3 Simple Things with Ashley Whillans

Ashley Whillans, Ph. D.,  is a Behavioral Scientist, Asst. Professor at Harvard Business School and author of the upcoming book, Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time & Live a Happier Life, which will be featured this fall at Authors & Innovators (

 You have spent a lot of time thinking about the intersection in our lives of time, money, and happiness, and this is your first book—why did you write it?

As I describe briefly in the book, I had been doing a lot of research during my PhD on the trade-offs that people make between time and money and how these trade-offs shape happiness. Should I work longer hours and make more money, or work less and have less money? While I felt like I had learned a lot empirically, my personal life was suffering. I had prioritized work for a long time. Within the first two years of being a faculty member at Harvard Business School, I had gotten divorced, not been able to attend the funeral of my close cousin, and had missed out on the birth of my best friends’ child. Why was it so easy to say I valued time, and so hard to live that truth? I wrote this book to try to take all of the best research on the psychology of time, money, and happiness, and help myself and others put it into practice in their everyday lives—by providing the empirical science and concrete ways of turning that science into action through a series of exercises and a brief workbook that is contained at the end of every chapter.

Working from home is the newest challenge for so many executives—what’s the one (of many) most important rule we all should follow now?

If this ‘forced experiment’ in total work-life integration has taught me or my clients anything, it is that we have to—more than ever—adhere to personal boundaries. With home as work and work as home, we need to create rituals that help us separate our work and personal lives. Set one room as the office, let your entire family know when you are on an important work call so they won’t interrupt you, put on perfume and get dressed as you would going into work. Don’t work on the weekends. Creating physical separation and personal rituals that help you set boundaries between work and life has never been more important than it is now. And, take your weekends. With everyday feeling like the same day, many executives are saying the only way to maintain their sanity is to maintain a semblance of a weekend.

In this tumultuous period, what can companies, large and small, be doing to enhance the well-being of their workforce?  

In this stressful time, it is tempting to overcompensate.  You want your employees to feel supported, so you support them too much or impersonally. If you want to let your employees know you are thinking of them, send a short text message with no expectation of a reply, just to say hello. If you want to have a team check-in, do it at the beginning of an already scheduled meeting (vs. scheduling yet another 1-2 hour zoom call happy hour). If you want your employees to use the latest resilience app, give them the permission to use it in the middle of the day—or even better—try it altogether during a company-wide meeting. By tailoring your support to each person individually, and providing it in small manageable bite-sized snacks you will be more likely to improve employees’ well-being and reduce overwhelm as opposed to contributing to the very problem you are trying to solve in the first place. Also, don’t be afraid to be personal and fail in front of your employees. Employees feel more comfortable in asking for what they need to get their work done, when they see their manager come to a meeting sweaty (because they worked out in the middle of the day) or when their cat is roaming around the background of their meetings. Tell your employees if you aren’t doing OK, chances are they aren’t in an ideal situation either. Sharing how you are all struggling, together, can help to create an environmental of psychological safety and trust.


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