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Balancing the Grind with Rachel Service, Workplace Culture Expert & CEO of Happiness Concierge

Rachel Service is the author of There Has To Be More, The Essential Guide to Personal Growth and founder and CEO of Happiness Concierge.

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

I’m the author of There Has To Be More, The Essential Guide to Personal Growth and founder and CEO of Happiness Concierge. We help workplaces create amazing workplace culture through training and consulting.

My background was in communications; working in New Zealand, London and now Australia, supporting people from Academy and Grammy award-winning artists, to business owners, to CEO’s, to get their message out there.

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

Each day is different, depending on what’s happening. Here’s a recent example:

6.00am – 7.00am 

Coffee and banana. I’ve been known to get up in the middle of the night to snack on a banana and go back to bed. Super food! I got hooked on them when I was training in fitness as you could eat one and go for a run or lift weights, so they’re my go-to.

Then it’s time to get ready for the day’s meetings and get ‘dressed for zoom’. It’s quite funny isn’t it, to get dressed up for Zoom / to walk down the hallway, especially being in lockdown at time of writing. I have a roster of blazers I wear most days on high rotation.

They get a good workout! I’ve discovered a makeup and outfit routine that looks good on camera, so I wear versions of the same thing most days to lower decision fatigue. If it works, it works. 

7.00am – 7.45am

A demo of our training with a New York based client to learn more about our offering. This means we step them through a live training sample so they can have the experience of being in the classroom with us, see our facilitation style and ask questions about the content as we go.

It’s a great way to custom design an approach and open the doors on how we do what we do. It also helps the client ask questions they anticipate their audience might want to know, or to go deeper into a concept, as we can talk through all of that on the video call together.

I’m very lucky in that I have a great operations team who schedule in those morning calls for me so when I come to the ‘zoom room’, I’m energised, and can take the client wherever they need to go. 

We’ve created every single training from scratch, and we have an internal process where every facilitator reads the reflections of each prior session and the learnings, so there isn’t a question a client can ask, where I haven’t had experience with real life audiences going through these exercises. It’s incredibly fulfilling facilitating learning and I feel shows the client we have a tangible understanding of how people take positive action. 

7.45am – 8.00am 

If I’m lucky I might get a call from my 1 year old nephew who just loves the camera (is it in the family?). It always brings lots of laughs and giggles to watch him eat… everything! And connect with my whanau (family).

8.00am – 9.00am

Call with my coach. This is done via Zoom audio, so it’s great to be able to sit on the couch and step through what’s happening that week without being ‘on’ via video. I met my coach three years ago at a Happiness Concierge event, and a few months later we had a coffee to connect and learn about one another, and we then stayed in touch on LinkedIn.

When we connected again a few years later, after my Tedx talk when I was feeling a bit flat (in a phenomenon called Arrival Fallacy – when you achieve a goal and there is no more ‘goal’ to achieve), it was so easy as we already had that connection and trust.

We talk every Tuesday and have an online platform to workshop any issues during the week, which I find quite helpful given you need to move pretty quickly as an entrepreneur. It’s beneficial to have someone you trust to walk through something confidential or something you aren’t quite sure about. 

9.00am – 10.00am

By now, I’m starving! Breakfast with my spouse – usually this is scrambled eggs and toast or rice, as it’s quick and easy. Either my spouse or I will take the dog for a walk: typically, I’ll listen to a podcast as I walk, usually about running a business or leadership.

You can see me power walking in my suit and jeans around the park most mornings, ha. I get great ideas from Rachel Rogers’ Hello Seven Podcast on entrepreneurship, or Farnham Street who interview leaders on behaviours that drive business. I love all that stuff and I find it helps me relax, hearing how others have created businesses, or cultures in their workplaces. There’s always a tidbit I learn or reflect on.

Usually I find an excuse to walk by the cafe on the way back for another coffee. Feeling as though I’ve ‘been somewhere’ is important in lockdown, as it gives me a sense of momentum. It’s good too, to have that alone time. Both my spouse and I are introverts so we take it very seriously!

10.00am 

Typically (or immediately following my coaching session if I’m not starving), I’ll go through my emails and begin a bit of a delegation / prioritisation exercise in response to anything that’s cropped up overnight.

I find a lot of the international information I consume through subscriptions comes in overnight due to those time zones, so I bookmark a tonne of things to read later. The day can be quite transactional in terms of to-do lists, so I find bookmarking interesting things to read something to look forward to so I can switch off at evenings, or weekends.

Having something interesting to read is a lovely carrot for me. It always inspires me to reflect on how I do business, show up and get ideas on how to improve my own writing. I find myself googling many of the terms I read about so it’s a real learning curve.

