A Day in the Life of Robin Meadows


Robin Meadows Ivan Meadows

What I’m working on:

Mostly water and adaptation to climate change in California, and mostly for regional publications including the Bay Area Monitor and Bay Nature. I love where I live, and really like the potential for local impact: My stories reach elected officials and policymakers as well as the engaged general public. And working with local editors makes it easy to get to know them, so my pitching is informal and story development can be collaborative.

I also just started writing for PLOS Research News, where my beat includes biomechanics and animal behavior. These stories always make me say “Wow!” One of my favorites so far is about deep-sea fish that shine light out of their bellies. It’s beyond fun.

Where I work:

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my house is next to a regional park in the hills above a wine-country valley. It’s beautiful. I work in the living room—I’d planned to move into one of my daughters’ rooms when they went to college but love the view from my desk too much to give it up. My yard backs up to a rolling oak woodland, so lots of wildlife visit: Quail come through with their distractingly cute chicks several times a day in the spring and summer, and gray foxes often curl up and nap on sunny slopes. Once I even saw a river otter run down my street.

A fox on some paving stones.
Gray fox ambling past the window by Meadows’s desk. Robin Meadows

My husband works part time in Honolulu and sometimes I keep him company. Then I work in the hotel room, usually on the 20th floor with a view of the ocean stretching out forever. That can be as distracting as quail chicks and foxes—the water is shifting shades of blue and there’s plenty of cloud drama. And rainbows!

Daily routine:

I wake up early—usually around 5:00 or 6:00 a.m.—turn on my computer, make plenty of coffee, and take a look at what’s going on in the world and what’s ahead for my workday.

Then I take a walk (more on this later), make more coffee, and get to work.

At the end of my workday, around 5:00 p.m., I turn off my computer and do something completely different.

A woman in hiking clothing standing on a mountain path.
Playing hooky on Wiliwilinui Ridge in Oahu. Brittany Moya del Pino

Most productive part of my day:

The morning by far—writing comes easiest then. I try to schedule interviews in the late morning and the afternoon, and do most of my background research in the afternoon. But I freelance, so sometimes I play hooky and hike with a friend during the day. Then I catch up on work during the evening or weekend.

Most essential ritual or habit:

My morning walk. I walk from my front door to my regional park when I’m home, and on the beach when I’m in Honolulu. I do some of my best work while walking: Out of nowhere, I think of great interview questions as well as perfect sentences and even complete ledes, kickers, and story structures. I use my iPhone to dictate these gifts from my subconscious into emails and send them to myself while on the trail.

Mobile device:

iPhone 6. Do I need the 7?


I’m a PC gal. At home I use a Lenovo desktop with a Dell UltraSharp monitor, and while traveling I use a Microsoft Surface. Both systems are fast, quiet, and reliable, and have gorgeous displays.

A park with long grasses and a few large trees in the distance.
The park where Meadows does some of her best work. Robin Meadows

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

I work in Dropbox, which syncs across all my devices and lets me access everything whether I’m home or traveling. In a pinch, I can even edit on my iPhone; it works surprisingly well.

And Google Calendar helps me plan projects. As soon as I get an assignment, I plug in the deadline and work backwards, setting interim deadlines for each step of reporting and writing. Then all I have to do is stick to them.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Photography with my iPhone 6 and pocket camera, a Canon PowerShot G7 X. And Instagram, where I follow friends and amazing photographers around the world—it’s pure enjoyment.

My reading habits:

Outside of work, I read mostly fiction. A recent favorite is Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels—there are four volumes, and the story is so compelling that I couldn’t resist reading them all in a row.

But I have also read some terrific nonfiction lately. I was amazed by how much I liked Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. Somehow, it wasn’t too devastating, plus it read like a novel. I’m still trying to figure out how she did that. I also loved Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, even down to the fine points of rowing technique.

Sleep schedule:

As much as I can, especially after coming home from Hawaii, where I skimp on sleep. I get up at 4:00 a.m. to stay on California time but end up going to bed late because hey, I’m in Hawaii. Not that I’m complaining!

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