Balancing the Grind with Anthony Caruana
Anthony Caruana is a Freelance Writer, Presenter & Consultant, who contributes to a variety of publications, including Finder AU, Lifehacker Australia, CSO Australia and more.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?
My career has been quite diverse. I did my undergrad degree in biochemistry and cellular biology straight from high school. I then did a teaching degree and worked as a high school teacher for a few years before moving into vocational training.
I took a job managing the training function at a manufacturing company where I basically outsourced my own job and then shifted into business analysis and data analytics for a while before moving into the energy industry working with developers as a business analyst and then project manager.
While that was going on, I did a masters in information systems management, a grad diploma in theology and worked as a freelance writer.
Eventually, my IT career ended up in management, running a couple of IT departments. While that was lucrative, it didn’t really make my fire burn.
The writing work happened by accident. A friend was going away and asked me to cover for her and write a couple of short stories for a tech magazine. From there, I pitched more stories and created a career as a journalist.
Between my background as a teacher, as a manager and writing I end up turning my fun side hustle as a freelance writer into a great career where I work for myself.
2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
I’m basically a freelance communicator. I work on radio, print and TV. I think my greatest strength is being able to take something quite complex and present in a way that accessible to lots of people.
My LinkedIn profile says I’m a “writer + presenter + facilitator + journalist + consultant”. That pretty much sums me up.
3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
That’s a great question and one that is undergoing a metamorphosis at the moment. Until a couple of weeks ago, I was contributing four stories a day to Lifehacker Australia.
That meant starting work at about 6:00AM most days to hit my 7:30AM and 9:30AM daily deadlines. Then I’d take a breather, check email and get onto my 12:30PM and 3:30PM stories.
Then there would be, usually, one or two other stories to do for corporate clients or others. Some days, there’s also facilitating webinars, preparing for radio spots, admin stuff and other jobs that pop up.
A couple of mornings each week, I’d slot in school drop-off for my two step-sons and usually pick them up one afternoon each week as well.
I’ve also launched a new business with my friend Kathryn Van Kuyk. Media-Wize is about helping start-ups and fast great businesses find their voice and tell compelling stories when they get their moment in front of the media.
So I try to put time into that every day as well.
Somewhere in that, I allow between 45 and 90 minutes for exercise as well.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
It’s taken me a while but I now have a scheduling/planning system that works for me. It’s basically a paper-based system although I do it on my iPad and mark things off with the Apple Pencil.
At the start of each week, I put all the things I know I need to do onto my planning template. Doing that manually makes me conscious in a way that simply hitting the “accept” button on an invitation doesn’t do.
That weekly planning time is usually done with my wife so I make sure I cover off any important family stuff I need to do.
My biggest tip is to find a planning system that works for you. There are lots of systems out there – cherry pick from all of them to create something that works for you. I’m pretty sure my system wouldn’t work for anyone else.
I travel quite a bit – about 100 days per year. I don’t accept or book a trip without chatting to my wife so we can work out the impact on the family.
5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?
Two of the rows in my planning template are for “Family” and “Exercise”. I try to ensure there’s something in those boxes every day.
My main form of exercise is running. I’m preparing for my third marathon and try to get on the road four or five times a week.
I also have a very active dog and try to walk him for at least 30 minutes each day although some days his exercise is coming on a run with me.
We have a blended family with five children ranging from middle primary school age through to young adults. That can make things interesting as there are lots of activities to balance.
When the kids need me, I prioritise that above work – although I admit there are times when that’s really challenging.
I strongly recommend having a workspace with a door. Being able to turn the lights out and close the door each day is important.
6) What does work life balance mean to you?
I love my work but I don’t let it define me. My job is something I do that enables lots of other things.
Although I work to a plan each day, I’m not a slave to the plan. Unless something, like an interview or meeting, is locked into a specific time, I take a break if my brain needs a timeout.
When I first started working independently, I really struggled to balance things early on. When you work from home – home is work and work is home. I needed to find ways to physically and mentally split my two universes.
What does all that mean? Work-life balance is about ensuring whatever is most important gets the highest priority.
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?
Taking 15 minutes a week to plan is important.
Quarantine email time – I try to only look at email twice a day. If you’re concentrating on a task – put the phone on silent or ‘do not disturb’. You are the master of your time.
Find a way to manage your schedule that works for you and lets you balance the things that are most important to you.
Learn to say no. Not every project or job is worth doing. I’ve said no to jobs offered by organisations that had questionable business practices.
I’ve said no when the pay-rate on offer was too low even though I needed the money. If you don’t value your work – no one else will.
8) Are there any books on work life balance that have helped you over the years?
I’m not a fan of “self help” books. But I’ll read almost anything online that offers a tip or trick to help with balance and productivity.
I’ve met and struck up a bit of a friendship with Dr Hugh Thompson, who I’ve interviewed a few times. His book, The Plateau Effect: Getting From Stuck to Success, is excellent as it deals with how to break past plateaus.
Another friend, Philip Owens, recently published a book called Unstuck: The Strategic Approach To Living the Life You Want which is great as well. It’s a very practical guide to help people get past things that are blocking them from moving on from the current state to a preferred state.
I look for practical advice. Many of the books I’ve read seem to be about what the author knows rather than practical advice.
9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Aside from wake up, I work to a plan. And if it looks like I have a quiet day coming up I take advantage of it to either invest time in a new project, spend some time thinking and reflecting, listen to some music or do something else relaxing.
10) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Decide what is most important to you. That will change at different stages of your life. But whatever is most important, make sure there’s adequate time set aside for it and be prepared to drop less important things if you need to.