Directors, Founders, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Renae Smith, Founder & Director at The Atticism

October 8, 2019

Renae Smith is the Founder & Director at The Atticism, a boutique PR agency based in Sydney. She currently splits her time between Sydney and the UK.

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

I started by career life in law as a trainee legal secretary at 15 when I finished home schooling. I worked up through the ranks and eventually opened my own paralegal agency.

After running that for a few years, I sold it and went back to work in an office before realising that the 9-5 grind was not for me, and then I opened my PR agency.

The agency came about after I was regularly requested to help friends with their fashion events or launching their brands, and then the venues in which we launched in would ask me for help with their PR, etc. – so I thought, “Why am I still doing law when I could be having fun!”

In 2012 I started The Atticism and it’s grown from there. I now live part time in the UK and then part time in Sydney – working with clients from Australia to the UK, France and Asia.

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

As I am based in the UK at the moment, my usual day looks a little different as my company is in Australia.

I wake up around 6am (which is 3pm in Sydney) and check my Slack for any urgent messages. Whilst I am making myself a coffee, I respond to anything urgent.

I then sit at the home office and put in a solid 2 – 3 hours of work, catching up on emails and speaking with my staff or with clients before the work day in Australia ends.

Once it’s hit around 9.30am here, I break and get myself out of my pyjamas and prepare for phase two of the day.

The first thing I do is write a to-do list. I have a pretty in-depth email system which means I rarely miss tasks that are needed, so I work through and get a to do list done.

I write proposals, I pitch client materials, I work with clients on interviews or events, etc. I work solidly until about 1pm and then I break for lunch for a few hours.

After my kids get home from school at about 3.30pm, I help them with homework and take the afternoon as family time.

Depending on the workload, I either go to bed at about 9pm, or if I need to stay up to speak to staff etc – I will wait until 10pm (7am in Sydney) to chat to them if I need something urgent!

It’s a busy day – but my structure is really flexible which really works for me!

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

Absolutely – as you saw above, I work from the UK most of the time at the moment. Before that, I was in France for a year.

I also take extended breaks around Europe and worked for 3 weeks in the South of Italy earlier this year, and have worked from Germany, Greece and even India!

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

You have to have a plan. My day looks very similar to the above no matter where I am in the world.

The times might change slightly due to the time difference correlating to the Australian workday – but I work every day and go through a to-do list like I would in a normal office.

Often, people think that being out of office means less work – but unless you are strict with yourself and work as if you would in an office, it won’t work.

Lists are my #1 tool for making sure I get everything done, and we also use a project management program called Monday to keep track of our tasks. We use Slack to chat to each other which is a great way for us to speak in real time.

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

I struggle with generalised anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

This means I often feel very overwhelmed and struggle to cope with some tasks. I think accepting that this is part of me has allowed me to feel less guilty and look for ways that I can manage myself.

On bad days, I really struggle to work and before, I would not allow myself breaks or I would feel incredibly guilty if I put something off until the next day.

Now, I look at my anxiety as a challenge and ‘bargain’ with it. If I am having a bad day, I acknowledge I need to lighten the load and bargain with myself to do essential tasks, before allowing myself time to rest or go for a walk.

Work life balance for me means being able to control my anxiety in my own way, whilst also managing a successful business.

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

Listening to what I need is definitely one, and not being afraid to try things.

When I decided to leave Australia to travel and try new things – I tested the business model, hired people I could trust and decided to just give it a go.

It was nerve wracking, but taking the leap meant that I could work from around the world and return to Australia every few months, being structured, but also flexible when needed is the best way to try new things without letting it all fall apart.

I now am happy to try almost anything to see if it works!

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years? (They don’t need to about work-life balance)

My #1 book at the moment is first, we make the beast beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety by Sarah Wilson. Having anxiety, the books often portray an image of someone who is quite useless or falling apart.

Being a business owner and very high functioning, but still suffering from Anxiety meant that I felt confused as to how to describe what I felt.

This book shows how to have that balance, when to listen to yourself and exactly demonstrates how someone so successful can also be suffering from anxiety – and gives little tips on how to manage the balance between work, success and self care.

It’s a brilliant book.

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

Lists and email management. I have a system that I have now gotten down to an art form.

My inbox is highly structured, I process incoming emails in the same way – they are either done immediately, filed to a client folder, or moved to a to-do list.

The list is written – but correlates to an email in my inbox. I only clear my inbox once the tasks are done – and all inbox emails are assigned to a task on my to do list.

This allows me to be super productive – I know once my email inbox is clear – I am done!

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

I think we are all scared to put ourselves first when it comes to work. Working hard is glamourised. Working long hours is seen as effort.

Putting work first is seen as drive. I used to work in law and 10 hours a day was the norm, most often more was expected. I never saw my kids.

I earned good money – but spent it on weekends where I would cram as much ‘recreation’ in as I could, I would start Monday exhausted (or ridiculously hungover).

There is power in putting yourself first. In adapting to suit you and asking those around you to accommodate small things that you need.

I think it’s always worth a conversation with your employer about what might be able to change to suit your life better, and in return, allow you to offer a better version of yourself to your employer!

If you work for yourself – let go of the fear of trying new things. If it doesn’t work – that’s okay! That’s how we learn.

Try an extended holiday. Try a remote office in Bali for a month. Try hiring someone to help with the smaller tasks so you have more time off. Try try try!

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