Creative Directors / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Marcel Moniaga, Creative Director at Isobar

Marcel Moniaga is the Creative Director at Isobar, a global digital agency with offices in 85 locations around the world.

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

My first job in the industry was a client-side role as an internal graphic designer in Auckland, New Zealand over 18 years ago – back in the days before iPhones, YouTube, Instagram or even TikTok. After a year or so in the role, I decided to pack my bags and move across the ditch to Sydney, Australia in pursuit of bigger and better things. 

Soon after the move, I landed a job as a junior digital designer at EuroRSCG (now Havas). Growing up, I’ve always been interested in the making of things, and here I had the opportunity to learn a whole heap on how things work and how to make things work.

This had taken my career into a slight detour when I then led a front-end dev team, focusing on the development of all things digital. 

After a while, I decided that was enough and I switched back to the creative side of the industry. I am now a Creative Director at Isobar Australia. Previously called Visual Jazz, I joined this place a little over 12 years ago, and what an incredible journey it has been!

This agency is like a second family for me. We have a great culture that has contributed to the amazing work that we have produced.

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

My alarm goes off at 5.30 am every morning. I take my daughter to her rowing practice a few days of the week before I head back home and get ready for work. On any of the other days, I would either get up and go for a run or enjoy the sleep-in (it’s mostly the latter these days).

After making my mandatory coffee, I normally begin my workday at 8.30 am. This starts with a call to the leadership team where we look at the day’s priorities. Then it’s time to catch up on emails and check any missed messages before the day really begins.

My workday is often very busy and filled with back-to-back meetings, work reviews, hands-on work, catch-ups, clients calls and presentations. The list goes on.

One thing that I’ve noticed since we started WFH, is that we now have more meetings than ever. A chat becomes a meeting that goes in your calendar, and before you know it, you have a day full of meetings and little time for everything else.

So I’ve made the habit of blocking my lunch hour and my productive hours in my calendar, not only to make sure that I have the time to be productive but also to avoid meetings being put over my lunch break (works 5 times out of 10 – if I remember to put them in). 

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

Similar to most businesses, we’ve gone into more flexible working arrangements since the start of the pandemic, and that includes remote working.

To be perfectly honest, it took me a while to get used to this new arrangement. Mostly because it was almost a different way of working that required a different routine to what I have been used to. 

This meant unlearning a few habits and learning new ones. For example, I used to love the time that I had travelling to and from the office. It would only take me about 30-40 mins each way but that was enough time for me to get into the zone and likewise to zone out on the way home. So all of a sudden I had to quickly work out and find a set of new routines to get me ready for work.

That being said, as a dad there’s nothing more that I could ask for than being around my kids as much as I can, and WFH gives me that. Sure it can be a bit noisy, or times when they require more attention, and the chaos during school holidays, but I love that I can be around them a lot more.

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

For me, it’s more about life balance. There are many parts of life, yourself, family, friends, work, hobbies, sports, and whatever else that you see important to have in your life and you need to have time dedicated for each of these things.

You need to work out your priority, what’s important to you and what’s a must-have. Balance doesn’t necessarily mean equal parts – but simply making sure that you don’t neglect any area of your life over other things. 

It’s also important to understand that life will throw lemons at you from time to time, like the pandemic as an example. This means that your priorities may change from time to time as you adapt to the new situation.

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

The big thing for me was how to separate work and life when work is now just a few steps away. The time that I had commuting to work not only allowed me to ‘get in the work mode’ but it also served the purpose of being the barrier to when work starts and stops. So I needed to find a different way to do this. 

The big thing that I soon realised was that like most people, I’m a workaholic, and unconsciously I was making myself available to work almost non-stop because my computer was just there.

I could hear it chime as emails and messages arrive and, not to mention all the notifications that follow me around on my phone. It didn’t happen straight away but I decided to turn off all work-related notifications after a certain time and turn off my computer at the end of the day.

The next thing was to always finish work on time – there’s always tomorrow. It was a few simple things and they were hard to do in the beginning but I’m glad that I did it.

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

Other than the standard industry publications, I try to read and listen to a wide range of things that are not necessarily industry related. 

I like anything on leadership so I like to listen to Brené Brown’s podcasts and currently finishing Barack Obama’s The Promised Land. This one’s quite old but Legacy by James Kerr is also a good one – what the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life. 

As a basketball lover, The Book of Basketball 2.0 and The Ringer NBA Show are also a couple of good ones.

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

My Apple Watch is probably one. I think in the context of helping me to get some sort of work-life balance, it probably does a lot of things for me. 

It reminds me constantly when I need to take a break. It also helps me track how much I’ve moved and exercised every day. It’s even smart enough to remind me that a public holiday is coming and that I should change my alarm to get a sleep-in.

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

My mum. Honestly, she seems to have it under control all the time, regardless of situations and challenges. Nothing is ever too small or too big while juggling everything from family and work too. Maybe I’ll ask her to write a book about it.

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

Slow down. Most of the time we’re just trying to play a game of Tetris, cramming as much as possible into our lives. In doing so we start to take short cuts and often settle with ‘that’ll do’. But will that really do?

You are in control of your own work-life, life-work, life balance. Don’t wait for someone else, or your work, your parents, your friends or even a brand to tell you so. 

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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.