CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Kristen Shannon, CEO & Founder of Highliner Technology

Kristen Shannon is the CEO & Founder of Highliner Technology, a consultancy that specialises in working with founders and senior leaders of tech startups and scaleups to define, articulate and operationalise company strategy.

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

I set up my company  Highliner Technology in 2019. It is , My focus is to help our clients design and implement high leverage practical, scalable solutions. 

Before Highliner I was a COO of a deep tech company based in London where I led operations and strategy up to and through their Series A process. And before this I worked for ambitious organisations doubling in size year on year, leading both recruitment of over 800 FTE a year as well as leading and scaling operations teams. 

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

My morning is always a little bit hectic. I wish I was a morning person but I’m just not. It’s always a rush to get myself and my daughter (age 7) ready and out the door. She’s also not a morning person so we’re not always a great combination.

To help my day run a little smoother I try to be tight on my priorities the night before (small tasks as well as big priorities) so I know where to get started each morning. We have clients based around multiple cities, so after getting my daughter ready I am usually on a train to a meeting. Typically I try to use this time to do the small (I like to call them quick hit) tasks I wrote up the day before. 

I love meeting with clients and talking through a piece of strategy. We may be meeting post a raise to talk about their big vision and building out their practical plans or getting into a really specific operational area like setting up their recruitment and induction operations.

I find this part of my day usually gives me the most energy and leaves me feeling excited and focused so I try to use it to drive the rest of my day. After a client meeting I will have a check in with my team. We are mostly hybrid (we come together once a week) so this is over Zoom. 

I use afternoons to focus on my more deep work. If I have been with a client in the morning I will spend the afternoon writing up what we covered and turning it into something to be shared with their board or team. After the big piece of priority work is done I spend my time responding to emails and completing any other tasks that have come up. 

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

Achieving work-life balance doesn’t mean having it perfect all the time. For instance sometimes I over index on work and sometimes I over index on home. The key is to recognise when the balance begins tipping too far one way and then realigning.

Personally I know if my task list has things like  “get organised”, “take care of all home stuff” or “do a whole project” then I am not managing the balance well. I try to recognise these signs and use them as reminders to sit down to re-prioritise and re-plan.

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

I find journalling first thing in the morning is one of the best things I can do for myself. I don’t always journal in the mornings but when I do I find I start my day with so much more clarity. I like to follow the morning pages method where you just write free form.

I find journaling particularly helpful if I am going through a transition period or just trying to figure something out as it always gives me more clarity. I also do yoga every weekend. I am very uncoordinated but it helps me recenter and focus. 

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

I love The Artist Way by Julia Cameron to help connect with your inner creativity. I also like the “terrible, thanks for asking” podcast. It is not business or productivity related. It is stories from people who have gone through some terrible things but rather than forcing a “it was bad and I triumphed” narrative it allows space for things to not always be ok. It helps me hold a lot of empathy as I go through my day.

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

My yoga instructor (whose name is actually Flo). She is only 18 and just finished her A levels. Every time we discussed exams she was so calm, composed and relaxed. I remember being 18, all over the place and stressed so I would love an insight into how she projects so much calmness. 

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

One of the ways I have personally found balance is because I am really lucky to have a great support network and the ability to afford help with things like childcare. I recognise this is a huge privilege that not everyone has and I really don’t take it for granted. Everyone needs support to find balance – from family, friends, partners, etc. – and I think it is important to acknowledge that no one is “doing it all” especially not on their own.

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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.