Work/life balance: Victor Knaap, MediaMonks

One of the most common explanations for Amsterdam being such an appealing city to work in is that it offers a much better balance between work and life than, say, London or New York or other such creative hubs. But how true is this, and does it extend to the people at the very top?

To get a better idea we asked a selection of agency CEOs, presidents and partners what their lives entail. Here Victor Knaap, CEO of MediaMonks (pictured below with co-founder Wesley ter Haar), shares his day with us.

What time do you get up?I used to be a serial snoozer, forcing me to try and make up for lost time in the car, driving to my first appointment... something which rarely worked due to all the rush hour traffic we suffer from over here. Since moving to public transport however, my schedule has become far stricter. The alarm starts buzzing at 7.43 and I’ll leave my place at 8.12 at the latest, in order to catch the train to our HQ in Hilversum; a national media hub situated just outside Amsterdam.What does your morning ritual involve?My morning routine simply consists of a quick shower and, without coffee or breakfast, heading straight to the office. The only luxury I afford myself is not scheduling any meetings before 10am. Until then, it’s all about email. Our Singapore business is 6 hours ahead, and, if I accidentally went to bed early the night before, I’ll also have a few emails sitting in my inbox from our New York office.How do you get to work?I stopped driving a car three months ago, in order to free up the Lazarus time of my journeys for tending to more emails… and I am in fact writing this answer on the train to Amsterdam.Whilst public transportation is not our best asset in the Netherlands, if you avoid trams and buses and instead opt for taxis (please use private hire) and train rides for the longer distances, it works out pretty well. And since the sun is finally shining, I’m able to do all of my Amsterdam meetings by bike.What does an 'average' day at the office look like?The breakfast and coffee that go neglected before leaving the house are the first things on my mind when I enter the office, then email quickly starts to dominate the rest of the morning. My days vary greatly: I have an open office space so that anyone can walk in if they need me, although I do try to avoid filling my day with meetings so that I can jump on new business at a moment´s notice. We work exclusively for advertising agencies, which means a lot of the requests for tending to the digital aspects of a project come in very late in the process and our response needs to be finished very quickly. In fact the average pitch-response time for a digital treatment is three days, and we need to deliver creative, scope and planning in that period. Luckily, we don’t waste our time on long lunches – we don’t tend to lunch glamorously in the Netherlands, so Joke (our Mother Monk) prepares food, which I will generally eat during meetings or at my desk.When do you get home?Two to three times per week I’ll eat dinner at our office. Every night we have Thomas in the MediaMonks kitchen, making sure that we’re eating right, and preparing us great meals. From 2003 to 2010 I was almost exclusively opting for pizza at the office, but you reach a point where you just can’t handle the salami anymore. No kidding, at MediaMonks, everything is deadline driven, so we want to ensure that everybody can have a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner on-site whenever necessary, and we even have homes next to our HQ for when you have to pull a late one. I must admit to secretly checking my emails during the night when I don't think my girlfriend is looking, although rarely with much success.What time do you get to bed?That’s the secret of my success. I love sleep, and can comfortably enjoy eight to 12 – or even 16 – hours but I can also manage very well with four. In my days as a long distance sailor, I was used to working in strict shifts, consisting of four hours of sleep followed by four awake. In reality, I don’t sleep enough during the week and inevitably enjoy catching up at the weekend.Does work impinge on your evenings/weekends? That’s a sensitive subject... I’ll send you my answer once the current ‘discussion’ with my girlfriend is settled ;)Is there a culture of long hours in the industry?In the Netherlands everything tends to be a bit more relaxed, but at MediaMonks we have a work ethos that bears more resemblance to that of New York than Amsterdam. The golden rule is you go home when your work is finished. However, considering my main priority is dealing with new business, sticking to this rule is made even harder, since it’s never done.Is it possible to get to the top working 'normal' or even reduced?I have read books about people who have made it in four-day working weeks, but personally I can’t. Perhaps those guys are much smarter but I need to put all of my energy into the business. There isn’t a big secret behind our company’s success: We just work harder. I strongly believe in my life motto: ‘You can’t beat someone who doesn’t give up’. If something doesn’t work out as planned, I want to make sure I can’t blame myself for not spending enough time on it. What impact has mobile had on your working day?I sincerely don’t know what we did before mobile. Can you imagine not having a smartphone? Apparently they used to just take calls.How do you relax?All too frequently do I find myself in a bar on Friday evening and sleeping late on Saturdays, but on turning 35 I tried to hit the gym (for a while). Since sailing isn’t really something you can do for one or two hours, I may need to start looking for other hobbies.Do you feel you have a good work/life balance?I am very happy with my current situation, both in life and work, and especially with the mix I have between the two. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by very clever people, and am frequently being invited to all sorts of amazing events. What’s more, we’re lucky enough to work with very nice and extremely talented clients, who also make for stimulating company.What would make your work/life balance even better?I sometimes consider owning a dog. However, I really don’t ´get´ people who bring dogs in to the office. Can someone please stop that trend?!

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