Catching up with brainmates Adrienne Tan

Brainmates co-founder Adrienne Tan is a former work client and friend of Hacking Happiness co-founder, Rebekah Lambert (that’s me!). Adrienne has a highly successful Vivid Ideas event last year and always has her finger on the pulse of the busy Australian product manager.

I caught up with Adrienne from brainmates to ask about work-life balance in the Australian product management landscape.

Check out the interview! It has some great pearls of wisdom for any kind of white collar professional, product manager or startup scene participant.

What do you see of the inherent challenges for Australian product managers when it comes to maintaining work/life balance?

Product Managers are jugglers – they take on many different tasks in their role as part and parcel of our daily working life. They do so because they don’t want their product to fail. Many feel totally accountable for delivering and managing a successful product.


One trap that can be sprung on a product manager is we’re so involved we do work that isn’t ours to do. And this can have a negative impact on our ability to play a more strategic role in the business.


I am not sure if there is such a thing as work life balance anymore. If you’re a Product Manager you’re all consumed by your market, product and your work – which is totally exciting. In these situations, it’s important to remember that Product Managers need to recharge. After all, we need mental clarity to do the job well.


What are some of the most stressful times for brainmates or for product managers? What are some of the ways you’ve learned to temper (or overcome) these stresses?

The most stressful times are usually around annual budget times when we are asked to predict the future, and also when we’re launching new products. If the product is buggy then there’s many late nights working with Developers to resolve the bugs.


The best way to temper stress is to NOT take things personally. Whilst we’re feeling accountable for our products, it’s important to realise that when things go wrong it’s not US that’s wrong. Never project problems and issues as our own problems and issues. Once we’re removed from that, it’s much easier to deal with the stress.


At Hacking Happiness, we’re a big fan of productivity through making sure you go home on time, avoid eating lunch at the desk where possible, and ensuring work doesn’t intrude on down time. It’s lovely in theory, but how realistic is that approach in the real world of white collar work and/or the product management industry?

There’ll be times when we have to eat at our desk and there’ll be times when we enjoy a long lunch with our colleagues. It really depends on what projects are in tow. So my advice is to find the joy in both. Appreciate the quiet times and thrive on the busy times.


What kinds of things do you do to reduce your stress levels?

For me personally, it’s 3 things: Mindset and Exercise and Planning


If I am feeling stressed I make sure I have a positive chat to myself – weird I know!

But our thoughts generate enormous pressure for us and we have to still those. If I have a bad day and I feel that the whole world is ending, I tell myself that I’ve had bad days before and I am still here. The world hasn’t ended yet.


I love exercise so I make it a habit to walk a lot and I go to the gym 4 times a week. I’m into weight lifting – not bad for a 45 year old chick!


I also like to plan my day so that I know what I want to achieve by the end of it. But know that things happen and all the best plans fail. But if I bumble through the day, the stress levels increase as I know that I didn’t quite achieve what I wanted to.


Is there anything you’ve found works well to help the brainmates team get through a stressful day or launch?

Team work – Knowing we’re all pulling together makes it easier.

Also Product Management is our passion – we love what we do.


What advice would you give to a stressed out product manager as an individual?

Turn off your phone. That device has the power to generate an enormous amount of stress!


If you could tackle on particular challenge to do with wellness in the professional workplace space, what would it be and why?

Kindness. I think we need to learn to be kinder to one another. Stress comes from man-made situations.


Imagine if we were a little kinder to one another – how much more appreciative we would feel. That would translate to more efficiency.


You see a variety of different clients each year through your training programs and events. What vertical/industry do you think could do with a little TLC?

Would you believe that there is no difference in verticals and industries? Humans are the same in every industry. We all need a little TLC.



Do you think it’s possible to get-ahead career wise while also maintaining work/life balance? If not, why not. If yes, what do you think it takes?

That’s a tricky question. Individual definitions of ‘get ahead’ career and ‘work/life balance’ are so diverse.


I think we need to tell individuals that working long and hard doesn’t necessarily translate to a ‘get ahead’ career. They’ve got to decide for themselves how they want their life to playout. I think if you know what you want then you’ve got to engineer it. 


If you’d like to catch up with more great content and ideas from Adrienne, you’ll find her at professional product management training firm, Brainmates. 

If you’d like to explore all kinds of perspectives on what it takes to boost productivity via stress reduction in the workplace, the Hacking Happiness team are presenting ‘The myth of work-life balance in a get-ahead culture’ as part of Vivid Ideas. Hear from Beyond Blue’s workplace team, Heads Up, researchers in resilience from the University of Sydney, the founder of Australia’s first yoga for mental health studio, The Mind and Movement Centre, and Hacking Happiness.

Thanks to Adrienne Tan from Brainmates for participating in this interview.

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