We’re so excited about today’s interview – we have Lauren Kress, our Head of Strategic Partnerships taking time out of their hectic schedule to talk about balancing the grind!
1) So, welcome Lauren. We’ve finally had a chance to sit down and chat about your work-life balance. Let’s kick things off with your career journey to date – tell us how you got to where you are today.
Yeah sure! It’s always been pretty entrepreneurial / intrapreneurial type work for me. Before joining Balance the Grind, I had the longest job of my career to date which was running my own business, Pacific Content which was also trading as The Changemakers Collective for a time.
Before that I was working with Cirrus Media (now Australian Doctors Group) growing their new content marketing division within their Healthcare vertical. During that time I got to work directly with Matt Rowley, founder of Green and Gold Rugby who now heads up Pedestrian.TV as their CEO. I learnt a tonne of stuff working with Matt and it served me well as I ventured out to start my own business at the age of 26. All of that has really helped me here in my new role heading up Strategic Partnerships at Balance the Grind.
I think this role is my most exciting yet. I definitely copped a few blows running a business – 18 months into the business at the beginning of 2018 I split with my co-founder and then of course we all know what happened in 2020.
Looking back I’m really proud of how I used that time to focus on what I could achieve and what was in my control. I became a much better interviewer, content creator and built an incredibly strong network of like-minded people around the globe via LinkedIn and my first podcast, The Oyster. I’m so excited that I get to use so much of what I learnt then in my current role.
For me the big thing is I get bored easily, so working in a role that is challenging, dynamic and allows me to constantly grow and try new things is the dream for me and I’m so happy to have found that at Balance the Grind. I’m also learning so much from our publisher, Steve Grace who’s got an incredible business mind and an amazing way of thinking through problems, and of course you Hao, with your eye for a great story, your can-do attitude, your kindness and your creative collaboration style. I feel so excited to have this opportunity to work with both of you and see our team and partnerships grow over this next year!
2) One of our most popular questions on Balance the Grind is asking people about their daily routines. Can you tell us what a day in your life looks like?
So the reason I asked you to interview me a couple of months into this role is because I needed to find my new rhythm before I could do a question like this justice. Not only have I recently transitioned from running a business full-time to working full-time, but I also recently moved back to Sydney (by accident!) half way through last year.
I was living up in Townsville at the time but got caught back down here during a visit for my sister’s 30th birthday just before the June lockdown. It was a pretty hectic time, I figured out that I was gay, separated from my husband and had to find a place to live during lockdown restrictions – there was a lot of chaos.
I think having read Atomic Habits by James Clear really helped prepare me for working through that part of my life, keeping one foot in front of the other. It really helped get me through to the start of 2022 where I really started to find my new groove.
I also read Essentialism by Greg McKeown during that time and it was super helpful in focusing my monkey mind on the things that matter most to me.
As much as I love spontaneity (and honestly, thrive with a bit of chaos and uncertainty) I have to say, that getting into a rhythm with the core things – sleep, fitness, work, creativity and socialising – has been really key for me, and of all those pillars, sleep is the absolute most important to me, I need a good 7-7.5 hours per night to feel rested and have a spring in my step when I get out of bed in the morning.
If I’m not jumping out of bed in the morning, it’s because I’m either sick or I went to sleep too late. My girlfriend is a night owl so I do indulge in a late night Netflix binge every now and again. I also see a therapist every week to keep my mental health and fitness in check.
In saying all of that – and in terms of how that plays out in a typical day in my life it’s a bit hard to walk through as I tend to chunk my life down into a week-by-week schedule rather than day-to-day. I find the week-by-week mentality means that if I miss something on one day I can recalibrate things and fit it into the next day without much fuss or negative self talk (“Omg! I can’t believe I didn’t get that done!”) For me, if I hit my goals and targets by COB Friday then it’s like the story of the week is closed and I can wind down into the weekend.
I do my more heavy workouts 3 days a week and on those days I wake up at 5.30am and head to the gym for a 6.45am mixed martial art training session for an hour. I’ve got friends in the class which is run by the brilliant @timascoaching and it’s super fun! Other days I sleep in a little more (until around 6/6.30am) and mix things up depending on how I feel. The morning time is me time, so it’s up to me to make the most of that whether I’m writing, walking or just sitting at a café with a good coffee.
There are also a few things that I make sure I do during my workdays. I work from one of 3 places – my home, my girlfriend’s place or at our office in Sydney’s CBD. I tend to check my emails at around 8am when I’m in transit or while I’m waiting for my sleepy head girlfriend to get ready and come get coffee with me. I like to get a headstart on emails so I’ve got an idea of what’s happening/has happened overnight (it’s always office hours somewhere!) and respond to the quick things then and there so they don’t clog up my to-do list for the day.
At around 9am I sit down with a fresh page of my (non-digital) notebook and go through my to-do list for the day. This is the most important task I do. If I don’t do that task, the rest of my tasks are a mess. It only takes 5 minutes or so and the hours I get back from it are unfathomable. Best cost benefit ratio I’ve come across in my life. On Mondays setting up my to-do list tends to take a bit longer and I use Mondays to really set my intentions for the week, review the week before and check through anything that may have fallen through the cracks.
I’m a fan of bullet journaling, chunking tasks and using the pomodoro method. Recently I’ve been spending an extra 5-10 minutes at the start of the day to prioritise and chunk my tasks into 90-minute blocks of time. Then I actually write myself a schedule for the day to fit my tasks around meetings and breaks. During my breaks I do the stuff I find boring but have to get done like doing the laundry, grabbing some essentials from the shops, meal prep, washing dishes.
