Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Tim Duggan, Co-Founder & Publisher at Junkee Media

Tim Duggan is the Co-Founder & Publisher at Junkee Media, one of Australia’s leading publishers and content agencies, reaching over 4 million Australians every week.

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

I’m the Co-Founder of digital publisher Junkee Media. We run titles like Junkee, Punkee and AWOL which are all aimed at young Australians.

However I’m actually finishing my full-time role as Publisher at Junkee Media soon and moving into an honorary role as Editor-at-Large after that.

I just published my first book, Cult Status, which is doing really well so I’m going to dedicate some more time to writing, as well as investing and working with companies that I’m passionate about. 

I started working in advertising agencies in my early 20s, before realising I loved writing and becoming a freelance journalist for magazines like Rolling Stone. In my mid 20s I co-founded a national gay and lesbian website called Same Same with some of my friends who had started a dance community called inthemix.

Many years later we launched news and pop culture website Junkee in 2013, travel title AWOL in 2014 and entertainment title Punkee in 2016. It’s been a wild ride over the past 14 and a half years, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

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

My days at the moment are anything but typical, but I’ll take you through a relatively ‘normal’ day, if there even is such a thing:

5am: I’ve always been an early riser, and really love the serenity and clarity that hours before dawn gives you.

If I’m working on a key project, like writing my book, I use this time to power through whatever I need to get done, and will stretch my waking hour even earlier to 4am or 4:30am to try squeeze as much in while the world is still quiet and my mind is still.

I know that can make me sound a bit mad, but hey it works for me. This is my time, and I vary it between whatever I need to do that day: researching ideas, meditation, writing in a journal, or proofreading something that’s due.

I mentally switch off around 7pm most nights, so I’d rather get up super early and work. I’ve been like that since school, always preferring to study in the morning than in the evening. 

6am: I go to the gym almost religiously every morning before work. It’s a small class gym near my house run by an excellent trainer, Cam Smith, who changes up the routine every fortnight so it stays interesting.

I see the same dozen people every morning – rain, hail or shine – and there’s a real bond that’s forged when you sweat with the same faces every day. I need it for my mental health as much as my physical, and I think it’s the main reason I haven’t had an injury for as long as I can remember. 

7am: After the gym I walk my dog and listen to podcasts, then use the next hour for whatever I want to tackle om my to-do list.

It’s an important hour that changes each day depending on what I need to get done. I then shower and commute down one flight of stairs into my home office.

9am: During this phase of Covid, I’m heading into the office 1 to 2 days a week, and work the rest of the week from home.

There are parts of that I absolutely love, like not getting distracted every fifteen minutes by what’s happening with everyone else, and parts of that I really miss, like not getting distracted every fifteen minutes by what’s happening with everyone else.

We have a fun, social culture that’s hard to replicate over Zoom, but like every other business in the world, we’re trying. 

My day can generally be split into the planned and the unplanned. The planned includes regular meetings with my teams, direct reports and management colleagues to ensure everything is running as it should be.

I also spend a lot of time meeting with people outside our company, from clients to industry contacts and potential partners. You never know where the next good idea is going to come from, and it’s so important to stay connected with people who think differently than the usual company line.

I try to aim for only half my calendar to be planned each week (I hate the days when I preview my calendar for the following day and every minute is already accounted for. They’re the least productive ones).

The rest of the day I try to leave unplanned so I can have time to think or plan out work, check in on shifting priorities, and put out all the myriad of fires, both small and big, that make their way into my inbox. 

6pm:  I aim to leave the office or shut my laptop around 6pm. I’ve always found I’m less focused after that, and would prefer to start early again the next morning.

I usually call my husband and we’ll plan what we feel like eating, popping into the supermarket to pick up the ingredients for dinner. We’ll cook, eat, chat and then settle onto the couch to read or watch our favourite series. I’ll check my phone for work emails, but try not to work much after dinner.

9:30pm: I love an early bedtime, and like to get into bed and read until I fall asleep, usually around this time. I always put out my gym clothes for the following morning before I get into bed, making tomorrow’s routine as easy as possible. 

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

It’s relatively easy to do my role remotely, but I am really missing some of the fun and creativity that comes from working collectively.

I’m lucky to have a good home office set up in our study, and we’ve converted a spare bedroom into another office for my husband who also works from home, so we can both be on loud Zoom calls all day without disturbing the other.

I know that’s quite a luxury and am really grateful for it right now.   

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

Our home lives and professional lives are so intertwined, especially now with so many people working from home. 

My best way to achieve some semblance of a good balance has been to ensure throughout my career that I’ve genuinely loved what I do – so I haven’t really minded when the two overlap, as they inevitably will. 

I really try hard to switch off at nights and on weekends when I can. Of course, there are moments of deadlines and pitches when there’s late night or weekend work, but that really should be the exception rather than the rule.

We try to be really flexible with our team as well, respecting that if someone works late, they can take corresponding time off. 

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

I read Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning about 18 months ago, and that basically helped me to write my first book over the last year. It gave me the tiny extra push I needed to wake up even earlier, and use that time in an active rather than a passive way. 

I’ve also experimenting with so many different times of the day to exercise, and now really love the discipline that comes from daily early morning workouts. Knowing that I’ve properly moved my body for the day means each night is free to relax and chill out with my husband or friends.   

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

It’s not a book, podcast or newsletter, but one of the dozens of entrepreneurs I chatted with for Cult Status was Zoë Foster Blake who has built an impressive skincare business, Go-To.

Zoë has an excellent selection of playlists on Spotify that you can subscribe to and help soundtrack different parts of your day. My highlights are “Music to work to” and “Amalfi party”; they’re seriously good. 

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

I love the Freedom app on my computer that allows you to turn off the internet for a set period of time. You just tell it how many minutes of ‘freedom’ you want, and it stops you from accessing anything on the internet until the time is up – or until you restart your computer if you’re really desperate.

I often ask for 30 or 60 minutes of freedom to complete tasks that require my full attention, and it’s such a simple but effective app. 

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

I’d love to hear from the writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s one of my favourite writers and seems to keep popping up in a wide range of mediums that shows off her immense talent, like Fleabag, Killing Eve and even the new James Bond film. Given how much work she produces, I’d love to know how she does it and some of her routines. 

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

I spoke with dozens of entrepreneurs for Cult Status, and almost every single one talked about how hard the work-life balance was. It didn’t matter if they were in Pakistan or Perth, Silicon Valley or Sydney, most of us are just trying to do the best that we can each day – so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Just acknowledging that it is a balancing act is the first step of attempting to bring it back into alignment, and it’s something that will all continue to work on for the rest of our lives. 

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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.