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Balancing the Grind with Shane Monks O’Byrne, CEO & Founder at Aikido Finance

Shane Monks O’Byrne is the founder and CEO at Aikido Finance, an investment research platform, helping users easily build a portfolio using quantitative strategies.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m Shane, the CEO and founder of Aikido Finance, a fintech startup with the mission of democratizing Wall Street and bringing automated trading strategies to everyone.

We provide a catalog of quantitative investment strategies, and make portfolio creation quick and simple. We put the power of data behind investing, helping our users make decisions based on evidence, not emotion.

Having studied computer science at UCD, I have a technical background. However these days, I don’t get the opportunity to do much coding.

Most of my time is spent talking with investors, managing the team, interviewing hires, and doing a tonne of marketing and PR. Aikido is the fourth startup I have worked with and the second one I founded. It is rewarding, challenging, fast-paced work.

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

Outside of the tech world, I am an avid outdoorsman. It is my raison d’etre and the thing in this world that brings me the most pleasure. I am a ski instructor, rock climber and mountain runner. I am a downhill skateboarder, swimmer, and cyclist.

I am training to become a mountain guide; a long-term goal which would see me take people professionally into the alpine. It has led me to take crevasse and avalanche rescue courses, mountain leader and wilderness first aid training, and lead a bunch of multi-day alpine expeditions. The outdoors governs my life.

Well, after watching Free Solo – the climbing documentary on Alex Honnold’s ascent of El Capitan, I became enchanted by the VanLife movement, I bought a Ford Transit and converted into a beautiful self-built campervan called Beans.

I live in my campervan full-time, travelling to beautiful places, doing extreme sports, and meeting interesting people – I’m currently travelling through Norway on my way to Lofoten in the Arctic Circle.

So, a day in my life is certainly different. Let’s look at my day yesterday:

The alarm chimes at 6:30AM when I get up, put my running shoes on and immediately set off into the hills. I try to keep my morning voice quiet until work begins – I want to stay in a meditative state.

After an hour of running, I bump into a family of goats who escort me all the way back to the van. I run the last 10 minutes to work up a sweat, and then I jump into the sea in the Viking Valley Fjord, one of the most beautiful fjords in the world. There is a free heated shower where I’m parked. Woo!

I get back to the van and make a strong coffee with my aeropress, careful to keep the coffee grind semi-coarse. I will be fasting until 1PM – caloric restriction is one of many things you can do to increase lifespan, for more information read Lifespan by Dr. David Sinclair.

Standup is at 10am which is when work starts. It’s a busy day, I batch all my internal meetings to be on Mondays, so I usually have 7 meetings or so with just a 30 minute lunch break. By having all my meetings on one day, the rest of my week is free for deep work. Contrary to popular belief, meetings are important. Free-floating idea brainstorming is crucial in startups.

At 6PM work technically ends. I try to stick to this, but more frequently than not (in fact pretty much all the time) I run over. I use the 1-3-5 rule. Each day I have exactly 1 large task, 3 medium, and 5 small tasks on my todo list. These all need to get done by EOD.

After work myself and my girlfriend find a beautiful place to park for the night with nearby access to wifi. It is beside an amazing waterfall – Norway’s waterfalls are INCREDIBLE. We put out the awning and camp chairs, get a fire going, pop some fairy lights around the place. Charlotte cooks up a delicious vegan stir fry and we eat by the fire.

After the sun has set, the cloud overhead clears and we can start to see the stars twinkling. It gets cold so we head inside. I put my Bose Quietcomfort earphones in and do 30 minutes of deep meditation. I am peaceful. I am relaxed. I am present. I am happy. I then take the journal out and write about the day along with any thoughts I have had.

I pop my head outside to check the stars and sure enough, there it is! The Milky Way! I’ve seen it nearly every night this week. Incredible. I retire back to bed, take out my book The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton and read some Nietzche. The van is warm and cosy; it feels more like a ski cabin than a vehicle. Before long, my eyes grow heavy and I doze off into a deep slumber.

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

I started Aikido Finance for me. Freedom is everything. In the age of abundance, money and material desires are not the goal. The goal is freedom and more time. The company is fully-remote; we have people in Ireland, the UK, Austria, Italy, and Norway.

