Last Friday was a long day for me.
The first Zoom call of the day started at 7 am, courtesy of a demanding continental client with a penchant for early starts.
A year ago, my secretary would have punted the meeting by a couple of weeks, with the convenient excuse of flights and conflicting meetings that required my presence elsewhere.
Six months ago, I could have taken the call in my bathrobe because…. well, because it would have still been a call.
Now, thanks to technological progress, I had to shower, shave, put on a shirt, and toggle my video on and off during the conversation, pretending I wasn’t having my coffee and breakfast at the same time.
The next eight hours were a blur.
Get older kid ready for the Nativity play. Hand younger kid off to the nanny.
Juggle a few deal calls, handle urgent (are they ever not urgent?) personnel issues, prepare for an important CEO meeting, hold said meeting.
Read up on the latest mega-deal threatening to redefine one of my coverage sectors. Deal with an unexpected tax issue regarding our most recent property purchase.
When I finally came up for air at 4 pm, I’ve realized that my to-do list has actually gotten longer. For every item I’ve ticked off, two new ones appeared.
I was clearly fighting a losing battle.
Realizing things can’t get any worse, I skipped out on my next call, took a ten-minute walk to the gym, and spent the next hour lifting weights instead.
Calm, refreshed, and with more than a little testosterone coursing through my veins, the day took a sudden turn for the better.
I powered through a few more deal calls, popped downstairs to read our daughter a bedtime story, deleted a big swath of unread emails, and finally joined my wife for dinner and the next episode of the Queen’s Gambit.
All of a sudden, the day no longer felt like a write-off.
Waiting To Exhale
To say 2020 has been busy would be an understatement.
Two young children, one of whom didn’t really start sleeping until September.
One of the busiest stretches in investment banking on record, making a 70-hour workweek seem like an absolute delight.
Another 10-15 hours a week working on this blog, following through on my promise to post twice a week and respond to as many reader comments/emails as possible.
A clearly futile exercise to recapture my youth through working out (the lockdown hasn’t helped).
A somewhat more successful – and ongoing – adventure in real estate investing.
And on top of all of that, an effort to maintain some semblance of a social life lest I become a modern-day Robinson Crusoe.
At times, it certainly felt like I’ve bitten off way more than I could chew.
To make matters worse, I’ve always prided myself on being highly organized. In other words, I like crossed-off to-do lists, empty inboxes, and a good line of sight to what my calendar looks like.
Expectations, say hello to reality.
Taking (Back) Control
By the time July rolled around, I realized a drastic change was way overdue.
My inbox zero mentality was the first one to go. As my incoming emails exceeded five hundred a day, I’ve quickly realized I need a new way of working if I wanted to get anything done.
Working offline has been a tremendous help here. I no longer get distracted by the arrival of yet another message.
More importantly, I’ve become highly selective in responding. These days, I only respond to important emails or emails from important people.
Everything else gets ignored until late in the day, by which point it has either become irrelevant or has been sorted by someone more trigger-happy (or with more time on their hands).
Taking control of my calendar was next.
I now have multiple two-hour “thinking time” blocks during the week. Sometimes my PA will give them up for truly important meetings. Sometimes they’ll get subsumed by an emergency of sorts.
More often than not, I use them to step back, reflect, and prioritize.
No more giving up my valuable time for someone who thought it would be a good idea for me to join yet another random call.
And yes, I’ve also got a daily standing block at 7 pm. My son needs his bath. My daughter wants her bedtime story. You better have a good reason to interrupt.
But most importantly, I’ve become much better at saying NO.
No to yet another marginal project. Taking a pass at a questionable internal initiative.
Skipping out on social events I don’t want to attend (thankfully my day job is a fantastic excuse here).
Sure, there’s a risk you’ll make someone else unhappy.
But as selfish as that may sound, I’d rather make someone else unhappy for a few minutes than make myself miserable for hours (or even days) at a time.
So as I recapped my Friday, a glass of Pinot firmly in hand, I found more than one reason to feel content with myself:
- Focusing on $10,000/hour tasks at work? Tick
- Building up my own passive income stream? Tick
- Hitting the gym? Tick
- Spending time with my children? Tick
- Freeing up Saturday morning to write this post? Tick
Sure, 2020 may have been an overwhelming year. But as is the case with many challenging situations, it has also been a blessing in disguise.
If it wasn’t for a time crunch of epic proportions, I would have never adopted this new, ruthlessly efficient way of working. Now that I have, I find myself more productive at work, more present at home – and feeling firmly in control of my life again.
Mario Andretti once said:
If everything seems under control, you are not going fast enough.
As it turns out, I wasn’t going fast enough until 2020 rolled around. Now that I am, I have no intention of slowing down – and you shouldn’t either.
Thank you for reading!
About Banker On Fire
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Banker On FIRE is a London-based M&A (mergers and acquisitions) investment banker. I am passionate about capital markets, behavioural economics, financial independence, and living the best life possible.
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