Balancing the Grind with Wani Wall, Chief Operating Officer at Eco Detection

Wani Wall is the Chief Operating Officer at Eco Detection, a Melbourne-based startup commercialising real-time autonomous water quality monitoring technology.

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

“It’s a new pillow!” I remember laughing out loud as I banged out these words for the announcer of The New Price is Right’s script on my trusty IBM Selectric typewriter. They were followed by “to go with your new bedroom suite” to accompany the big doors sliding open to reveal another awesome prize to a wildly cheering Festival Hall audience. 

So began my working life in commercial television as a copywriter and production assistant, my desire to enter the diplomatic corps having faded when I was captivated by student theatre and the intoxicating world of entertainment in general.

After about a year, I moved to the Channel 7 publicity department, where the once dreamed-of diplomatic skills came in handy, ending up a creative producer and director with a management pathway.

I determined long hours were essential for professional success, but I had purpose and loved almost everything about the work, so a habit for long hours began. The creative producer skillset has served me well throughout life, paid work and day-to-day responsibilities. 

It enabled me to work consistently on diverse projects through the freelance years of raising children and continues to provide the platform for WW version 5.0 in the commercialisation of new technology, which began with a medical device for chronic disease management. 

A producer makes it happen and that pretty much describes what I do now as Chief Operating Officer of Eco Detection, an environmental monitoring startup based in Melbourne.

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

I am compelled to start each day with Wordle and Quordle to get me motivated, before taking my two doggies for their sniff time and assisting my husband, a stroke survivor, prepare for his day. It’s usually an early start as one of our markets is a couple of hours ahead, meaning coffee is over a Zoom, today with a potential customer who’s interested in trialling the technology. 

Pilates class will have to wait for another day. Three days a week are spent in the office about 20 minutes away, so I jump in the car and make use of the time to listen to a podcast that makes me smile.

I’m a Smartless fan and don’t get to finish the interview with Steve Carell. As I mentioned, Eco Detection is a startup, so right now, I’m involved in all aspects of the business from product strategy and sales to creative communications and capital raising.

On this particular day, it’s back-to-back meetings starting with a project update with the engineering team, followed by a pitch to a venture capital firm and then a call with a potential customer looking for new technologies to automate water quality monitoring in the Pilbara.

Following a Zoom catchup with our friendly Professors of Mathematics in New Zealand and a new research project design, I review accounts payable and receivable and manage to get a couple of hours to write and design a new product brochure and video.

I’m a huge fan of Canva. It’s usually a 10-hour working day, from which I wind down and escape with Netflix and/or a book of fiction.This particular night, I revisited the Smartless podcast from earlier in the day and went to sleep before I got to the end of Steve Carell’s story.

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

Let me preface my response by saying that I believe ‘work-life balance’ is a bit of a misnomer. Work is part of life, the two shouldn’t be at odds and the aim is to thrive in life. In the first working decade, I didn’t have time to stop and reflect on ‘balance’ but experienced a life-changing point in the early nineties with the arrival of the kids.

There’s no denying my career goals were somewhat encumbered; there was no parental leave back then, and scant childcare options, however, I was able to juggle reasonably well by going from full-time to part-time and then freelance, which paid for a nanny.

That said, I did experience burnout after 6 months in a full-time leadership role when the kids were little, forcing me to acknowledge the toll of work, work, work on my mental and physical health. Whilst the deeply ingrained habits were clearly not sustainable, looking back I had an overwhelming sense of guilt and FOMO both ways.

My husband and I shared housekeeping and child-rearing, however, despite thinking I could have it all, an adjustment was demanded. I was lucky to settle into a happy balance with freelance work which kept me in the game, satisfied my personal creative goals and allowed me that precious time with the kids who grow up all too fast.

Fast forward thirty years and I still battle those ingrained habits. It’s hard to say no; not because I’m afraid of the consequences, but because I have the capacity to get things done. So, what is work-life balance to me? It’s that somewhat elusive place where I thrive in all aspects of my life.

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

I’m now prioritising my health. Like everyone, whilst the impact of COVID remains devastating, the national response proved we can be effective in a hybrid work arrangement. I now work from home two days a week and will not return to five days in the office.

I am trying to be more present and more frequently take a mental pause to acknowledge the cause of any imbalance, stress or dissatisfaction and how it’s affecting my performance at work and personal life.

I’m trying to make time to get back into playing music, but walking unplugged so I can hear the sounds of the environment. I am committed to Pilates (next yoga) and seeking an opportunity to get out of the city and into nature. I think this concerted effort to be more ‘zen’ across life is providing greater clarity of thought and helping me manage priorities more effectively. 

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

I’ll stick to the theme of motivational reads: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis, You are a Badass by Jen Sincero and a must on any list, The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Podcast-wise, in addition to the humorous interviews of Smartless, I’ve been listening to On Purpose with Jay Shetty in the last week or so; he’s got some good tips.

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

I’d actually be interested to know how our Prime Minister Anthony Albanese manages his work-life balance; that’s a pretty hectic schedule and you’d need a pretty thick skin.

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

Be fluid and be realistic; you won’t necessarily create the perfect daily schedule. Some days, it’s more about work, while other days you might have more time and energy for the other things in your life.  You’ll get your balance over 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.