Work hours are usually 9AM to 5PM Irish Time, but are very flexible to people’s needs. No one is watching when or how long you take for lunch.

Clearly, flexible-remote work is perfect for the nomadic life that I like to lead.

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

Before starting a company people warned me that it would mean giving up everything. Well I refused to let that be the case.

I did not want success to get in the way of peace and happiness. Peace and happiness is paramount, everything else is secondary. So everyday I make the most of what little time we have on earth.

Work-life balance means enjoying the weekdays as much as I can, despite how busy my days are (so I get up early to make the most of it). To make up for my busy week, which does not allow for too much travelling with the van, I make the most of the weekends.

I will usually do some cool hike or ski-tour, perhaps a bit of camping. The moment work ends on Friday, I detach from technology until Monday.

I’m not sure if successful people can truly be balanced. I think it comes down to Work hard, Play hard. Monday to Friday, I work my socks off. Saturday and Sunday I play my socks off.

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

  • Moved into my campervan full-time
  • Started using the GTD system for maximum effectiveness (see David Allen’s Getting Things Done)
  • Stopped using a bullet Journal and Kanban boards in lieu of GTD
  • Meditation is a minimum once daily affair, usually twice.
  • Journal every day.
  • Stopped drinking vegetable juices in lieu of simply eating healthier and adding the kale to meals
  • Became more of a coffee fanatic
  • Evening cleaning: Between 3-5PM I address all the small tasks in my todo list. I empty my inbox, reply to all social media messages, clear all bookmarks, and plan tomorrow’s day.
  • Theme days:

Monday: Internal meetings

Tuesday: Marketing

Wednesday: External Meetings

Thursday: Content creation

Friday: Admin

  • Removed all apps from my phone. Even email.
  • Started using Notion religiously
  • Setup a Second Brain in notion. Any information I learn throughout the day is filed away in my second brain
  • Stopped being as active in my side hustle (www.TheVanConversion.com) – I need to prioritise Aikido Finance. I need to reduce the number of things I do
  • Started eating meat again on days when I exercise very hard. Still no red meat.
  • Started 16:8 fasting
  • Stopped watching as much YouTube – though it is VERY valuable for learning

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

  • The 4-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferris
  • What works on Wall Street – James O’Shaughnessy
  • Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom
  • The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
  • Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
  • Letters from a Stoic – Seneca
  • Atomic Habits – James Clear
  • Lifespan – David Sinclair

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

  • Bose Quietcomfort earphones
  • Aeropress
  • Mobile Hotspot Internet
  • Macbook and remote working setup (riser, trackpad, keyboard, portable second monitor)
  • 1L Nalgene
  • Juggling balls

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

Bear Grylls. Or maybe the boys from Top Gear. They’re doing something right. After that I would go with Tim Ferris.

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

Everything I do in my life is done with a purpose. I don’t believe in delaying gratification until some later date. Too many people say “When X happens, then I’ll be happy”. F**k that. Your life is now, not later.

“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one” – Confucius

For this reason I have taken specific steps to design the life I want. The first step was the radical reduction of unnecessary possessions. I became a minimalist, reducing clutter in every aspect of my life. This meant getting rid of clothes, gadgets, and just about anything that wasn’t needed. Everything I have has a specific purpose. With the removal of physical clutter came a mental decluttering.

A peaceful mind is at the core of lifestyle design, it is the core building block upon which all happiness is built. I have been meditating since I was a teenager, however with the adoption of minimalism I delved deeper into self-exploration and mindful practices. Meditation along with daily journaling has brought a deep inner calm. I believe the ultimate goal is peace, not happiness. Happiness is a by-product of peace. Peace is being truly content in your own mind and body.

If you are at peace, you have laid a strong foundation. Upon this you can erect your framing and scaffolding – these are your core values. The things in life that bring you true meaning. The things that bring you joy. For me, this is the outdoors, it is meaningful work, it is surrounding myself with interesting people who stimulate me.

Once your framing is set, you can start adding the bricks, drywall, and cladding. This is the life you fit around your core values, the things you choose to do. It could be the outdoor activities you do and how often you do them, it could be the work you choose to do, and It could be the people you choose to be around.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.