Laura Simmons is a paediatric occupational therapist (OT), as well as the founder of digital health tech company, Theratrak.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’ve worked as a paediatric therapist in Sydney for almost a decade. I’ve spent time in the community, in school settings, in private clinics on the northern beaches. I currently split my time between my own solo practice and Theratrak.
I love the impact that early intervention can have on kids and families lives, and I believe OT is such a crucial part of that. I think OT is still a bit of an underrated profession though, as a therapist working with kids, I get to support kids with the most incredible goals.
Some of my favourite examples of these goals are supporting kids to learn how to ride a bike, learn how to explore and learn how to eat a wider variety of foods.
After realising busy families need more help with therapy at home, I created Theratrak to be an asynchronous telehealth patient engagement platform designed for allied health therapists. The mobile app and web platform enable therapists to work collaboratively to create and track custom therapy home programs for their participants.
My team and I are working towards solving a massive problem in the allied health space – How do we support people to be as independent as possible outside therapy sessions so they can implement strategies into everyday life and graduate from therapy faster?
2) What does a day in life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
It varies day to day. I would say I’m a part-time therapist and a full-time tech entrepreneur. I just don’t fit the “normal” 38-hour workweek.
Part of the time, I work directly with kids seeing a select group of children every week. When I worked at the private clinic, I had a caseload of around 40 kids. Their therapy goals varied from working to improve kids fine motor skills and handwriting so they can keep up with schoolwork.
Or working on gross motor skills so they can ride a bike with friends and even explore different foods to increase the variety of foods they will accept in their diet. It’s a super fun and rewarding job.
During the peak of the pandemic in Sydney when we were restricted to offering telehealth sessions at home, I was working two jobs in one day being an OT and working on Theratrak.
I’d juggle my commitments to the kids I work with as an OT, as well as my commitments to my team and partners at Theratrak. Theratrak recently partnered with one of the biggest NDIS providers in Australia, Everyday Independence, which saw us onboard hundreds of new therapists to the platform in just a few weeks.
On a normal day, I get up early for Theratrak meetings, I see clients from 8:30am till lunchtime, then I take another Theratrak lunchtime Zoom meeting to train therapists how to use Theratrak, then I be treating kids till 5 pm, and might squeeze in one or two more meetings or training sessions with Theratrak before switching off for the day.
It was crazy, but exciting to see Theratrak growing so much as it’s a much-needed tool for therapy. Outside of my therapy work, I’m usually either cooking or socialising.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
My Theratrak team has always worked flexibly and remotely. I find project management tools are amazing at supporting this and I love not having to work the traditional 9-5 when it comes to my tech company. I believe if work can be flexible it should be.
As a therapist on the other hand, it’s a bit trickier to be flexible. I’ve always offered telehealth as a solution to my participants and Theratrak also provides flexibility to parents, but sometimes the nature of working with kids and early intervention strategies means that having them in the room with you can be crucial.
There are other things I have to consider when working with kids as well like school and the family’s schedule. It’s useful when therapists offer recurring appointments for kids so that it can fit into their busy schedules and helps to create predictability.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work-life balance means getting enough sleep, seeing your friends and family regularly and taking time just to relax.
I wouldn’t say I’m super strict on work-life balance, but I make sure that I say yes to seeing friends and family more than saying no. I make sure I get to the gym and get rid of my phone for the time that I’m there.
Sleep is another big part of supporting my mental health. I’ve learnt over the years that my body needs a minimum of seven hours of sleep to function, if I don’t get this, I actually get very little done the next day. So, shutting off before 11 pm is the best for me and I try my hardest not to get stuck into new things late at night.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Every Friday after work I have an hour chat with my mum. My parents live in Europe and we started doing this during the pandemic and it’s just stuck. It’s been such an awesome way to connect with her even more and not be interrupted by other people.
She’s always been a great sounding board to all of my life’s challenges and it’s something I look forward to every week. I think sometimes we spend time having incidental messages and chats with loved ones and can miss the real connection.
On the days that I work from home, I’ve made a few tweaks that I think really help my concentration and focus. These include; making sure I make it to the early gym class so I don’t get lazy and stay in bed.
The other simple mental trick for me is getting dressed and putting makeup on when I’m working from home. Sounds simple but these little things help me to stay more focused in a place where I think it can be easy to be distracted.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I love podcasts as they’re such an easy way to get a lot of info in a fun way.
My top three at the moment are:
Talking HealthTech by Peter Birch – he always has some seriously interesting conversations with industry leaders in the health tech space. I was interviewed and shared how I’ve grown Theratrak in ep 115.
Occupied by Brock Cook – I’ve only just recently found this one. Brock’s a fellow OT in the mental health space and he deep dives and looks at real people’s narratives and explores how occupation is important to them and the reach that OT can have around the world. I shared my story of taking OT into the digital world in ep 110.
The Briefing by Tom Tilly – this is just enough world news for me some days. And I love the deeper dives into other interesting topics they go into.
As for books, I really enjoyed Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. That was one of those stories that just took me back and reminded me how important the journey is to where you are going, how important it is to say yes to opportunities and how important it is to listen to and trust your gut instinct about things.
I highly recommend listening to this one as an audiobook as Matthew reads the story to you and it’s incredibly captivating!
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
Ha! My phone would probably be the biggest gadget at the moment. I use it for so much, connecting with work, family, friends and keeping myself on track with all of my daily tasks.
Other than that, platforms like Asana, Slack and Google Drive have been super helpful to running a remote team.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’m always keen to learn from founders building a team around them and trying to make a difference.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
- How do you prioritise or keen on track towards your goals?
- How do you stay focused?
- How do you keep creativity flowing?
- What lessons do you want to share with others?
- What small things have transformed the way you work?
I guess if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is that there’s no one right way to work-life balance. I think you need to first look at your current situation and then build from there. Make sure you always include the things that make you happy and don’t be afraid if the plan doesn’t always go to plan. Think of it as an opportunity to grow and learn.
Some key things that really work for me:
- Make a list and have a way to cross it off either written or digital – it just feels good.
- Set priorities to your list in order of now, next and later. And if the list feels like it’s never-ending at least you can accomplish the short term goal first.
- Create a schedule, if there are times you need to be doing certain things, block them out in your calendar.
- Set reminders, I always set reminders – especially when I’m multitasking because I’m great at forgetting things.
- Get up and get active in the morning. And always have access to coffee.
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