Work Smarter Not Harder: Donna Hall

Donna Hall of Donna Mondi Interior Design

“Show up to work and the work will be there.”

If you are new to Cedar & Rush, Work Smarter, Not Harder (WSNH) is a weekly column showcasing Chicago’s leading ladies – think CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and everyday women making a difference – and how they work smarter, not harder. I decided upon Monday so we can kick off the week as productive and as motivated as possible. If you love a particular piece of advice or have any tips of your ownplease share by tagging #WSNH2015 on Instagram and Twitter.

Donna Hall, founder and owner of Donna Mondi Interior Design, is joining us today! And I want her to decorate every inch of my home. Her unique design aesthetic blends European Classism and American Modernism, with an element of surprise! Most importantly, the luxury designer knows how to hustle. Not only do her five star reviews make her one of Chicago’s elite design firms, but she also carries the Best of Houzz for design and service! I am thrilled to have Donna share her incredible advice when it comes to nailing your dream job. Let’s give her the biggest welcome and be sure to check out her portfolio afterwards. It’s stunning!

Donna, please tell us about your firm, Donna Mondi Interior DesignI’m lucky to be doing my dream job. I run an interior design firm with offices in Hinsdale and Chicago. Every day is different so it keeps my creative mind engaged and challenged.  I manage a talented team of seven designers, and our diverse experience spans from an urban contemporary remodel in Trump Tower to a historical building redesigned in French moderne style on East Lake Shore Drive, and a huge renovation in Vienna secession style in Hinsdale among many others.  The life of a designer is exciting – we get invited to the fabulous parties, trade events, and have the opportunity to meet wonderful people.

How did you get to where you are today? I’ve always had a mantra: “Show up to work and the work will be there.” Starting a business wasn’t easy, and I had countless roadblocks but always reminded myself to be ready for work – no matter what was going in the world or in my personal life. Work doesn’t wait for anyone! I’m focused and determined – if someone tells me I can’t do something, it fuels my determination on a nuclear level.

I also try to surround myself with really smart people.  I can’t know everything but collectively, we can conquer any challenges that come up.  I don’t have a business degree, so I compensate by reading books and following blogs about business.

What time do you typically get up in the morning? Normally I wake up around 5:30 a.m. Sleeping in for me means 7:00 a.m. and it only happens on Sundays.  It’s not unusual for me to be up at 2:00 a.m. and sending emails to my team. I love to work when nobody else is because it’s the only time I can truly make forward progress.


How do you take your coffee and what do you typically eat for breakfast? People make fun of me for my Starbucks order and how particular I am about every detail.  Ok, here goes: Grande Pike in a Venti cup with a steamed, non-fat foamy topper, and TWO pumps sugar-free caramel.  THEN, I add two Truvia’s and sprinkle the top with cinnamon. It’s PERFECTION! My breakfast is far simpler – Greek yogurt with fruit.  That’s the first breakfast. I eat about five times a day!

Quickly walk us through your morning routine: My favorite part of the morning is when my fiancé Dominick goes to Starbucks to get my coffee while I’m getting ready. On most weekdays I need to leave by 6:30 a.m. to beat traffic to Hinsdale. Sunday is by far my favorite day of the week – I read the paper and catch up on my fashion magazines.

What is the best way to get your foot in the door of your dream job? I BEGGED for my first design job. I was relentless and finally offered to work for free until she felt I earned a paying position and it WORKED! I get resumes all the time and often interview. My ideal candidates have the same fire and determination as I had. I love resumes that stand out, and always advise people to be unique; especially in a creative field like design. A handwritten note also goes a long way. Networking is always important, but I have a personal rule – I need to like and enjoy the people I’m with. The relationships needs to be authentic and not solely for my own personal gain.

What resources do you use to stay organized and remember tasks? We’ve been using the Basecamp system for project management. With two locations, more than twenty projects, and multiple team combinations, we need a way to communicate easily and manage our task lists. Outside of that, I am a complete and hopeless Post It Note addict.  I can’t get enough!  I have sticky notes everywhere with reminders for my personal and professional life.

