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Balancing the Grind with Kathryn Rutkowski, Senior Program Manager at Atlassian

Kathryn Rutkowski is the Senior Program Manager of Customer Support & Success at Atlassian, where she is responsible for innovating and improving the customer experience.

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

My career background is in financial services and wealth management, having been a business analyst, Project Manager, program manager and executive across the Australian banking industry for the past 20 years.

More recently I pivoted into technology and I’m a senior program manager in customer support and success at Atlassian.

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

A day in the life for me in Sydney parallels my US and EU team’s working hours. I usually participate in team Zoom calls with the US in the morning from say 7 AM to 930 AM, then I might head into the office (although not at the moment clearly!) to do some work with my Sydney teams.

Things like sprint planning, program reviews, cross-team collabs and team events. Then in the evening I might have project calls with Amsterdam between 8 PM to 10 PM. This isn’t an every day routine but this is representative. Mondays and Fridays are my self-allocated GSD days, which means ‘Get Sh*t Done’.

I like to start and end my week efficiently to make sure everything and everyone is on track. I try to get outside most days for a walk at lunchtime and our Teams regularly take a coffee walk together to our favorite cafés to catch up on ‘all the things’.

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

Absolutely. Atlassian builds tools for team collaboration and also uses technology to bring people together across our global offices. Pre-COVID-19, I had been using Zoom, Mural, Trello, Jira, Confluence and Slack to work with colleagues in Amsterdam, Gdansk, Sydney, Austin and Bengaluru.

In terms of life and routine, my Monday is Austin, Texas’ Sunday so for me Monday is a GSD day, that means ‘Get Shit Done’. And because I’m finishing my week on a Friday which is Austin’s Thursday, I need to be organized and preempt all the weeks and following weeks’ tasks, have my contributions done and ready for review one day before the rest of my colleagues.

I also work earlier in the day from home to meet with the US, in the office during the middle of the day for the Sydney team events and collaboration, and later in the evening from home to meet with Amsterdam. It’s not like this every day, but there is certainly flexibility involved.

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

Actually I don’t believe in the term ‘work- life balance’. Because by default you’re putting work first. I don’t think that’s right. Work is a part of your life, not the other way around. I generally use the term ‘Life balance’.

I’m a firm believer in the adage, ‘If you don’t draw your own boundaries, someone else will draw them for you’. In that light, I am always sure to do something positive for myself first thing in the morning – meditation, yoga or Pilates and taking my dog Charlie for a walk. And coffee, coffee is life!

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?

I have very clear career principles which guide my habits and routines. They are based on Dan Pink’s reasons for human motivation – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose – to that I added Respect.

I plan my week to ensure that each of these elements are covered in my role, a meta-goal, and look back over my week on Friday. If four out of five days have ‘felt good’, productive and focussed on solving problems for customers, then I’ve done well. That’s 80% success.

I’m also a little obsessed with nice stationery (I can’t give up my paper in fancy markers just yet!) and to do lists.

I definitely swear by my iPad Pro and Notability for completely electronic meeting notes, the To Do app for my to do lists, Trello for personal project organization, and love paper weekly planners to keep me visually organized at a glance. Big shout out to Kikki-K, I should be a shareholder!

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

Books

  1. Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. It’s all about how to live a balanced life between extremes of excess and deficiency, Across all of the human virtues. He was the original ‘life-balance’ writer / self-help expert.
  2. Ryan Holiday – Everything he has written. He focuses on stoic philosophy and applies it to modern life.

Newsletters

  1. Farnam Street – Absolutely essential reading, with a little business, philosophy and psychology.
  2. Aeon – Longform journalism with a focus on science and psychology.
  3. Brain Pickings – I’ve been supporting Maria Popova’s newsletter for over a decade, she reviews books and ideas and makes them relevant to today. Love her work.

Podcasts

  1. Jeanne Bliss – The Human Duct Tape Show is all about customer experience from the founder of customer experience.
  2. Philosophy Bites – I’ve been listening to this podcast (since podcasts began?!) back in 2010. Nigel Warburton interviews Philosophers and Academics for their perspective on human challenges. It’s like a philosophy degree in a podcast.
  3. Lady Startup – Mia Freedman interviews women running their own businesses to understand business challenges and how they overcome them.

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

Drink coffee. Only joking. But not really. My goal is not to get the most out of ‘the day’, but the most out of my ‘productive energy’.

I tend to operate on a hard/soft day policy, so Tuesdays Wednesdays and Thursdays are my super busy days, and Mondays and Fridays are more relaxed, but that’s by design.

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

Friedrich Nietzsche. He had a super-regimented day:,he would wake up at the same time, write for three hours, have lunch, go for two hour walk in the afternoon to think and do it all again the following day.

The people who lived in this town could set their watch by his schedule. I’d like to know what it would be like to have that much discipline!

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

Yes absolutely. A fantastic GM I worked for back in 2009 told me something very useful, “Not everything needs to be 100%.” Sometimes you only need to put 80% into a task to get it moving, get progress, or get it done.

We all know that ‘Progress is better than Perfection’. But what that really means is YOU need to be OK with not putting 100% into every task. Particularly when it’s not required or expected by anyone except ourselves.

We sometimes create an expectation and it’s not based in reality. So questioning what’s really needed to solve the problem, rather than creating busywork, is a good way to not burn out.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.