Designers / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Janelle Hitz, Senior Visual Designer at Disney+

Janelle Hitz is a Senior Visual Designer at Disney, where she’s working on bringing the Disney+ product to life through design on connected TV, web, and mobile.

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

I grew up being inspired by the renaissance age of animation that was coming from studios like Disney and Don Bluth’s. Simultaneously the video game industry was still up and coming and also a big part of my life. Atari and Intellivision were some of the first consoles I experienced gaming with in addition to playing PC games copied onto 8 inch floppy disks from friends.

About half of my career was in gaming working for companies like Electronic Arts and Blizzard Entertainment. The media and entertainment industry is especially exciting, not only because of the content you’re dealing with day to day, but also because of the passion the users and audience have for it as well.

Currently I’m at Disney working on the on-demand streaming service product Disney+. We work on everything from connected TV, mobile, and web, so it’s both exciting and challenging at the same time. 

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

I like to start my day early. I’m usually up by 5am (these days it’s more like 6/7am since we’re currently working from home with shelter-in-place). Eat breakfast, and do something to get the blood flowing, either stretching, yoga, or walking my dog.

My workday usually starts at 8am. As a designer my day-to-day really varies, there are some days where it’s back to back meetings with very little time for individual contributor work.

Other days I get a whole day to just jam on design problems, either alone or through collaboration with other team members. I love to listen to lofi hip hop/chillhop when I’m in the zone working. I love the mixes created by Chillhop Music, for me it’s the perfect ambiance.

No matter how busy or into the groove I might get I always make time for lunch, and if I’m in the office, I try to get outside. It’s a nice mental break from what can be a monotony of always sitting in front of a screen hours at a time.

Lately at home, my lunches are spent with my husband which gives us some really nice quality time with each other. Or I play video games online with friends for an hour which is a really great way to socialize while still abiding by the shelter-in-place rules.

Whatever I do for lunch, I make sure that I pull away from what I’m doing for that moment in time to refocus my energy on something else. I need that mental reset in the middle of the day.

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

My situation is unique right now because many tech jobs are currently working from home due to the unprecedented global pandemic.

However, I really fell into the whole working remote lifestyle rather easily. It wasn’t until I started working from home on a regular basis that I realised how much of a strain and time sink commuting can be.

I now have more time to myself, more time with my family, and more time to work surprisingly. For example, getting on morning calls with our New York office is easier now because I don’t have to get to work earlier for the 3 hour time difference.

Maybe a small silver lining that comes from all this is that companies can be more flexible with their working from home policies.

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

Many people identify their self-worth with their productivity, title, or job. It can be hard to remind yourself that you are not your work, your work is just a part of what makes you, you.

Believe me when I say I understand how difficult it is to separate the idea of meaningful work from the idea of a meaningful life. During work hours, I try to focus on the task at hand. I strive to get things done for the business and solve problems that add value to our users’ lives.

Outside of working hours, I try to do things that add value to my own life, hobbies and activities, self-improvement, and nurturing personal relationships with friends and family. 

Rarely do I let one run into the other. For example, taking work home or working significant amounts of overtime. Having a clear delineation between work versus life helps me balance the two, and in fact helps me be better at both.   

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

I have a love/hate relationship with exclusively working out. So I try to find ways of tricking myself into working out by doing something active that’s also super fun.

Luckily my husband and I are weekend warriors and are always going out to do things like cycling, badminton, surfing, or snowboarding. It’s win-win for me, because I get to spend quality time with people, have fun, and get a workout. So I’m always down to try new activities that will help keep me in shape.

I also have a 1, 2, and 5 year plan for personal goals I want to achieve that I adjust, check off, and edit at the end of every year. Right now a big one is getting conversational in Japanese, which I’ve supplemented with classes and online studying. We’re planning a trip to Japan in a few years, and the goal is to be able to read and converse by the time we go! 

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

I just finished a book written by Yeonmi Park titled In Order to Live, a harrowing story of her escape from North Korea. Reading first hand the hardships she’s experienced in her life puts so much in perspective. 

I started reading The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century after hearing the amazing story on This American Life which happens to be one of my favorite podcasts. This American Life gives listeners touching, humorous and often unexpected vignettes of life in America and is hosted by Ira Glass.

I love Snap Judgement, it’s the kind of podcast you end up sitting in your car in your driveway to finish up. It mixes real stories with killer beats to produce cinematic, and dramatic radio. Storytelling with a beat.

Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, weaves stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries.

Learn Japanese Pod with Ami and Alex is always a staple on my morning commutes, and a great way to supplement your Japanese language learning.

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

Spotify allows me to listen to my own playlists and podcasts, wherever I am. I find it hard to work or play without it.

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

I think the immediate reaction here is to mention a big name like a CEO or some other famous person. The reality is, a lot of these people have professional help: executive assistants, schedulers, and full-time planners.

I want to hear from the single parent who’s finishing their degree while working a full-time job supporting two kids, that person is a hero.     

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

Be kind. In both work and life. Everyone is dealing with their own issues, experiences, and battles. With all things, balance. It’s important to stay up to date with current events and what’s happening in the news but make sure you balance that out with the good things as well.

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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.