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Work Life Balance

What Work-Life Balance Looks Like for Creative Directors

Client meetings, pitch decks, brainstorming sessions over wine, all-nighters with endless coffee, the work life of a creative director can be endless and all-consuming.

Having worked with many creative directors over the course of my career, it seems like when it comes to work-life balance, they get the short end of the stick, especially if they work at an agency.

We spoke to 9 creative directors to find out what typical day in the life looks like and how work-life balance fits in with everything.

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Thiago Nogueira // Founder & Creative Director of we are brandless, a Sydne-based branding & design studio

I’m a freaking hyper so no coffee for me. It’s crazy the amount of energy I have. So normally I rise at 5 am, then straight into my gratitude ritual and meditation (5-20 minutes).

I drink at least 1l of water and when there are waves I go for a surf, if not to the gym and do a H.I.T session. It helps me to get the blood running and pumping. 7ish I’m back home, getting ready for my day takes me 15 minutes and then I read a book for a little.

I’d say around 7:30 I get started. I tackle the 3 most important tasks of my list first in the morning, I find this is my prime time energy and creative wise.

And around 11:30 am I jump on some emails and that’s basically when my ‘meetings’ and “creative sessions’ slots start. Unless it is an important and urgent project, I try not to have big sessions in the mornings, I usually get out of them feeling like my day is over!

I work from home and our studio in Redfern, so my days can vary a lot. But usually around 5-6 pm I try to slow down and then I just work on myself, I’m a bit of a nerd! I love learning new stuff all the time, languages, dancing, music and more.

Galvin Davis // Director & Creative Director of brand and digital agency, Protein, and also the co-founder of Here, a Sydney-based creative co-working space

I like to get up around 5am before the sun comes up. I have the house to myself at that point for some ’thinking’ about the day. I’ll do some light exercise outside to watch the sun rise and then I notate and plan my day in a notebook.

I have a very specific system I designed which holds me accountable for ‘getting shit done’. Every day is pre-planned within an inch of its life.

Around that time the kids are up and I’ll help them get ready for school before getting to work and doing a short production meeting with the team.

We are fortunate to work in a waterfront studio with lots of nice people so the work day is a split between admin (get it done early!), creative (find some alone time, preferably by the water) and new ideas (a blank pad, noise cancelling headphones and some Thom Yorke).

I try find time to meet with interesting people most days of the week. It could be other members at Here, my coworkers, clients or business partners. I then try to get home before 5pm to hangout with my family.

Duncan Dix // D&AD and Cannes Lions awarded Creative Director who has been working across film, commercial & experience for over a decade

I’ve never been a morning person, but my one-year-old son ensures I’m up at the crack of dawn!

I’ll check emails on the train journey into the city as I’m often working with clients in the US, Europe and Asia so there’s usually a fair bit to catch up on from overnight. I can potentially have Skype calls early morning or evening depending on the time zone.

The start of the day involves catching up with designers reviewing work that has been rendered overnight and making sure everyone knows their focus for the day ahead.

I try and be as efficient as possible with the rest of my day and aim to get home before my son’s bedtime, which isn’t always possible! Once he is asleep I often remote back into the office to check on renders and planning for the following day.

Jessie Jordan // Creative Director at gyro APAC, a global brand within Dentsu Aegis Network

Up at 5:30am, head to F45 for 45 minutes of torture. Head to work at 7-7:30am and swear at other drivers who cut me off on the Harbour Bridge.

Smash two coffees before 10am. Get together with the team for WIP. Work out what’s on for the day and everyone’s deliverables. Tackle any briefs that are on and find creative ways to sell, sell, sell!

Lunch time – what is that? I usually cram a meal in at my desk. Everything after lunch is usually deliverables – getting work out the door and in front of clients.

Aim to leave work by 5:30pm, usually leave by 6:30pm. Swear at cyclists on my way out of Walsh Bay as they illegally ride over pedestrian crossings. Enjoy listening to murder mystery podcasts on my commute home for an hour or so.

Simon Hipgrave // Creative Director at letterpress and design studio Hungry Workshop, and also the Partner at web development company Bone.Digital

My typical workday is really focused on making sure our projects are delivered with care and attention to detail.

We work with a lot of other creative agencies, studios and freelancers to help them realise projects as well as brand managers, marketers and small business owners – while each kind of client is after something different, it’s all underpinned by quality and craft. The same thinking applies across both digital and print businesses.

I spend a lot of my day in Slack checking in on the teams, providing guidance, direction and support. Otherwise it’s email, responding to new enquiries and helping get projects across the line. And when I am not doing either of those, it’s meetings: presenting to new clients, meeting with existing partners or suppliers, or talking through systems with staff.

Emma Staddon // Creative Director at UNO. Magazine, a New Zealand magazine celebrating all things Bay of Plenty

I work three days a week as creative director on UNO magazine and 2 days on my own branding work for external clients.

5.30am – Up nice and early for a couple of hours to work on branding and packaging design for the USA market, keeps my hand in the game and the strategy muscles strong. As I work from the kitchen dining table my fantastic boyfriend makes me coffee and toast (and often lunch).

