Simon Wassef is the Chief Strategy Officer at TBWA\Chiat\Day, the American division of the advertising agency TBWA Worldwide.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’m an award-winning brand strategist and brand designer. I’ve developed and designed businesses, brands, campaigns and innovations for nearly 20 years.
I’ve worked in advertising agencies, digital innovation companies and design studios and I’ve had a lot of fun doing what I do for the companies like IKEA, Cadbury, Qantas, adidas, Absolut, Samsung, Red Bull, Microsoft, Guinness, Google, Johnnie Walker, Hyundai, Nike and Beats By Dre.
My current role is Chief Strategy Officer at Chiat/Day in Los Angeles. That means I’m responsible for a team of 30 younger, smarter, more dynamic and thankfully diverse people doing a range of things from business consulting to content publishing.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
In the COVID era, my day looks like this:
Up earlyish with my two boys – get my caffeine in whilst they watch cartoons, eat breakfast and generally create (controlled) chaos.
Get them out on the trampoline. Check emails.
Get the older one onto his daily Zoom call with his class. Start answering emails or take a client call while he’s doing the class activity.
Get the boys into the ‘playroom’ (the room formerly known as the dining room) and try to contain said chaos whilst I have another coffee and do calls/work.
Make lunch for the boys. Put the younger one down for a nap. Do more work-related stuff while I wait for him to go to sleep.
Workout with my wife – we are working our way through the Nike Training Club Premium workouts now that they’re all free (get on it!)
Afternoon is a mirror image of the morning – chaos, trampolining, then dinner for the boys.
After they’re down is when I do some ‘deep work’ – writing a presentation, reviewing concepts and giving feedback, reading client briefs and preparing a point of view to share – this all happens after 8pm.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
In short, yes. Communications and design lends itself to remote collaboration because a lot of that ‘deep work’ I just mentioned – especially on the creative execution side – needs to be done independently before coming back together to share work.
Where it’s challenging is that parts of the job that were vital pre-Covid – the in-person pitch, traveling for client meetings, checking in on team members and sitting together and jamming – have now all had to change.
The last one, sitting together and jamming, is a real miss. Inspiration usually happens in those off-hand chats, the hallway conversations, the bits of advice or improvement that come when more than one person is looking at a concept. I’m not sure how working from home will ultimately impact those serendipitous moments, but we’ll find out soon.
Does all this fit in to life and routine? Well, it has to now! Having two young boys means it’s WFH is tricky. I can’t lock mayself away for hours on end. It’s made me more efficient, more focused during the shorter blocks of time I do have. I learned not to waste as much time, not to sit on something when it could be done right now. Which for me is probably a good evolution.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I won’t lie – I love my work. I’ve been lucky enough to work in vibrant, creative companies my whole career and I really enjoy that energy. But even in the heat and excitement of all that, family comes first.
In fact, family comes first, second and third. But work is always there, filling the gaps in your mind, a low hum that goes up in volume when you’re not immediately dealing with family stuff.
So to me work-life balance is about volume control. It’s not about turning one thing off. It’s not binary like that. I personally don’t have that function. It’s more about controlling what I’m tuned into, in that moment, so I don’t get a lot of noise and the frustration that can come when your kids wanna play trains but you’re reading emails or when you want to play trains but tomorrow’s presentation is looming in your mind.
Presence. Volume. What am I listening to and how present am I in that moment, so that the next moment I can be present for other things. That’s the balance to me.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
COVID has completely changed all my routines (see above). But there’s one constant habit that has remained and has actually gotten better: exercise. I’ve always been sports and fitness, but I usually had to go to the gym on a lunch break or after work which is easy to skip (too busy, too tired, stayed too late at work, etc.).
On lockdown my wife introduced me to the world of online workouts, particularly on Instagram and Nike Training Club. It’s great – we workout together everyday and there’s no real excuse to skip it. So if anything, that part of my routine has gotten stronger.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I read and listen widely and across a range of subjects, as I like to balance out stuff I’m reading for work with stuff that I just find interesting or an area I want to learn more about.
So right now I’m mixing a book on coaching with one on being a pilot, one on online business models and one on the solar system that I found in my kids’ stash that is awesome.
Podcasts: I’m biased but I was a guest on one called On Strategy which has taken off, so that’s nice. And any of Professor Scott Galloway’s podcasts: Pivot, The Prof G Show, etc.
Newsletters: Quartz, Fast Company and the New York Times.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
My phone. I must check it 1000 times a day, mostly for email, The Guardian and Instagram. It’s not ideal but it’s how a lot of my work gets done.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Barack and Michelle Obama. How do they do it?!
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Just do what feels right. If people are up at 4am working out and finishing War and Peace by 9am that’s cool. If they’re working while their kids watch Thomas the Tank Engine, also cool. This is hard stuff.
Treat it all like a work in progress versus something you should have perfected by now. We should give ourselves a break and do it the way it feels best. Ultimately that feels to me like balance.
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