Examples include Wall St Journal, who do a great leadership and careers newsletter with Rachel Feintzeig each week; Hello Seven, who send out a business hack based on their Growth Framework most mornings; NY Times on pretty much every industry of business and personal growth which I find both educational and funny; as well as Ken Kye who writes about 10K hours; and Nathan Barry (Founder ConvertKit) who writes on the intersection of business, creativity and community impact. Super interesting.

After that, I’m typically delegating, or checking in with priorities with my team. We use Slack to communicate and do a deep dive on the week ahead every Monday morning.

By the time Tuesday rolls around, everyones clear on who’s doing what, so it’s often a quick check in of, ‘here’s where I’m at’, or, ‘I’m going to deliver this, does that impact you’, that sort of thing.

I have loved growing my team and learning through trial and error what works best. We’ve learned what works best for us is a weekly meeting with the boss on a Monday, then every morning the team have a 30 minute virtual cuppa to connect (doesn’t have to be work related through often is a check in on priorities balanced with a laugh), and then on Thursday my Operations Manager and I re-check in on the progress and focus on the long term priorities.

We have a number of systems in place to ensure we’re focussing on the right things, at the right time. It’s very joyful working with people who are so passionate about best practice: we are always testing new ways to do things and are pretty good at not changing the simple stuff that works.

10.30am – 12.30pm 

This is typically no meeting time. What a luxury. I’ve identified I’m most creative in the morning, when there’s time to ‘think big’, without the pressure of a deadline. It’s really tricky doing ‘deep’ work, strategic work, or quality work, when there are distractions, so I’ve had to train myself out of being reactive because, as they say, ‘what got you here won’t take you there’.

That means switching off Slack, shutting down my email and just getting ideas on a page. I got beautiful feedback once from a team member who said, ‘if I know your thoughts or vision on something, I can activate that’, so I have a mental note to dedicate time to getting my thoughts on a page and sharing the rationale and ‘why’ and then handing that over to my Operations Manager to think about the ‘when’, ‘how’ and how to prioritise and incorporate that into the business (or file it under ‘great idea, not a priority right now’, equally as valuable!).

On developing my team, we’ve designed their roles to respond to requests, and created buffers into our workflow to ‘fail safely’, so rarely is there a time where shit hits the fan and we need to be scattered. I’m really proud of that.

12.30pm – 1.30pm 

I am extremely blessed to have a spouse who adores cooking and is always dreaming up something wonderful for lunch. My cooking style is putting rice and tuna in a bowl, so sometimes we have that with a salad, or my spouse is making pasta from scratch.

I’ve put having lunch in my diary because without the reminder, I’d just work through. Eating (or exercising, or friends, doing anything but The Thing) doesn’t really occur to me when I’m completely absorbed in something. I go ‘all in’ mentally.

I think that’s why work has been so fulfilling to me, intellectually I find myself completely absorbed and stretched. As a result, I’ve experienced multiple burnouts, and managed bouts of anxiety and depression. I’ve had to learn how to prioritise the right things so I’m not having to manage something more serious later.

So, having that ‘ping’ reminder prompts me to go down the hallway and leave my computer behind. I’m pretty good at not checking emails and what not in this space, as it’s a rare luxury to be able to stop. Typically my spouse and I download, or if it’s just been ‘a morning’, or we’re doing our own thing, I’ll read the NY Times or check my horoscope to break it up. (Love a good horoscope!)

1.30pm – 3.00pm 

Typically this is what we refer to as a ‘relational’ time. We are a big believer that our company exists due to the strength of our relationships. These include client calls, reports, meetings, anything that gives us an opportunity to deepen our connection with our clients and understand their experiences.

3.00pm – 5.00pm 

This is ‘GSD Time’ in my calendar each day. This might be client meetings, responding to briefs, setting a facilitator up for success, or writing sales copy. I’ve discovered each day I need a few hours of desktime to get it done.

It’s mentally very freeing to delegate the ‘GSD’ tasks to the afternoon so I’m not carrying that anxiety of ‘when will I get it done’? I know I’ve got the afternoon to put on my headphones and just do the thing.

I typically wander down to the kitchen and fix a snack plate. I’ve trained myself over the years to top up the snacks about now otherwise I end up producing sub-par work. 

4.30pm 

My 4 year old nephew often calls during his dinner time. We step through what lego he’s got, what he’s eating for dinner, but mainly he just eats and watches and I speak to him and his parents. It fills up my joy cup!

4.59pm 

On the dot – my dog nudges me for his end of day walk, every day at the exact same time. How does he know!? A welcome ‘snap’ out of work mode and a walk at the park, with headphones for a podcast or without to just decompress my brain a bit.

