We had the good fortune of connecting with Elena Haskins and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Elena, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
For the longest time, the term “work-life balance” seemed like a buzzword thrown around in corporate webinars and Linkedin posts as a state of existence that we all strived for, yet nobody truly could achieve. The biggest promoters of this enigmatic work-life balance were also the same culprits who stood in the way of us making any progress toward something that resembled a healthy balance. “People should make time for their kids, friends, hobbies, going to the gym, getting a pet, eating healthy, volunteering with the community, buuuuut also finish these ‘really quick’ 532+ edits that I’m about to send to you at 2 p.m. on a Friday due, Monday morning.”

Since I was in middle school, I operated by a disheveled suitcase model for my schedule. Let’s fit everything in:
1. Squish the essentials
2. Squeeze in the souvenir gifts
3. Find a way to make room for “just in case” clothes (we all know you’ll never wear them on the trip), and then sit on a suitcase to force it shut. It looks like nicely organized luggage on the outside.

The biggest improvement I’ve made with my work-life balance now is being intentional. I only fill my day with things that bring me joy and serve me, by bringing me closer to my goals.

How did I achieve this shift?

I’ve been working with a life coach, Life with Tawny to unlearn the “scarcity mindset” that formerly led me to exist very transactionally, a life based on people-pleasing and naive hopes that good karma and networking would one day lead to something great. I was ultimately able to eliminate the fear that if I don’t take an opportunity now, it will never come back.

*Boundaries have entered the chat.*

You can’t have balance, without boundaries. Saying “no” to the wrong things allows you to say “yes” to the right things. People have said that to me for years, and for the first time, it’s here to stay.

Work-life balance isn’t just about work; a big part of it is how you’re managing the life part so it doesn’t feel like work. You should genuinely look forward to going home. For me, that means being extremely intentional about who I spend my time with. I only surround myself with people that bring me happiness and push me towards achieving my goals. That also means attending events and volunteering for organizations that make me feel alive, and not because I was guilted into doing it.

Boundaries at work are huge. Lead by example. Don’t be the asshole who sends demands that aren’t actually emergencies at 4 p.m. or Slack your team at 11 p.m.

Story time: I was working for a consulting firm and received an email from the CTO of a Fortune 1000 client. It came at 1 a.m., but there was a note in her signature that said, “I sometimes send emails at weird times. I do not expect a response outside of business hours.” When I saw that, I was floored. I also send messages late at night sometimes because that’s when I get around to it, but never expect a message in return. I had never thought about how I was conveying myself to others without communicating that I’m not trying to add extra pressure on them. Since then, I make it very clear to my team that I respect their time and ask for the same in return.

It’s been a long road, but I finally realized I can’t perform at my best if I’m not taking care of myself first. My work and relationships directly correlate to how healthy and present I am.

I moved to Tulsa a year ago and was put to the ultimate test — if you had the chance to start over, what does that look like and what can you build?

I’m excited to say that in the past year, I:
– Launched two businesses, Anele – a UX Studio, and Cipher Studio – a software development company
– Started pottery
– Joined a rock climbing gym
– Launched a mentorship program and graduated 3 cohorts
– Did a solo trip to Nicaragua
– Started taking German and Spanish classes
– Had the best relationships I’ve ever had with my family
– Got a cat
– Reached 44, 700+ views on my passion project and recent grad resource, Converge
– Doubled my income from the prior year in 8 months
and most importantly, get 7 – 8 hours of sleep every day.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I approach everything I do with my career as a designer from the lens of impact and empowerment. As a UX and Product Designer, my purpose is to design solutions, for now primarily in the form of apps, SaaS tools, and websites.*

The TL;DR of my job is a combination of:
– Talking to real people to learn about their problems
– Mapping out functionality and organization of the solution blueprint
– Designing what the solution would look like and how it works
– Testing it and getting real feedback
– Making sure it is accessible for all people to use
– Creating clear instructions for a developer to code it to life.

I’m very intentional about the work that I do and am cognizant of how my decisions directly impact real people, something I don’t take lightly. What differentiates me from other designers is that I emphasize a value on “education.” Not in the typical sense of “school” but equipping people with information and clarity to make their jobs and lives easier.

At the core, I design solutions that empower people to take control into their own hands by giving them time back in their day because their processes are now quicker. Or access to opportunity/information. For example, I’ve done UX for websites that helped young Black women after highschool get career and life support; trauma victims around the world; and low income and formerly incarcerated folks get jobs.

