A Day in the Life of Maya Wei-Haas

Maya Wei-Haas is a writer for National Geographic, where she writes about all things science, with a particular affection for rocks and reactions. Before that she was an assistant science editor for Smithsonianmag.com’s Smart News, which turns a Smithsonian lens on daily events. She began her career as a scientist, earning a PhD in environmental chemistry at Ohio State University, and made the jump to writing with the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. She can be found on twitter @WeiPoints.

 

Becky Hale

Maya Wei-Haas

 

What I’m working on:

I’m currently a staff writer for the science desk at National Geographic. I write across multiple beats, from geology and paleoanthropology to the current pandemic.

Geology stories have a special place in my heart for their ability to unravel the oddities of our strange planet and other worlds of our solar system. The knowledge that there’s a story locked up in every rock is something that helps me continually look at my surroundings with renewed wonder. But I’ve recently struggled with a worry about how important geology stories are to tell when the world feels like it’s figuratively and literally in flames. At their core, many of these stories are about the passionate humans behind each find and their relentless pursuit of knowledge about how our weird and wonderful world works. These are the stories that made me fall in love with science, and I hope by creating a little wonder for others I can help them do the same.

Where I work:

I’ve been working remotely from Virginia since last March, when coronavirus cases began to rise in the DC metro area. My husband Travis, dog Jasper, and I recently moved to Springfield to get a little less city life and a little more living space, which means I now have a home office. I spend a lot of time at my desk, which looks out at a big oak tree behind the house. I also have a standing desk, which I can switch to when I feel a need to stretch my legs. But sometimes I write best while sprawled out in the middle of the floor. While I work, Jasper, who is about to turn one year old, sleeps in the corner of my office in his big velvety bed. During a recent bout of impostor syndrome, I decided to put up some of my degrees and awards on the wall around my desk as a reminder of what I’ve done and what I can do. It feels a little pompous, but sometimes I just need something to help pull me out of a funk.

Courtesy of Maya Wei-Haas

Daily routine:

I usually try to start my day by 6:30 a.m. Travis lets Jasper out while I scan through social media and news. I make coffee or tea and head out to our back porch with Jasper to do a half hour or so of training with him. We adopted Jasper from a shelter about six months ago and he’s very skittish, which makes this daily training vital to help him out of his shell. After training, Jasper and I head out for a run through the woods. He makes sure no one gets any work done until after we run, zooming around the house, squeaking his toys, and attempting to chew on everything in sight. There’s a river near the house where he usually goes for a dip, which earns him a short bath when we arrive back home.

Once the pup is clean and dry(ish), I get my own shower, grab a bite, and try to be online by around 9:00 a.m. I like starting the day by crafting a list of tasks to complete. I rarely finish the list but it’s a good exercise to help me feel like I’m continually moving forward. The rest of the day is usually me switching between work spots in the house.  Lunch is always different times depending on my schedule. Sometimes I just have a few snacks through the afternoon to keep me going. Around 3:00 p.m., I take Jasper back outside. He chases squirrels while I walk through the trees. I usually attempt to wrap up work by 7:00 or 7:30 in the evening when Jasper starts to get antsy. My husband arrives home around 8:00 p.m. and we make food, watch TV, play some games with Jasper, and then head to bed.

Most productive part of my day:

Bouts of movement are essential for getting my usually haywire brain to settle down for a moment to focus, so I’m generally at my most productive after my morning run.

Courtesy of Maya Wei-Haas

Most essential ritual or habit:

This seems to change from month to month, but right now, it’s my afternoon walks with Jasper through the woods. I used to take an audio book with me, but these days I’ve found it best for me to wander in silence. We usually only go for around 20 minutes, but it’s a time when I can ruminate and refocus my intentions for the afternoon. I mull over story ideas, work through sticking points in my writing, and mentally sort through recent interviews.

Walks are also occasionally when I catch up with colleagues over the phone. Michael Greshko, who used to sit next to me when we were working in the office, started calling me on his afternoon walks with his dog to make up for the lack of impromptu water-cooler chats in the office. It’s a nice way to reconnect with people when everything feels so distant.

Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:

I use Pear Note for my interviews. It records while I type so when I go back through my notes, it will skip back to precisely the point in the audio that was happening when I was typing. I also use a mix of Quip and Google Docs for writing things up—autosave and history functions are key for me.

How I keep track of my to-do list:

I continually switch between different methods for my to-do lists. I have an on-off relationship with Trello. I use it to track progress on longer projects but struggle to keep up with it for daily tasks or short news stories. I use digital (and physical) sticky notes for random reminders and things to follow up on. For daily lists, however, I’ve recently turned back to old-fashioned pen and paper. There’s nothing like the feeling of physically crossing off something from a list.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

I would be lost in setting up interviews without World Time Buddy, which helps me keep all my time zones straight and (usually) prevents me from double booking time slots. I use Outlook Calendar to schedule interviews, appointments, and meetings.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Twitter. Too much Twitter. I really have a love-hate relationship with it. I’ve found so many good story ideas from Twitter, and am continually impressed with the vibrant science community that is flourishing on the platform. But at the same time, I have definitely been falling into the doomscrolling trap, and have found it really important for my mental health—and the health of my relationship with my husband—to try to largely close down Twitter over weekends and evenings.

My reading habits:

I struggle these days to sit down and read a book—always worrying about all the things I’m not accomplishing. When I’m on vacation, however, I pull out the books. It always feels like such a luxury. That said, I’m trying to instill more of these little luxuries in my daily life. I frequently find writing inspiration in nonfiction, such as one of my current reads, Timefulness by Marcia Bjornerud. I also rely a lot on audio books to get my non-news fix. I used to listen to them during my commute, and these days they’re a vital companion while I’m cleaning or running.

Sleep schedule:

I’m not a great sleeper. Usually I try to be in bed between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., and aim for six to seven hours of sleep each night.

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