For Jean Brownhill, Founder & CEO of Sweeten, home is where it all happens. But it wasn’t always. Until the pandemic, she didn’t have an office in her own Brooklyn brownstone—a fact that might surprise the thousands of users of her home renovation platform. But over the past year, the architect-turned-entrepreneur discovered a more fluid relationship between work and life. Now, she says, she’s all in.
During a live Office Hours Q&A, Brownhill explained how she took Sweeten, which matches projects with vetted general contractors, from fledgling startup to industry innovator. (You can check out the full convo above.) After that, we invited her to kick back and tell us more about her newfound routine—one which, she says, allows her to “have a more integrated life” so she can stay motivated and get more done.
Self-care & Attitude
What does self-care mean to you?
My bathroom is very organized and pretty well merchandised! My favorite robe hangs behind the door and all my products are right at my fingertips. At the end of a long day, it feels like a treat to go and have a mini (less than 5 mins) spa day.
On a deeper note, there's a framework that athletes use that has been really helpful. There's time to play, time to practice, and there's time to rest—you need to do all of those things.
There's no athlete in the world who hasn't built in recovery into their overall strategy for living. For me, it is an important concept to internalize.
How do you create a positive attitude for yourself?
When things are bad…I try to think how I can turn this into “medicine” that will lessen the desire to get sucked into the negativity. Even in the negative feelings though, I have a perspective that there is something to learn from it or that it can transform into something that's really useful to me.
Do you have a mindfulness practice? If so, what is it?
I do! I meditate. I've gone back and forth for a while with the amount that I meditate each day. I had studied transcendental meditation and that was really helpful, although I don't meditate twice a day anymore.
How do you “turn off” at the end of the day?
I spend a bit of time each day taking care of my plants and garden. It's a form of meditation.
I think part of how I turn off is accepting that in my work-life balance, the first thing I am going to do is check my email. Saying “I am on, I am off,” is so binary. It makes it worse; it makes it harder because then you feel deprived of one or the other.
I found that it's much better to just feel, to try to achieve a state of flow where I am not necessarily dedicating a specific point in time at the end of the night to take care of my plants. I might have 15 minutes between meetings to check the plants or a free hour to go do something else, then I’ll go back and answer an email and feel good about it.
Workspace & Routine
Do you have a workspace at home? Did you have this space before the pandemic?
I did not have a workspace before the pandemic, but now I do. I have a small, small bedroom that is my dedicated workspace. It has all of my books and a desk. While it's small, it gives me physical separation from the rest of my living environment which was critical for my mental health.
Is anyone else at home with you during the day? What do you enjoy about it? What do you find challenging?
My dog, Mouse, and I find our space enjoyable because it is filled with the things we love. She's the best work colleague, other than sometimes begging me for food. The challenging part of working from home is the tendency to sit for long periods of time without moving. I have to remind myself to get up and move around.
Saying, “I am on. I am off,” is so binary. It makes…you feel deprived of one or the other… I might have 15 minutes between meetings to check the plants, or a free hour to go do something else. Then I’ll go back and answer an email and feel good about it.
What do you do when you need a change of scenery?
I work out in the park three days a week. While the workout is great, I love being outside and being in nature. This practice has helped so much of my ability to handle a critical and stressful time.
Time & Organization
How do you approach the workday? One block of time that’s over at 6pm? An ongoing thing with personal stuff interspersed?
Ongoing with personal stuff mixed in. The ability to change it up keeps the day interesting and motivating.
What are three things you do each morning to prepare for the workday?
- I exercise in the morning
- Always eat breakfast and have coffee
How do you keep yourself on track during the day?
I have a productivity app. I have a project management app. I have physical paper lists. There's no silver bullet - the most important thing is that I'm always looking to be better. This is a constant with me; I'm always looking for ways to be more productive and effective.
How do (or don’t) you separate business tasks from personal ones?
Business and personal responsibilities are now more fluid. I still like to do my grocery shopping on the weekends, but things like putting in a load of laundry late in the workday has actually led to overall more productivity.
What are three things you do to wind down your workday?
- I try to connect with friends. I can now say I’ve had a lot more conversations with friends who are far away.
- I try to do something that's inspirational or motivational. I love all the incredible content that you can find on streaming apps—whether it's a podcast, TV, a movie or documentary, or a book. I leave the heavy reading and listening for the weekend.
- I take care of my plants and garden, which connects me with nature and allows me a chance to quiet my mind.
This interview is part of Office Hours, a series that connects you with entrepreneurs and experts with tips for running and growing a business right now. Find other can’t-miss conversations by visiting our Events page.