Steve Sinha is the Chief Media Transformation Officer at Media Operations Transparency, a company he founded to help marketers take more control of their media.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I have had a long career in marketing communications as a media specialist, growing into agency MDing from 2007 onwards. I have worked in England & Australia on a mix of domestic & global projects so my experience is very diverse.
I launched my own media consultancy MOT in partnership with Andrew Norris “to help brands take more control of their media” and we have built some real momentum over the last couple of years.
So in this context I am well placed to discuss the relative merits of achieving work:life balance when leading larger organisations vs running your own company. No shortcuts in either unfortunately!
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Work in our consultancy is very diverse so a day in the life can be very different week by week. This week I have been helping to manage a creative pitch and have been in 3 creative presentations over the last 2 days.
Over the last few months, we have become experts at managing major presentations over zoom but in this instance we arranged in person meetings in the participants offices. It certainly helped the agencies showcase their personalities and build chemistry.
So, two meeting heavy days with work conducted “on the road” in between and in this instance the need to do some more substantive analytical work in the evening at home.
We had previously done 3 presentations in one day but found spreading over 2 days was better for absorbing, interpreting & discussing a lot of information as well as providing windows to keep other work moving.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, the current role has been a great laboratory for experimenting with and optimising flexible working.
In our service proposition we embed ourselves inside client organisations and I found that in a typical week, it can be more productive to split days between client offices and home vs client office and our office.
In the last year, I have done a lot more work with interstate clients. I created weeks of a combination of working in client offices on interstate client consulting days, working from a hotel room on interstate business development days and working from home on core work/product days.
It provided a variety of settings for different modes, mindsets & tasks as well as being more present for the family, even in weeks of high work hours & travel.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
My definition has evolved. It used to mean doing everything I wanted to do, and so led to cramming as many activities into every 24 hour period as possible. I never did much sleeping.
Now it means being very clear on what you need and want to achieve and calculating how to prioritise. Since becoming a father, a big part of work:life balance has been spending more time with my family.
I have always been reasonably adept at adapting my output around work:life challenges. As an MD, as much as possible I tried to be home for 7pm, spend a couple of hours with the family and then when everyone was in bed, put in a 2/3 hour work shift. This suited my natural body clock and was very productive (for work).
My own business has allowed me a lot of flexibility in when I deliver key work tasks and I can increasingly build this around other activities. I have managed to coach my eldest’s football team for 4 years (no sniggering by any ex colleagues & peers who have ever seen me play) including running 1one training session every Wednesday and bar the occasional hairy day.
The flexibility I have built into my work practices has enabled me to commit to this long term. It is my natural leadership skills as opposed to my football talent that has enabled me to successfully grow a team of 14 year old boys by the way!
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
COVID has been a big disruptor and not in a good way. One of my biggest hobbies & passions is music but all my bands have been in lockdown since March, removing a big creative & social outlet.
I performed in front of my house for Anzac Day which was a positive project (I amassed 160 video views on Facebook!), but I struggle to maintain my musical momentum when it is not a collaborative endeavour. So book one of my bands for your eventual return to the office party!
I have also benefited from attending the gym regularly over the last 2 years but the shut down disrupted my exercise. Over the last month, I have plugged the exercise bike back in to create an exercise routine at home. And I now do even more stretching to overcome too much sitting in a home office.
A month of home schooling the youngest was incredibly challenging but rewarding at the same time, and pushed organisation of work:life flexibility to the max. It is a relief they are back at school, though.
So paradoxically, COVID has created more time at home but in other ways made it harder to create true life balance.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I’m a voracious reader and the mental stimulation and entertainment I derive from reading is a big part of how I switch off from work. It seems many like to name check as many business books & websites as possible in these sections.
I see work related content as exactly that – work – and find time to consume it. In a work:life balance context I am more enthused by the stimulus of reading on broader topics to enrich me personally and keep my worldview broad.
In terms of books, I switch between fiction and non-fiction and invariably seem to circle back into history on the latter. I am a long time subscriber to the world’s greatest magazine, Private Eye, whose satire remains as sharp as ever.
I have been subscribing to the iPad version of the New Yorker for the last 10 years, and the breadth of writing is both insightful and inspiring. My favourite podcasts include Gilles Peterson Worldwide, an amazing 90 minutes of music every fortnight that help broaden my musical vistas.
Also a special mention to The Square Ball podcast, a group of guys who have grown confidently into the role over the years and with great humour & empathy chronicle life’s ups and downs.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
Like many, my life is completely wrapped around my iPhone & iPad. They provide enormous utility but also completely blur work:life boundaries as they house apps used for both, and the 24 hour ping of notifications can make it hard to truly switch off.
More recently, I have been combating this by re-embracing older gadgets to step off the iGrind. One of my all-time favourite gadgets is the now defunct iPod Mega – who doesn’t want 150 gig of music in their pocket?
I am using the iPod more to listen to music and only listen to music without other distractions. I recently took the massive step of buying an analogue alarm clock and completely shutting down my iPhone at night – and am sleeping a lot better!
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I would love to say the great Marcelo Bielsa, but he is probably the world’s worst example of work-life balance! Probably a head of state.
How do you deliver on a long term vision for a country when the volume of day-to-day challenges would be huge? A head of state who has achieved this when leading through a time of crisis would be especially interesting.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Of course it is vitally important to achieve a healthy balance for your body. But never forget a good recharge for your brain & ears – at least once daily.
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