Episode #9

Is Work-Life Balance in Finance Possible

Finance is often synonymous with long hours and a demanding work environment — making it difficult to maintain a good work-life balance. No one knows that better than Emil Vasilev, VP of Finance at Cherry. He joins us to discuss the challenges of maintaining a good work-life balance in the finance industry, as well as strategies for achieving it and the benefits that come with knowing that there’s more to life than your job.

"There's more and more people who are recognizing that some of the habits of the past are not sustainable and are just not a fun way of being, not a fun way of living or a productive way of living. None of this is about sacrificing our success or our desires, but so often are we left, at the end of the day, we achieve everything, but if we're completely gassed, our body is so unhealthy that it's beyond recovery."

Please note that the transcript is AI-generated and may contain errors. Podcast is not intended as advice and is meant for informational and entertainment purposes only.

Chris Ortega (00:16):

Today we’re talking with Emil Vasilev, who is the VP of Finance at Cherry as he shares his thoughts on life balance in finance and why it’s important for finance, CFO, FP&A, and accounting professionals to focus on their energy balance and making sure that they’re bringing their best to their teams, their families, and their organization. So Emil, welcome to CFO Trends.

Emil Vasilev (00:41):

Thank you very much, Chris. Thanks for having me.

Chris Ortega (00:44):

Yeah, yeah. So as we talked about, we’re coming into the summer months depending upon where you’re listening to this from. You may be listening to it in Europe or in Brazil and you’re like, “Chris, it’s wintertime.” But I think the topic we’re going to talk about here today is life balance in finance, and I think there’s been a lot of studies and there’s been a lot of quiet quitting and all the different things that are going on about having the right balance. And I know for finance, we’re always with the uncertainty and challenge that a lot of finance teams are facing, finding really like that balance is a challenging place right now. So to kick off the conversation, the first thing I want to talk about is what are some challenges that you see for finance professionals to really find that optimal work, life, work, whatever you phrase, balance in their current roles?

Emil Vasilev (01:32):

Yeah, absolutely. I think for all of us, especially in the last three, four years, this has been front and center. How do we find the balance? How do we integrate work into our daily routine and also family and interest and other not work things? It’s tricky. It’s hard. A lot of people are feeling burnt out, maybe not on a continuous basis, but at least once a quarter when the crunch time happens, there could be a couple of weeks of a lot of hard work, not much sleep, and that gets compounded with family and personal things as well. So it’s not an easy time to be working in finance or to be working remotely or to be in tech or any other sort of high-paced industry right now in 2023. And I think because it’s become so hard and we have so much going on, it’s even more important that we pay real attention to good ways, good habits of keeping our energy high in order to go through all this.

Chris Ortega (02:52):

And when we come in finance, we’re probably one of the only pieces of the organization that has our cycles. We always have our month in close, we have our quarter close, we probably have our quarterly board reports, we have our annual audit, we have our annual fiscal year, we operate in quarters. And for me, I think it is very important, because other people in the business, they don’t operate in such a calculated cadence that we do. They operate maybe in monthly or quarterly sort of things, and there’s big pushes around that. And I think one of the points that you talked about that I want to dive into a little bit more is you talked about habits and strategies, right? I know one thing that really helps me is from a life balance and just prioritization perspective. And I’m curious to get your habits and strategies and tactics too.


But one thing that helps me with just prioritizing things is I’m building fresh FP&A and working with clients and partners and teammates. And the whole shebang is something called the Eisenhower Matrix. And basically what the Eisenhower Matrix does, it’s from Dwight Eisenhower, which was a US president, and for trivia, I would get this wrong on Jeopardy because I don’t know what president he was, but he came up with a matrix that really grouped like priority and task based on two different things, importance and urgency.


