Balancing the Grind with Stephanie Dietz, Chief of Staff at Curious Thing

Stephanie Dietz is the Chief of Staff at Curious Thing, a proprietary voice AI technology built to have warm, open conversations with people.

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

I’m Stephanie, Chief of Staff at Curious Thing. We’re a VC backed conversational AI startup that empowers businesses to connect to their customers with one of our most powerful and human gifts – the conversation.

As our Chief of Staff, I lead our People, Revenue and Investor Operations, and work closely with our CEO on strategy setting. I’m relatively new to startups, but over the past decade I’ve realised I tend to pivot my career in pursuit of curiosity.

From starting my career in law, I’ve held ESG strategy roles at Australia’s largest airline, worked closely with the startups and technology providers to improve the online distribution of airline content, and co-founded a small business to better employ technology in emergency management training with my partner, an experienced firefighter.

I enjoyed the technology learning curve and the autonomy of general management so much that I leveraged Startmate’s Women Fellowship and became connected to Sam, Curious Thing’s CEO – fortunately for me this meeting coincided with his hunt for a Chief of Staff.

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

I rely on my personal and work calendars to manage my day, but a big part of that is prioritising and reprioritising (in reality, this is an ‘always on’ activity at an early-stage startup). 

I am another one of those ‘Morning People’ and like to habit stack my mornings. For me, that means I wake up early and make sure I have enough time before my first meeting to:

  • Exercise;
  • Spot check any notifications and my calendar for items which might require immediate attention; and
  • Sit down to eat breakfast.

Today is Monday so I’ve blocked time this morning for weekly planning and deep work, plus my fortnightly session with our leadership team. 

When we’re in the office we eat lunch as a team, and this afternoon I have a series of meetings – transactional weekly updates and strategy execution discussions – until about 4pm.

My energy and creativity dwindle as the day marches on, so I usually try to do a short sprint of quick-fire tasks towards the end of the day, after which I’ll have an early dinner. I’ll wrap up any work that needs my attention after dinner and then wind down for the evening. 

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

Work-life balance should always remain a work in progress, not only because it’s hard to get right (and it is hard to get right) but because those interruptions and distractions forcing you to recalibrate on a regular basis mean that you’re an active participant in your whole life.

As boring as it sounds, I believe that forming a routine and habits – and getting back to them as quickly as possible when something from work or outside work inevitably distracts you – is how you find a happy medium for most of the time.

Also, work-life balance means using all your annual leave. Holidays are great for you, your team and your business. 

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

Nine months ago I made a rather dramatic pivot from working at a legacy airline with 30,000 employees to a seed stage startup with 25 employees. Of course, the operating models between my previous and current teams are vastly different, and so most of my routines and habits have changed accordingly. 

A particular thought-based habit I’m working on, and one that I believe is useful for anyone looking to make a similar pivot, is to practise reflecting on risk taking as a process, and not viewing it as a trait.

One of the common themes of an education and background in law is an aversion to risk, which can be counterintuitive for maintaining a growth mindset. As I’ve settled into my role and formed strong trust across my team I’ve found taking a step back and actively practising adaptability to risk in my thinking has been liberating across my work and personal life. 

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

So many recommendations, but I’ll keep it short.

For work:

  • It’s far from original, however everyone must read Atomic Habits by James Clear. Compounding habits over time can change lives, my friends. James Clear also does a great weekly newsletter.
  • If you feel like you could level up your productivity to aid your work-life balance, I’d recommend PuddlePod by Batko. It’s a short course with lots of productivity content. I use what I picked up almost every day. 

For life:

  • Something I like to do outside of work is cook (mostly very poorly, but it’s the thought that counts). If you also find following a recipe similar to a meditation, then subscribe to The Pasta Queen and receive delicious homemade spaghetti inspiration. Buon appetito! 
  • If cooking is just not your thing, or you don’t like spaghetti, then The Daily Aus does an excellent daily current affairs newsletter (written with an Australian audience in mind, but with plenty of global content) for when you’ve got 30 seconds, 1 minute or 2 minutes. 

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

I’ve spent a long time thinking about this, and on reflection my interactions with my community consist of many (often very informal) work-life balance interviews. I’m fortunate to work with an excellent team, and be surrounded by incredible friends and peers.

I really value this informal approach with people who I learn from every day, so if you can adopt a similar approach I’d highly recommend it – it pays dividends.

Otherwise, we all know that parents of children under 12 are often forced to be absolute masters of work-life balance, so I’m always interested in reading their thoughts. 

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

It’s worth remembering that work-life balance at different stages of life is relative. Everyone has 24 hours in a day, but 24 hours looks different to someone who needs to commute 2 hours a day versus someone who works at home, or for someone with dependents versus someone with no dependents.

Understanding and adapting to your stage and purposefully choosing what to focus on is all part of making sure you find that happy medium for most of the time. 

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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.