Justine Cullen is the Editor in Chief of Elle.
She’s also a mother of three and knows that the juggle can get very, very real.
Sometimes she drops the ball. Sometimes she needs a break. And sometimes, she shows up to her kid’s school with her skirt on inside out (don’t we all?).
We speak with Justine about juggling it all — priorities, productivity and, when all else fails, piña coladas.
Women’s Agenda is moderating the ‘Juggle Is Real’ panel featuring Justine at the upcoming Business Chicks 9 to Thrive event in Sydney and Melbourne.
Describe your current juggling act?
One high pressure job, two tweens, one tiny person, and lots of travel. And yet, for some reason, I’m still desperate for a daughter and a dog. Go figure.
Can you share a moment when things got particularly real?
I think it’s always very real, there’s no escaping from it (as much as sometimes you’re quite tempted to go out for the proverbial cigarettes and never come back). Usually the times when I’ve been nearly broken by it all involve nits or vomit, sometimes in tandem with a huge presentation or event. But to be honest, there are too many of those to specify. Earlier this year I had a particularly frazzled morning when I showed up to my youngest’s school with my skirt on inside out. Doesn’t get more real than that.
What about a moment when you dropped one or more of the balls?
I drop multiple balls all the time! I’m constantly miscalculating what days I need the nanny for and having to do a last minute scramble, forgetting to order lunches, missing parties or playdates. Luckily my children are very adaptable and independent and don’t seem to mind so much. They know I’m doing my best and, more importantly, they love me regardless of my parental incompetence. I have no interest in being a stepford mother, I’d prefer they see me as fallible but also hard-working and determined, with goals and achievements outside of them.
What does an average morning look like for you?
I get up at about 5.15am, shower and dress as quickly as possible, kiss my sleeping children goodbye, commute to work (it’s about an hour) and talk on the phone to other early bird friends or listen to podcasts while I do, do my make-up in the office and some kettlebell swings if I’m feeling particularly motivated (not often) and then check social and get into my emails until my staff arrive.
Ever work in your pyjamas?
Does this season’s pyjama-wear fashion count? No. I need all the psychological assistance to get through the day as I can get.
What’s the first thing you cut-out to better manage your limited time?
Mindless entertainment. I think it’s vital but I can’t risk getting sucked into a Netflix binge when I have a million things on my to-do list – I know what would win.
Some of the tricks you’ve learnt to manage multiple priorities?
I’m very protective of my time with my children. When I feel that’s been sacrificed for anything that’s not essential I know that I’ll beat myself up and generally not be my best anywhere else. Having that as my number one priority keeps me sane. You can have my attention back once they’re in bed.
Any work-related productivity hacks you’ve picked up?
I’m a big fan of getting into the office earlier than anyone else so you have time to get through your own stuff before the onslaught of emails, where – in a role like mine, anyway – you’re essentially at other people’s beck and call.
How does the juggle you’re experiencing today differ from how you were living 10 years ago?
I think before you have children you have very little concept of just how much you will end up packing into every day. On the other hand, nowadays at least we can be a bit flexible with our time, with the ability to work remotely from anywhere and everywhere and at all kinds of bizarre hours. I don’t know how anyone in my position would have juggled work and a family prior to the invention of the smart phone.
How do you encourage, help or inspire other women in your teams who’re trying to manage their own busy schedules?
I work for a fairly traditional corporation with fairly limited resources. That means I can’t always be as flexible as I’d like to be and I have to balance the needs of the business with the needs of my employees. But I think the key is just to be as open minded as possible, and to never forget that if we want women in the workforce – and we do, socially, economically and creatively – then this is something we need to make work. I’ve had employers who have walked the walk and talked the talk on this, and I’ve had employers who say all the right things and then make things hard, sometimes without even realising they are and often for not very good reason. So it’s really about looking at things from a big picture perspective and trying as actively as you possibly can to not be an arsehole.
Does the ‘juggle’ ever feel like a ‘struggle’?
Most of the time I’m on autopilot but of course occasionally it gets the better of us all. I usually find the best thing to do then is to consciously do something in both segments of my life that reminds me of why I’m doing it. So at work that might be organising a bonding or brainstorming day with my team, so I can feel re-inspired and get some fire in my belly and remember how much I love and adore the people I’ve surrounded myself with in the office. And at home it might be organising a fun activity or spontaneous excursion with the kids (bonus points if it falls on what would normally be a school/work day). Failing that, a holiday somewhere hot that serves quality piña coladas always helps.
A few weeks ago I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and like I was letting everyone down and had to take a last-minute week off work just to reset, which I’d never done before. It made a world of difference both to my attitude at work and my ability to parent well. I had to talk myself into it but there’s genuinely no shame in letting people know you need help.
If there was a 25th hour in your day, how would you spend it?
Sleeping! Or, in the interest of full disclosure, if I was omnipotent I’d sleep, if I have to be just regular me I’d lie in bed trying to sleep and failing, allow my mind to be overrun with thoughts, and mess around on my phone for an hour. But that sounds pretty good too!