So for example, if something was a important and urgent item, that’s something you should tackle immediately, right? So when you wake up, when I wake up, I look in my matrix at the top left and I look in important and urgent, and I look at that and I’m like, “This is what I need to get done.” And then there’s some things that are important but not urgent, and those are things I can plan for. So that’s been a really great strategy and tactic and framework that I’ve utilized to help me prioritize. So I’m not feeling this overwhelmed about every task that I get, “I need to get it done right now. I need to get it done right now.” What would be some strategies, tactics, or frameworks that you utilize to give you like that work-life, life-work or optimized balance in your career?

Emil Vasilev (04:54):

Absolutely. I think the Eisenhower method is great. I use a version of that myself and I also use different project management software to plan out the quarter. At my current company, we use the OKR framework at not only the department level, but the individual level as well. So that helps plan out the quarter ahead, and you can think of it in months or even weeks of where do I need to be to actually hit those goals? So that has been very helpful. On the work side, I think another key aspect of this is personal management. We have all these frameworks on how do we manage our workload, how we manage our teams, stakeholders, et cetera. But where do we fit in into that?


And often we become the last thing that we pay attention to oftentimes, and it is almost like a hidden tax that we bear. We spend our waking hours and energy working on building things for ourselves, so the company, et cetera. But oftentimes if we neglect ourselves, our energy suffers, our health suffers. There is this saying that I heard from a mentor of mine that people in business, and especially in finance that’s applicable, what we do is we spend half of our health generating wealth, and then we have to spend half of our wealth gaining back the health that we’ve lost.

Chris Ortega (06:45):

Dang, dude, that’s fire. I love that, dude.

Emil Vasilev (06:48):

And so we just need to ask ourselves, is that an intelligent equation? Is that an intelligent way of doing things? And I think not. And specifically to your question about frameworks, happy to dive into something that I follow personally if you want now.

Chris Ortega (07:07):

Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do it.

Emil Vasilev (07:08):

Absolutely. This is a framework for energy management and peak performances. It’s so something that I learned about 10 years ago back when I was working investment banking and really had to deal with a lot of long hours and stress. And this is a framework that’s taught to athletes and C-level execs and also people in the armed forces. Normally I got to learn that as well through a friend. And it has four buckets to it, and it’s a framework for energy management. And the whole concept here is that the quality of our lives, the quality of our output is directly correlated with how much energy we have. An easy way to think about it is, okay, you come back home after a long day, you sit on a couch and then you get one email from your boss asking you to do the simplest thing, which would take you five minutes. But how do you feel about it?

Chris Ortega (08:11):

Horrible. You’re like, “Why do I got to do this now? I’m in chill mode.”

Emil Vasilev (08:16):

Exactly. You’re done, you’re done. And we’ve all been there. And yet the flip side of that is if our energy is high, if we’re enthusiastic, if we’re recharged, even the biggest challenge that we get, the attitude is like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get it done. I have no idea how, but I’ll get through this.” There’s this valor, there’s this enthusiasm. And the only difference there is our energy level. So if we pay attention to, that’s something that we can control. We can’t control the outside circumstances and things that get thrown on us, but we can control our energy level. And there’s four pieces to that. All of us get our energy from different sources. The regular ones, sleep, food, this is basics. All of them are actually, I would say, very fundamental and basic. The third is breath, right? It’s overlooked. We all breathe at all times, hopefully.


But when we harness the breath in particular ways, then that can be a very powerful source of energy and a very powerful way to just switch context. In three, four minutes, you can regain your energy during a afternoon slump at 2:30. And there’s specific techniques around that. And then the fourth bucket of that framework is what I would call a calm, collected state of mind. And the most direct way to access that in my experience has been meditation. I’ve been a proponent of meditation and breath work for some time now. I teach it as part of a nonprofit called The Art of Living Foundation as well. And so that has dramatically improved my quality of life and balanced and also output throughout my career. So those are the four key buckets. And there’s more detail to it that we can get into, but I’ll pause here.

