Om Suthar is the Director Of User Experience at higher education software company Ellucian, as well as the founder and CEO of startup SQRL.
1. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I studied automotive design in the U.K., I’ve taught design in India as an adjunct instructor and I’ve designed everything from an electric scooter, packaging, IoT devices, apps and services. My current day job is the director of design for a software company in higher education and on the side, I continue to grow my well-being startup, SQRL.
2. What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I have a wonderful 2 year old son who wakes us up precisely at 6:45 AM every morning. I get up, get ready and head downstairs for breakfast with my family. From 7:30 to 8:30 I get ready for the day, catch up on administrative tasks for my startup before I start my full-time job.
Currently I work from home for my ‘day job’ so I take 30 mins from 8:30 to 9:00 to give myself time to prepare for the day before I begin a pretty meeting heavy day. I have a little rowing machine in my office so in between for breaks I will row for 5-10 mins at a time or stand up at my desk.
I’ll occasionally pop upstairs to see my family during lunch or to refill my afternoon coffee in my French press.
By 5:30 P.M. I like to switch gears and spend time with my family, have dinner together and catch up with my loving and supportive partner.
By 9:00 PM I’m back at work on my startup till about 11:00 PM when I call it a day. I spend the last minutes of my day reading a few pages in a book to help me fall asleep.
That’s the break up of a typical workday during lock down at the moment.
3. Does your current role allow for flexible, remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I’m quite fortunate my ‘day job’ allows me to work from home at the moment and it’s quite wonderful- all things considered. The time spent commuting has been reinvested into family time, which I can’t get enough of. I will say the new challenge is building and keeping a routine so you can switch gears between roles without losing your mind.
4. What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I don’t. The term work-life balance is an often misunderstood, unachievable trope. I think the term equilibrium is more apt than balance. Here’s the difference, equilibrium is associated with tranquility, a natural resting state – being at peace with oneself and their surrounding.
I try to maintain equilibrium and fuel my drive from inner peace. The best part is we can just feel when we are in equilibrium and when we aren’t. When I’m not, I reverse engineer what I didn’t get to do enough of or what I need more of to feel at peace.
Sometimes I’ve worked really hard on my startup and I haven’t spent enough time with my family. Or sometimes, inspiration strikes and I really need to get something out of my mind down onto ‘paper’ but it’s come at the cost of my personal health.
So there are times when things may be out of balance, but because I am still at peace, I can always bring things back into equilibrium.
5. What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?
I bring my full self to any task that I do. I know myself really well, so I couple things I avoid doing altogether is multi-tasking and overloading on back to back meetings. Doing one task at a time allows me to bring my whole self and spacing out meetings allows me to find time to collect my thoughts before I jump into another topic / task.
6. Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
I started reading a lot more in the past few years. Specifically I read syntopically now – so I read 4-5 books at the same time on a given topic so I can capture multiple perspectives and form my own viewpoint. So I don’t read for the vanity of finishing a book or to publish a reading list – it’s purely utilitarian.
For example, the last five books I’ve read are all on habit formation and behavioral science to help me answer some questions I have around goal setting and recognition for a new feature that’s in R&D for SQRL.
The Power of Habit, Drive, Atomic Habits, and Tiny Habits are just a few I’ve recently read to be more specific.
7. What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
I make sure to start the first 30 minutes of every day on my terms. The rest of the day becomes much easier as a consequence.
8. If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Probably the likes of Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Joe Gebbia of Airbnb or even some basketball players I admire like Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. I’d love to understand what their diet and routines have established to help them excel in their professional and personal roles.
I think the process of ‘how’ they discover and establish rituals and routines is far more interesting than the ‘what’.
9. Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Don’t emulate anyone. You have to find what works for you, understand why and maximize the time you play in your strengths.
Focusing on living your values – like for me having a learner’s mindset is much more fruitful & attainable than goals that are more like destinations or balance – which is more like an equation.
Life doesn’t fit into nice equations that balance out. You have to be authentic to yourself, find what makes you happy & spend time understanding why.
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