Balancing the Grind with Sophie Al-Bassam, Senior Managing Editor at Hardie Grant Media

Sophie Al-Bassam is the Senior Managing Editor at Hardie Grant Media, where she is working on Look magazine for the Art Gallery Society of NSW and Wartime magazine for the Australian War Memorial.

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

I’ve been a journalist and editor for about 12 years. I started out in Sydney community newspapers writing about important things like guinea pig clubs and council plans. I then moved to London (for the second time) and after a lot of persistence got a job in content marketing. 

Since then I’ve worked on magazines, newspapers, apps, podcasts, books, digital magazines and websites. I’ve also worked in so many genres – health, travel, food, fashion, art, history and even sport (and it would be best for everyone if I never do the latter again). 

I’m a generalist. An editor’s key skills are project management, organisation and storytelling. I’ve always believed that my skills were transferable across genres and mediums, and I’ve proved that throughout my career.

I’ve had days when I’ve been writing about cheese for a website, researching medical journals for a podcast, and then fact-checking World War II generals for a magazine.

I’m currently senior managing editor at Hardie Grant Media. I’ve been there for six years. And although I’ve worked on the same accounts for a long time, I’ve also jumped on to lots of different things; there’s always something new happening.

I really like juggling multiple projects and working across mediums. In the past I helped lead the editorial team through a huge time of change for the business.

I’m currently the managing editor for Look, the magazine for the Art Gallery Society of NSW, and Wartime, for the Australian War Memorial.

I’ve also recently joined the team working on the company blog and email newsletter, The Lead. I’m really enjoying that because most of what I do is organising and editing, and it has been great to be writing again.

Recently I interviewed three amazing women on cultural media diversity, and researched mental health resources for a listicle. Both are topics I’m really passionate about.

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

Last week I was writing two food articles for a website, sub editing an article for the Hardie Grant Media blog, proofreading a custom book, doing final checks on Look magazine and liaising with the Australian War Memorial about images. 

Another day may involve client meetings, talking with designers about an infographic or illustration, coming up with new content opportunities, researching industry trends, keeping projects on track and arguing about grammar.

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

I’ve recently come back to work from maternity leave and I’m working part time. We’re all working from home at the moment because of the pandemic. I really miss my colleagues and the creative energy of the office. However, working from home has great benefits of flexibility.

Working part time was a difficult decision for me, and I’m still not sure I made the right one. And it has been a difficult transition. As someone who really loves their job and wants to be involved in everything, it’s disappointing not to be able to achieve what I want to. But a lot of parents, particularly women, have to prioritise their time.

One of my friends advised me that it’s just a season. Right now I’ll spend more time with my wonderful little girl, and later I’ll tip the balance to spend more time on my career.

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

I’ve always worked hard. But I’ve also always believed in Parkinson’s Law; work expands to fill the time allowed.

So if you go in with the option of working till midnight, you will. I’ll work long hours if a project needs it, but it has never been my day-to-day approach. I get in early, ideally before everyone else, stay focussed, and work mostly predictable hours.

I’m good at meeting deadlines and focussing on priorities, so if I want to finish my to-do list by 5pm, I probably will. And if I can see my week is impossible, I’m at the sort of company where I can ask colleagues for help. There’s no shame in that.

Work life balance to me, is being able to have a routine. I love routine. Being able to make plans and stick to them. Going for a walk every lunchtime to keep me sane, and to get back to my desk with a fresh approach. And now that I’m a mum, it means spending time with my family.

Working part time and at home it has been much harder to have boundaries. Instead of working set hours and then going to live my life, I’ve been thinking about and checking on work much more. I’m going to get better at it.

I get stressed and overwhelmed at times like everyone, but for the most part I’m a calm, organised person. Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to be in jobs where I can manage my own time and work towards deadlines autonomously.

I was never the student who worked all night to get an essay in. Partly because my brain doesn’t work in the evening, and partly because that approach to deadlines just doesn’t work for me.

An early person will always leave extra time to get somewhere in case of unforeseen delays like traffic. I’m like that with my own work deadlines – I always leave a buffer to take the pressure off unforeseen delays.

At Hardie Grant Media everyone I work with cares about their job, cares about quality content and works hard. There’s no one not pulling their weight. And that makes working not only more fun, but it makes it less stressful.

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

I became a mum 14 months ago, and that’s certainly changed my life. Maternity leave was wonderful and necessary, but after the first crazy few months I was reminded how much I love my job and that, despite my prior beliefs, I’m actually quite ambitious. 

I was itching to get back to work. I started learning more about my industry and focussed on new skills, which I’d had little time for before.

I’ve kept that learning approach since I’ve returned to work, and it has been invigorating. I feel like I’ve got a fresh mindset. I feel more connected to my industry and excited about the new technologies I’m learning about.

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

I’m a big novel reader. You can’t go past the classics – the vocabulary and the way they use language is incredible.

My favourite book of the year was Silver Sparrow by Tahari Jones for great writing and challenging your assumptions about the characters.

My favourite book in 2019 was Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She is so perceptive and wise.

I get lots of email newsletters. I find it a helpful way to get information when I have the time for it.

My favourite newsletters are The Conversation for research updates, SBS News for a global perspective, Time Out Sydney for culture and restaurants, Hubspot for content marketing tips and Mumbrella for industry news.

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

A lot of my family and friends are interstate or overseas, so I use WhatsApp all the time. I also spend too much time on Instagram, mostly drooling over food. I use Smiling Mind and Headspace apps to help switch my brain off at night.

The app Libby lets you download library books to your phone. I prefer real books, but I love that I can have books with me at all times, in case of an emergency.

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

Jacinda Ardern. The woman casually does live Instagram Q&As after putting her kid to bed. She’s incredible.

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

Take responsibility for your workload and be proactive about managing it. Work hard but set boundaries. Ask for help when you need it. Nothing is more important than your mental health, so take the steps you need to look after it. Eat chocolate.

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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.