Time is always against us as bankers. Every minute counts, whether you’re an analyst working late preparing pitch books, 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 time-efficient, and at the same time lead a healthier lifestyle.
1. Don’t set an alarm; wake up naturally and start planning
If you need an alarm to wake you up every day, you are probably not getting enough sleep. Try to go to sleep a bit earlier. And then when you wake up, use the first 30 minutes of your morning to think, plan or read. I usually wake by 6am. Some mornings I plan my day ahead, while other mornings I think about what I’d do if I only had five years left to live. On weekend mornings I write my Linkedin posts for the weeks ahead.
2. 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 did the CFA and studied financial mathematics, while these days I’m learning about philosophy and the history of my home country, Singapore.
3. Incorporate your interests into your job
If you like making videos, include some into your PowerPoint presentations. If you’re a foodie, organise client or company events around food. If you’re keen to improve your public speaking, conduct classes for your colleagues. Incorporating your interests into your work will help you actually look forward to going to the office.
4. 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.
5. Cut down choices
I go to the same few restaurants in Hong Kong and other Asian cities when entertaining clients. Because I’ve got to know these restaurants so well, I don't even look at the menu before ordering or worry about the food quality. I always wear the same Timex watch, whether I’m in my suit or gym gear. And this means I never have to worry about leaving an expensive Swiss watch in my hotel room when I’m on business trips.
6. Buy in bulk
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 week, I ordered five T-shirts online. I’ve seen many bankers run out of business cards and have to rush to order more at the last minute, so I order eight boxes of my cards in one go.
7. Put your exercise slots in your calendar
Exercising helps improve my mood and is an antidote against work stress. But 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 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.
8. Eat until you’re about 80% full
Most of us tend to overeat when we entertain clients, and staying awake and alert after a large meal can be a real struggle (especially if, like me, you don’t drink coffee). So when I’m dining with friends or on my own, I usually eat until I’m only about 80% full. I include fruits in my daily food intake. To avoid snacking on potato chips or chocolate bars from office vending machines, I sometimes bring hardboiled eggs, sweet potatoes or bananas to work as snacks.
9. Drink a glass of warm water first thing in the morning
Yes, drink it before you reach out for your phone to check your work emails or social media. I find that drinking a glass of warm water first thing leaves me feeling more energetic, and that makes me more productive at work.
Eric Sim is a former UBS managing director who’s now the founder of career training school Institute of Life in Hong Kong. He’s also Adjunct Associate Professor at HKUST and a guest lecturer at Renmin University.