CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Tom Philipson, Founder & CEO at YourStudio

Tom Philipson is the Founder, CEO & Group Strategy Director at YourStudio, an experience design agency, with studios in London, Melbourne and Amsterdam.

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

I had a slightly unusual path into my career. I was brought up on a farm so starting work early and working most days was the norm from when i was about 14. I pretty much failed school and didn’t go onto higher education.

I think those factors, working on the farm and having to work harder than the next person because I didn’t have a degree shaped how I work today.

Cut a long story short, I got a job as a design intern at 23 by someone who took a chance on me and I made sure I repaid that by working harder than anyone else in the studio.

I worked my way up through the ranks as a designer working on creating spaces for brands. I worked for various large and small agencies in London which led onto setting up my own business, YourStudio.

My role is now CEO, overseeing the studios in London, Melbourne and Amsterdam with my business partner Howard – YourStudio is an experience design and strategy business, we create spaces and strategies for brands like Virgin, Nike and Pandora.

My role has evolved from working on each project to now I’m mainly involved in developing new initiatives for YS with Howard and supporting the senior team and clients with new innovations and business challenges that need my experience and strategic input.

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

Well the last few months have not been the norm but it’s been interesting structuring my day to make it work around the current situation. Making my wife her first tea is pretty much the start of the day! That’s one of the habits I’ve built up over the years to get me out of bed.

I always do 30-45 minute exercise every weekday to kick start my day, I’ve been using the Nike NTC app since we’ve been stuck in doors. I’ve used the Headspace app for a number of years, typically 10-15 minutes in the morning, as I find it helps me think clearer and puts me in the right frame of mind to be effective.

The first 30 -60 mins of my workday are organising and prioritising before checking in with the team and making sure there are no emails that need an immediate response.

A book called Deep Work by Cal Newport, got me onto a different way of working and completely changed how I structure my workday. I like to work in 90 minute chunks of focused work aiming for a minimum of 2 x 90 minutes a day.

One in the morning and one in the afternoon. I find I can get into a flow state of work in that time and the output from those sessions are 10 times more productive than trying to do work in between emails and meetings.

Because we have European offices, my night shift starts around 5.30pm with Danny who runs the Amsterdam studio calling, then straight after that Howard my business partner calls and then straight after Holly who runs the London studio. All regular as clock work. Finishing for dinner around 7.30/8.

I put a lot of emphasis on having long breaks through the day to recharge my energy and have clear thinking time which is hugely important when thinking creatively about the business.

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

I tend to work from home 2 days a week. Tuesday and Friday. I use those days as days to get things done and potentially fit in 3 x 90 minute sessions of focused work.

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

For me, I love what I do so it never really feels like work but it’s important I enforce stop times and breaks so I don’t burn out. I take regular holidays but keep connected to the senior team so it means I can go away more without too much disruption to the running of the studio. My wife is also good at keeping me in check when it comes to having a better balance.

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?

I read and listen to a lot of audio books, reading about things I’m interested in fuel my drive to learn and push myself more. If I’m not exploring new ideas and ways of thinking my work ethic drops.

I set aside time in the diary to do this, it’s way more important to read rather than reply to emails all day. I have switched off all notifications on email and only check them a few times a day.

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

Deep Work I mentioned which i’d highly recommend. Alchemy is one of my favourite books by Rory Sutherland, it explores the power of creativity and ideas and how things that might not seem to make sense just work.

I love reading about people who explore interesting and new ways of thinking. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and his journey building Nike. It was a great read for pure inspiration. It shows if you are willing to work hard and you give something you’re passionate about your focus you can make things happen.

I listen to quite a few podcasts from the masters of scale to how i built this. The one I’m listening to at the moment is Business of Hype which is great. Hosted by Jeff Staple, a sneaker legend, he interviews designers and artists and aims to give an insight into what makes them tick.

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

You have some good days, you have some bad days. I try not to beat myself up too much about having an unproductive, crappy day. I try to be realistic when I’m getting organised in the morning so I set myself up for success and not have an impossible to-do list. Sometimes it’s just breaking one task into manageable chunks.

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

Daniel Arsham, I don’t understand how he is good at so many things! I just listened to the interview with Jeff Staple on the Business of Hype. They didn’t dig into his day to day but I’m always interested in people who can balance creativity and business in equal measures.

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

Try and build in good habits into your day. Atomic Habits is another great book by James Clear. Build rewards into the structure of your day so you treat yourself for getting stuff done so the day is not one long slog. I treat myself with generous breaks, reading and podcasts that help manage my energy levels and make me more focused when I am working.

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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.