Interview

Ken Seeno

In search of work-life balance

March 19, 2021
Interview
March 19, 2021

Ken Seeno

In search of work-life balance

We love introducing you to outstanding designs and even greater minds that create them. What do we love even more? Healthy work ethics and sharing favorite Netflix docuseries with the team.

Ken Seeno, Senior Product Design Manager at Headspace, the world’s leading meditation and mindfulness app

Ken Seeno is a multidisciplinary designer. He studied Interdisciplinary Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he was a founding member of the international art-rock group Ponytail. He currently works at Headspace, the world’s leading meditation and mindfulness app, as a Product Design Manager. He manages and leads a team of designers focused on the core product experience. He lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Christine and their Korean sheepdog Suzy. They are expecting their first child this summer. In his free time, he is an avid jazz guitarist and guitar collector. Other recent hobbies include horology, the occasional surfing adventure, and fixing up their 1930’s Spanish-style home.

Please tell me a little bit about your daily routine. Do you think it's fairly balanced (work, family, hobbies, naps, etc.)?

Let the record show, I am not (and never have been) a morning person. When I do get up (usually before 7:30 AM, though), it’s a straight shot to the Moccamaster. Every other morning or so, I ride on the Peloton while listening to podcasts & music and catching up on emails & messages. I often meditate with Headspace right after my ride as a cool down. The combination of a 30 min ride & 10 min meditation gives me a great energy boost, mood lift, and sense of mental focus.

Headspace provides guided meditation resources online, accessible to users through the company's website and via a mobile app on the iPhone and Android platforms. The app uses gamification to encourage users to complete and master a level of meditation before moving on to a more advanced section.

I typically ‘log on’ between 8:45-9:30 AM and mornings are my head’s downtime. I spend those critical hours trying to accomplish one major piece of work for each day. I experiment with the Pomodoro Technique and I’m highly diligent in managing my to-do lists (I use an archaic but effective Stickies method I developed years ago) and I’m religious about my calendar.

My wife and I take lunch together around 12:30, but I don’t usually take a full hour. I traditionally spend my afternoons on Zoom (AirPods and standing desk), critiquing work, checking-in with my team, and aligning cross-functionally.

At the end of the day, it’s my turn to walk Suzy around the neighborhood and it provides just enough of a break in my day to close-up shop so-to-speak and transition into home life. Dinner and decompression ensue (my wife is an amazing cook! I’m very lucky). I typically spend my evenings playing jazz guitar or watching TV. I love to spend hours with my guitar and I take weekly lessons on Zoom to deepen my craft. It's a long-time passion of mine; a meditation of sorts. It keeps me calm and engages my brain.

My wife would tell you that I can’t sit down, and she’s right. Ever since I was a baby, I haven’t been able to stay put. I don’t take naps; I can’t. I am highly routinized! Structure plays a key role in planning nearly every day (except weekends!).

That is impressive! It looks like you have found a perfect routine for yourself. But do you think it is *really* possible to find a work-life balance?

Yes, absolutely; it may be challenging (and in many ways, it’s a privilege), but I would encourage you to experiment with your schedule, be intentional about your time, and keep tweaking it until you find out what works for you.

It’s taken me a few years, and it’s still easier said than done, but when you leave work (or close your laptop) try to ‘check that at the door’ instead of letting it consume your free time.

Ok, let’s talk more about the professional part of the question. Do you think it's easier to focus on work-life balance when you're in junior positions or senior? And why?

I think it most certainly depends on your circumstances; your company, your supervisor, the culture around you and your life situation. Junior positions may feel weighted in terms of individual workload but typically also require fewer meetings and conversations; how might you structure your IC time in a way that works for you? Do you work better at night? Maybe you start your day later and stay up in the evenings if that’s when you do your best thinking.

Have an open conversation with your manager and communicate to them your working style.

Have an open conversation with your manager and communicate to them your working style

More senior positions tend to mean more time in conversation and less clear focus. Seniors and above often straddle multiple work streams which can throw off balance. Know the limits of your role and push back if you need to. Define what balance looks like to you and stick to it. It’s taken me a few years, and it’s still easier said than done, but when you leave work (or close your laptop) try to ‘check that at the door’ instead of letting it consume your free time.

What would you say to young people trying to find a voice in the design world + having to deal with extra obstacles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Limitations are typically an incredible breeding ground for design. 

  • Think about the problem and design a solution to it — it can be that simple. 
  • Find people who inspire you or are where you (think) you want to get to in 3-5 years and shoot them a sincere message. 
  • Try to connect with people around the world; we live in an amazing time where you could interview remotely for a company on Wednesday, accept an offer on Friday, and start the next Monday without ever leaving your house. 

How can you use that to your advantage? The possibilities are seemingly endless. And I have said and will say: there is no substitute for hard work. It always blows people away. Hard work is the best in-roads for anyone starting out.

I have said and will say: there is no substitute for hard work
What would you say to people who struggle with finding a work-life balance, especially this year? Any tips?

Again, try to maintain a calendar. Blocking off time and sticking to it when you don’t have enough time in the day to do it all is a very effective way to ensure you hit all the beats you aim for.

I’ve even scheduled when I’m going to shower down (haha!) and chores down to 15 increments. Extreme, but you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish if you list it out and tackle it all in sequence.

Please share 1-2 techniques to cope with anxiety/stress from work
  1. Know when to catch yourself and step away (I know, easier said than done!)
  2. A short meditation can help. I recommend Headspace, of course.
  3. Slow down. (I’m 100% guilty of moving too quickly)
Is there something else you'd like to share with us? 

You know, not really! Take all of this with a grain of salt. Who even am I, really? You shouldn’t have gotten this far — go outside or something.

Get out of here!

Written by Serafima Aleksandrova

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