Balancing the Grind with Malc Miller, Associate Strategy Director at For The People

Malc Miller is the Associate Strategy Director at brand agency, For The People, and the founder of Xsauced, a decentralised marketplace startup for cultural assets.

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

Sure, my career has been quite varied but I always find myself in roles aimed at better understanding culture. I studied neuroscience in uni and started off my career in research, then I moved to media and then into branding. In a way that meandering is a reflection of my desire to acquire multiple perspectives.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been fascinated with what makes something cool. Not just the novelty or the hype factor, but what genuinely made something have enduring value beyond utility. I’ve channeled that passion into my professional life and I’ve been really fortunate to work in such a rich and dynamic space.

Currently, I’m the Associate Strategy Director at For The People and the founder of a startup called Xsauced, which is a decentralised marketplace for cultural assets. 

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

A typical day is broken up into a few chunks. I take the morning shift with bub which starts about 6:30 AM and finishes around 8:30 AM (my wife does the hard yards through the night).

After that it’s straight into writing down what absolutely has to happen that day or what can’t wait until tomorrow. I’m ruthless about this process. I aim to have no more than four items and I begin with the most challenging item first.

This approach gives me permission to say no to anything that comes up because I’ve shaped my day around what’s most important. After this, there’s a morning meeting to align on workload and availability.

The rest of the day is quite fluid. Some days it’s desk research, stakeholder interviews or stress testing a hypothesis. The majority of the work is trying to get ideas out of my head and distil them into a Keynote or Powerpoint.

That process can be daunting but equally rewarding when things take shape. Beyond that, you can find me scribbling down threads of ideas on anything that can be written on. That’s a typical day. 

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

My current role does allow for that. It’s actually really important to me to have the option to manage my time effectively. What it means is that I can create productivity windows rather than pretending to be super productive all day.

The result is that I can be available to cook dinner every night (which I love doing) or plan to walk the dog over lunch. It’s in these moments I feel a sense of balance and self-determination. 

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

I see work-life balance as a recurring exercise of setting boundaries around what I value most at that time. I tend to take an honest approach to setting limits. In doing so, I try really hard to listen to myself and how I feel, specifically the nuanced feelings.

I ask myself, am I tired or burned out? Am I anxious or excited? I find that naming my feelings is a good way to take meaningful steps to counterbalance things.

The overarching objective is to have energy for what’s important to me, to not feel like life itself is a chore, but to appreciate the multiple roles that I occupy and the impact they each have. 

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

Firstly, I’m a new dad. My first daughter was born last November, so it’s safe to say that a lot has changed since then. I used to have the perfect setup with undistracted 90 minute sprints followed by a 15 minute nap.

That worked exceptionally well for me, but now I have a little one to consider, so no more intellectual indulgences. What really shifted is that life has become less about formal routines and more about cultivating a certain mindset.

My habits now reflect a newfound relationship with time. I see everything existing on a continuum. I’ve had to embrace that things can be ‘done’, but not complete, that everything is a WIP. I’d say my new habits are stopping when I’m too tired or taking breaks more often. These reflect my new awareness of time, incomplete tasks and how to balance it all. 

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

There are many books I can list, but the one that stands out the most is titled Obliquity by John Kay. The premise of the book is that success is often found in an oblique manner. He asserts that the more we focus on specific outcomes, the less open we are to the indirect route of getting where we want to go.

For me it’s a really nice reminder to focus on the process rather than the outcome and to make sure you’re measuring what’s truly important. There have been so many twists and turns in my life, it’s difficult to grasp the permutations of the lie in the future.

This book has been invaluable for me and I recommend it to anyone who has big ambitions but unsure of how to get there. Unfortunately it won’t give you the answers, but it’ll keep you open to all the possible routes.

Second to that, check out The Sociology of Business by Ana Andjelic and Brain Food by Farnham Street as well as any podcasts by NFX

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

I would probably die without my noise-cancelling headphones. I use them on a daily basis. I’m also a massive introvert, so they keep me in my zone. There’s just something about retreating to my bubble, whether that’s to relax or to get things done. 

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

I’ve always preferred non-traditional approaches to things. I’d be keen to hear from someone completely left of centre. Someone who challenges everyone to push things forward. I’d be curious to how they create a balance or even what balance means to them.

A few names come to mind:

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

I’m super unqualified to answer this because I’m constantly finding better ways to balance things. The only thing I would encourage anyone reading this to do is to listen to your inner voice and work at your own pace.

Don’t be afraid of solitude, working slower than you should and pausing. I think we have a certain cadence that is unnatural, a certain fixation on speed that is actually the enemy of enjoyment.

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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.