If I get all my chores done then I’ll also start checking in with people in my life that matter and organising my social calendar which I like to keep pretty full. I find doing all of that means that I get a good break away from my computer between my 90 minute working chunks and let my creative juices flow. I often come back to my desk having solved a problem that I had just been stuck on. It also helps to keep the end of my day clearer to unwind and relax (which I do find hard.)
After work I’m usually doing something social. I’m a novelty-seeking extrovert so I get my energy from spending time with people, hearing about their latest stories and trying new things. A couple of months ago I decided to start organising weekly pub trivia/bingo with some friends and it’s become this really awesome way to break up the week and have fun on a regular basis while staying in touch with my mates.
It’s so easy to skip fun when we feel overwhelmed, but the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realised it’s so foundational to staying grounded as a human being. It keeps us learning, curious and laughing which has shown to be good for our health and wellbeing. When I don’t structure my weeks and set aside time like this it’s so easy for me to go weeks or even months without seeing people that are important to me in my life.
3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
You know what? I don’t even see it as work-life balance anymore, I just see it as life balance. I think about everything I do, work or otherwise, in terms of whether or not it aligns with my values, my interests, my needs and the vision I have for my life. My overall goal for each day is to wake up and look forward to it.
4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Yeah, so during the last lockdown we had after I arrived in Sydney I was out walking for a couple of hours every morning. There was just so much change happening I was either out doing laps around Centennial Park or heading down to Bronte Beach and just trying to keep moving and process all the big changes that were happening in my life. I would alternate between walking with two of my best friends and also head down to the beach on my own while listening to a few book summaries on Blinkist.
When I need to process big things like that, I think I naturally become like Dory from finding Nemo and I just keep swimming. It feels like my brain can get out of being stuck in a loop because of the physical movement of my body. But now that I’ve processed a lot of that stuff and it’s easier to diversify activities and get back out into the world as things open up, I’m finding that I don’t have that same compulsion to move in the same way. I still love walking and swimming, but I’m more moderate with the time I invest in those activities versus some of the other things I described earlier.
5) You know we’ve done a number of profiles on famous people about their daily routines and work-life balance. If you could pick anyone in the world for us to interview, who would that be?
Hmm, good question. So my first instinct was to say Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle but then to be honest, even though I’m a huge fan of both of theirs, I think I’d find it hard to relate to either of their days personally.
I think that’s because people who have their own families to look after have different priorities and demands from their day so they have to structure their days very differently to mine. Whether that’s a path I end up going down at some point or not, I think the lives that people live when they become parents is so different from those of us who aren’t doing the parenting thing; it’s just like we’re worlds apart.
And, as I’ve been saying and bought myself some time I’ve now thought of 3 answers for you, hahaha! So, in no particular order they are: Sarah Wilson, Elliot Page and Mae Martin. (Oh my god, how cool would it be if you interviewed them Hao?! Let’s make that happen!)
6) Switching gears a little, I recently watched you do a presentation talking about imposter syndrome which I found really insightful. As you would know, a lot of people experience imposter throughout their career, do you have any tips on combating it?
Oh, thanks! Yeah – it’s a bit tricky to get the exact numbers on just how many people experience this (studies are showing a range from 10-80% of people!) it could be because many of us will experience it only for a short period of time, for example when we start a new job. I think it’s safe to say though that a lot of us can relate to that phrase “fake it until you make it”.
In terms of tips for dealing with this – different things can work for different people, but I think for a lot of people who, like me, have found themselves at one point or another asking themselves “am I good enough?” – that we need to find a way to reframe our thinking and shift our mindset to first accept that we are indeed good enough without having to change, do or prove anything.
My thinking of this stems from Carl Rogers who is considered one of the primary founders of the humanistic approach that is commonly used in modern day practice of counselling and psychotherapy. In the humanistic approach, we learn to accept that we are just as valuable as every other human and that humans can’t be valued as worth more or less, as better or worse and that everyone is doing the best they can – a concept Brene Brown does a wonderful job of exploring in my favourite book by her, Braving the Wilderness.
I grew up as a very achievement-oriented person, and I find it incredibly helpful to regularly remind myself of this fundamental truth. It helps me to stay grounded by telling myself “I am good enough” and that this isn’t a question I’m looking for evidence for or against with each win or failure that comes my way.
I think when we make this mindset shift and create regular reminders in our day through the media we choose to consume and the people we surround ourselves with then our world really opens up for us. I don’t think I would have taken on most of the challenges I have to date without learning how I could get out of the “keeping up with the Joneses” rat race that has become a cultural norm for many of us here in Sydney and in many places around the world.
7) I’m curious to hear your opinion on who the ideal reader of Balance the Grind is? Who is going to benefit most from our platform?
You know, I’ve been reflecting on this question ever since I started working with Balance the Grind and I feel like my answer on this is constantly changing.
I’ve spoken to business owners and entrepreneurs who tell me “I’m your ideal reader!” and talk about how great it is to hear how other founders get everything done but then I also think about my 18-year old little brother who loves Jocko Willink and is conscious of keeping physically and mentally healthy whilst learning how to balance his new uni life with work and still have a social life.
I currently think of our readers as people who are eager to get the most out of their life, whether they’re school leavers or 5 years into their third business but I’m sure as I have more conversations with our readers, the more I will understand about who they are.
8) Where does Balance the Grind go from here? What are we doing in 2025?
Great question! I think we’ll be continuing to get better and better at the thing we do now – reminding people to continuously strive to Balance the Grind because life is precious, time is finite, failure is inevitable and our successes live with us here today.
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