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Neil Pasricha: 4 Ways Finance Pros Can Be Happy at Work

  • By Andrew Deichler
  • Published: 7/22/2019


Treasury and finance professionals have stressful jobs. When you’re allocating capital, forecasting, managing KYC, and mitigating payments fraud, happiness doesn’t often factor into the equation. But AFP 2019 Executive Institute Monday Luncheon Speaker Neil Pasricha believes that anyone can be happy at work.

After graduating from Harvard Business School, Pasricha spent a decade as Director of Leadership at Walmart. While there, he wrote the 50-million-hit, award-winning blog, “1000 Awesome Things” and the New York Times bestsellers, “The Book of Awesome” and “The Happiness Equation.”

Pasricha uses scientific research to help people lead happier lives. He’s going to talk about The Science of a Positive Growth Mindset at the Monday Executive Institute Luncheon at AFP 2019. He joined the AFP Conversations podcast to discuss what we can do to be happier in our lives, and in particular, at work. Here are four key takeaways from that interview.

Find something positive to focus on. “Ten years ago, I was going through like a terrible year. I lost my marriage, I lost my home, and I lost my best friend from a suicide, all in the span of a few months. And so I was finding myself like in desperate need of something to focus my brain on that was positive, because I had a safe childhood. I had hardworking, immigrant parents, and my dad used to say to me, ‘Never forget how lucky you are. You’ve got it pretty good.’ And I felt terrible, so I go home that night and I literally start a blog. I go to Google, I type in ‘How to start a blog.’ I click the ‘I'm feeling lucky’ button that no one ever presses, and I start a little website called ‘One Thousand Awesome’ And as the name implies, for the next one thousand straight weekdays, I wrote, published an essay on what I define as an awesome thing.”

Reduce your access points. “Right now, in the workplace, we can be emailed, we can be texted, we can be sent a message on LinkedIn. There are so many different points of access to ourselves. In fact, McKinsey put out a study saying that something like 30% of our time now at work is literally bookmarking, prioritizing, and switching between tasks.

“And so the number one thing we need to do is reduce the number of access points to ourselves so we can actually consciously focus on one thing at a time. The most impressive leader I've ever worked for is a man by the name of Dave Cheesewright. He was CEO of Walmart, and I was his chief of staff for four years. And like Dave had no social media presence. He didn't even have a cell phone. There was no way anyone could reach him. So it totally simplified his days.”

Split your time into three buckets. “We all get the same number of hours in a week, which is 168. And so the math I like to do for people is split that into three. Now you’ve got three buckets of 56 each. 56 plus 56 plus 56. Now let's thoughtfully label each one. First up, sleep. Any doctor will always tell us to sleep for eight hours a night. Do we all get that? Of course not. But we all know that eight hours is sort of like the classic rule of thumb. If you multiply eight by the seven days of a week, conveniently, it adds up to one perfect 56-hour bucket.  

“Now, let's move on to the work bucket. [Financial professionals] are working really hard, working long hours, stretched, etc. I understand that. While the average employee at an average company is working 40 hours a week, let's add 50 percent more time for these leaders, meaning that they're working at home in the evenings, and they're taking work home on the weekends. I still want to call that a whole bucket. Okay? I will call that a work bucket. 56 hours a week. And you might say to me, ‘Oh, Neil. You don't know our members.’ You know, some of them work 80 hours a week. I get that. But let's just use 56 as a rule of thumb. It's still 50 percent more than the average employee working.

Now, what those two buckets do is they pay for, justify and create your third bucket. And when I do this exercise with executives, my question to them is, ‘What are you spending your third bucket on?’ And they've nodded through the first two buckets, and when they get to the third, when they're like, ‘I don't even know.’ And that's the problem. So, what you need to do is be conscious and intentional with how you're spending that third bucket. It should be something, as Jeff Bezos would say in Amazon parlance, that serves the energy flywheel of the rest of your life. Meaning, ‘How do you get energy from your third bucket, so that you have more energy at work?’ And then work of course will give you energy for your third bucket.”

The traditional happiness model is backwards. “We grow up thinking that great work leads to big success; it leads to being happy. And there's a reason we grow up with that model; it’s because that's what our parents tell us. They say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to study really hard. Then you'll get good grades. If work really hard, then you'll get a promotion, and then you're happy.’ Right?

“The problem is, after reviewing over 300 positive psychology studies on the science of happiness, I can tell you without a doubt that that model is fundamentally backwards. It's not the model your parents told you and my parents told me, which is great work, big success, be happy. It's actually the opposite. Be happy first. After you prime your brain for positivity, then you do great work. And after you do that great work, the big success comes later. Both in terms of your career, because we know happy people are 40 percent more likely to get a promotion in the next 12 months, but also in terms of your life. Happy people live 10 years longer. There's a famous study done called The Nun Study that shows that, if you're happy at the beginning, you'll live longer. And all those extra years of life are happier years because you're happier through them all.”

Listen to AFP’s full interview with Neil Pasricha on the AFP Conversations podcast. And don’t miss his keynote address at AFP 2019 Executive Institute in October.

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