24 Hours With…Zenith’s Helen Lee

24 Hours With... spotlights the working day of some of the most interesting people in Asia’s marketing and media landscape. Today, we hear about a day in the life of Helen Lee, managing director at Zenith Singapore

6.30am. I usually make an effort to wake up earlier and see my younger son to school. The only pockets of time I have with him on weekdays are now and late at night just before he sleeps. So I try to be the first and last person he sees.

We get only about half an hour together in the morning, but things are always happy and lovey-dovey. It just kick-starts my day on a good note, you know?

8am. In the 30-45 minutes of commuting to work, I make it a point to pray. Not all things go smoothly, be it work or family, but faith keeps me sane and strong throughout. Recently, countless people have been asking me how I am managing work and my family with two kids, all whilst being (visibly) heavily pregnant. Faith. And it helps that I am someone who believes in the positive side of situations and people.

9am. Second kick-start of the day: a good cup of kopi. Jump into my morning meetings, which are usually kept internal. Check in with my team leaders on how they are doing, business status updates, how I can support them better, and offer different perspectives and approaches.

1pm. I try to keep my lunches about 70/30 work and personal. Aside from spending time with media owners and clients, I make it a point to sit down for meals with my husband or close friends. They always prove to be great company and listeners, who never fail to tell me things I need – and sometimes hate – to hear. But I really appreciate that because they teach me different and better approaches to things. I try to avoid hanging around yes-men, because really? I’m definitely not right all the time.

My favourite hideout is Clifford Pier at Fullerton Bay, which serves up local fare that I love. I am a local girl at heart. Its tables are also arranged in a way that you can speak freely without having to be mindful of disturbing other patrons. I find that crossing the bridge to the Fullerton Bay area itself takes me to a different place mentally and emotionally. There is less crowd, good ambience – perfect for unwinding and relaxing for the hour.

2pm. Start running about town for back-to-back external meetings. In the later part of the day, I head back to the office and check in with my boss, attend executive meetings, and sometimes meet with other agency brand leaders on collaborative topics. When pockets of 5-10 minutes become available, I go around talking to my teams to catch up on things both work-related and personal. Being a people-person, I love spending time connecting with others.

6pm. Meetings end around this time, but this is when my work ‘day’ at my desk typically starts – attending to emails and working on presentations etc. This sometimes feels crazy and frustrating, with 6pm being when most people (would like to) start heading home. Thankfully, having a strong family support system reassures me that things are taken care of at home. Otherwise, I don’t think my work hours are sustainable. Neither would I be a happy working parent.

8.30pm. Pack up and leave for home. Consciously switch off work the moment I step into the house – my family deserves 0% of the stress and 100% of my attention. Quick playtime and catch-up with my younger son before tucking him into bed. Chat with my older son – it’s nice that he sleeps a little later.

9pm. Whole family huddles on the couch and unwind to television programmes together. Our routine: MediaCorp TV Channel 8’s 9pm drama, followed by cable TVB HK’s drama (husband and son are huge fans). Currently watching My Unfair Lady, which has intrigued my 9 year-old son with its career-minded protagonist who changed from being a monster-boss after resolving various relationship issues in her life.

Interesting learning about how we have to personally be in a good place before we can be a good boss at work. I do find that taking my mind off work helps me to be mentally present with family, but being productively ‘distracted’ also puts me in a better and healthier frame of mind, and results in better work outputs the next day.

12.30am. Close the day by giving thanks and reflecting with a prayer. The analogy of my life as a seesaw really struck me in recent weeks. It symbolises both my ups-downs in mental states and emotions, and also the time I spend between work and family (and on myself).

There is no work-life ‘balance’ in the 50-50 sense, but I think it is okay. It is more important to be happy, than to meet societal expectations. It is my learning journey to conquer. I have come to learn to take care of myself, and that there is a time and place for everything and everyone. Just got to be mentally present at any given situation and give it my all. Kudos to all working parents. Time for sleep (and sleep in, if it’s the weekends).


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