6.00pm – 7.00pm 

Dinner and download with my spouse. I’m an early bird so I’m always hungry. It’s cathartic to download and swap stories and laughs. During the day, we’re both so absorbed in what we’re doing you’ll hear me say ‘I’ll tell you all about it over dinner’.

So there’s always plenty to talk about instead of little tidbits throughout the day, it’s less distracting, too. We had that chat pretty early in quarantine to share how we were going to get it done without interrupting each other while co working from home. It takes proactive conversations to make it work! 

7.00pm – 8.30pm 

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good veg on the couch, but sometimes I’ll have things that simply need to be done that don’t fit into my schedule due to life and how things pan out. In addition to our deliverables each week, we have longer term projects which, if they don’t get prioritised, never get released. So, typically I get my headphones on and just fire through it. I have a ‘GSD Playlist’ on Spotify which (don’t ask me how), sends me into a trance and I get it done in a few hours.

8.30pm 

Typically I’m going through my to do list for the day, ‘did I get it done’, and doing what we call ‘radical prioritisation’, where you make a decision on what you’ll leave for the day to do tomorrow, or move your deliverables around.

My team sometimes will get emails from me overnight saying what I’ve completed, or have made the decision to re-prioritise to get something else done. I’m also going through my calendar each night before switching off to ask, ‘what do I need for tomorrow to go well’? We typically do this one week in advance, and for me I do it as a practice every night.

9.00pm – 10.30pm

Typically I’m ready to switch off, watch a TV show with my spouse, or follow up with our family thread which has everyone’s highlights from the day. My family are across New Zealand, Canada and Australia, with some travelling, so it’s always a highlight reading through who’s doing what in different time zones! It’s a real sense of support, validation, and celebration. Definitely a good way to end the day.

1030pm – 11.30pm

Bed and reading or laughing with my spouse about the day’s highlights. Currently I’m reading Traction by Gino Wickman on creating operating systems. My non-work read is always a gossip mag such as OK, or NW. Very glamorous, ha ha!

I find reading gets me off my phone and after a few lines I’m slowly putting myself to sleep. My spouse has definitely taken a book or magazine off my face, asleep, over the years, happily sleeping while I ‘read’, ha!

They say I always wake up smiling, I guess I’m always getting into something that excites me. I used to wake up with my fists clenched, when I was experiencing depression and anxiety. So I’ve worked very consciously to find joy in everything I do, including the stuff I read at night. I suppose you’d call this a conscious step of self care – protecting myself from what content I expose myself to.

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

Great question. Yes. Happiness Concierge is flexible and remote. 

Our clients are typically in corporate roles, Mondays to Fridays, so while I might have my own preference around working times and days, the customer need is support Monday to Fridays, so the business has been set up to ensure clients are looked after during those hours.

In addition to that, we have a process in place to enable us to build in flexibility to deliver overnight and in turn, be able to take batches of hours off to balance the adrenaline and sustainability of energy over time.

So what that means is, if I’ve delivered a massive project, I’m very open with my team about taking the morning or afternoon off, and then logging in to identify what needs to get done overnight, and just getting it done. We also have a wide network of contractors who are exceptional at what they do, supporting us so there’s nothing we can’t deliver in our wheelhouse of professional growth.

As an example, our team members have the flexibility to start early, finish early, swap hours, around their deliverables. So let’s say a client NEEDS a meeting to happen at a certain time. We’ll ensure that person has time around that to counterbalance any ‘unusual’ hours.

Recently I got some great feedback from the team about having something more regularly to look forward to in terms of holidays (eg. in addition to annual leave where we might save that up for a nice holiday).

As a result, we implemented Health and Wellbeing Leave (2 x days a quarter, use it or lose it as it doesn’t accrue, and the expectation is you take a long weekend quarterly to switch off). We’ve discovered epic gains from this and the team report feeling refreshed, motivated and really excited (!) to return to work. 

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

Interesting question for an entrepreneur! 

Having done countless personality tests, and through trial and error, I’ve learned I have a project personality when it comes to work. That means I get obsessed with a project, focus all my energy on it and need about a week afterwards to recover.

It’s tricky to then balance that with running a business, where consistency is how you build something lasting. For example, balance from an operational standpoint means consistency of quality and experience for our customers and for me it means ensuring that for every ‘spring’ there is recovery time built in proactively. To my benefit, I have a team who have my back and remind me to top up the tank after each big deliverable.

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

Yes. Recently the team and I gave each other the challenge of, ‘if we want to be seen as world class, what do we need to start or stop doing, to be truly world class’? As a result we’ve had some epic, ego-free, best practice discussions. It’s framed how we do with that lens of ‘how could this be excellent’?

