Richard Sauerman is known as The Brand Guy. He runs a brand strategy and communication agency, as well as delivers keynote talks and workshops.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I started my career in advertising, working in brand strategy roles for international advertising agencies. Eventually, selling more cans of Coca-Cola didn’t inspire or motivate me.
That was when I pioneered a new way to do branding where everything you DO and SAY as a business must be driven by and aligned to your brand strategy – especially your people and culture.
I call this your Brand on the Inside, and it all starts with your people. You can buy an employee’s time and physical presence at a given place. But you cannot buy their enthusiasm. You can’t buy initiative. You can’t buy their loyalty. You cannot buy the devotion of hearts and minds. Organisations have to earn these things, and that’s what my work does.
Today I run my own brand strategy and communication agency, as well as deliver keynote talks and workshops (which have all come to a COVID-19 grinding halt for now). I’m known as The Brand Guy, and this year I was ranked #4 in the world’s top branding gurus.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I work for myself, so my time is my own and my hours are my own. That’s really important to me.
This year has been slightly atypical given the constraints of Covid-19, but a typical day in my life is rising around 7.30am, heading to the gym or pilates for a 9am start, hitting the work desk around 10.30 (at home or at the office), clocking off around 5pm, and spending my evenings with the people who are close to me.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I can work from home or at my office. Thanks to iCloud my work is easily transferable, and my office is a short 10-minute drive from my home. Some days I’ll work from home in the morning and head to the office for an afternoon catch up. Or visa-versa. The two are completely interchangeable.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I find the whole concept of ‘work-life balance’ a little problematic. First of all, it divides your existence into two halves, the ‘work’ bit and the ‘life’ bit.
‘Work’ is your Mondays to Fridays. ‘Life’ is your weekends, your holidays, and whatever free time you have left for yourself (either before or after work) on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
The implicit suggestion is that ‘work’ is a bit of a chore – something you have to do in order to live – and ‘life’ is when you really get to live your life (or what’s left of it after ‘work’).
My second problem with ‘work-life balance’ is this. If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you – and you may not like his or her idea of balance. Especially if that someone else is a commercial corporation. Because commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you as they can get away with.
And while they may talk the ‘work-life balance’ talk, going to work on Friday in a jeans and t-shirt is not work-life balance. Giving your employees an iPhone is just another way for companies to keep you working even when you’re not at work.
Putting childcare facilities into the workplace is just another way for companies to keep you working more and longer at the office, not some sort of New Age HR strategy for enlightened companies.
I’d like to propose an alternative way of viewing ‘work-life balance’. There is no distinction between ‘work’ and ‘life’ if your ‘work’ is as much a part of your ‘life’ as your ‘life’ is.
If your ‘work’ is an expression of who you are and what you do, then it’s not ‘work’ – it’s you just living your life. In other words, it’s all ‘life’, with the good and the bad all rolled up into one. Mondays as good [or as bad] as Saturdays.
As Philosopher Alain de Botton recently declared in The Book Of Life, “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
For me it’s all about time. My time. After all, that’s all I’ve got. And I don’t want other people using or needlessly wasting my time.
So, I control my time. I don’t let other people use Calendar to lock me into meetings I don’t need to be at. I run a paper diary, and I’m the only person who can put me down for a meeting or an appointment.
I have stopped chasing false deadlines. Clients have deadlines which we break our backs to meet. In reality most of these deadlines are not hard and fast dates. If a deadline is too tight, or I have too much other work going on, I call and explain it won’t be done by that date and give a new date. It works every time.
I put aside time for me. I never over-commit to taking too many things on, and I regularly take days off when I feel like I need them. I sometimes spend evenings or days at home alone, which I love doing.
In the summer, I spend hours in the sun on the beach – meditating, listening to podcasts, music and audiobooks and watching the mighty power of the ocean waves.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I read The Seven-Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler over ten years ago. It changed my thinking around productivity, time, inputs and outputs. Since then many businesses have switched to a four-day working week.
Interestingly, in every case their productivity seems to go up. This just shows how we whittle and waste away our time because of arbitrary expectations and norms. The repetition and boredom many people accept as an inherent part of work can be replaced with inspiration, freedom and joy.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
Spotify and Soundcloud for my music, Luminary and Overcast for my podcasts, and Audible for my books. My record player at home, along with my growing collection of vinyl records.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Tim Ferriss seems to be the guy to listen to when it comes to living more and working less. His book, The 4-Hour Workweek, has shifted a lot of people’s thinking and is widely available across the world in many different languages.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
You are in charge of you. That means your time, and how you spend it. If you’re in a role working 60 hours a week and want to reduce that to 40 hours a week, then just do it. Set new boundaries for yourself and the people you work for or with. Don’t blame them and complain that your boss is making you work crazy hours. It’s on you, and it’s up to you to change it.
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