Chris Ortega (10:31):

Yeah, I love how you broke that down, man. And I think too many times for all the listeners, we look at… And listen, I’ll give a personal example of where I knew I wasn’t at my top energy level. I came into this conversation, I’m energized. I get to talk to a really good friend of mine and a great finance professional that I’ve learned tremendous amount from. So my energy level is good, but I remember being in public accounting and you’re talking about those four key elements of it. And I know for me, I wasn’t at my best in public accounting when I get out of school. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was putting in all these hours, I was eating unhealthy. Definitely, I know the other two didn’t even focus on my breathing, didn’t even focus on my mental clarity.


And I think to me, this holistic view is a lot of people probably just stop with, but you’d be surprised how if you make improvements in one of those areas, if you start sleeping better, you start sleeping better, then you’re like, “I got a little bit more energy. I feel more recovered, I feel more relaxed.” That only helps you physically, but there’s countless studies on how sleep is probably one of the best remedies that people can get. And then also the food intake that you get, the fuel that you’re putting into your body, that’s another one.


And I think a lot of people just look at those as two foundation baselines and say, “Hey, I stopped there.” I learned the breathing aspect of it in amateur boxing. So I learned that I was able to… My coach taught me, “Chris, one of the ways you’re gassing out in your energy level for your fights where you’re just feeling so depleted at the end and you just feel like you just exhausted everything was you’re not focusing on your breathing in the chaos. You’re not finding your calmness and clarity when people are throwing punches at you.”


And when I started focusing on my breathing and I started focusing and taking deep breaths and just having this almost interval of it, it really helped me in terms of my energy and it helped me throughout the day. And I haven’t gotten into the meditation thing, but I’ve heard from people, and there’s studies around that too, that shows when you’re able to get into that mental clarity and just slow down, I think too many finance professionals, we are running like zero to a hundred all the time, and sometimes you’re able to speed up when you slow down.

Emil Vasilev (12:52):


Chris Ortega (12:53):

For me, that’s so important. I love how you really articulated that balance for a lot of professionals in those four elements. So diving into one of those, for the listeners out there, the accounting finance, FP&A, and all the professionals that are going to be listening to this, if you were to focus on one of those areas that could probably make the most immediate impact from a conversation right now, what would be one of the areas that you would focus on for the listeners?

Emil Vasilev (13:19):

I would say breath. That to me is the most immediate, most bang for your buck levels of energy upliftment that can happen because literally in three, four minutes, if you do specific techniques, you’re able to really uplift your energy. One such technique, we can’t necessarily demonstrate it here, but it’s called yogic coffee or bellows breath. And so if some of the listeners are curious, they can look that up online. But it’s an active breathing technique, which I personally do daily in the morning. That’s my morning coffee. I actually stopped drinking caffeine over time as a result. And I also do it in the afternoon if I feel low energy, a low in 2:30, 3:00 PM. I think the thing about the breath is that all of these different buckets, the four buckets of energy, we can survive couple weeks perhaps if we’re lucky without food, maybe a week without sleep or maybe longer. Again, depending on the person, we can survive a whole life without a peaceful state of mind, but without breath, we only have a couple minutes.

Chris Ortega (14:38):

That’s facts

Emil Vasilev (14:41):

Yeah. And so it’s a core source of energy and probably in finance terms has the most opportunity for arbitrage. So it’s the most overlooked and the most potent way to get your energy up. The specific technique that I do as part of my morning practice is called SKY Breath, stands for Sudarshan Kriya, it comes from the East, comes from India, and has been tested in more than a hundred peer-reviewed studies, and in my personal experience is the most powerful technique that I’ve done.

Chris Ortega (15:21):

Yeah, and I love. And for all the listeners, I think definitely check those out. And I’ve actually had the opportunity live of you testing and doing some of those. And you can tell from the entire group, right? I’m going to vouch for it. I’m not just saying it’s all smoke and mirrors. You got a stamp of approval from Chris Ortega, right? I’ve seen those things too. And it’s just you have to be conscious of that. And I think too many finance professionals, we don’t have that check in so to speak. And I’ve struggled with this. Everybody struggled with it. We’re sitting at June 15th and I’m like, “It’s Thursday.” And I had that moment of clarity this morning where I’m sitting there, I’m like, “Man, it’s June 15th, it’s Thursday. There’s one more day of the week. There’s 15 days in the first half of the year.”


