Founders, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Amandah Wood, Founder & Curator of Ways We Work

July 5, 2019

Amandah Wood is the Founder & Curator of Ways We Work, a fantastic website and podcast on candid conversations with people who are discovering the rewards and challenges of doing the work they love.

In addition to running Ways We Work, Amandah handles the operations for the Shopify Employee Experience, Diversity and Belonging team.

Balance the Grind spoke to Amandah about launching and running Ways We Work, her role at Shopify, flexible working, developing habits for success and plenty more.

This conversation is brought to you by HelloFresh, delivering delicious ingredients and simple recipes straight to your doorstep each week.

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

If careers are a path, mine has taken a lot of random turns.

I started my career in social media marketing and front end development working for a restaurant group in my hometown of Waterloo, Ontario.

During that job I started the interview series Ways We Work which became incredibly popular in its first couple years.

I tried my hand at doing front end web development and quickly realized that it wasn’t for me. As much as I loved to work through problems I really missed people-based work and the interaction that came with that.

For about a year I tried doing Ways We Work full-time while I did some freelance work. That was the first time I learned how important it is to be intentional about what you want and what you need from a job day-to-day.

I ended up in a lot of debt, both mentally and financially, I burned out because I was chasing things I didn’t actually care all that much about and didn’t have the financial means to do things I really did care about.

Then, I met the Director of Culture at Shopify. I was so intrigued about what working as part of a culture team within a tech organization could look like after interviewing her for Ways We Work.

As fate would have it, she was looking for someone to take on a culture role in Shopify’s Waterloo office and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve touched a number of people related roles from culture, to employee experience, to now diversity and belonging.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

I do operations for our Employee Experience, Diversity and Belonging team. I work with a team of specialists and researchers who are all incredibly skilled at what they do and are building and running at full speed.

My job is to make sure as a whole team we’re all moving in the same direction, that we’re focused on the right things at the right time and that we’re communicating and partnering with other teams in the organization.

As you can imagine, it’s quite different from being a product team where we’re solely responsible for what we build.

Our team is working hard to make sure everyone feels included, valued and heard and part of that work is making sure everyone else at the company is bringing that to life too.

Day to day it’s usually a lot of meetings, with people from my team, from other teams within the organization and then heads down time to build out docs, slide decks or processes that need to be created.

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

Try as I might, I’m just not a morning person so I’m very careful to not book any important meetings before 10am.

I’m just not as articulate as I know I can be so I try to leave 8:30am-10:00am for getting my day setup: coffee, emails, planning out my calendar, prepping for any meetings etc.

Every other Tuesday I head to our Toronto office (about an hour and a half from where I live) to meet with people from my team and others in the office there. So I stack that day full of meetings to make the most of the day.

Then Wednesdays we actually have company-wide meeting free days. I think that is one of the best practices our company has put into place so I follow it as much as I can.

I work from home on Wednesdays to action anything that came out of meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Then the rest of the week just depends on what’s going on!

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

Using the morning to get setup is honestly one of the most impactful practices I’ve set up for myself. It’s so easy to just want to jump right in, but the days I don’t pause to prioritize and plan my day I regret it.

Also just knowing your most productive hours. Don’t fight it. If you know after 3pm your brain is just not going to be able to do a certain type of work, don’t try and force it.

Pay attention to the type of work that flows easiest for your during certain times of the day and do your best to structure your day that way.

It doesn’t always work, sometimes I’ll be in back to back meetings in my most productive hours (1-3pm), which is why blocking off your calendar when you need to can be a game-changer.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

For the most part I try not to take work home anymore, I’m a 9 to 5 person about 75% of the time. But outside of that it can ebb and flow.

Some weeks I’m really excited about something I’m working on so I’ll work into the evening. Shopify is really incredible with how flexible you can be.

If I need an hour or two in the morning for a personal appointment, I’m trusted to get the work done some other time.

My personal tripwires are if my eating habits are slipping and I’ve stopped doing yoga as often as I usually do. That for me is a sign that something is off balance and it’s time to reset.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

I used to think it literally meant all parts of my life feeling balanced at the same time: work, friends, family, fitness etc. Now I embrace the fact that it comes in waves.

This month I might be really good at practicing yoga and working out. Next month I might spend a lot of time with my partner and friends but my work or yoga slips.

For me it’s just paying attention and not making myself feel bad if something has fallen off a bit. I just notice and readjust.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Self-forgiveness. I was absolutely one of those people that was constantly cracking a whip at myself in my brain.

I hold myself to a very high standard, which I think is a really positive thing but the downside of that can mean berating myself for any slip up, mistakes or just not meeting some impossible standard I had for myself.

After awhile those negative thoughts can really crush your motivation and productivity.

I’m just a little kinder to myself. I pay attention to where I’m at, and if it’s where I’d like to be and if it’s not I notice that and make whatever changes I need to make without the judgement.

8) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Every book by Brene Brown. Seriously that woman knows what she’s talking about.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work are also great.

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

Pick just one thing I want to accomplish. I used to write out this massive to-do list everyday that likely should’ve been a to-do list for a week.

Now I try to think of the one thing I can get done that’s going to make everything else easier or will unlock other things that need to happen.

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

Just do what works for you and question everything. The culture we live in makes us think we should do a lot of things a certain way, and for a lot of things there’s good reason, because it either works or serves some purpose.

But there’s a million ways to work and live and you’re the only one it needs to work for. Bring some pause into your day and pay attention to what’s working and what’s not.

Many of us will work for 50+ years of our life, so it’s worth it to take the time to do it in a way that will make you most happy and fulfilled.

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