One example of that is the Health and Wellbeing Leave. If we want to have the best, we want the best rested and focussed. So to do that, we’re going to build quarterly ‘reset’ weekends into the system to prompt high performers to stop and refuel.

From a scheduling perspective, I started to batch my mental load into three categories (GSD Mode, Relationships, Creative), and updated my calendar bookings to reflect that. It’s been a truly joyful experience.

Does everything ‘fit’ into the calendar? Not always, no. But it’s a daily reminder and reinforcement that when the intent is there, the next step is to act on that intent and tell others about it so they keep you accountable.

Sharing my thinking with the team a few weeks ago and framing it from a ‘lets try this for a few weeks and analyse the results’ has given a sense of lets try new things as a trial, and if it works it stays, and if it doesn’t, there’s no sunken cost (fear of abandoning something you’ve invested time into) associated with it.

As a personal example, this week I was inspired by the reading ‘instead of a to-do list, reflect on a to-stop list’. I find it very appealing and it’s causing me to reflect.

We’re big on reflection at Happiness Concierge as part of our practice and teachings. Studies show it lowers the perceived difficulty of tasks and it creates space between our identity and our behaviour.

With that lens, we can get to the work of continual self improvement and of course, as a result, business improvement. I am very passionate about this practice. I know it can change minds, lives, bodies and businesses in just three minutes a day.

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

Endless books! A few for entrepreneur / business owners interested in personal and professional development:

  • We Should All Be Millionaires – A Guide to Economic Power (Rachel Rogers)
  • Traction – Get A Grip on Your Business (Gino Wickman) 
  • Me & White Supremacy (Layla F Saad) 
  • The Hard Things about Hard Things (Ben Horowitz)
  • The Body Keeps Score (Bessel A. van der Kolk)

Recently we underwent Inclusion training and we were challenged to ‘decolonise’ our bookshelves and review the lens of the content we were absorbing on social media. It was an awesome exercise and it’s helped me shift my perspective to consciously gain wider, more diverse perspectives.

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

I’m not much of a ‘gadget’ person. While I am very grateful for technology helping us reach thousands of people, and I use tools every day for the business, I’d be very happy without the internet. I prefer pen and paper and great conversation with people who are aligned with the intent to help others. That’d be a real treat after this lockdown, doing that in person again. 

I’m a big believer in, if you can say it simply, you understand it. I base all our work at Happiness Concierge on ‘How can we simplify this to its essential parts? What is useful? What is ‘noise’ or jargon? What has utility and thereby value?’

So I know I understand something when I can write it down, or teach it to someone else. That’s the great litmus test. The internet enables me to reach more people but without my ‘notepad’ test, what I share might be just more noise. I like to distill things so I can understand them and then link them to wider contexts.

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

I’ve read and watched endless interviews with creatives who produce high volumes of high quality work to learn about their work ethic (Solange, Beyonce, Brian Koppelman). 

What they all share is a passion for creative expression, attention to detail, the pursuit of excellence and the idea of balance doesn’t really come into that equation as it’s a full immersion of an experience and attempting to share that with the world. 

What every one of these creatives do speak about however is the idea of refuelling and protecting yourself from the inevitable highs and lows of creation. So I adore learning about how people who give so much top themselves up sustainably, in sync with their lifestyles. 

The idea of compartmentalisation (work/life balance) is a powerful mental health tool. It enables us to lower cognitive and emotional overwhelm. At times, creatively, it can also limit us from experiencing the full range of human emotions – critical for producing creative work. 

So that’s the elusive secret sauce? When we link our inner and outer worlds and selves and make creative connections, and fuel ourselves for creativity, that becomes a really exciting proposition.

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

There is so much dialogue about the elusive work life balance. If you are aligned with what you do and who you do it with, it’s less about separating those worlds and more finding ‘circuit breakers’ to move from each life ‘container’ so you can be present and enjoy where your feet are. 

A helpful way to think about it can be, ‘what percentage of my life do I want to be work’? For some, it will be 20%. For others, 80%. Based on that the next question we can ask is ‘what is my version of success in that equation’?

For the person who’d like work to be 20%, they can ask, ‘what sort of work do I need to do to facilitate that lifestyle’? For the other person, and I’d certainly relate to this category, if I’d like work to be 80% of my world, and I’m interested in doing great work, what needs to go into my 20%? What can I realistically fit into that category? What is special enough to go into that 20%? As time is limited, how do I top up my tank within that calculation? From there we can prioritise the right things for us as individuals.

If we want work-life balance, we have to know how much work we want to play a role in our life, and design our life around that. Many people don’t like their jobs. It doesn’t mean they mightn’t like a vocation, they might simply dislike the job they have right now. It also might mean they don’t enjoy work on any level. Everyone is completely unique. That’s what makes this work so interesting. 

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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.