Balancing the Grind with Matt Heath, Founder of Make Your Change

Matt Heath is the founder of Make Your Change, a non-profit which runs training and workshops for corporations to encourage their staff to take more climate action.

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

I’ve had a lot of change in my career so far, working for 9 companies across 2 continents over the last 10 years. You could summarise this as the focus of my work transitioning from technology, to business, to strategy, and more recently, purpose.

I’ve worked with top-tier consultancy firms on billion dollar projects, and single-founder start-ups trying to launch their first product, and everything in between.

I’ve spent the first 7 years or so having a very unhealthy work life balance, which thanks to living in a van, living overseas, COVID, and getting older, I’ve spent a lot more time and effort on what I want my life to look like, and how I can make that happen.

Currently, I run Make Your Change, a non-profit which runs training and workshops for corporations to get their staff to take more climate action. We’ve been hit pretty hard by the latest lock-downs, so are working on making our content more easily accessible on demand.

I also work as a consultant with Spark Strategy, a Strategy Consulting firm helping not for profits and for purpose organisations to define and realise better strategies.

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

Given I split my time between multiple endeavours, my days look quite different, which I love. On the days where I’m strategy consulting, my days are an alternating mix of problem solving in meetings, conducting analysis in excel, and creating PowerPoints to explain options, plans, and designs.

Generally speaking, a pattern I try to follow is:

  • Momentum: I try to start my day with something that I’m proud of, or that ‘fills the battery up’ for the day. Typically this will be a run, a workout, cleaning the house, practicing the handpan (musical instrument that if you haven’t heard, you really need to).
  • Planning: I try to allocate all my time in an Outlook calendar at the beginning of the day. The process I try to follow is:
    • Review emails to identify any tasks (anything I can do in 2-5mins I do immediately)
    • Go through the Task List (ClickUp for Make Your Change, Microsoft Teams for Spark Strategy) and prioritise the tasks
    • Allocate the tasks time using a separate ‘time management’ calendar (using meeting slots that stop people booking meetings if I have a critical external deadline)
    • Send out emails, meeting requests or updates if there are new tasks or delays.
  • Doing: The actual tasks in a day vary enormously. Running a small NFP means I wear a lot of hats from delivering speeches and presentations, working with volunteers on content, maintaining the website, and all the day to day operational needs.
  • Breaks: I don’t have a set lunch break, I try to eat when I’m hungry, and avoid snacking as much as possible. I’ll sometimes play a bit of handpan or go for a short walk if I find myself getting into a productivity rut as a way of breaking up the thought processes.
  • Work Times: I tend to work in the sun from 10-1, to make sure I’m still getting vitamin D in lockdown. This also suits tasks where I just need to focus on one thing, as I don’t have a second screen when working outside. I tend to work till around 7, with 4-7 being a real sweet spot of productivity for me.
  • Wrap Up: I journal most nights, normally only a few sentences, just to reflect on what did and didn’t go according to plan or capture how I’m feeling. I find writing it down helps to stop my brain mulling on things before I sleep.

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

I have a lot of flexibility in my work day, which can be a double edged sword. I can work largely anytime and anywhere, but it’s for that to turn into feeling like I’m working all the time and everywhere.

As a result, I try to alternate over the course of the month of having regimented structure, and a more organic workflow, as I know ‘the happy medium’ is likely to stay out of reach for me.

A maxim I often tell myself is to ‘chase the traction’. Most professional car drivers take the shortest path around the track, trying to drive as fast as possible. Rally car drivers, due to the unknown terrain, focus on keeping the wheels where the traction is, to avoid spinning out.

A lot of the work I do feels more off-road than on the track, and so my main thing is to observe how much traction I have, rather than if I’m following a plan. Sometimes it means planning out my day in 15min increments as a blockage to distraction. Sometimes it means just turning on the laptop, and seeing what happens.

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

To me, work-life balance is more about integrating what I want my life to look like into my work, rather than trying to separate the two.

For me, that’s trying to fill my work with a sense of achievement, great social network, and feeling like I’m working to a purpose. I like feeling productive, so to me it’s less about reducing the amount of work that I do, but having the freedom and the means to do the work that brings me the most joy.

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

I’ve put more effort into meditating, and whilst I’m still building the habit, it’s helped me to slow down and be more conscious of what I’m thinking.

I’m also trying to reduce the amount of stimulus in my life, less music, social media, and TV. When walking I try to spend more time really observing tree’s, particularly the enormous fig trees around Redfern, and trying to understand how and why they have grown the way they do. This slow speed really helps to make the most of the slower life during COVID.

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

I listen to a lot of audio books, and tend to think that the latest thing that I have read is the most amazing thing I’ve heard. I’m currently really interested in ‘things we take for granted’ and ‘what would a better world look like. For easy introduction, I’d recommend:

  • Revolution by Russell Brand
  • Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein (all his works are great)
  • Consequences of Capitalism by Noam Chomsky

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, and The Tao of Seneca have been instrumental in helping me to achieve the tools and perspective to have a work life balance.

For a beautiful book about the importance of time, you can’t go past Momo by Michael Ende.

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

OneNote: After adopting some of the principles of Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain, OneNote is core to capturing information.

Toggl Track: When I need to get more disciplined with my time, or track it for billing clients, Toggl Track makes tracking time so easy and integrates with everything.

Ecosia: Web search that plants trees, it helps to remind me what I should be focussing one every-time I search for information.

Journey: Diary app with reminders of what happened 1 month ago, and any annual anniversaries. I find it really powerful to re-engage with times or thoughts that my brain had otherwise pushed to the back.

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

Tim Urban: He’s done a few, but every-time I feel like I understand more about him, myself, and the world at large.

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

A quote that sticks with me is ‘Things don’t happen to me, I happen to other things’. I think it’s easy, particularly when it comes to work-life balance, for us to blame circumstances for the lack of balance. If we take matters into our own hands, and work towards the life we want to live, we can transition instead of being a victim of circumstance, to an agent of change.

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Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.