A Day in the Life of Liz Neeley


Liz Neeley Courtesy of Liz Neeley

What I’m working on:

Running a small nonprofit means I am responsible for a lot of different things: wrangling financial projections, writing grants, cultivating donors, developing strategy, designing workshops, delivering talks. I adore the variety. We’ve just come out of an intensive summer of workshops and talks, so I’ve been obsessed with:

  1. finding new academic perspectives on storytelling, persuasion, attention, and information transfer of all kinds;
  2. figuring out how those ideas map onto decades of craft in theater/comedy/film; and
  3. creating new ways to share these ideas and teach these skills.

Sometimes it’s weird, wonky work. I spend a lot of time with material that says things like, “The simple statement that not every story is a good or catchy one is mirrored by the narratological insight that narratives are characterized by varying degrees of narrativity.” And it delights me!

I’m also thrilled about putting in more hours on stage, learning the finer points of performing and hosting, and I’ll be telling a story at our next Story Collider show in DC.

Where I work:

My partner and I split our time between Washington, DC, and London, and I travel a lot on top of that. When I’m not on the road, I rotate between home offices and coffee shops. I like the clutter and bustle of cafes, but in my home offices, I desperately need space and order. When possible, I love having some flowers. I duly note all the articles about how intelligent, creative people have messy workspaces, file them in alphabetized, color-coded folders, and set fire to the lot. And then dispose of the ashes tidily.


Neeley's exceedingly organized home office.
Neeley’s exceedingly tidy home office. Liz Neeley


Daily routine:

I joined Story Collider in June 2015, when I was living in Seattle. In the past year, nearly every aspect of my life has changed along with the location, so I’ve had very little chance to develop a daily routine. It’s an adventure!

Most productive part of my day:

Before noon, and again between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m. or so.

Most essential ritual or habit:

In White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings, “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.…” My dad used to sing that to me.

Look, I know. Bing Crosby was horrible. Mindfulness meditation is oversold. But my dad is amazing, and earnestness is precious. I’m not ritualistic about it, but gratitude is the one habit I’d be lost without.

Mobile device:

iPhone 6


13” MacBook Pro with an unfortunate scratch on the cover from an encounter with a trendy exposed-brick coffeehouse wall.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

Slack, of course! We just started a new channel for our storytellers and workshop survivors that I’m really excited about. I also spend a lot of time on WhatsApp staying connected to a far-flung set of friends and colleagues.

On the work front, I like to think about how my tech can free me from menial labor on one hand and make me smarter on the other. In the first category, I appreciate TextExpander for saving me countless keystrokes—it’s flexible and powerful, and I find myself using it in more creative ways the more I use it. I geek out a bit about information management, so I use Feedly to stay on top of journals and blogs I need to track, and Pocket for saving key things that I encounter on social media. I cycle through various reference-management apps and am using Zotero at the moment. In the second category, I am committed to Asana for task management, and I admit a fondness for the Instagantt integration. Who doesn’t love a good Gantt chart for project management? It helps me see the forest and the trees. When I’m feeling scattered or anxious, I use the Pomodoro technique to force myself through small sprints of work until things start to flow again. Nothing is so intimidating I can’t do it for 20 minutes. We use QuickBooks for accounting, and I’ve recently converted to LivePlan for financial forecasting and scenario planning. I could go on and on. Productivity geeks, call me.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Oh, I’m one of those “productive procrastinators.” I really like ironing. Ah, the screech of the ironing board unfolding? Bliss.

You know it’s reeeally bad when I’m ironing pillowcases.

And when I’m wasting time on my phone, I use Pinterest to discover artists and work. So I sometimes spend hours trawling through portfolios. You can see what’s catching my eye here. I especially love this piece by Anish Kapoor and this piece by Peter Zimmerman.

My reading habits:

I tend to read during my afternoon lull—I use my Twitter network as a filter, and could spend my entire day just following up on recommendations and links. Usually that’s on my laptop, and it tends to be about arts, culture, science, and politics. I subscribe to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired, and Vanity Fair. And my magazine holder is not large. So I try to speed-read the older issues before I recycle them to make room for the newest ones. So guilty. As far as recreational reading, a few years ago I had gone almost entirely digital, but am enjoying physical copies again. The combination of formats supports my reading habit of simultaneously enjoying three or four works at a time. I’m inhaling Infomocracy at the moment, rereading The Passage and The Girl with All the Gifts, marveling at Being Wrong, and I have A Burglar’s Guide to the City on deck.

Sleep schedule:

I’m lucky to be really flexible. When I’m at conferences, I’m fine with four or so hours for a few days at a time. I tend to fall asleep rapidly, dream wildly, and wake up disgustingly happy. I generally don’t nap, but I do sleep well on planes, and thankfully rarely get jetlagged. When I’m at home, I sleep as much as I reasonably can—I thrive on maybe nine hours a night, especially when I’m training for a race (ran my first marathon this year).

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