That value extends far beyond the users. I like to empower my clients through transparency, communication, and education. I want my clients to walk away feeling excited and ready to better support their communities and audiences. I have a huge appreciation for the power of self-sustainability. When I can educate my clients about my process as I research findings, I’m giving them new information to make their lives easier and ideally be able to keep things going when I’m done with the project.

Lastly, my favorite secrets to being a successful UX designer are the ones that aren’t secrets at all. Information, or lack thereof, is what people have historically used as a gatekeeper. I don’t want anything to do with that. I launched Anele, a UX Studio to give jr. Designers have a chance to get their foot in the door. I also created a Mentorship Program that has a curriculum and homework to help emerging UX designers land their UX job.

I got to where I am today by “doing.”

People always ask how they can launch their career, and you can read as many articles and watch Youtube videos galore, have 400 networking dates, but to get anywhere, you need to “do.” That’s not to say those efforts are moot. When I transitioned to UX design, I had a full-time corporate, visual design job, working a UX internship, running a UX volunteer project, attending workshops and events every week, participating in a mentorship program with the mentor ever (Hi Alina!), and averaging three networking dates a week, not to mention still hanging out with friends and dating. I can confidently say that after all those late nights and early mornings, the things that expedited my career to land me a senior level position and 30 clients in three years is the momentum of “doing.” Every project I did, informed the next. My mistakes translated to learning, and my learnings became better designs. This process wasn’t a challenge to overcome, challenges don’t always need to be overcome they need to be melded and tamed into something that serves you.

If you’re reading this and are considering becoming a designer and don’t know how to get experience, look around you — there’s opportunity to fix poorly designed systems and experiences everywhere.

Call up your local mom-and-pop ice-cream stand and see if you can do user research and pump out a one-page website. If you’re a career-changer stuck in an irrelevant job, reimagine what one of your day-to-day work processes could look like — ask your colleagues their pain points and lay out an optimized solution.

Impact and empowerment manifest in different ways, and they’re not always glamorous. Sexy consumer e-commerce brands aren’t what get me up in the morning. Everything I approach starts and ends with, “How can I make your life easier?”

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
A year ago I randomly moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma from New York City. What was initially a one-year commitment of spontaneity and self-exploration lured by $10,000 from the Tulsa Remote program, has now blossomed into new roots. Whenever a friend comes to visit, I vehemently attempt to show them everyone and everything that I love, demonstrating the excitement and opportunity Oklahoma has to offer instead of just being seen as a “flyover state.”

Tulsa has a 780,000 population and gives off the downtown intimacy of a small town, yet the highway system and access to businesses are like a big city.

First on the list, The Gathering Place. A 66.5-acre park filled with paths that wind up and down, coexisting with ponds, basketball courts, skateparks, study spots, and playgrounds. My words can’t do it justice. Coming from New York, this park does laps around Central and Prospect Park.

Next, hitting up one of the many breweries to catch that local vibe. Whether it be Welltown, American Solera, or NEFF, it’s a nice spot to relax or catch Trivia.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Tulsa without gathering the troops. I’d either host a dinner party at my place or hop on over to our friend Trae’s house, Coworkhouse. The people are what keep me in Tulsa, and my friends are what make me so proud to be here.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The Elena Haskins that you’re talking to right now, exists because I met Tawny Ann De La Peña. I’ve never known what it could feel like to be loved by a friend so much. Leading by example and also through many conversations, she has taught me the art of clear communication, boundaries, and self respect. Not to mention, she’s definitely extended my lifespan by at least 5 years simply by teaching me ways to be healthier, make my veggies last longer, how to properly wash my face, and how to manage my stress. We talk every day (literally ask any of our friends), and if not sharing wild insights we read about or day to day chatter, we’re coworking over Facetime. She’s an award winning copywriter, recently featured in AdWorld conference, and has just launched a new life coaching business, Life With Tawny (www.lifewithtawny.com).

Website: www.anele.design

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/elenajhaskins/

Other: Mentorship community and resource: www.convergeguide.com/ Design Podast feature: https://designproject.io/blog/elena-haskins-pixelated-perfect-4 Resources and mentorship program for Jr. UX designers: www.anele.design/for-jr-ux-designers

Image Credits
Josh New Photography Tulsa Remote

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