Balancing the Grind with Natalie Lowe, Managing Partner at The Orangeblowfish

Natalie Lowe is the Managing Partner at The Orangeblowfish, an award-winning independent creative agency with teams in China, North America, United Kingdom and Australia.

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

I’m an Aussie who’s been living in Shanghai, China for the past 15 years. After graduating from UNSW, I moved to Singapore, and joined an aerospace company, thinking I would only be in Singapore for a few months.

Since 1999, I’ve worked and lived in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, and advised C-suite executives on international communications, executive communications, global branding, and more. Pretty amazing. 

Presently, I’m Managing Partner of The Orangeblowfish, a creative branding agency I co-own with Siu Tang, my business and life partner. We set up the Agency in 2012, in our home-study as we knew that there would be a better way to represent brands. Siu had the vision to leverage creativity, art and design to connect and enrich people’s lives. 

This year our Agency is celebrating our 10th anniversary which is something we’re ecstatic about. Since our establishment, we’ve had the pleasure to work with some of the coolest brands in the world including LinkedIn, L’Oreal Group, Cartier, Asics, Mindshare, Costa Coffee, Marriott Group, Sanofi, Boston Scientific and more. 

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

My typical day is usually something like this: 

6:15am – Wake up, make coffee, and quickly scan emails or reading

6:40am – Wake kids up, get them ready for school 

7:25am – School Bus Drop Off 

7:30am – Workout (30 minutes at home – since we’re currently in a lock down in Shanghai), or I’m at EMS every WED. 

8:30am – Travel to Office 

9am – 6:30pm – Meetings. This involves a range of meetings from internal, to client and cross-collaboration project meetings across the globe that help move initiatives forward. We have many project teams sitting on different time zones, from China, to the UK, North America and Australia. So I do my best to fit them in this time zone. 

6:30pm – Head home 

7:00pm – Quick dinner, catch up with kids and put them to sleep 

9:30pm – Final check on emails, calls with Europe or USA 

11:00pm – Sleep 

As we’ve been working from home more than seven weeks, my day hasn’t been as structured. I need to allow for natural disturbances with our entire family being at home. Hence, I find that my days are much longer!

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

Yes, my current role does allow for remote working, given that some of our project teams are based across the globe. However, as we have a relatively big team in Shanghai, I do prefer to go to the office to enhance team spirit and bonding.

There are days that I prefer to work from home when writing a strategy, client proposal or a comprehensive thought leadership piece. Otherwise, I’m in the office.  

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

This is a hard one. My idea of “balance” changes on a daily and weekly basis. I find that I’m not in control of my own time, because I need to be present for my team, my family, and clients.

What I try to do is manage and work around my three most important priorities every day: (a) my kids, (b) myself and (c) my husband – not in this particular order. Finding time to focus on myself is very important.

This could be a fitness workout, learning a new interest or hobby, catching up with friends, or finding some “tune-out” time.

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

Before starting a family, I was exercising 4-5 times a week. When my husband and I started our family and then our business, it became increasingly more challenging to fit in a regular fitness schedule.

In 2018, I started following the Sweat App to help me stay healthy at home and this became especially useful during lock down in 2020. After being cooped up at home for a while, and working out four times a week, I felt that I needed something more.

In October 2021, I hired an EMS personal trainer and picked up boxing again at a local gym (after taking a break of more than a decade). I now only do two workouts a week, but I have found removing myself from digital devices and the daily grind for those 3 hours per week has significantly improved my state of mind and overall wellbeing. 

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

I’ve never been a big podcast fan, never got into it. I’m big on reading, but I must admit my personal time to do reading is very limited.

I am an early riser, so in the mornings, I try to spend 30 minutes logging on The Economist, Medium or Inc Magazine to read on business, leadership strategies and other interesting topics. 

My favourite books of all time have to be The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell and The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I pick these up once every year and have a good flip through. Great books are never boring. It’s like re-watching your favourite movie. 

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

I have a rather demanding work and family schedule, so I’m a huge fan of scheduling and planning. I can’t live without my calendar. 

A few months ago, I got hooked on Calendly which removes the back and forth of coordinating meetings. I love this app because it allows me to choose the hours, as well as the number of meetings I want to have per day, while giving people access to see my availability up to 60 days in advance. 

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

I’ve read too many of these and that’s my problem. I have read many entrepreneur’s schedules – including for inspiration Victoria Beckham and Mark Walberg’s schedules.

I have found that doing this makes me more conflicted because other people’s schedules don’t work for me. Trust me, I’ve tried everything including waking up at 3am! 

I have an active lifestyle and my priorities need to be fluid. Maintaining a healthy fitness and work schedule and happy family is most crucial. 

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 different for everyone. Find a schedule or plan that works for you. Ensure that it’s realistic and sustainable.

Often, we’re overly optimistic about commitment when we first start a new program, then lose self-discipline. Work on your top three priorities per day, compound them so it moves into a weekly or monthly goal. 

The biggest thing I’ve learnt from finding that perfect balance is maintaining a consistent routine that makes you feel happy and successful.

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About Author

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.