Laura Watkins is the co-author of The Performance Curve (Bloomsbury Business) with Vanessa Dietzel.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I began my career as a neuroscientist, researching brain disorders for my doctorate. I then moved into management consulting, and later specialised in the psychological side of business, which is what I do today. I now run two businesses which develop leaders and support organisational change.
I love bringing neuroscience and psychology to bear on the leadership challenges my clients face: I’m endlessly fascinated by what it is to be human, and how we can be at our best. The book I’ve just co-authored with my colleague and friend Vanessa Dietzel, The Performance Curve, has been a chance to consolidate and share everything we’ve learnt along the way.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Now that I’m the mum of a school kid, I’m up at 7am sharp. Shower, banana porridge for the little one, eggs and avocado toast for me.
I’ve taken to laying out the breakfast and school things the night before, so that I can spend a few minutes playing with my daughter instead of struggling to find a clean uniform. Then it’s scooter and subway to school and a big kiss goodbye.
Heading home, I usually check overnight emails, buy any missing groceries, and call one of my colleagues on the walk from the subway back home. Once in my home office, I’ll usually have a mix of calls with clients and colleagues, and a couple of clear hours to do desk work, such as writing, preparing seminars, and dealing with emails.
Lunch will be a salad and chicken or fish and, honestly, I usually eat it at my desk. But I do take some breaks in the day. I’m a huge fan of power naps – 10 minutes mid-afternoon – and I’ll either do a walk whilst making calls, an online pilates class, or go for a run.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I’ve been based in my home office for about ten years, and I don’t think I could do it any other way now. I’ve loved being able to see my young daughter during the day.
But the right set-up is key – a quiet, private room with fast, reliable internet. It’s stressful when that’s not the case, as many people have found during the pandemic, and it gets in the way of me being present and bringing my best thinking.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I try to be conscious of the five main ways I spend my waking time: working, with my daughter, with my partner Olivier, with friends and family, and by myself.
I plan weeks ahead to try to balance all this and have my assistant protect time for sport, plan babysitting time for date nights, etc. No one day or week ever goes perfectly to plan, but I pay careful attention to when things seem out of balance and gradually use my planning to reign them back in.
The most important solo activities for me are sport and reading, and it’s those two things that most often get compromised, but I can usually find a way to fit in a few minutes of reading or exercise here and there, even when I’m most busy. If I properly appreciate and enjoy those moments, they will tide me over until things settle down.
Mindset is key: the minute I start to get resentful that things are out of balance or there is too much on my shoulders, it affects my quality of life (and that of others around me). Much better to just figure out what to do, what to delegate, what to delay and what to drop – then try to make the harder tasks fun.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
The habit I’m working on right now is having a deliberate pause before I take on new things. That means stepping back, asking how something fits with my personal and professional priorities, and then saying no as a default if the fit isn’t clear. It is creating space for me to make freer choices and I’m enjoying that.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
Meditations – by Marcus Aurelius. And our book of course: The Performance Curve. It’s a one stop shop for how to bring your best in this uncertain world and to help others do the same.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I love stationery (and so does my co-author Vanessa). I have a particular little wallet of sticky notes of different shapes and sizes which I found in a bookshop in Paris.
It’s fun, quirky, and colourful. Every time I need to remember something or make a new to-do list, I feel good about picking out a sticky note on which to capture it.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’d pick my grandmother. She’s also no longer with us, but she was a great inspiration to me. She faced huge adversity as a war refugee who lost her parents and later as a young widow.
Yet she lived until her mid-90s and had a great zest for life, a pioneering career as a woman engineer, a curiosity about everything, and an enormous repertoire of adventures. I’d like to hear her long view: how to have a balanced life over the decades, and tips for living the whole arc of a human life.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Yes – watch out of the trap of looking for ever more quick fixes and hacks. They will just help you spin on the hamster wheel faster, and are unlikely to be the source of fulfilment for you or others around you. Instead, step back and ask what really matters.
Where do you want to spend your precious time, energy and ideas during this one life you have? With that in mind, and with your feet firmly on the ground about what is realistic right now, choose wisely. Pick what you do, and what you say no to (I’m still learning to do this).
Give yourself some space. Few days will feel perfectly balanced but, if you keep learning and adjusting over time, you will gradually feel more in charge and, ultimately, more fulfilled.
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