Balance the Grind: A conversation with Michelle Gibbings

In this article published for Balance the Grind, Michelle answers questions around work-life balance, remote working, routines and habits.

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’ve had a varied career and consider myself incredibly blessed in terms of the scope of work, my experiences and the fantastic people I’ve met.

I started my career after University working in politics as a speechwriter and media advisor, before moving into the corporate world, initially working in the mining sector in public affairs before moving to financial services.

In financial services, I worked across several functional disciplines, including being a company spokesperson, leading large scale change programmes and compliance functions, and working in Executive advisory (to name a few).

One day, I went on a meditation retreat which changed my life because it led me to do what I am doing now; running my leadership and coaching practise. By giving myself time and space to think, I worked out that my love of learning and of being challenged would never change, but what I was now craving in my career was autonomy.

The only way to get that autonomy was to work for myself. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last six years. For people who know me well, they say that I am now doing the work I was born to do.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
That’s an interesting question. If I answered that question before the advent of COVID-19, it would be a very different response.

Before COVID hit, I was flying every week spending a lot of time in meetings, facilitating face to face sessions, running leadership programmes and speaking at events both domestically and abroad.

It’s now August, and I haven’t been on a plane or left my home office since March. So my workday is quite different.

What has remained the same is that I start my day with meditation, and I finish it with exercise and reflection. The middle part of the day is full of learning, client discussions, zoom meetings, programme development and delivery.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
It’s flexible all the way and very much adaptive and working remotely. What I have discovered is that there is so much we can carry out remotely – and successfully.

Indeed, far more than I had initially thought possible. The recent experience has undoubtedly challenged my paradigms about what’s feasible and useful.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you work to achieve that goal?
To me, work-life balance is very personal and contextual. What work-life balance looks like for me will likely be different from what it looks like for someone else. That’s important because often we compare ourselves to others – and that’s not helpful.

I’m very clear on my goals and what I need to achieve each day. I’m also very clear on what I need to be effective.

For me, that’s (ideally) 8 hours of sleep each night, daily exercise, eating well and having time to think and reflect. To achieve this, I’ve learned to be good at saying ‘no’ (without feeling guilty about it) and to holding to my principles for a life well-lived.

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?
It sounds cliche, but meditation has changed my life. It enables me to be far more effective and present, and also to be far more conscious of how I’m feeling and reacting to what is going on around me.

I am quite a structured person, and so I use process and systems to help manage my time and elevate my productivity. One of the most useful habits is to plan the night before as to how I want to use my time tomorrow. In this way, I deliberately time block my day.

This includes allocating time for exercise, meditation, thinking time and breaks. I am also very focused on not multitasking. All the research shows how multitasking, and the corresponding neural switching that goes with it, leads to a person being very ineffective with their time

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
Oh, this one’s hard because I love reading and learning, so I have a long, long list. I do, however, always have a book of the year, and two of favourites: Dacher Keltner’s The Power Paradox, and Johann Hari’s Lost Connections.

I could also be a bit cheeky and suggest one of my books, perhaps the one that’s just released (Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one, or are on)!

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Above all else, get enough sleep.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Melanie Perkins – Canva’s CEO, or Jacinda Arden – New Zealand’s Prime Minister.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Be clear about the choices you make, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

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