Balancing the Grind with Joel Anderson, Founder at Foremind

Joel Anderson is the founder at Foremind, the first construction focused EAP in Australia, combining real time counselling with content that has been written specifically for the industry.

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

I never thought I would be a startup founder. I started working at a restaurant when I was 14 to earn money through school and when I graduated I started work as a tiling labourer on a commercial construction site. It was pretty tough work and I ended up enrolling in a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering in Canberra. 

During my degree I supported myself through various barista and bartending jobs before getting a graduate role at an AI automotive startup called Seeing Machines. In the 4 years I was at this company I went from manufacturing cables and assembling products in a basement to leading the Advanced Engineering Hardware team, which involved travelling to Germany on multiple occasions to work with some of the world’s leading automotive companies.

Unfortunately, during this time my mental health deteriorated. I was burning the candle too hard at both ends, trying to build my career while making sure I didn’t miss anything with friends outside of work hours. I tried to use a traditional Employee Assistance Program to access support.

It took me 3 months to build the courage to call the phone number on the pamphlet and when I did I was set up with someone that was not suitable for me and I sought my own independent support. This experience laid the foundation for what I do now, which I will get to in a second.

I needed a change of pace and took a role at the Canberra Innovation Network as a Collaboration Manager where the key objective was to bring together private companies, government stakeholders and researchers to commercialise concepts.

I was lucky enough to be involved with several hack-a-thons across the Asia Pacific region and started to fall in love with the startup scene. This resulted in me joining a rapidly growing startup for 12 months before taking a role at a digital creative agency where I have spent the past 3 years utilising data, technology and strategy to enhance customer experiences for some of the world’s leading brands. 

While working at the Canberra  Innovation Network I started working on a platform with a mission to improve the way mental health services are provided in Australia. This evolved slowly in the background until the beginning of this year when we successfully raised investment  Skalata, WHO backed our mission to put mental health care in the pocket of every worker.

I am now the Co-Founder & CEO of Foremind where I have the pleasure of working with an incredibly passionate team of people trying to create a big positive impact to the wellbeing of workers in Australia. 

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

Both of my parents were in the military so routine has always been a core part of a productive day for me. Weekdays generally begin with a gym session, cooldown walk with my dog Remi and a morning coffee and banana.

I will read the news from the ABC, BBC & Al Jazeera and look at the overnight results from my favourite sports (NRL, NBA and EPL) or any other sport if it is finals time. I started this habit early in my career, not only because I have a genuine interest about the world and what is going on in it, but I noticed that doing this each day provided a great foundation to have conversations with almost anyone about anything.

In an industry where you’re always meeting and talking with new people from different backgrounds, being across what is happening in the world is a tremendous asset for being able to break the ice and start an initial conversation, starting to build relationships or finding people who have similar interests to you. 

I aim to check emails by 8:00 am which is either done on the train if I am in the office or on the couch with breaky if WFH. The main goal of this is to make sure anything I need actioned or addressed urgently is sent before 9 so it is at the top of the receiver’s inbox when they start their day. 

Mornings are for standups, follow-up tasks and client meetings as this is generally when I am most productive. Lunch is generally quite quick, easy and healthy if I am working from home. If I’m in the office, going out with the team is an important time to be social and catch up with people. Working from home can be isolating at times and these in person lunches are something I look forward to each week.

The afternoon is generally for knuckling down into meatier pieces of work that need to be done which is why it is important to ensure everything is set up in the morning. Background music or a podcast accompanies these activities and normally a coffee around 2pm to provide that final burst to get through the afternoon.

In the evening I will either join my partner for an afternoon walk with the dog or if it is my turn to prepare dinner, get stuck into that. We are not a late night household so generally it is dinner, then an episode of a show we are currently engrossed in, then lights out around 8:30-9.

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

I would like to caveat this part by acknowledging the fact that I am an extrovert and I struggle with work-life balance. It is something that I continually work to evaluate, address and refine. As a general rule I try to define work-life balance as the relationship between three key areas: Self, Relationships and Work.

Self can include anything I do for myself including; gym, reading, cooking or taking my dog for a walk (my version of meditation). Relationships include time and emotional energy spent being; a partner, friend and family member. Work rounds it out as the area that challenges and drives me, while also providing the financial security to comfortably enjoy the other 2 areas of my life.

The key is to continuously try and keep these 3 areas balanced so they work together, not overpower each other. This doesn’t have to be a daily review or check in (because that sounds exhausting) but if I am noticing one area start to get smothered by the others then I will try to find time to do activities that restore the balance.

Nothing is more crucial to achieving this than setting boundaries, which is incredibly difficult as a startup founder and something I am continuously working on. Some of the boundaries I am working on include 1) not checking emails or taking work calls on the weekend 2) giving myself permission to take a mental health day every now and then or skipping a social event to make time for myself.

For me, a critical aspect of achieving work-life balance is starting with an understanding of what gives me ‘purpose’ and being careful to not derive it from one single area of life. While my job does not define who I am, I am proud of my work and enjoy it, which then allows me to enjoy downtime knowing I am fulfilled with my career.

Likewise, I also get a huge amount of purpose from being a good partner and friend to those around me or from personal activities like hitting a new personal best at the gym or finishing a good book. 

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

The biggest change I have made since the beginning of COVID really is heavily reducing the amount of time I spend on social media. I used to get a large amount of satisfaction from people ‘liking’ what I was up to or seeing all the things my close friends and sometimes people I had only ever met (or not at all) were doing.

Before I knew it I was spending hours every day scrolling through various platforms, which ultimately was doing very little for my productivity or mental health. So I unfollowed people I barely knew and began to use it to see what my closest friends are up to.

Over the past 6 months I have been slowly taking my friends’ birthdays from Facebook as they come up and putting them into my personal calendar, once I have gone through a whole year of that it will be time to delete Facebook all together.

One of the most memorable things my dad has ever said to me was “One day you will be able to count your best friends on 1 hand, choose them well.”

It is really exhausting to try and keep in touch or up to date with hundreds of people, if you focus on the friends who you would do anything for and vice versa then those relationships will become deeper as you have more time to dedicate to them.

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

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is a book that has had the most impact on me in the past few years.

I used to care way too much about everything even if it wasn’t in my control and this would often really impact my mood after work and carry into my time by myself or with friends and family. This book really helped me start to understand and learn what is worth losing sleep over and what isn’t.

I have also started listening to the 7am podcast by Schwartz Media, which explores a recent topic in detail each morning.

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

LeBron James. He has been in the spotlight since he was in high school and is undoubtedly one of the best athletes of all time. How he balances constant travel, family, sleep, his physical and mental states in order to remain a top player at 38 would be really fascinating.

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

Work life balance isn’t something you can learn overnight, it is like any hobby or interest and requires continuous practice and refinement. I have also noticed it gets harder to manage the older I get, and I don’t even have kids yet. So a massive shout out to all the parents out there who have it way tougher than I do.

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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.