Finance / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Michelle Lakness, Senior Finance Associate at Doist

Michelle Lakness is the Senior Finance Associate at fully-remote company Doist, where she supports the team through forecasting, budgeting, reporting, analysis and more.

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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 finance in the oil and gas industry. I worked in an investment management role moving on to corporate development (M&A) and then finally moved into commodity hedging – trading natural gas liquid products.

However, I first began to utilize my accounting knowledge when I left the oil and gas industry to work with an NGO in Guatemala and their microfinance program. This shift propelled me into working remotely in an enterprise partnership role and then returned to finance and accounting with my current role at Doist.

Doist is a fully remote company and is the creator of Todoist, a productivity and task manager tool and Twist, an asynchronous team communication platform.

I am the Senior Finance Associate that supports our team through forecasting, budgeting, corporate finance responsibilities, and financial reporting and analysis.

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

First things first = lemon water. I take the dog to the park and now that it’s summer I sit and meditate in the grass for 10 min while she runs.

I am a fairly early riser and my body does not love sitting in one place for too long (very counter-productive when you work in excel and on the computer all day) so I workout almost every morning to feel ok about sitting for the next few hours. This is now done as a home workout but it happens just the same.

Before COVID-19 I would head into my coworking space as I haven’t quite been able to shake some of the structure that traditional corporate life provided me with. I like to separate work from home.

Typically when I get into the office I try to read one or two articles from one of the news sources I’m subscribed to – it’s a great way to enjoy breakfast and my first coffee. After that, it’s straight into Todoist to see what’s up for the day and I always write down the top three tasks I want to accomplish that day on my desk.

Next, I begin by getting caught up on Twist and reply to any messages or add them as tasks to Todoist if they require a more in-depth response. After that project work until 5 or 6 depending on the day.

Lastly, the evenings are spent focused on one of my hobbies – my jewelry line (Wolf + Woman Jewelry), horseback riding or teaching dance.

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

Yes, Doist is 100% remote. When and how we work is 100% flexible too, aside from showing up to the odd meeting – which are far and few between since we utilize Twist heavily to reduce meetings.

The ability to work remotely has had a large impact on the city I am now able to live in (Kelowna, BC) and my overall well being.

This fits well with my schedule for making sure physical activity is made a priority in my day, my dog loves it (comes to the coworking space with me and more frequent walks) and allows me to travel to visit for extended periods of time to my hometown (Calgary, AB) to see friends and family which is very important to me.

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

Balance is the key to everything in life. Every aspect suffers if you’re not able to nourish each of the areas that are important to you. So work-life balance is making sure that neither of those areas take-over for too long and get all the focus.

I feel there are always cycles but as long as I look back at the year and there are more good balanced weeks than bad – it’s good! I am not happy if I’m ‘living’ too much and not achieving what I’ve set out to accomplish at work nor the inverse.

To make sure I am attaining this balanced state, the coworking space is essential for me. As I mentioned before, being able to separate work from home helps me to work when I’m at work and live when I’m at home.

COVID-19 has been a test to this as there are days I’ll want to work through dinner and into the evening and other days I find it hard to focus on work at all (mind you there has been extra distractions: partner, kids, pandemic, laundry, etc.)

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

Since we are a global company, there are Doisters working at all hours. I found that I was checking Twist first thing when I woke up, sometimes even responding to messages from bed – not good as I’m sure you can imagine.

My partner and I now have a no-phone-in-the-bedroom rule whereby we have an alarm clock. This has been a game-changer as I begin work when I get to work, I’m in the right headspace and allows me to enjoy my morning routine.

The second major change has been meditating. I still have the odd week where it doesn’t happen but I’ve been focusing a lot more on making time for it every morning.

Third, identifying the tasks that I don’t want to do ahead of time. It’s like having an honest conversation with myself to acknowledge and shine line on why I’m likely going to procrastinate or not want to tackle a task/project right away.

Is it because I’m going to need to learn a new tool? or it’s not obvious how to do it (more learning involved)? or it involves writing? or it’s just tedious? It helps me make it a priority and better plan for what’s required.

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

Books – I mainly read historical fiction but outside of that, I love Malcom Gladwell, Michael Lewis, and recently read Atomic Habits by James Clear. And since we’re talking about balance, I also love Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness and The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer.

Podcasts – Radiolab, Freakonomics, Tim Ferris, Fat Burning Man, Collaboration SuperPowers.

Newsletters – The Morning Brew, The Economist (not a newsletter).

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

Spotify, Todoist, Evernote and Zapier – oh and Shopify and Canva.

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

Esther Perel.

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

It’s a work in progress but it’s been the best decision I made to leave corporate old school mentality companies to find a company that aligns with my values and ethos. Doist is focused on creating a workplace of the future and puts people first. I’m very glad I made it a priority to seek this alignment out and not settle.

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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.