Balancing the Grind with Marko Zitko, Co-Founder of The Mercury Book Club

Marko Zitko is the co-founder of The Mercury Book Club, Australia’s first and only book subscription box dedicated to business books.

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

My full-time role is an Account Manager at WE Communications, but my side hustle is being the co-founder of The Mercury Book Club, Australia’s first book subscription service dedicated to business and personal development books.

Prior to working in the communications industry, my background was primarily in startups. From interning at a car-sharing startup, to supporting marketing and sales at a space startup, to even teaching primary school children how to code as part of an education startup.

In between working at startups and WE Communications, I was also a consultant at the University of Technology, Sydney, working on projects with the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation, UTS Business School and UTS Careers.

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

A typical day for me begins at 7.30am. My morning starts with an iced long black and a banana. If I’m commuting to the office, the coffee and banana will wait until I’m in the city.

Whether I’m heading to the office or working from home, I use the morning before work to catch up on news through ABC News and Sydney Morning Herald. If it’s a slow news day, I’ll squeeze in some reading and if I’m feeling motivated, I’ll use this time to exercise before work.

At 8.30am I begin my day at WE Communications. My day usually consists of client meetings, team catch ups, content creation, listening to Triple J, and developing and implementing communication programs. If I’m in the office, I’ll be asking the team what everyone’s doing for lunch. If I’m at home, I’ll be protecting my lunch from my extremely needy cat, Bella.

I’ll usually finish up around 5.30pm and close my work laptop. If I haven’t closed my activity rings on my Apple Watch, I’ll go for a walk or hop on the rowing machine. 

If I have, then I’ll jump right to my personal laptop to begin working on The Mercury Book Club. This time is usually dedicated to admin tasks and knocking things off the to-do list. Once those are out of the way, I’ll either read one of the books for the upcoming months, work on a book review or research specific areas of the business.

Bedtime is a strict 11.15pm, making sure I’m getting my full 8 hours of sleep each night (thanks to Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep).

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

Absolutely. My role at WE Communications allows for both flexible and remote working, it’s one of the best parts of the agency. At the start of the pandemic, the transition to remote working was smooth and seamless, with the leadership team being very supportive throughout the entire process.

The agency continues to show its commitment to us through regular mental health days, called 8 For U, which are a very much appreciated day off each quarter.

While we’re encouraged to return back to the office, remote and flexible working is still very much a normal part of our routine. This certainly helps on days when you need to be free of distractions and focus on writing content.

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

Work hard, but set boundaries.

Entrepreneurs, especially the ones you see online, promote a behaviour of continuously hustling and grinding on their projects. You hear about these insane routines – waking up at 4am, working 16 hours days for seven days a week, intentionally depriving themselves of sleep. It works for some people. It leads to burn-out for others.

For me, work-life balance means setting clear boundaries. Running an online business means you have the luxury of working from anywhere at any time, which can be a hurdle to achieving a healthy work-life balance.

It’s important to set the right boundaries and know when to step away. Or, for someone who works at night after working a full day, know when to go to bed. This is where the 11.15pm bedtime works its magic.

Since a majority of my work for The Mercury Book Club is done on my personal laptop, it stays at home when I need to switch off. This is my most effective way of controlling my work and not over-working.

However, the trickiest part of running a book business is picking what books you read on a holiday or commuting. I try to not read anything relevant to The Mercury Book Club as it’s technically classified as work. Thriller novels are a great substitute.

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

Making my bed every single morning – having to work from home meant making by bed each morning, which is now an automatic daily habit. I’ve also become very conscious of my daily activity displayed on my watch, so a habit has been making sure those activity rings are closed.

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

Favourite book of all-time is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. It’s the origin story of Nike, which also happens to be my favourite brand. It’s brilliant. It’s also the book that started The Mercury Book Club.

Other favourites include:

  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
  • Vital Science by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki
  • Range by David Epstein
  • Buyology by Martin Lindstorm
  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  • The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips

As for podcasts, I’m a big fan of Stuff You Should Know by Josh Clark and Charles W. ‘Chuck’ Bryant, and If I Were You by Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld.

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

iPhone. Thanks to digital bank cards and the NSW government introducing digital licenses, it means that I don’t have to carry around a wallet. The Apple Watch’s activity tracking and the 20W USB-C faster charger for the iPhone are life changing.

In terms of apps, I can’t live without Tripview, Waze and YouTube. Also, the entire Adobe Creative Cloud suite, particularly Lightroom and Photoshop.

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

Elon Musk. I’ve been fascinated with his ways of working since writing a report of him back in 2014 for a university project. How does he juggle so many projects, work crazy hours and still manage to reply to Tweets? That’s what I want to find out.

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

The most important part of running a side-hustle while continuing to work full-time is being able to separate your day and not compromise one for the other. 

Sometimes there are clashes. Sometimes you will have to take meetings or schedule social posts or purchase products when you should be doing the other. But it’s about knowing where and when to draw the line in the sand and, essentially, separating two lives.

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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.