Balancing the Grind with Anson Parker, Head of Product at Up

Anson Parker is a digital expert and Head of Product at Up, a next-generation Australian digital bank delivering super powered banking.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started my career in Sydney working in the early web industry across a bunch of roles spanning design through to development. That generalist skill set became an asset once the idea of a “product manager” became a thing.

I got on the start-up rollercoaster and ended up in San Francisco for a couple of years. The GFC swiftly dispatched my plans for three comma wealth (or even a regular paycheck) but I did get a sweet Twitter handle (oh, and a wife!) so it wasn’t all bad.

We moved to Melbourne (mostly for the food and arts scene) and I ended up bumping into Ferocia (the company behind Up) founders Dom and Thomo who somehow convinced me to dive into the  world of banking.

I am head of product at Up where I am lucky enough to get to define the vision for what the future of our relationship with money looks like — and then work with an incredibly talented team to make it a reality. 

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

While most of my coworkers are locked down in the Melbourne metro area I am fortunate to be living on the Surf Coast (about an hour and a half from the city) with my family.

We’re a good hike from the nearest cafe so an espresso machine was my first purchase when we moved here. Days start with a strong coffee and battling our 3 year old off to daycare.

Our company holds a daily video stand-up (full team on Mondays and smaller groups the rest of the week) and then it’s generally catch-ups and meetings for most of the morning before ducking out for a midday walk along the coast.

Afternoons I try to reserve as much as possible (with varying degrees of success) for uninterrupted focus on creative output — writing and ideation mostly.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

Before we were forced into becoming a remote workplace I would have said my role couldn’t work that well without actual in-person interaction.

While I definitely miss the inspiration that can emerge from those casual interactions like grabbing a coffee with a coworker or huddling around a designer’s screen, I do think being remote has its advantages.

Being able to set aside blocks of uninterrupted time is awesome. And working in a more asynchronous way has made it easier to juggle family commitments.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

For me work-life balance is less about an accounting of time and much more about being able to switch off my work brain and be present and in the moment with family and friends during the time we are together.

Having said that, at this point it seems like a nice idea rather divorced from reality! For me, working and living in the same space has made finding a work-life balance a real challenge — it’s just so hard to turn off. Not having that release valve of meeting up with friends for a couple of beers or booking a babysitter and sneaking out for dinner certainly hasn’t helped.

I think in these current times, working as a team (if your partner also works from home) and making sure one of you drags the other away from the screen for a break during the day might be what success looks like right now.

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5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

Working from the Up office turned out to be really central to my physical fitness – an hour a day cycling to and from work (rain, hail or shine) and training in the work gym a couple of times a week were great benefits of the office that I have struggled to compensate for. Also the set of dumbbells at home have become heavier — pretty sure something’s wrong with them.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I love a good biography. Andre Agassi’s Open came out ten years ago but remains one of my favourites – his description of what it took to get his body out of bed and going in the mornings frequently pops into my head – maybe I’m getting old! 

I recently read half a dozen Kurt Vonnegut books (a Vonne-glut, if you will). In general I try to read some of the older classics and not only the newer stuff. I really love Vonnegut’s offbeat sense of humour which you don’t necessarily expect with older works. My advice would be start with Slaughterhouse-Five and see how you go. It mostly gets weirder from there. 

For a more modern (Australian) recommendation Boy Swallows Universe is excellent.

Most of the newsletters that have survived my frequent unsubscription clean-outs tend to be product/growth focussed — Lenny’s Newsletter is a great one.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I am a big taker of notes and love the simplicity of IA Writer for capturing thoughts. Organising can be a bit of a challenge, but I’ve been playing with Roam Research lately which has been getting a lot of buzz.

Brewing a pour-over coffee has become an essential part of my daily routine. The 10 minutes it takes gives me a good break from the computer. This is my mug of choice.

And of course I’m in and out of the Up app all day.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Donald Trump. But only if he was forced to annotate an actual week in his life complete with golf breaks, tweet storms and binge-watching Fox News. To be the leader of the free world and make frequent time for golf and checking in on the socials – maybe there’s something we can all learn from that?

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

We are in a really challenging time where, despite this, a lot of us have a tendency to beat ourselves up about all those ways we might be failing to meet our personal goals — be they fitness, diet, social, whatever.

I think it’s important we all cut ourselves some slack and maybe even let go of those ‘inspo’ feeds on social media for a bit! 

At a recent company culture session we talked about chilling out with those lofty goals we might be setting for ourselves and instead just look to identify one or two tiny habits. I wish I could write more about that but I have to go and do one bicep curl.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.