Architects / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Kate Harding, Interior Designer at DJRD Architects

Kate Harding is an interior designer and graduate architect at DJRD Architects. On the side she also freelances on interiors for apartments and private residential designs.

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

The history of my career is relatively short, as its really just starting.

I started on this path after my gap year, during which I strongly considered being a veterinarian or a dietician, I was accepted into a course for interior design at the Canberra Institute of Technology after a very late application and haven’t looked back since.

I was lucky enough to land my job at the age of 21 when I was 6 months into my Bachelor of Interior Design, it was the first time I was employed in a role within the design industry and I nearly cried tears of joy when I received the call.

Since then I’ve continued working as an Interior Designer with DJRD Architects while studying for not one, not two, but three degrees! I’ve just completed my Masters of Architecture and can finally say goodbye to university and focus my energy towards my career.

My full-time role now shifts between working as an Interior Designer and a Graduate Architect, and sees me working on large scale commercial projects, while I freelance on the side working on interiors for apartments and private residential designs.

I am extremely mindful about the architecture industry’s impact on the environment, so sustainability in design is my main focus as I progress throughout my career.

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

I am a creature of habit and love a solid morning routine, pre Covid-19 my typical work day would go something like this.

After a 6am wake up I start the day with a warm lemon water, vitamins and five-minute journaling. My partner and I then would have a tea/coffee on the balcony together while watching the sun rise. This would have to be one of my favourite parts of the day.

After getting ready I’m out of the door by 8 giving myself plenty of time for the commute to work. I arrive to work early so I can have my breakfast while I check over my emails and get organised for the day without feeling rushed.

My typical workday would vary greatly, I could be out at meetings, travelling to site, visiting showrooms and industry events, watching presentations on the latest products, glued to my desk for 8 hour listening to an audiobook while I document a design, attending a university lecture, or often, all of the above.

The work day typically finishes at 5:30 when I would be back onto the train home to get stuck into my homework. My evening routine was just as important as my morning one, time was precious and constantly seemed very limited.

This of course has changed recently, partly due to Covid-19, partly due to finishing university. The efficiency of morning and evening routines became less important when I stopped leaving the house for work.

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

Yes thankfully it does, as the majority of my work is done on a computer, with remote desktop I can work from nearly anywhere.

Working from home (WFH) wasn’t typically part of my routine pre Covid-19 so it was a big shake up to my days when we all went into self-isolation.

I’ve found working from home wonderful, I’ve gained so much more time in the morning that isn’t spend commuting and have been able to fit other things into my routine such as yoga and walks to get a coffee.

The biggest change WFH made to my daily routine was limiting the places I travelled. At the same time we started WFH, all university lectures and tutorials transferred online so I was now working and studying from my desk in the spare bedroom, often sitting in the same chair from 9am to 9pm.

After a month or two of this I started to get a bit stir crazy, with restrictions easing slightly now I am able to WFH 50% of the time and going into the office 50% of the time, which is a great balance as I’m getting the best of both worlds.

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

Having a work-life balance just wasn’t possible while I was studying, ask any architect student and they’ll tell you it is an extremely demanding degree.

Working nearly full time hours while studying full time meant I was often at a computer for well over 12 hours a day, leaving very little time for any of the ‘life’ part of work-life balance to occur.

I didn’t enjoy the unbalance of that lifestyle, and it really made it clear to me how important a healthy work-life balance would be to me once I completed my studies.

For me now, work life balance is about making time for things I enjoy or value, and understanding that time spend doing things that bring me joy can be more valuable than the dollar per hour rate that is put on my time spent working.

The culture throughout the architecture industry encourages long work days, lots of unpaid overtime and sacrificing weekends to work, and I’ve seen this all around me since entering the industry.

From very early on in my career I told myself that that would not become my normal. I aim to be extremely productive during my work hours and don’t allow myself to feel guilty about turning off my computer and leaving my desk on time.

This of course isn’t achievable all of the time, if a deadline is looming long hours are often required, but I make sure it’s balanced out by taking some extra time for myself once the deadline passes.

I find being organised really helps me, I write lists, I write down tasks for the day, I write down all the things I need to achieve so once they’re ticked off I know I can switch off from work.

I find this also helps so I’m not stressing or thinking about things that need to be done while I’m not at work, if they’re written down I know I won’t forget them and I can get back onto them tomorrow.

Writing lists helps me feel organised in all areas of my life, not just work, I’m a very productive person so write weekly lists of things that need to get done at home as well.

For me it’s really just about balancing out the work and life aspects of my time long term, it won’t always be perfectly balanced but it’s something I’m always mindful of.

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

I have, at the beginning of the year I picked up yoga again. When we started working from home I started spending the time I typically used commuting to do yoga instead.

I wouldn’t usually have time to fit it into my morning routine, so it has been one big positive that’s come out of WFH.

It’s so beneficial being able to have those moments of quiet when I don’t need to think about anything else, and as I’m sitting at my desk a lot more now it really helps giving my body a stretch.

I’ve also picked up Spanish on Duolingo, I really enjoy the lessons and it’s a great exercise to get the brain switched on in the morning before work.

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

I am not into motivational or self-help books at all, so there won’t be any productive recommendations here!

I think I’ll be recommending this book for the rest of my life: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I am a big reader and love getting caught up in the world inside a book and this one completely captured me.

It’s beautifully written with poetry peppered throughout, I laughed, I cried, and I fell in love with the book. Sitting down with a book is one of the activities I indulge in when I’m looking to relax and re calibrate the work-life balance.

For podcasts, I love listening to ‘The Squiz’, it’s a quick 15 minute update of important news stories happening around Australian and the world, and is an easy way to get caught up with a wide range of events before the work day starts.

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

I wouldn’t have been able to get through the last 6 months without Windows Remote Desktop Connection, or Zoom. Two products I had never used before became things I relied on daily.

As for apps, the most important ones on my phone are probably audible and the apple podcast app. I love the freedom they give me to consume content on the go and to continuously listen and learn. To be able to read (listen) to books no matter where I am has been life changing. I couldn’t live without these now!

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

Scott Pape, aka The Barefoot Investor, he seems to have a good balance worked out.

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

The balance required to be content will be different for everybody, I think it’s important to find what works for you and make time as often as you need, be it every day, week or month, to do something outside of work that brings you joy and stops you from becoming burnt out.

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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.