Interviews / Operations

Balancing the Grind with Stephanie Lee, Team Experience Manager (Operations) at Buffer

Stephanie Lee is the Team Experience Manager (Operations) at social media management company Buffer, where she manages the company’s in-person events, remote toolkit, IT admin and more.

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

I currently work on the People Team at Buffer as the Team Experience Manager. Broadly speaking, I take care of all our in-person events such as our annual company retreat, cross-functional Product Summit, Advocacy Camp, and team on-sites.

I also oversee our overall remote toolkit, often working with vendors on making sure that we have the right solution for our team, thinking through change management when we switch tools or try new ones, and generally making sure that our team has all the tools they need to focus on doing their best work.

As an extension of that, I also work with our CTO Dan on internal security and IT admin matters, often thinking through access management and information security issues for our company.

Previously, I spent 5 years teaching Philosophy and mentoring Project Work in a high school in Singapore. I learned a great deal during those years and it helped me learn to wear many hats at work and switch gears quickly.

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

I live in Singapore and work with folks in several timezones so my day is generally divided into three portions.

A typical day would start with a 7am meeting with folks in Central and Pacific Time. Once the calls are wrapped up, I take some time to walk the dog and have a quick breakfast. The rest of the morning is spent catching up on things that happened while I was sleeping and responding to emails.

I usually break for lunch around 12.30pm and avoid doing work during that hour. It’s my time to hit reset and I usually read while I eat.

Between lunch and about 3pm is heads-down time for me to focus on projects I’m working on. If I don’t have calls with folks in Europe, this heads-down time generally extends to about 6pm.

Otherwise, I have a neat 2-hour block to schedule calls with folks in Europe. Towards the end of my day, I check my emails again to see if there’s anything I can get to both logging off for the day.

Pre-COVID, this afternoon block would’ve been when I’d switch from working from my desk at home to working at the coffee shop, yoga studio, or my gym.

After work, I usually do a workout then catch up with friends over dinner. (Yay for video calls!) Lately, I’ve also been doing coaching calls in the evenings.

If I’m working on something with a person in Eastern time, I also make myself available from 9pm – 11pm if we need to hop on a Zoom call. Otherwise, I wind down with a book or, I’m not too ashamed to admit, some mindless Instagram scrolling.

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

It sure does! Buffer’s been fully distributed from the start and fully remote for a long time so it’s a norm for us.

Since I work cross-functionally with folks across so many timezones, my work day sometimes looks really long. I think working across so many timezones has helped us embrace flexible work days easily as the kinder, calmer way to work.

To avoid burnout, I have complete autonomy over designing my workweek depending on my meetings; for instance, if I have a late call one evening, I make sure that I start the day a little later the next morning and avoid early calls. If I have an extra long day, I shorten the number of hours I work the next day to make sure I have time to rest.

Meetings and scheduled workouts form the building blocks of my calendar and I design my day around them. I move other things in my calendar around fluidly based on where my energy’s at that week and if there are any personal matters I need to take care of.

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

For me, work-life balance is that interplay of all the different things that help us build a full and fulfilling life. I try to ensure that I not only spend my energy on work and other professional goals like my coaching training, but also have time in the week to catch up with my loved ones, do yoga and strength training, work on personal development, and play.

Today, we gravitate towards trying to optimise productivity and I’ve recently come to realise that I need to prioritise play as well for a good balance. (When was the last time we did something just because it was fun and not because it served a productive purpose? I was stumped when I was confronted with that question recently!)

Timeboxing is my main tactic for making sure that I find a balance with all these moving parts. I plan my week every Monday morning and use secondary calendars and color coded events to help me see, at a glance, what my week looks like.

I know, for example, that if I don’t have enough green in my calendar then I’ll need to make time that week to exercise because all my workouts are coded in green. A balanced month in my life is a colourful one.

Meditation and a gratitude practice helps me be more present and engaged in the other activities, so I’ve been trying to get back into a regular mindfulness practice.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

Making sure that I spend at least one hour 5-6 days a week moving; yoga and strength training have really helped me learn to check out from work mode and compartmentalise.

I used to have a meditation practice every morning before the pandemic brought on some life changes that I’ve had to work around. I remember feeling a lot more aligned and centred when that was a regular part of my day, so I’m trying to get back on track with that.

Weekends are 100% work-free and if I have to work, I take some time off during the weekday. Maintaining boundaries is super important especially when you work remotely, and I’ve learned the hard way to keep that as a priority. Just as recovery is as important as workout intensity for overall physical fitness, so is rest for a sustainable work life.

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

I love a good combination of fiction and non-fiction books. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy), Persuasion (Jane Austen), and Any Human Heart (William Boyd) are three of my favourite literary works.

Mary Oliver’s poems are always a good idea. Daring Greatly (and everything by Brené Brown, really), The Fear Project by Jaimal Yogis, and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning are some of my favourite non-fiction reads.

My all-time favourite podcast is Reply All by Gimlet Media. Always knocking it out of the park! Other ones on my regular rotation are Science Vs, On Being, Hackable?, Radiolab, and The School of Greatness, and any — absolutely, any — podcast interview with Esther Perel or Brené Brown.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Timeboxing! It really helps when I have an overview of what my day or week looks like, and know when I’m doing what. My calendar is my extended mind and batch planning helps me reduce the need to think about what I need to do next each time.

However, I approach timeboxing gently by giving myself permission to rearrange things as I need to without feeling guilty.

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

How does Jacinda Arden do it? I’d love to find out.

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

Be kind to yourself. It’s a delicate, ever-evolving balance. What works today may not work tomorrow, so it’s okay to change your mind and do things differently.

Also, checking out (play) and checking in (mindfulness) are both important in keeping you in a healthy frame of mind to be your best self, so there’s always time for those.

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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.