James Twiss is the CEO at Beforepay, which is pioneering Australia’s first Pay On Demand™ service to give members instant access to their pay in a way that is transparent, fair and flexible.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I started my career as a consultant with McKinsey, first in New York (I’m American) and then moving to Sydney after business school.
I eventually joined Commonwealth Bank, first in the strategy team, and then moving to New York to start and run the asset-management business there. After we came back to Sydney, I joined Westpac, first as the head of strategy and then as Chief Data Officer.
I’m currently the CEO of Beforepay. Our mission is to provide financial control to working Australians who have not been well-served by the traditional financial-services industry – offering simple, fair and transparent short-term finance.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
The mornings are a blur of trying to get our teenagers out of bed and ready for school, walk the dog, and hopefully go for a quick run (“run” might be an optimistic term). If I’m going into the office, I’ll take the bus into the CBD with the kids.
I usually start each morning by writing down what I need to get done that day and what I’m hoping to work on if there’s time—this keeps me focused on what’s most important, rather than just getting sucked into the email-and-meeting vortex. I try to keep my inbox pretty clear, but often that’s by picking up the phone and calling people to resolve an issue, instead of just trading messages back and forth.
I try to take a proper break at lunchtime. I’ll read the paper, eat, and think.
If I’ve been productive, then I’m usually pretty shattered by 6pm or so, and I’ll head home (if I’m in the office). I’m an introvert, so after talking to people all day, I like to put on headphones and cook dinner in silence. We eat as a family, read or watch a bit of television, and then I usually go to bed early. I try not to work too much in the evenings if I can avoid it.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, it does, and I really like the mix. If I’m not commuting, then it’s easier to fit exercise time in at the beginning of the day (if I don’t do it early, I don’t do it). When I’m working from home, sometimes I’ll shift time around a bit—take some breaks during the day and work a bit later in the afternoon.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
The most important element for me is having a clear separation between work and life. I try hard not to see email or Slack when I’m not working—in the evenings and on the weekends, whenever possible, I turn off the monitor on my work computer, and I don’t get notifications on my phone and iPad.
If I need to do something on the weekend, I’ll do it, but then I’ll close everything up again and not look at it. The team knows they can call or text me if needed, but that’s pretty rare out of hours.
The second most important element of work-life balance for me is being productive at work. I think it’s easy to fill up your time with emails and meetings and feel like you’re working hard, but not actually achieving very much.
I try hard to cut away time-wasting activity and focus on working intensively on a small number of really important topics, while also quickly resolving BAU items that need my attention. When I’m really focused on the right things, the days fly by, and at the end of each one, I think I’m further along than I was in the morning.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I start and stop routines all the time! Sometimes I’m meditating and sometimes I’m not; I get more and less disciplined about exercising, and so on. I don’t think I’ve discovered any amazing new life hacks, though.
I did get a sit-stand desk, and that’s been really nice. My wife has a standing desk with a walking treadmill under it, which I find inspiring, but I don’t think I could hack it.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
For me, the key to being effective and productive is keeping my leisure time as far away from work topics as possible. I read a lot of history and a lot of literature.
Right now I’m reading a history of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which focuses on how the Politburo knew they were heading for disaster when they first sent troops, but couldn’t see an alternative. It’s an eye-opening case study of how people try and often fail to solve difficult problems.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
After twenty years on and off in Australia, I’m still a diehard NFL fan, and I would struggle without the Game Pass app that lets me follow the season. And while I could live without it, to turn on my Lexon alarm clock, you push the top, and a tiny little second clock pops up with the alarm time on it. It makes me smile every time I use it.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’m not sure if this counts, but I’d really like to see an audit conducted on one of those hustle-culture people who claim to sleep four hours each night, etc., to see if it’s actually true. I can’t really imagine that’s possible.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
To misquote Friedrich Engels, I think a lot of what happens in modern workplaces could be reasonably described as “useless activity perpetrated by frightened people to reassure themselves.”
Management is hard, and sometimes people don’t know what to do. In those circumstances, it’s all too common for leaders to create meaningless busy-work and keep crazy hours, so that if things don’t go well, they’ll be able to take comfort in how busy they were and how hard they worked.
I think it’s much better to slow down, avoid the useless activity, and think carefully about the situation and what will actually make a difference.
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