me to have Friday movie nights with the whole family.

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

Work life balance means fulfilling at least the basics of the many roles I occupy: mother, partner, strategist and amateur writer. I learned from a book called Atomic Habits that chipping away slowly but surely every single day at my big goals is the most sustainable way forward.

Building a habit, breaks down a mammoth task into more manageable chunks. I try to take a long term outlook on my goals, this takes the pressure off the everyday.

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

The past 12 months have been a rollercoaster(For everyone!), but I’ve added 3 new habits that are making me very happy:

  • Write every week.
  • Do low impact exercise 5 days a week.
  • Give my loved ones a hug everyday!

Those habits don’t seem work related, but when I do the things outside of work that matter to me, my mind is much less stressed and I’ve noticed my work has blossomed!

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

I really loved the podcast Dissect which is known for thoroughly analysing contemporary music through a lens of history, politics, culture and humanity.

I don’t have a single musical bone in my body, but I appreciate music very much. The podcast usually spends a whole season (about 10 hours of listening time) dissecting one album. I value how much empathy, appreciation and detail they approach the art with.

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

Honestly, I am techy and use quite a few apps: Samsung health, COZI for managing schedules, Zoom has enabled so much for us!

At the end of the day though: they are just tools and it’s important that we are in control of the tech. To that effect, building character and setting healthy boundaries is so important. The role of self-improvement and coaching can often trump letting tech become a crutch in life.

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

While we hear a lot from CEOS and upper management, entrepreneurs with all the markers of visible success in a white collar setting (which is awesome), I’d also love to hear from people who work in high emotional labour sectors like nursing, mental health and teaching. I feel like those industries need a very different lens to what work-life balance looks like.

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

As cliché as it may sound: Take a breath, have a laugh, given time, it’s never as serious as it seems right now.

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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.