Designers / Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Hayden Bleasel, Director of Jellypepper

Hayden Bleasel is a product designer, React developer and studio director. He is currently the Director of Jellypepper, a creative agency for startups and tech companies.

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

In short, I’m a Product Designer, React Developer and Studio Director which is a bit of a mouthful.

Currently I spent my days running Jellypepper, an award-winning creative agency. We design and build beautiful brands, apps, websites and videos. We work with tech companies and disruptive startups in industries like self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, sustainable energy financing and 3D bioprinting.

I spend my nights making Neutral — an app for people like myself that want to become (and stay) carbon neutral. It helps you track your carbon footprint, learn how to reduce emissions, stay up to date with the latest global news in carbon reduction and offset your emissions with a simple monthly subscription, all from your phone.

Previously, I was Head of Product and Design at Spaceship — an entirely new type of superannuation fund that lets you invest your super in tech companies. While I was there, we went from $0 to $100m in FUM and raised $20m in venture capital from some of the worlds best VCs including Sequoia and Valar Ventures.

Before all this, I interned as a Product Designer at Palantir in California and studied two undergraduate degrees at the University of Technology, Sydney.

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

I’m a big fan of Naval’s mentality behind keeping a clear calendar but still being ridiculously busy. My mornings are very scheduled, but past that I’m free to focus on what’s most important for the day.

My day starts at 5am. I have gym at 5:30 then go for coffee with the early birds. I get home around 7 and take around 30 minutes to get ready for work.

Jellypepper is a remote, distributed agency — our team is spread out primarily across Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Plus we work with contractors from any country — U.S., Phillipines, South Africa, etc.

So from 7:30 to 9:00, I tackle all the emails, messages and outstanding tasks from my team outside of Australia. Then at 9, I’ll do a quick standup with the Australian and New Zealand squads. At 9:30, I work on the most important thing for the day. This could be client work, a chore that needs doing, a meeting that needs scheduling. This usually takes around an hour.

From 10:30 onwards, it’s a mixture of Zoom calls, client work or internal projects depending on how free my day is. I try to schedule meetings on Tuesday and Friday to create uninterrupted time during the week for deep work.

I finish up with Jellypepper around 5pm. Then it’s time for Neutral. I have a roadmap I’m working through, so I’ll usually put on music and do deep work for the next 4 or 5 hours.

At 9:30pm, my 14-hour work day is finally finished. From here on, I can chat with friends or play games until late.

I try to take the weekends off, but frequently fail.

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

My current role is all about it! Jellypepper is a remote agency so we need to be flexible in terms of working hours and create a culture of autonomy. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.

While the NSW lockdown means I’m working from home nowadays, I generally love to work from cafes, parks, mate’s places, anywhere is good as long as my phone and laptop are charged up. I encourage my team to do the same.

Life is too short to spend every day at home or in an office. Take advantage of this paradigm shift of remote work and find somewhere you’re productive.

I’ve been running Jellypepper for about two and a half years now — there are times I miss working in in office, but overall I’ve found the benefits of remote work too good to pass up. The lack of distractions, comfortable environment and short Zoom meetings mean you can work much more effectively.

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

I think for a lot of people, work-life balance is the same as work-life separation. I don’t really enjoy compartmentalising like that — I believe work-life balance comes by ensuring your work and life can intertwine — where you can bring you personal life to work and bring your work home with you.

This is the sort of balance we aim for with Jellypepper and we try to encourage it by creating a culture of personal development and flexible work. If you need to switch off at a certain time or handle personal stuff, do it. Or, if you’re like me and enjoy working long hours, then do that!

We have a few people on the team that prefer to only work a few hours a day and focus on themselves, but the time they do spend working results in an unparalleled quality of work. Over time, I’ve come to forget traditional concepts of working hours and just support my team with whatever helps them be the best they can be.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

The best habit that comes to mind is deep work. I found that I have a better time solving problems or working on things that are cognitively complex when I have a long, uninterrupted session of work.

This also includes agency work — context switching (between different clients) means I have to stop and collect my thoughts between each project which can lead to a lot of wasted time.

I’ve found music conducive to deep work, so I started curating playlists on Spotify. Now when it’s time to work, i just pick a playlist based on the day’s vibe and go for it.

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

While I’ve read plenty of books I could recommend on startups, design, code, etc, I tend to prefer books that focus on practical philosophy, mental models or things I’m interested in outside of what I do.

While I don’t get to read as often as I’d like, there are few great books I’d recommend picking up:

I also love listening to Naval’s podcast where he talks about wealth creation, happiness, society and playing long-term games. If you’re after more recommendations, my friend Jordan made a fantastic product called Goodbooks.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Strangely, having hobbies! For me, the ability to stay focused during the day relies on the ability to distract myself outside of work hours.

In particular, since starting gym earlier in the day I’ve found a huge boost in productivity and focus. Weight training in particular gives a feeling of strength and focus that I bring with me for the rest of the day. It also feels a bit like meditation, taking time to focus on form / movement and nothing else.

Having a few hobbies is good, especially if they’re focused on self-improvement. There’s a great quote, anonymous author unfortunately, that says the secret to life, happiness and fulfilment is simple:

Find three hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to be creative.

Variety is the spice of life.

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

I think it would be people I look up to that have accomplished so much with their career and still manage to find time to live their life. People like Andrew Wilkinson, Soleio Cuervo, Julie Zhuo or Rasmus Andersson. Or maybe someone historical, I’d love to know what the concept of work-life balance looked like back in the day. Aristotle or Plato maybe?

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

I really enjoy what I do — assisting disruptive startups and helping people save the earth — because it matters to me. That’s why I stay driven and can work long hours.

My advice would be to focus on what matters to you and design your life the way you want.

Some employers won’t be able to offer the level of autonomy and flexibility you’re after and that’s okay — it’s just a sign that maybe the culture fit isn’t there in which case, maybe it’s time to look for a company that’s more in line with your values. If you are looking, check out Breakout Careers.

You’ve only got one life. Don’t spend it working on things you don’t care about.

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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.