What mistake do you see people constantly make that they should be aware of?Complaining about their current situation and doing the same thing every day. I’m an action person!

How do you conquer your inbox? This is what happens at 2:00 a.m.  I clean out 500+ emails at a time from the past week.  As we speak, I have 9,956 emails in just one of my three email addresses that haven’t been filed! I recently hired an Executive Assistant (Hero, really) that I’m training to manage certain aspects of my email.

How do you format your emails? I’ve been told by many that I’m very direct.  I take this as a compliment but not sure everyone agrees. Interoffice emails are not fluffy. For clients and vendors, I certainly add something about having a nice day. I’m not uncivilized, after all.

I also have a general rule for texts.  If it doesn’t fit on my screen, PICK UP THE PHONE!

How do you make time for working out and staying healthy? This is one of my favorite topics! Aside from design…and fashion…and shopping… it is so difficult to fit in time for fitness, but I make it a high priority. I am determined to stay in shape and battle the aging demon. I have a trainer at Equinox three times a week and we hit it hard! My favorite day is when a guy has to take weights off to use the machine after me.  For my mental health and to stretch out all the tightness from weightlifting, I love Hot Power Fusion classes at Core Power Yoga. My fiancé takes me into a spin class once a week at Flywheel. It’s a tough workout, and I always make him buy me an extra glass of wine that day!

What are your favorite tips for keeping an organized workspace? I’m OCD by proxy (meaning I want it to be perfect but I also want someone else doing it for me). This doesn’t always happen so I’m left to my own devices.  I like pretty things, so I’m more likely to stay organized if my tools are beautiful. In between all of that may be a chaotic clutter of paperwork, but at least I’m happy!



*Favorite Apps: Instagram for design inspiration, Dropbox for constant access to work files, my Starbucks app so I never feel like I’m paying, and Houzz for showing clients our work on the iPad.
*Favorite Resources: Dominick, my fiancé. He can get anything done! Sorry ladies – I’m not sharing! Second choice would be the concierge at the Four Seasons.
*Favorite Books:
For running a business – Traction.
For design inspiration – Jean-Louis Deniot Interiors.
Best book I recently read and give as gifts – Diane Von Furstenberg’s, The Woman I Wanted To Be.
*Favorite Programs: Evernote because I have a three second memory and Prezi for dynamic presentations.
*Favorite Websites:
1stDibs is a great resource for antiques
Refinery29 seems to know everything about everything
TheSkimm so I know something about something
Intermix and Barneys for outfit inspirations
*Favorite Gadget: My architect’s scale and measuring tape.  Are those still considered gadgets?

Donna, it is such a privilege to have you today! Your work speaks for itself and fully admire a woman who knows how to make things happen.

To see Donna’s own home, up close and personal, I adore this recent article of design and fashion. It will take your breath away!

Want more? You can find all Work Smarter Not Harder posts right here.


P.S. Entertaining Trends with Donna!



  • It is encouraging to see how successful she is without a business degree. I appreciate her drive and that she is a woman of action too!! I’m checking out some of her favorite resources now. Great post Nicole!

  • SarahLagen

    This is a great feature!! And her work is amazing!! I love her style and design, and I love her attitude and work either! What an inspiring and driving woman!!

  • I loved her bit on networking. After I started blogging I felt pressured to network like crazy, add everyone on social media, be best friends with everyone, etc. Before that I had really focused on trimming my personal circles and making sure the people in my life were a good fit, but I lost sight of that somewhere. This past weekend I started to purge people on social media to quiet some of the noise that I felt overwhelmed by and I’m focusing once again on being careful with who I associate with.

    26 and Not Counting

  • Inspiring post Nicole, love that she needs to work with only people she likes to be with and enjoys. I can’t wait to see her bring your classic style to your new home, hope you’ll let us see the progress.

  • MeredithKRice

    Wow her work ethic is awesome!