Balancing the Grind with Nena Salobir, Chief Creative Officer at Orbits

Nena Salobir is the Chief Creative Officer at Orbits, a platform for creating immersive virtual events & online venues for conferences, workplaces and more.

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

I studied Law for a while and the sheer pain of it drove me to start a magazine while at uni – it was called Wasted as I was just so frustrated by the latent creative talent I was surrounded by. That was the first step in my career as a self-taught graphic designer. I ended up finishing a Marketing degree and was really drawn into consumer behaviour and visual marketing. 

I’ve freelanced in branding and creative marketing for over a decade, so I’ve both relished and struggled with remote work long before working from home became so common. Freelancing has given me the flexibility to chase other dreams – I’ve held two solo exhibitions of an ongoing portraiture project, Self Portrait in Society.

In the early days of the pandemic, I co-founded Orbits, a platform for creating immersive virtual venues, where I am currently Chief Creative Officer. It’s an amazing opportunity  to work on bringing a sense of place back to our fragmented digital lives. 

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

I tend to be a night owl, and having chosen my own hours for most of my working  life, still love changing things up from day to day. More recently, with my work at Orbits, I have more structure in terms of weekly meetings.

I still try to keep at least a day a week free from meetings, and force myself to leave the house for a coffee or activity every day – a hard won lesson from many years working from home and forgetting how my limbs work.

On an ideal work day, I’ll dutifully do my morning pages (Julia Cameron’s technique from The Artist’s Way), which is essentially a free writing technique that works to exorcise any anxieties or unhelpful background noise buzzing around.

Usually I find writing to myself super reassuring – the things you’re stressed about aren’t necessarily that stressful, and by getting those emotions onto the page you’re freeing up your mind to get focused and create. You’re also making something with very low expectations (it can be illegible scrawl) which is a good way to just break the seal on creative thinking.

If I’m on deadline, I will still start the day with pen and paper, or sketching a quick visual plan on my iPad. It’s the best time to get a solution to a difficult problem – I’ve slept on it, my subconscious has been whirring away on the problem, and I feel newborn. I’ll chip away at the plan between meetings.

By 3pm I’m jaded again and need to be doing more procedural stuff while watching a cop show. If I’m working on something big and need to get in a flow state, I’ll break for a nap and treat the evening almost as a new day. If the winds are favourable I’ll find a groove and work from 5pm through to the wee hours of the morning.

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

For me, work-life balance isn’t a seesaw type arrangement. I think there’s a balance if your work is enhancing your life and bringing you closer to the kind of person you’d like to be.

I’ve always been pretty diehard about following my passions, so I’ve rarely found myself in stressful situations not of my own making!

Finding balance has been more of a question of understanding if the work I’m doing is progressing, or simply working for the sake of working, or getting carried away (designers call this ‘pixel f*’#ing’).

Often for creatives the line between work and life can become very blurred. On the occasion that I do have downtime or am having some ‘forced’ relaxation time, I find my hands just itching to make something. Even creating something silly soothes my mind.

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

I’ve been listening to a great podcast called ‘In The Habit’ by Ash Ranpura and Alice Fraser, a neuroscientist and a comedian. The neuroscientist is hilariously bad at getting on with tasks he wants to do.

It’s made me realise how much energy I could be saving by not overthinking things. Lots of tasks could just be routine, like brushing my teeth, nothing to ponder the merit of every single time or fight against.

I’m also trying to work some small interventions into my life. These are things that take a short amount of time – say 10 minutes – but seem to have a really disproportionate benefit on the rest of my day.

If I do 10 minutes of yoga, I seem not to get my usual neck and shoulder pain from an entire day of working. How does that work?! It’s almost as if I’ve changed the perspective of my muscles. If I do my writing or a sketch first thing in the morning, as above, I’m always immediately less stressed. 

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

I love Tim Ferriss’ unbridled honesty about his energy peaks and troughs, and dogged determination to find out how Maria Popova of The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) does her work in cataloguing the sum total of human understanding. 

I love Mason Currey’s books (Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, and Daily Rituals: Women at Work), which are packed with the completely mad and truly ingenious schedules and strategies of creative greats.

Slate’s ‘Working’ podcast always helps me if I’m in a rut; they’re just real creatives talking about the ups and downs of creative work.

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

Steven Heller. The guy just spews out design books at the rate of knots, but they’re all meticulously researched and feel like a genuine labour of love. I’m really interested in prolific creatives who seem to have perfected this secret formula for making things that are personally and professionally sustainable.

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

For those new to remote or flexible working, I’d say it doesn’t have to feel remote. Places give us meaning and play such a huge role in how we see ourselves. We can’t always be in the same space physically, but working remotely doesn’t mean we have to give up those identities. 

We really strive to add ambience, warmth and context to our virtual venues in Orbits. You can invite clients to your studio that looks like a detective’s office. Or you can meet with people from across the world in a digital twin of your HQ. The space sets the tone for what is about to occur. And when you leave, grab a drink in the bar with colleagues, or exit via the zen garden, you can close the chapter on your work day.

We all deserve to feel good at the end of the day, even if there’s unfinished business or not everything went to plan. We’re constantly dreaming up new ways to help people compartmentalise different aspects of our lives so they don’t all form one big gelatinous mass of ‘what’s next’. And of course, we’re thinking about humans here. No unwieldy headsets or specialist hardware. Just a sense of continuity and belonging.

Perhaps it was due to always having worked outside of a traditional office, that Orbits has become a way to make a virtual workplace for myself.

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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.