8.30-12.00 – Arrive at the UNO magazine office. We have a small friendly team who roll in at various times depending whats happening in their day. Flexible hours, mean you’re trusted to do your bit.

12.00-1pm – As well as advertising in the mag we use use our clients services! – cue F45 at lunch time, if I’m on the ball this is where I should be, with half the UNO office otherwise its a walk down at the beach to refresh the brain via Mexicali Fresh or lunch at the desk if I’m under the pump.

1pm-5.30pm – Closer to the end of the issue I make time to style/direct photo shoots if needed otherwise I’m in the office laying up pages or working on pitches.

6.30pm – Home! Unwind, hang with my partner, walk the dog, cook diner and indulge in some TV and a glass of wine.

Jimmy Woodriff // Founding Partner and Creative Director at Ponderance Collective, a creative studio for purpose-driven organisations

Generally speaking my day orbits around a healthy balance of professional, physical and mental effort that I have found a personal balance for over the years as a freelancer and business owner (something you can’t really manage if you’re being managed).

I wake up at 6 and try not to writhe around in bed for longer than 30 minutes. I brush my teeth as soon as I get up, wash my face and then water my vegetable and herb garden (conservatively) while I drink a coffee.

Following that I run, workout or do yoga and meditate for around an hour then make some breakfast, check my morning emails, social media and read the news. I get dressed and do any home-errands and head to the office around 9:15 to avoid the commuter crowds.

The work day always begins with a bit of chat with other co-working space tenants. I allocate time for this and ensure meaningful conversation is had with at least one person each day.

This quenches a thirst for procrastination chit chat later in the day. I then sit at my desk and check emails again, check my calendar and I also use an app called To-Doist which tells me what is due that day and what I need to work on.

I get my re-usable coffee cup and go for a coffee at one of the local cafes and write the date and 3 or 4 priority tasks in my notebook. I try to avoid looking at my phone or laptop during this time so I can create a tactile connection with the thoughts and ideas in my head regarding my work. I keep my personal journal on stand-by should anything else pop up in my mind. Write and forget.

I allow for a lot of flexibility in my work day and block out chunks of my day to ‘mono-task’ the priority tasks I set out while I have my coffee. This allows for calls, conversations, regular breaks from sitting at my desk and other minor distractions to creep in and out of the somewhat-generously allotted time blocks.

Adam Wise // Co-Founder and Creative Director of social content agency Jack Nimble

For me, no two days are the same. One day I could be writing a script in my pyjamas at home, the next I could be on set directing a shoot or in the office coming up with ideas with the team (both in appropriate work attire, of course).

But let me take you through a recent day. I woke up at 8:30am (I like my sleep) and immediately worked on finalising a creative deck we were presenting to our client Gumtree later that morning.

Most of the work was already done the day before, but I like sleeping on ideas so that I can view them with fresh eyes the next day.

Once the deck was in a good place, I sent it over to my creative partner via Slack to get his final thoughts and feedback. At 11am, I travelled to Gumtree’s office in the city and presented our ideas to the client, which were very well received!

We had a little celebratory lunch in the city and then choofed off back to the office for a 1pm Google Hangout with a new client of ours, ClassPass.

We chatted through how we’re progressing with the social content we’re creating for them and any updates we need to be aware of from the client’s perspective for the week ahead.

Once that call was over, I jumped straight into writing up a few content ideas that came to mind during the call whilst they were still fresh. By 3pm, it was time to reply to a few emails I’d been flagging intermittently throughout the day.

I try to dedicate set time to replying to emails in batches (unless they’re urgent) so that I don’t get distracted from the tasks at hand by constantly checking and replying. Once I’d fired off a few emails, I went for a walk around the block to clear my head and get some fresh air.

Then I spent the rest of the day sitting down with the team and going through some edits our content producer had been working on from an eBay shoot we did earlier that week.

Ross Floate // Creative & Strategy Director at We are you, a digital agency with global locations in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Tuil, and more

People who have known me a long time would be surprised to hear that it starts at around 6 am these days.

I’m guilty of checking email and Slack when I wake up to see what’s happened overnight with any projects I’m working with the team in the Netherlands.

I used to check the news or Twitter first up as well, but that’s a certain way to just start hating life at sunrise so instead I’ll check out dogs on Instagram. True story. Dog Instagram is the best part of the internet.

On a super early day, I’ll grab my gear, jump on my bike and ride down to play squash for an hour at a court near work. After that I’ll change into my work clothes, ride into our offices in East Melbourne, inhale a coffee, and away we go.

The start of the day is typically where the most productive work is done. This is when I’ll have sessions with people on our team about projects or pitches that we’re working on, review progress, and work to ensure that the work we do doesn’t stray from the goals we’ve set for it. I’m no longer “on the tools” as a designer, so again this is a lot of conversations.

If I’ve structured my day well, the afternoon is more about working through things that keep projects rolling. Client meetings, phone calls, emails — all the things that seem to fill everyone’s day these days. This might seem glib, but when I talk to people in corporate roles it seems we all share the main same job task — respond to emails — it’s just the subject lines that seem to set apart our days.

The work day might end with a call to colleagues just getting to work in Amsterdam, a final few emails, and then a leisurely 40-minute bike ride home again.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.