Balancing the Grind with Steve MacAlpine, Director of Social Insights

Steve MacAlpine is the founder and director of brand and marketing communications consultancy, Social Insights, where he consults with business owners and directors.

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

I’d be classed as an industry veteran. I started out working agency-side in account service for a few agencies, including O&M and McCanns. I enjoyed a diverse range of clients but found the job role stereotyping somewhat limiting.

So after a sabbatical, I launched my own business, Social Insights, which has endured for some twenty years. I say ‘endured’, because it hasn’t been a comfortable journey – staff, the economy and technology have been constant challenges.

The company transitioned from a design studio to a brand and marketing communications consultancy. I also moved from having a team of designers to be a solo practitioner, with some admin support.

I ‘discovered’ remote working about 13 years ago. The GFC had arrived about the same time as a reliable home cable connection became available. With my largest client located in San Francisco, it was an easy move to make from paid office space.

These days I consult with business owners and directors on a broad range of projects. I’m usually engaged in strategy and also enjoy being hands-on with a technology stack if required.

My guiding principle is to always question if I’ll be a ‘good fit’ with the people I’ll be working with and if the objectives are realistic. If so I’m happy to give 200%, if not I don’t take the project on.

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

Most days are similar, which is not a problem. I’m a firm believer in process and a personal routine for a healthy balance.

Up at 6.30am The first thing is a quick scan of emails and messages.

Next is an hour of stretching and Taiji practice. Then breakfast while scanning industry and world news and the sites I subscribe to. Then review/update my to-do list and get going.

For example, a recent project was for an industrial services group involved: brand review & strategy, new website, content development, SEO & local business strategy, promotional recommendations.

Most of my work comes from referrals, so staying in touch with my network via coffee, lunch, or a phone call is essential.

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

Yep, I have worked remotely for 13 years.

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

As an ‘industry veteran’, I’ve seen what can happen to people who ‘lose the plot’. Deaths, burn out, broken relationships, all brought on by stress and poor lifestyle choices.

For me, it’s about remembering what is important – family, health and being mindful of your actions.

I believe in the maxim – To Take Care of Others, Start by Taking Care of Yourself. I’m an advocate of mind-body work and have practised yoga meditation and Taiji for many years.

I’m also a keen kayaker and usually do 3 X 10km sessions each week. Learning to deal with a noisy mind is one of life’s significant challenges.

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

I think Covid-19 has made me a bit more disciplined and aware of the value of my routine. The other interesting aspect of Covid-19 is it has forced me to be more patient.

Pre-COVID I had the home office to myself, but now my wife works from home as well. She works for a media agency and is busy. We need to schedule our Zoom meetings and be aware of each other’s space. I need to use my Google Nest less and keep the music at a reasonable level.

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

  • Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson
  • Digiday Daily
  • Product Hunt Daily
  • Smart Company
  • Today’s WorldView – Washington Post

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

My phone, laptop, Google Nest, Bose Sound System are core. Timer for my Taiji standing. (standing on one leg can feel like an eternity)

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

I’m such a fan of Barack Obama and the way he balanced the Presidency and his personal life. His approach to work-life balance has already been widely reported. I couldn’t agree more:

“It’s hard – truthfully the main thing other than work is just making sure that I’m spending enough time with Michelle and the girls,” he wrote.

“The big advantage I have is that I live above the store – so I have no commute! So we make sure that when I’m in DC I never miss dinner with them at 6:30 pm – even if I have to go back down to the Oval for work later in the evening.

“I do work out every morning as well, and try to get a basketball or golf game in on the weekends just to get out of the bubble.”

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

Learn to say ‘No’ if it doesn’t fit with your values, goals or capacity.

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This conversation is brought to you by Flex & Flow, a global wellness community committed to inclusivity and accessibility based in Portland, OR, that connects people digitally, locally for live events, training and retreats.

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.