Balancing the Grind with Jess Nichols, User Research, Product & Experience Strategy

Jess Nichols is a User Research Lead, who has worked with companies such as Twitter, Uber and Dovetail on understanding and improving their product experiences.

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

I’m a User Research Lead, where I’m responsible for helping organizations mitigate business risk by understanding and advocating for their customers throughout their product experiences.

Recently, I’ve worked for organizations like Twitter, Uber and Dovetail; and recently relocated back to Sydney after several years in San Francisco.

However, I’ve recently started a short career break to take a breather after the whirlwind in relocating back to Australia. I’m really grateful to be in a position where I can press ‘pause’ and reflect on what I want to prioritize in my life and my career in the long term.

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

Usually when I’m working, I can be either preparing, running or analyzing research; or collaborating with my team to make sure that we’re advocating for our customers in the products that we’re building. 

As researchers, we focus a lot on how to share our research. We want to make sure that the insights that we create do not become shelfware – something filed away never to be used.

Often as researchers we look for new ways outside of the standard presentation or report structures to share findings, often focusing on personalizing or creating visuals of the outcome to be relevant to the team or stakeholders we’re working with.

However, during my career break I’ve been spending a lot of time just focusing on myself and bringing the ‘life’ back into ‘work-life balance’ with plenty of pilates, cooking, connecting with friends, long beach walks and listening to true crime podcasts. 

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

I’ve been lucky that all of the organizations I’ve worked for in my career have been able to offer flexible or remote working. I’ve found that this is because the organizations I’ve worked for have trust in & empower their employees to work in the way that helps them be as productive as possible.

For me, flexible work is underpinned by consistency, for example, by having a certain day that you, or your team, works from home; and transparency, by over communicating and setting expectations with your team to when you are/aren’t available.

On the days I work from home, I always make sure I’m going outside for lunch or a walk so I can give myself a proper break during the day.

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

Work-life balance to me means boundaries. Historically, I’ve been more in the ‘live to work’ mindset; but more recently I’ve focused on ‘work to live’ to help myself focus on using my work to help me be more fulfilled by everything I do outside of work. 

To help with my work life balance, I try to give myself general boundaries for ‘work time’, so I’m not putting pressure on myself to finish things that don’t have an immediate deadline, or could wait until tomorrow. 

I also have a rolling ‘to-do’ list which I’ll constantly prioritize based on either ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ deadlines. Usually the soft deadlines are ones that I put on myself, or ones I know have flexibility when the work needs to be completed; while hard deadlines are the ones I know have dependencies on other teams.

Knowing the difference in those deadlines ensures I can appropriately manage my work and not give myself extra stress to cram everything in at the last minute.

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

Putting the life in work life balance – I’ve taken up boxing and pilates which have helped with stress management and keeping me active. I’m also taking advantage of living near the beach to go on walks and listen to podcasts. 

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

Heart Talk by Cleo Wade is one of my favorite books and I always go back to it when I need a moment of reflection or self care. One of my favorite quotes from her is: 

“Baby, you are the strongest flower that ever grew. Remember that when the weather changes.” 

I think with everything going on this year, it’s important to remind yourself of your own resilience, strength and adaptability.

There are so many things we can’t control, so being open and adaptable to figuring it out as you go, knowing that tough points are temporary has been something I’ve tried to keep in the back of my mind in these challenging times.

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

For any WFH set up, I highly recommend an LED light that has warm and cool white settings that you can use as a personal light for video calls. I always make sure to position it just above my camera to make sure that others can see you properly on the call, and gives me a boost of confidence on my calls.

When I’m working or scheduling global research, one of my favorite apps is a Chrome extension called Figure it Out which allows you to manage multiple time zones and helps to quickly coordinate meetings. It has saved me so much time as I only need to open up a new tab on Chrome to quickly determine how to coordinate time to research across time zones.

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

Beyoncé. She is someone who can do it all – whether it’s her philanthropic work with BeyGood, creating visual albums, clothing lines or raising a family. Although she has teams that she works with and delegates to, she is focused on the quality of craft in everything that she does.

I’d love to learn how she’s able to balance the quality of craft with empowering and delegating to others – something that I aspire with in my own work.

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

Determining your own work life balance is a personal choice; and something that may work for others may not always work for you – so learn and experiment to figure out what works best for you and your personal needs. For me, at the end of the day you either win, or you learn.

Additionally, changing your habits can take time, so if you have a goal to do a certain activity or behavior – make sure you try to do it mindfully and consistently for at least a few weeks to truly make it a habit. But if you miss a day, don’t be disheartened and decide that it’s not for you – focus on progress towards your goals, not perfection.

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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.