Balancing the Grind with Peter Haasz, Co-Founder & CEO at modo

Peter Haasz is the Co-Founder & CEO at modo, a mindful productivity app that helps you be present in the moment and frees you up to focus on what really matters.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

At the moment, I’m fully engrossed in modo, an app focused on boosting mental health in our day-to-day lives. The main aim is to assist individuals who are constantly juggling responsibilities and struggle with keeping their thoughts organised. We want to make it ridiculously simple to use evidence-based cognitive techniques to declutter the mind and find that much-needed clarity.

My career to this point has been all over the place. I started with 11 years at a software engineering consultancy, where I wore multiple hats, from testing and support to business development and strategy. Following that, I co-founded an ebook startup that we eventually sold to a digital distributor in the US. My focus there was new products and strategic partnerships. Then I joined Culture Amp as an early employee and for 8 years I delved into all kinds of growth, including positioning, pricing, product marketing, product strategy, M&A, and even leadership coaching.

I’ve never had a defined swimlane, but a common thread has been obsessive curiosity, and a love of working with diverse teams on curly problems. I’m usually the one to ask the annoying question, like “what’s our ultimate goal?” or “did we consider this aspect?” or “how do all these pieces connect?”  Didier Elzinga (Culture Amp’s CEO) called me “the air between the spokes” and I think that is apt.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

I don’t have a set routine, but let me paint you a picture of a typical day.  I’ll hit the office around 6 to catch up on things and wrap my head around the day ahead. Then I’ll spend ~1.5 hours getting the boys (8 and 4 years old) ready for their own adventures, which includes dropping them off at childcare and school.

What happens next is highly variable. It might be back to back meetings, especially if I’m in the middle of fundraising, bringing in key hires, or launching  negotiating partnerships. But I like to protect at least a couple of hours to get immersed in work.

Often that feels like plate-spinning; spending just enough time to make just enough progress across a range of things. I cherish opportunities to lose myself on something meaty, but they’re all too rare these days.

My family dines around 5pm, which has served as a useful ritual to help me remember there’s a world outside work. Catching up on how everyone’s days went is a highlight of the day. After dinner, we might play a boardgame or with lego. 

My wife’s mother moved in with us recently, and one of the upsides has been the opportunity to go for a walk with my wife after the kids go down.

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

I have to admit, I’m not a fan of the way “work-life balance” is sometimes portrayed: Spend all day racing to get more done, forcefully shut off your mind every evening, and then rinse and repeat the next day. To me, that feels like being trapped on a hamster wheel, disregarding the fact that what gives us energy can change from moment to moment and from day to the next.

That being said, there are a few elements that almost always contribute to a great day for me: getting a solid 8 hours of sleep, engaging in physical activity outdoors, and consciously making an effort to “be here now”. Being present requires conscious effort to let go, whether it’s physically setting aside my phone or releasing worries that are bumping around in my head.

I’ve never been great at doing these things consistently. Usually things fall in a heap when work gets crazy or I get sick. I think it’s probably because despite everything I preach, I still try to jam too much into my life and it’s unsustainable. 

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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?

It will come across as self-serving, but the biggest improvement has been adopting modo into my life — or eating my own dog food, as some people like to say.  I offload thoughts before they hijack my attention. I reflect on provocative questions that help me see new perspectives. And when I feel things weighing me down, I unpack them to get clear on what really matters and what I can actually do about them.

Another practice I’ve hacked modo for is mantras I see every day until an idea sticks. For example, when I got feedback I could be overbearing, I put in a card that said “give people explicit conversation onramps and offramps”.  When depression started getting the better of me, I wrote “Feeling down can be an opportunity to remember how lucky I am.” At first I worried they’d feel like motivational posters, but putting them into my own words helped.

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?

I’m a voracious non-fiction reader, especially things relating to psychology, productivity and philosophy. For me, a big part of it is working out how to let go of things. A few that spring to mind are:

  • The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitake Koga, which helped me identify axes that are not mine to grind;
  • Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, which helped me find joy in the paths not taken; and
  • Behave by Robert M. Sapolsky, which schooled me in what drives human behaviour, at every zoom level.

​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?

Internalising that everything about me will be forgotten before long, and that my entire life is nothing but a series of moments, was confronting but ultimately transformative in how I live my life. It helped me let go of false idols like status and success and control; and of the idea that a good life is something to be “lived up to”. Unshackling myself from these imagined life obligations has really helped me live better in the moment.

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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.