Riley Heng on Productivity Fatigue and Finding the Why

Riley Heng, 29, is the Australia Country Manager for MetroResidences, an accommodation platform. She is based in Sydney, tasked with the mission to launch and grow the company’s hospitality and accommodation operation in Australia, beginning with the launch of a hotel in Sydney. Due to the pandemic, the game plan has changed and her focus is to maintain business sustainability amidst the global crisis.

She is passionate about cooking but doesn’t quite enjoy eating, so she actually finds joy in spending hours cooking up a storm for friends. 

She developed a passion for diving after her first dive in 2018. She had a goal of clocking 30 dives in Australia in 2020 (which of course went out the window!). Dive gear was the third item on her packing list going to Australia, right after her wallet and passport.

On quiz results

I’m a perhapstinator, but quite often, I lean towards being a precrastinator. I completely agree with this assessment from the quiz: “You may have a good sense of your priorities and take care of each thing in its own time, or you may be a bit disorganized in your approach.”

I try to get things done by starting on them as early as possible to save myself the last-minute rush and anxieties that come with doing so. (More on that below.)

The fear of regret also motivates me to get things started. I often play out the worst-case scenario in everything and ask myself if I can live with the consequences of procrastinating – and if the answer is “no,” then I have to do something about it right now.

That mindset helps me to prioritize my tasks. However, I have the tendency of taking on multiple new projects, and that means a long list of things to do – so something’s gotta give. I suppose this is where procrastination kicks in, and I put off the less pressing tasks and tackle them based on their priority level.

Planning enough time for the team to work

I’d say I’m more of a precrastinator at work, but one aspect of the definition may not accurately be applied here. “The initiation or completion of things in advance, before they need to be handled.” I think what I strive for is to handle work when they actually need to be handled. Not way too early, not too late. So maybe it’s right that I’m a perhapstinator!

One of the key factors that drives efficiency is practicing workflow management, and that involves reviewing the different aspects of the project and parties involved and parking the tasks right where they should be across the timeline. I try to plan my work, especially tasks that involve others, in a way that allows everyone sufficient time to do their stuff. 

Being spontaneous and enjoying the moment

With relationships, I think it is important to enjoy the moment and the presence of my company. So I prefer spontaneity, not to have too many things planned, go with the flow, and do whatever I feel like at the moment.

Mental health isn’t visible, but should be a priority

It’s a mixed bag with my approach to health. On a daily basis, I try to eat well and workout regularly to ensure that I keep my health in check, and avoid any health problems in the future. But when I do notice any issues with my body or health, I tend to sit on it, observe, hope that it’ll go away – and only seek medical help when I’m not recovering, which is bad!

This is especially detrimental when it comes to mental health, because it’s not visible and I struggle to figure out when the scale tips from “I can do this” to “I need help.” I find myself overstretching my mental capacity, to the extent where the effect of stress starts showing as physical symptoms.

Precrastinating on financials to get a headstart in life

I think that getting my financials sorted since my teenage years has benefited me greatly. I wouldn’t say that I’m savvy with insurance/financial matters but I guess knowing it is something that is part of “adulting” got me thinking that I might as well get these things taken care of earlier.

I had a Financial Advisor sort out my insurance matters when I was 17 years old and set up bank accounts with higher savings interest at an early age so that when I started working and earning proper income, I could benefit from the interest earned. Precrastination with my finances allowed me to tap on the power of compounding and I think it is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

Procrastination – never again

On the flip side, I literally cannot think of a moment when I thanked myself for procrastinating! Here’s a funny story about procrastination that has stuck with me for life.

When I was 16, on the day of my first Cambridge “O” Levels paper, I procrastinated getting ready for school. When I got to my bus stop, I realized that I had missed the previous bus that would have gotten me to school on time. So I waited for the next bus and contemplated taking a cab to school.

Just as I was about to flag down a cab, my bus arrived. With a lapse in judgement, I hopped onto the bus. When I eventually alighted, I sprinted to the school – and by the time I reached, I was 10 minutes late, out of breath, looked a mess but thankfully was allowed into the exam hall.

Five minutes after sitting down, I started seeing stars (from all the sprinting) and had to throw up. I was hauled out of the exam hall to rest. Luckily, I did manage to complete the paper and got an A… so all’s well that ends well?

I have never arrived late for an exam ever since.

Going from precrastination to preinclination

The anxiety of not wanting to start on tasks at the last minute, together with the idea of not allowing myself to rest until my work is done, has definitely affected my health in many ways over the years. This is something that I am working on improving, to shift from precrastination to the concept of preinclination.

Extending my earlier response on procrastinating on managing my stress levels, I tend to prioritize everything else around me, but myself. Often, I allow stress and exhaustion to accumulate until my body forces me to rest.

Having moved to Sydney to launch a hotel and getting hit by the pandemic, the goal was to keep the business running. My physical and mental health took a backseat for the whole of 2020. Right now, I’m learning to be more aware of my well-being, and understanding that it is okay to slow down a little sometimes. 

Seize the moment because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed

I’m sure I was more of a procrastinator growing up, thinking that I will always have time. I lost some loved ones over the years, and those experiences have taught me that life is uncertain, and tomorrow is not guaranteed. I think it motivates me to get started on things, and to get as much done as possible because we don’t know how much time we have.

On a lighter note, I also recall going through my polytechnic days and procrastinating on assignments. I had to burn the midnight oil constantly, furiously typing out essays and reports on my laptop at 5 a.m. and telling myself “Gosh, this last-minute rush is NOT for me”. 3 years of that and I’m pretty sure I learned my lesson.

Practice productivity, but don’t overdo it to the point of fatigue

Two concepts that I practice to manage my pre- and procrastination tendencies:

After Action Review (AAR)

This is typically a structured tool used to review a project/event and seek areas of improvement, but I apply the concept to minor tasks at work and in my daily life. This helps me to assess and distinguish between being effective and efficient. 

Precrastination focuses on being efficient with tasks but they may not be the most effective, so it’s a mental habit for me to replay a task or situation to assess the execution and establish how things fit in the larger context.


This is so essential and simple, yet it is something I only learned to properly practice towards the end of last year. It just takes a minute to check in with yourself, observe your thoughts, emotions, mental state, and how those translate into your actions. It helps me to recognize where and how I dedicate my energy to things.

I have tried using a scheduling app (Timetune) where I set the time and duration for everything I want to do in the day, e.g. attending to my emails twice a day, 20 minutes each slot; spending 1 or 2 hours on a task and regardless if I completed the task, I have to move on to the next one while making a mental note to reschedule the incomplete work to the next day, taking into consideration the amount of time I took. Honestly, I was making very effective use of my time, until I began to experience “productivity fatigue.” Everything was scheduled to a tee and I was too conscious about following the schedule that I wasn’t as present in the task and I was glancing at the time every 15 minutes to make sure that I was on track.

I stopped using that after 3 weeks and went back to my notepad – just listing down my to-dos for the day.

What works for others may not work for me, so for me to enjoy looking out for myself, I need to find the pace and tools that suit me.


On being preinclined

To me being preinclined lies in finding the purpose behind what we do and knowing how that applies to the bigger picture. What works for others may not work for me, so for me to enjoy looking out for myself, I need to find the pace and tools that suit me. Sometimes it means doing my own research to find the “why”. Sometimes I turn to people who are already at where my future self is and are reaping the benefits, and I seek their advice and take inspiration from them.

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