Your boss is breathing down your neck for the pitchbook he needs for a client’s beauty parade. Your partner is complaining that you’re not spending enough time with him or her. You feel time is always against you, whether you’re an analyst preparing financial models, or an MD under pressure to build a pipeline of deals.
Being a former Hong Kong-based investment banking MD, I know what it’s like to be working against the clock. I’ve developed the following work-life hacks to enjoy work, be more productive, and lead a healthier lifestyle.
1. Throw away the cuff links
I forgot to bring my cuff links on a business trip once, and I had to buy two loafs of bread at the last minute just to get twist ties to hold my French cuff together. From that day, I decided to simplify my wardrobe: no more French-cuff shirts, no laces for my work shoes, and no belt for my pants (my tailor has added an adjustable side tab to them). As a banker, I wore only one watch (my humble Timex) for all occasions – from a 10km run to a black-tie event to collect an award on behalf of my bank.
2. Value the first 30 minutes of the day
Most people reach out for their phone first thing when they wake up. This is a difficult habit to get rid of as many emails get sent overnight, especially when you have a live deal going on. I usually wake up by 5:30am and spend the first 30 minutes reading, writing or thinking about life. Some mornings I think about what I’d do if I only had five years left to live, or if I live to 100. Other mornings I prepare my lecture notes for teaching finance courses at one of the top universities in Asia. On weekend mornings I write my LinkedIn posts for the weeks ahead. This morning routine has paid off – I’ve just been told that I’m on the LinkedIn China Spotlight list 2019.
3. Have a glass of warm water
I drink a glass of warm water first thing in the morning. It helps the body to flush out toxins and hydrates the body after six to eight hours sleep. I’ve found that I’m energetic at work and that I fall sick less often after adopting this habit. Try it for two weeks and see the wonderful difference it could make for you.
4. Eat until you’re about 80% full
Most of us tend to overeat when we entertain clients, and staying awake after a large meal can be a real struggle (I refuse to drink coffee to stay awake as that creates other problems). So when I’m dining with friends, clients, colleagues or on my own, I usually eat until I’m only about 80% full. To avoid snacking on potato chips or chocolate bars from office vending machines, I sometimes bring mixed nuts, hardboiled eggs, sweet potatoes or bananas to work as snacks.
5. Learn a new skill every year
I make it a point to learn something new every year. Learning improves the efficiency of your brain cells in receiving and sending information. It also makes you more productive. The chemical dopamine is released when you’re trying something new. This puts you in a better mood and makes you happier. Earlier in my career, I sat for the CFA examination and studied financial mathematics, while these days I’m learning about video editing and digital marketing.
6. Get a labeller
The humble labeller is the most useful low-tech tool a banker can buy. I label everything from my passport to mobile phone cables and access cards. It would be a disaster if I went to the airport with my daughter’s passport instead of mine. As my work requires regular overseas business trips, I keep neatly labelled currency packs for each city I visit. The pack also contains my favourite restaurants’ business cards and local public transport cards. The night before each trip, I just grab the right pack.
7. Buy in bulk
I’ve seen many bankers run out of business cards and have to rush to order more at the last minute. I always order eight boxes of my cards in one go, and I never run out. For items that won't expire quickly (batteries, pens, toiletries and socks, for example), I always buy in bulk, to last me six months or longer. Just last month, I ordered two dozen pens with my name engraved on them.
8. Put your exercise slots in your calendar
I once wanted to go to the gym during lunch time but realised my secretary had accepted a meeting for 12pm…so I had to cancel my gym session. Even when there is no scheduling conflict, deciding whether or not to go to the gym can use up enormous amounts of effort if you’re in two minds about it. So now I put my exercise time in my calendar – Mondays at 11:30am, for example. Come Monday 11:25am, I always pick up my gym bag and go.
9. Incorporate your interests into your job
The banking work environment can be cutthroat sometimes, and you often have to deal with some toxic people around you. To create a more pleasant work environment, I’d recommend incorporating some of your interests into your job. If you like design, make infographics and include them into your PowerPoint presentations. If you’re a foodie, organise client or company events based around food. If you’re keen to improve your public speaking, conduct classes for your colleagues. This will help you actually look forward to going to the office and hopefully also help you outlast the toxic person sitting behind you.
With 2m followers on Linkedin, Eric Sim, CFA, PRM, is the most-followed banker on social media in Asia. He is a professional speaker and the founder of Institute of Life, whose mission is to help young professionals become successful at work and in life. He coaches executives on their career. The former Hong Kong-based UBS investment banking MD is currently also a senior career fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and a guest lecturer at Renmin University in Beijing.