Day in the Life

‘The spirit of productivity can still hit me in the evening’: A day in the life of Jon Xu, founder of FutureAdvisor

  • Jon Xu is an investor and startup advisor who serves on the board of directors at Wahed Invest.
  • Parenthood may have turned Xu into a morning person, but the old night owl in him can still sometimes resurface, keeping no two days the same.

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‘The spirit of productivity can still hit me in the evening’: A day in the life of Jon Xu, founder of FutureAdvisor

Jon Xu is an investor, advisor, and a startup starter. He founded robo-advisory startup FutureAdvisor back in 2010. In 2015, the company was acquired by BlackRock, where Xu acted as managing director until 2019. 

Today, Xu serves on the board of directors at Wahed Invest, a halal robo-advisory platform that aims to expand investment access to more people globally. He also spends his time advising other early-stage startups.

Parenthood sort of makes you a morning person by default, so Xu tends to have the most productive work sessions in the morning. But that old night owl in him can still sometimes resurface, keeping no two days the same.

Here's a day in his life:

Morning: spending time with the kiddos, lots and lots of coffee, and thinking specifics

Once upon a time, I was not a morning person. But I’m married now and I have two kids. And having kids kind of forces you to become a morning person in many ways. 

So I tend to wake up fairly early. My kids are essentially my alarm clock these days, but I'll say generally, it's something like 6 am or earlier.

There's a bit of ritual in the morning with family, which I really appreciate, involving getting my older kid ready for school, and consuming lots and lots of coffee. 

This kind of ritual helps center me for the day.

It's funny, I was just thinking about this yesterday – the things that I tell my kid each morning when he goes to school, about being mindful, curious, and all those important things that we instill in them, are kind of the same things that I try to apply on a daily basis. 

Generally, no two days are alike. I obviously serve as a member of the board of directors at Wahed, but I'm also an investor and an advisor to early-stage startups. 

I have my most productive hours nowadays in the morning – that didn't use to be the case, but my most effective work sessions now tend to be before noon, so I protect that time vigorously.

Those hours also play a role in how I structure my day. Mornings are primarily to dig into specifics – I tend to use that couple of hours to dive into specific problems that I'm trying to solve for companies that I advise.

Afternoon: lunch, a quick workout, and thinking big

After lunch – and this has always been the case for me – I tend to be in need of an energy boost, so I try to get in a very quick workout right around then. And that helps sort of lift a lot of the brain power and activity for the rest of the day. I've also been trying to cut off caffeine consumption in the afternoon for that same reason.

While my morning tends to be dedicated to high-focus work on very specific problems, I try to structure the afternoon with a slightly bigger picture in mind. So when I’m not in meetings, I generally dig into data about a topic or an area that might inform me to change my various hypotheses of certain startup segments or certain markets – my various theses of the world, if you will.

Just as an example, dissecting data about technology usage in wealth management helps me articulate how quickly technology adoption is happening in certain sectors, and whether that informs a particular change in my thesis, or a particular product or strategic change for a company. 

And then, of course, there's more meetings.

Nowadays, my meetings are primarily one-on-one feedback sessions – particularly in the product area, but also concerning thinking through customer segmentation. So, for example, I do a lot of connectivity between folks that are looking for talent to hire, or investors to connect with.

I've enjoyed immensely being a board member of Wahed. I think where I'm most helpful there tends to be with addressing pain points that are more specific, whether it's infrastructure, engineering, or product segmentation. 

Evenings: family, unwinding, and the occasional night owl-minted productivity boost

It's incredibly important for us as a family to have dinner together. My kids are still young, but I think this is something that we'll continue to make a habit of over time. 

We eat at around five. That way, my wife and I get to spend a good amount of time with the kids before they have to go to bed.

I used to be a night owl, and that spirit of productivity can still sometimes hit me in the evening. So there are times that I certainly hop back on and have some productive sessions – whether it's problem-solving, or the high-level stuff.

There are also times when I have some late meetings, especially considering Wahed's global reach.

But, you know, maybe it's having kids, maybe it's reading the various books on why sleep is incredibly important to health and effectiveness across the day, but I've been relentlessly tracking my own biometrics on sleep, and so I try to cut off caffeine in the afternoon, and I try to get to sleep before 11. 

Now, there are times when that doesn’t work, but as a general rule, I like to use the latter half of the evening as a way to wind down the brain, whether it's through a podcast, or a show, or an audiobook – there are some really amazing ones that I’m making my way through right now.

And then there’s also that itch to code that can come to me early in the evening. My background is in computer science, so there’s always that drive in me to build and code a bunch of side projects. It's actually incredibly soothing for me: in this day and age where there's a lot of chaos and lack of control, including across my own day, I find that coding and systematically building something new satisfies this inner desire to bring back control. It really is a form of meditation for me.

But like I said – there are times when that night owl spirit takes over me, and when it does come, I try to leverage it.

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