And Emil, I stopped and paused and I said, “Chris, I need to go for a walk.” And I would probably add a fifth element to that, getting natural sunlight, definitely when it’s summertime. And I found this to be helpful for me and my work-life balance as building my own business and working with clients is like when I get that 10 to 15 minutes, I’m like, “I’m going to go outside and I’m just going to go for a simple walk.” And here’s the biggest part of it, I don’t bring my phone. I don’t bring my phone, I don’t bring anything. I go for a walk and I just let my mind, wherever my mind wants to take me. If it wanted to take me to, oh, Chris, it’s seven o’clock at night and I have an eight. Wherever my mind’s going to take me, I’m just going to let it go.


But I think as people can think about like you got it… And in this work remote environment that we are, you’ve got to take that time to say, “Hey, man, how can I just take a break? Pause. There’s not be disasters happening in 15 minutes.” Maybe it does, right? I’ve seen banks go down in the day, so maybe we’re exaggerating. But I think as you can really, as you’re talking about, focus on those areas. You have to be intentional behind it. You have to put in the work, and these are things that you could implement and take away immediately.

Emil Vasilev (17:24):

Exactly. And it’s not complicated. It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of your lifestyle, just one or two things, as you mentioned earlier, a little bit more sleep. You go to bed a little earlier and start making that a habit. That pays off. It’s incremental improvement day by day, and all of a sudden, three weeks later, you feel completely different. And then from that point, you can take on even more changes, even more improvements, and you keep improving over time and it starts paying off right away.

Chris Ortega (18:02):

I love your point. I think for all the listeners, here’s my challenge to them. They need to set a OKR around those four elements.

Emil Vasilev (18:09):

I love that.

Chris Ortega (18:11):

Let’s go. We love finance. We set OKRs around revenue growth. We want revenue growth to grow. We want to increase our revenue. We want to increase our new customer acquisition by 30% in the first half of the year. I think as finance professionals, we can take that same discipline that we own and operate in and that we’re experts in and take that same philosophy and say, “Hey, you know what? I want to start sleeping seven to eight hours on a weekly basis in the next two weeks or so,” or from the food perspective, “I want to eat healthy meals and not eat out 80% of the time of a week, and I want to track how I progress on that, and I want to only, say, five days a week, I’m eating. Six days a week, I’m eating healthy, home cooked really good, nutritious meals, and one day I get my day where I go crazy or on my one meal.”


I think there’s the same way that we talked about, we already have these disciplines that we’ve been ingrained in ourselves and we’ve built, it’s just applying it to the most important point that you talked about. We do so much of this externally for our sales partners, our business partners, the CEOs, our clients, our prospects. We got to slow down and take that same discipline and that same intentionality and that same expertise to ourselves.

Emil Vasilev (19:30):

Absolutely, could not have said it better. And the personal OKR framework is a genius idea.

Chris Ortega (19:37):

Personal OKRs, I think we got a whole business right here. When you talk about ESG and you talk about that life balance and this topic is qualitative in nature, we’re not going to leave people with, “Hey, here’s the ROI and the SaaS metric that you can measure that gets you to scale.” It’s not that, man, because I had a great mentor tell me this. He says, “Chris, if you don’t show up your best and you don’t bring your best, even if your best is my 50% and my 50% is probably people’s a hundred percent, right?” But he said, “Chris, it’s okay, but just make sure you’re bringing your best.” And it’s okay to acknowledge.


I’ve been in meetings, I’ve been on client calls, I’ve been with partners, and I’ve said to them, “Hey, I’m not going to be in my best right now, but I’m showing up. This is my best. This is everything I’ve got right now. I want you to show that being my best and giving everything I can right now. It may not be my a hundred percent, but I’m showing up and giving everything I have.” And I think too many professionals don’t want to have that conversation with themselves and just show up and just, “Hey, this is how I’m showing up.”

