Elise Ward is the Chief People Officer at Prospa, a leading fintech with a commitment to unleash the potential of every small business in Australia and New Zealand.
We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?
Typical isn’t so typical for me anymore now that I’ve had a baby. Since becoming a working mum, my day usually starts around 6 AM when my toddler wakes up!
As Prospa is championing the hybrid work environment, I split my days between my home office and our office in Darlinghurst. My in-office days are focused on collaboration and meetings, while work-from-home days are opportunities for deep-focus work like preparing for presentations, structuring meetings I am facilitating or diving into reporting.
If I’m heading into the office, I put on a podcast and grab a coffee and fresh juice from my favourite cafe Brighton The Corner. Once the work day starts, our team meeting kicks off and we discuss well-being and progress against our goals (we do a personal and professional check in out of 10) and put our heads together on the chosen topic of the day to understand and digest.
After lunch, which is usually a soup, sushi or a sandwich, my afternoon usually consists of a combination of interviews, attending showcases or events, and internal meetings with my team. Then it’s back to the regular scheduling of our executive stand-up and usually a brief alignment chat with my CEO about whatever people matters we are working through.
My day wraps up around 5pm to ensure I can make it home in time for my son’s bedtime.The drive home is my decompression time — it’s where I reflect and make any last calls for the day.
My husband is a legend in the kitchen so he’s in charge of cooking for our family. Afterwards, my evenings consist of my most important ritual — bedtime with my son. I recently saw a quote that really stuck with me: “20 years from now, the only people that will remember you worked late are your kids”. That helps me to stay disciplined about this ritual.
Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach to maintaining it?
My home and work schedules are very integrated. I integrate my diaries which provides me with visibility into both my personal and professional activities at all times, and helps me balance my priorities in both equally. The fluidity of my life is something I’ve had to embrace, so some weeks can be very work-focused, while during others I have more time.
However, I’ve come to realise that loving what I do does mean I need to slow down and take meaningful breaks to be sustainable in my role as an Executive. An extended break is something I require to reset and ensure I have the mental capacity to show up in my role on the home and work front.
I am also very aware that we only really have 18 summers with our children before they grow up (and may not want to holiday with us anymore!) so we try to prioritise quality family time over summer and make some memories. Aussie summers on the beach are the best!
Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?
There are a couple of things I live by:
- Get enough sleep. This is a priority for me and most nights I am in bed by 9:30pm. I am currently pregnant with our second baby, so realistically this lifestyle change is about to get disrupted by the whirlwind of navigating a newborn!
- A weekly reflection. I do a 30-minute weekly reflection on a Friday afternoon, which helps me take my experiences and turn them into learnings. I live by Margaret Wheatley’s quote “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way”, so this has allowed me to be kinder to myself and make progress in my personal growth.
I also ask myself four simple questions:
- What went well and I am proud of achieving this week?
- Who do I need to acknowledge and why?
- What didn’t work so well, why, and what am I going to do about it?
- What are my opportunities for impact next week?
This is now a practice I really enjoy and look forward to doing — it helps me feel optimism, excitement and a sense of renewed opportunity for the week ahead. It has also been a great reminder to provide recognition and acknowledgement to my team and those around me before I run ahead on the next thing!
We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?
A book called The Third Space by Dr Adam Fraser is all about creating moments of presence and thoughtfulness to reflect, rest and reset in between the activities you are doing daily. Focusing less on reacting to task-related things (like emails or requests) and more on responding thoughtfully to the priorities or problems I need to solve has been an important shift for me.
So whether that’s in between meetings or on the commute home, this concept has helped me use transition time more wisely, be more present, and show up in those moments more thoughtfully. Even if I’m back to back in meetings, I will take a minute to pause, breathe and rest so I am showing up as my best for the next one. This is still a work in progress but it’s a tiny habit that has been game changing for my mindset.
- For inspiration: How I Built This with Guy Raz OR Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman — explores entrepreneurs and their tales of company creation and scale.
- For information: The Daily by the NY Times is a snappy summary of the biggest stories for the day. Michael Barbaro is an incredibly talented journalist and I could listen to him all day! OR Diary of CEO for the best minds on progressive (and sometimes controversial) topics.
- For impact: The Knowledge Project or OR Re-Thinking by Adam Grant — this fuels my mind, challenges my thinking and, my goodness, there is so much learning from people at the top of their game!
Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
I’ve defined success as finding my version of happiness and personal growth. To get to that mindset, my mantra of progress over perfection helped me the most.
When I think about growth, my greatest moments have been the most uncomfortable — when I moved overseas, when I took an executive role in a new functional area, or when I became a mother. While they were scary moments, being brave has resulted in breakthrough learnings that have changed who I am.
Feeling a little uncomfortable is a sign of growth and something I try to encourage myself and my team to do more of.
I used to think that the big things in life made me happy. Over time, I have started to appreciate the smaller moments and I now find happiness in my son giggling, seeing my team growing and achieving, holding my husband’s hand, sharing and debating different perspectives on an issue, and having a bubble bath. It is a beautiful mix of work and home life and I wouldn’t change it for the world.