A Day in the Life of Kat McGowan

Kat McGowan Courtesy of Kat McGowan

What I’m working on:

Project editor at Grist, editor at Neo Life, and a few big features at various stages in the slow cooker.

Where I work:

Oakland central city, in a funny old building that is the former headquarters of the Woodmen of the World, a forgotten fraternal organization. Our floor has a bunch of tiny offices with journalists, authors, radio people, and other creative folks. My office is just three big windows, three small desks, three chairs, three plants, and two great officemates. It’s the best thing about my working life.

Daily routine:

It starts with a 5:52 alarm for outdoor kettlebell-and-sprint class. I am not a morning person, but living on the West Coast means you’re always behind the curve in the morning, so there’s usually a lot of email to answer and things to read right away. The reward is fewer interruptions after 3:00 p.m. Every day is different, but it’s generally some mix of interviews, edits, writing, research, chats with writers and editors, complaining, staring out the window, and Twitter.

Most productive part of my day:

Late afternoon, due to East Coasters going home.

Most essential ritual or habit:

Long runs, to clear out the brain crud.

Courtesy of Kat McGowan

Mobile device:

iPhone 6? 7? I need a new one.


MacBook Air at home, old PC laptop at the office. One weird secret to overcoming technical problems? Get one of each, so files that won’t open on one will work on the other. Also, every freelancer needs a backup computer to keep going in case of glitches on deadline. They’re not that expensive! Do it!

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

My favorite productivity hack: FollowUpThen, which is a free email service that you bcc when you send out an email. It will automatically ping you at an interval you specify with a reminder to follow up on that email, so that you don’t have to keep it on your to-do list. Or, for example, if you get an important email you need to reply to but you’re slammed, you can forward it to tomorrow@followupthen.com, and it will re-send the email to you tomorrow so you don’t forget. It’s great if your to-do lists tend to be inbox-driven.

Also: Two monitors! Two monitors changed my life. Maybe I’ll get a third. Also, disabling notifications on everything. Zeynep Tufekci says the real scarcity of modern life is not information, but attention. I try to be very mindful of what I look at and think about.

I’ve tried a lot of software, but for me, plain old document files are still the best way to organize information, create schedules, take notes, and map out plans. They don’t channel you into a format, they’re flexible and open-ended, and always compatible on every device and on every platform.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Lately I play with online AI bots. You can give this one pictures and talk to it about what it thinks is there. This one is the opposite: you describe a scene, and it builds an image. I tell it my dreams. (I discovered them through this great blog.)

My reading habits:

To feed the beast, I read, scan, and skim all kinds of stuff online all day long. Much is driven by scientists and other smart and interesting folks I follow on Twitter who mention something that takes me way down a curiosity rabbit hole. I use TweetDeck for lists for different topics (public lists at @mcgowankat).

Courtesy of Kat McGowan

I love Bloomberg Businessweek, but sadly that’s the only print magazine I still read cover to cover.

What’s obsessing me right now is big wrist-bender history books. I get actual physical copies and read them at night at home. Last year was The Origins of Totalitarianism, then The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. This year so far: Parting the Waters, Nixonland, and now Battle Cry of Freedom. (Shout-out to say that every living American should read Parting the Waters!)

Sleep schedule:

Early and often! I go to bed before 10:30 p.m. and aim for at least eight and a half hours a night. I predict sleeping will be the next lifestyle trend—CEOs and elites will start bragging about how much sleep they get instead of how little.

Skip to content