Emil Vasilev (20:49):

Yeah, there’s a level of facing reality that is actually helpful instead of lying to ourselves or shoving it to the side. That’s the first step usually acknowledging, okay, I’m here now. That’s fine. There’s no judgment around that. If I don’t want to be here tomorrow, what do I do next?

Chris Ortega (21:12):

Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I think that’s everything, right? We find self-awareness in the business that’s called insights and data. Usually we find that self-awareness, we’re like, “Hey, why is revenue down like 30% in our OKR?” That’s where we find the self-awareness in the business. We need to take that same philosophy back into these different buckets of our lives. Hey, man, I’ve love this topic so much, and one last question I have for all of our guests, and I’m curious to get your thoughts on this one, the topic life balance and finance or however you see, what is your number one finance trend and why?

Emil Vasilev (21:47):

Honestly, it is this. It is starting to pay attention to your own wellbeing amidst the chaos. I loved you sharing about being on the boxing ring and feeling gassed out because you’re not breathing. We’re all in a boxing ring, right? We’re all getting punched left and right. Depending on the severity of the punch or the day, we could feel that way. So what do we do amidst that chaos?


And the reason why I say it’s a trend that I see, the past three, four conferences that we’ve seen each other at, there’s been sessions on that. There’s more and more people who are recognizing that some of the habits of the past are not sustainable and are just not a fun way of being, not a fun way of living or a productive way of living. None of this is about sacrificing our success or our desires, but so often are we left, at the end of the day, we achieve everything, but if we’re completely gassed, our body is so unhealthy that it’s beyond recovery. Was it worth it? Maybe not. It’s about the 200% in life, the hundred percent of outer life and the hundred percent of inner life.

Chris Ortega (23:13):

Man, Emil, you dropping nuggets, bro. I love it. We need, as finance, we need to level up to 200%, right? There is no such thing as a hundred, and I think it goes back to what your mentor told you, right? We spend that a hundred percent so focused on giving that we’re giving the other a hundred percent to get the health back, right? Yeah, man. I think this topic with the continued challenge and uncertainty and just the overall difficulty a lot of finance professionals are making right now, we still see the reductions.


We still see the difficult models and all these things that are happening inside the macro and microeconomic situations, and I think a lot of times, if you can take that moment and find that space, find that clarity and find that within yourself to say, “You know what? I need to do this. For me to be at my best, for me to make sure that I’m giving my best to my team, to my family, to my career, to everybody, I need to make sure I do this.” And being okay that you need to take that time to do that.

Emil Vasilev (24:12):


Chris Ortega (24:13):

Hey, man, your insights always a pleasure, bro, to talk to you. If people want to learn more, connect with you, maybe research more about these tips, how you’ve applied it, the awesome knowledge that you’ve been able to share, where can people find you? How can they connect with you? Drop that information.

Emil Vasilev (24:28):

Yeah, totally. I think the easiest way is LinkedIn, Emil Vasilev, E-M-I-L V-A-S-I-L-E-V is my full name. You can find me there. And also some of these practices that I referenced, they’re taught by the Art of Living Foundation, which is a UN NGO in more than 180 countries at this point, and they have a big presence across the US in different cities, so check them out on the website.

Chris Ortega (24:58):

Awesome, man. Hey, and I recommend, everybody, you always, bro. I love our conversations, man, because I always take away so much viewpoints and I’m taking away things, and I was sitting here looking at my notes and I’m like, “Dude, I’m going to put that into practice.” Hey, man, thanks for your energy. Thanks for sharing this time. Thanks for sharing this space with us. Thanks for having this honesty. Thank you all the listeners, and I hope you enjoyed this fresh perspective on life balance, and thank you for listening to CFO Trends.

Emil Vasilev (25:23):

Thank you, Chris.

Chris Ortega (25:25):

Thank you for listening in. Join us for our next episode where I’ll be talking with Andrew Jepson, the CEO of the FBP team as we talk about what gets you hired and promoted in finance. Also, don’t forget to follow our CFO Trends newsletter on LinkedIn for the latest episodes and updates.

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