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Balancing the Grind with Mandy Campbell, Senior Content Strategist at GitHub

Mandy Campbell is a Senior Content Strategist at GitHub, where she works remotely as part of a team creating the best developer content for the world’s largest open source community.

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

I started my career in tech on a six-person marketing team at Facebook after graduating from college in 2010, and I’ve been lucky to work on great teams at tech companies like Change.org, Lyft, and GitHub since.

I’ve explored lots of marketing areas during my career, but I’ve always found myself paying the most attention to how teams can tell great stories and get people to interact with them.

That fascination—and a huge appreciation for clean and human-centered design—led me to content strategy.

I’m currently a Senior Content Strategist at GitHub where my team creates the best developer content for the world’s largest open source community, within the product and across our channels.

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

I’m part of the roughly 60% of the GitHub Team who lives far away from the Bay Area headquarters and works remotely.

My day starts with getting my two young children up and making sure they get to school/daycare with all of the miscellanea they need. I try to get a run or fitness class in—and not check email—before heading to a coffee shop and signing on to work around 9:30am.

I’ve found I work best if I spend most of my work day in a coffee shop that is conducive to taking video calls and that makes good lattes—and bagel sandwiches if I’ll be there through lunch. Then I head home to finish out the day, usually on my laptop at our dining room table.

My team prefers to have most of our check-in meetings and work be asynchronous, but I’ll usually have a few video calls during the day for stakeholder reviews, project kickoffs, or sprint planning.

When I’m not in a video call, I’m bouncing between Slack conversations and writing/editing mostly in Google docs. I usually save about 45 minutes toward the end of the day to spend on house tasks and dinner before picking up the little humans around 5pm.

Then it’s a whirlwind of getting food in my kids’ stomachs, bath toys, and books before they are down for the night.

I usually finish up work when they’re asleep for an hour or two and simultaneously watch an enlightening docu-series about the curative properties of fungi or a reality television show about attractive dentists in Los Angeles, before I turn in around 11pm.

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

I’ve worked remotely for four years while on the GitHub Team and really value the flexibility that comes with remote work.

There are some challenges with separating work from home life when I’m structuring my own day and not going into an office, but I far prefer those challenges to the lengthy commute I had for years, among other challenges of less-flexible roles.

GitHub has been a remote-first company from the beginning and they support employees bringing their whole selves to work and taking personal time when it’s needed, which makes me and my team more productive and connected in my experience.

I appreciate that while my children are young, I have the opportunity to spend more time with them and don’t have to be quite as stressed if one of them has an appointment in the middle of the day, or if I need to run seven loads of laundry while I’m working.

I also love that I can work at the time and in the place that I’ll work best. Sometimes that’s at a desk with other GitHub employees who live near me, and sometimes that’s on my couch at 10pm. It can take some time to find the right setup, but remote work allows me to show up more presently both at work and at home.

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

Work-life balance is usually a difficult practice of time management to get the most out of my limited awake time to further the goals I have for myself, both professionally and personally.

It’s a constant fine tuning of priorities, and it is also shaped by the expectations my team at work and my family have for me. It’s avoiding the distractions that take me away from dedicated time I have for work or personal activities.

I try to consciously monitor the activities and practices that add value to my life and cut out the ones that don’t. And I try to make the time I spend on an activity intentional and uninterrupted.

If I have two hours between picking up my children from school and their bedtime, I do my best to eliminate work from creeping into that valuable time. If I have household tasks that are taking me away from work, I leave the house and set aside dedicated time to take care of them later.

I have a policy of never allowing push notifications on my phone to avoid distractions, from work or otherwise. Striking the right balance requires a lot of self-reflection and input from other people, and I’m always trying to improve the way I navigate it.

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

For the past couple of years, I’ve become dedicated to a morning workout after hearing so many people recommend it, and never thinking I’d become one of those people.

I find I’m much more likely to follow through with physical activity if I fit it into the first couple of hours I’m awake, and getting high-intensity movement in my morning helps me focus and connect with other people on a much deeper level during the rest of the day.

I also realized I don’t have as much time for books as I’d like, so I switched entirely to audio books. I get through a lot more “reading” if I can do it while I’m in the car or on a run, and I value being able to get through at least one book every month.

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

Books: I try to switch between reading fiction and non-fiction evenly because learning new tangible skills and escaping into different imaginative worlds are equally important to me. I don’t know if I could choose a favorite book, but a couple I read recently and really enjoyed are Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and Circe by Madeline Miller.

Podcasts: I love podcasts of all varieties, but I think Radiolab is consistently my favorite. Their ability to find unique stories and elevate them with all of the right voices in the storytelling process is unmatched. I also love the New York Times’ The Daily podcast for shorter-form topical stories and interviews. 

Newsletters: The two I recommend the most are Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings and Emily Oster’s ParentData. Brain Pickings is amazing for finding new reading material and inspiration for creative projects.

ParentData is a thoughtful newsletter that takes a data-driven approach to answering common and topical parenting questions, with a healthy dose of humor from the author who wrote Expecting Better and Cribsheet.

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

On my phone, the apps I use the most are Slack, Evernote, Asana, Gmail, Audible, and Instagram. Probably similar to most people who work in tech.

In the kitchen, I love the Stagg Pour-Over Kettle. It’s responsible for a lot of beverage joy during my day and is one of the prettier items in my home.

For fun, I have a Glowforge laser cutter I got while it was on Kickstarter many years ago, but I love creating resin jewelry, signs, and ornaments for friends.

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

I’d love to learn more about how Hillary Clinton views work-life balance. She’s one of the most accomplished women in the world and also seems to care deeply about her connection with her family and friends—and even with strangers she meets on a hiking trail.

She recently wrote a book with her daughter called The Book of Gutsy Women, and that’s fitting because she is a trailblazer for women everywhere who care about furthering their careers, and it takes guts and skill to do that while maintaining warmth and heartfelt relationships with people. 

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

Work-life balance is a misnomer because work is part of life, not in opposition to it. In my experience it’s shorthand for making sure work isn’t taking over your life.

Our jobs are one of the many things we fit into our lives and it can be hard to find the right place in the prioritization ladder for them.

I’m grateful for my job and enjoy the work I do, but there are few people who wish they’d spent more time working when they look back on their experiences—and there are many parts of my life that I value in addition to work. I try to keep that in mind. 

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.