Wisdom//

How Craig Sullivan Makes Time for What Matters Most

The CFO of J.P. Morgan’s Asset & Wealth Management business on how he’s added more flexibility to his schedule — and how you can too.

“I’ve always been a person of routine. I’ve worked at the same company for the last 20 years and it feels sometimes like those days are very similar — something like wake up, commute, work, eat breakfast and lunch while on a call, more work at the office, commute home, dinner and talking to family and then probably catch up on some evening emails while watching tv before falling asleep. A lot of people, historically, have worked like this, and I’d have to say that, for years, that schedule worked for me: I’m still relatively fit and healthy, meaning I could easily run a few miles if I wanted, I almost always feel pretty calm, and I have always been able to sleep well at night. Then my four boys were born within 4 years and I knew I needed to find a better way, because spending time with them was the most important and best use of my time.  But not until the past year, under unprecedented circumstances through COVID, have I learned that there’s an alternative way to work and live – and be happier about both. Working from home gave me opportunities to add variety to my schedule, like to take a quick early morning or late afternoon walk with my children or actually have lunch away from my desk. And what I learned was that carving out that time made me just as — if not more — productive than I was before.

My schedule looks somewhat different these days. I still log in early — usually between 6 to 7 a.m. — and get a head start on my emails before my boys wake up. Then I take a step back and am there as they wake up — maybe I take them to school on Mondays or eat breakfast with them while listening to a morning call, and then I am back at my desk just as if I was in the office. A few days a week, I even put a block of time on my calendar from 12 to 12:30 p.m. to eat a quick lunch with them, as opposed to eating at my desk just as if I was in the office.  Work still dominates the day, but instead of the commute every evening, I will spend time with my family again from 6 to 8 p.m, eating dinner, watching a show and putting my boys to bed. My late evenings look a little different because of these breaks throughout the day: Instead of watching T.V. from 8 to 10 p.m., sometimes I’ll be back at my desk, but that is a trade off that is worth it by adding this moderation and variety to my day.  The best part? It has given me more energy, despite sometimes working later hours.  And I still sleep well at night. 

A Microstep that’s helped me prioritize what matters to me, like spending time with my family, is to take some meetings as phone calls instead of video calls. For example, if I have an opportunity to pick up my oldest boy from school, I can easily focus on a phone call with a colleague while waiting in the car line, and I explicitly tell my colleagues that it’s gonna be a phone call and not a video meeting, and that I’ll be dialing in from the car. So, I leave the house a half-hour before pick-up time and take the call as I wait in line — no distractions. When the call is done, I have an extra 10-minutes with my son on the ride home to talk to him about his day, before my next meeting is scheduled.  It’s a small thing that makes a big impact: The smile on his face when he sees me picking him up is worth way more than seeing one of my colleague’s faces during a 30-minute meeting – and I’m sure they don’t mind not seeing my face all the time too.

My advice for anyone who wants to add some variety and flexibility to their schedule is this: You have to communicate. And that doesn’t mean you say to your boss, “For me to do this job, I must take 10 to 11 off every day to do yoga,” but you could say, “Yoga is important to me and I’d like to work together to find a way for me to practice it every day for one hour. Is it better for me to take a class on Monday midday or Tuesday after work?” This way, you can find a solution together. What hurts is when people try and hide their priorities, which a lot of people historically would do. And practicing yoga is just one example: It could be picking up children, it could be taking care of an elderly parent, it could be whatever it is that you need to do for your family and your personal well-being. Figure out what your priority is, and then make a point to communicate it.”  One of my favorite athletes, Deion Sanders, once said “you look good, you feel good; you feel good, you play good; you play good, they pay good.” Microsteps will help you feel good and allow you to do whatever you do good, and that is a great step.

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