A Day in the Life of Jyoti Madhusoodanan


Jyoti Madhusoodanan Julie C. Jacob

What I’m working on:

My work right now is mostly features with longer deadlines. They’ve been easier to handle with the uncertainties of childcare etc. during a pandemic. I try to book those out early for each quarter and keep it at six to eight pieces, so I know what I’m doing for the next three months or so at any point. I miss writing breaking news, but it’s been tough to work those pitches into my schedule the past couple years.

My current obsessions lie somewhere at the nexus of medical experimentation, the standards required for clinical evidence, health equity, and what all of that means for how you or I wind up getting treated in a clinic. Practically, this means I’m continuing work on a project reporting on how racial identity gets used in healthcare and medicine. I’m also working on a new project about how people experience being in clinical trials for new drugs.

Where I work:

I work from home in Portland, Oregon. After several years of working out of the living room or the guest room, it’s been nice to have an entire room to call my office. Over the last two plus years of sharing it with my now five-year-old, it is mostly “decorated” with stuffed animals, random art projects, and things I can discreetly hand to her during calls to keep her entertained. One wall has my whiteboard, another a piece of art that reminds me of (a friend who shared) Ann Patchett’s writing advice: “It turns out that the distance from head to hand, from wafting butterfly to entomological specimen, is achieved through regular practice.”

Jyoti Madhusoodanan's office. A black desk and chair sit in front of a window with gauzy curtains.
Jyoti’s office. Jyoti Madhusoodanan

Daily routine:

Over the last five years I’ve become a parent, moved to a new city, and like so many others, continue to balance pandemic childcare and other responsibilities, so questions about routine make me laugh.

Usually, the day begins between 6:00 and 7:00. Over coffee I Wordle and write a to-do list for the day using Google Keep on my phone. It includes everything from follow-up emails and responding to edits to buying school stuff for my daughter. Work usually starts sometime between 7:00 and 8:30, depending on whether I have early calls and who’s doing school drop-off. I work until about 2:30 with a break for lunch, then it’s pickup time. Somewhere in there is a walk or workout of some sort. The evenings are a tangle of gymnastics/ballet/playgrounds/dinner prep/etc. Sometimes I get an hour or so at my desk (while said art projects etc. are in progress). That time is for more interrupt-able work, like emails, invoices, or really light edits.

Most productive part of my day:

Mornings. I might work on a draft later in the evening if I manage to solve a tricky piece of a story, but those days are rare. For challenging projects or drafts, I wake up at about 3:00 a.m. and work uninterrupted until 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. It’s exhausting but I love the flow and quiet of those hours before everyone else is up.

Grapes growing on a trellis in the afternoon sun.
Grapes in the afternoon sun! Jyoti Madhusoodanan

Most essential ritual or habit:

A post-lunch peek at the backyard, to see what’s growing/blooming/dying and keep tabs on what the rabbits and squirrels are up to.

Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:

I type in an MS Word document if I’m at my computer or whatever kind of notebook is at hand when I’m out, usually a standard reporter’s notebook (I’m not a fan per se, but I have so many and haven’t looked hard enough to find an alternative I love). But I do have a favorite pen! Zebra Sarasa, 0.7 mm.

How I keep track of my to-do list:

A mix of Google Keep, sticky notes, and my whiteboard for the day-to-day things. I use Trello to gather string for slow-burning projects. All interviews, appointments, reminders, etc. go on my calendar, which is synced across my phone and computer.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

Does music count as a productivity tool? It is essential when I’m writing, important the rest of the time. Always instrumental or in a language other than English.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

I’m not sure whether to put Twitter on here or under “essential tools.” I spend a lot of time on it, but my feed is probably 70 percent work and 30 percent bad puns. I procrastinate by inflicting the latter on friends, but also wind up signing up for webinars, reporting, and pitching or finding string for future stories.

A child snuggles up with a purple blanket under a table and reads a book.
Jyoti’s coworker. Jyoti Madhusoodanan

My reading habits:

I read the news, longform, magazine stories on my phone. I loved Pocket but now I just keep a million tabs open until I’m done reading them. I couldn’t read books for a while after my daughter was born but have been trying to get back in the habit over the last two years. I’m keeping it easy by reading uncomplicated narratives, usually right before bed—memoir, crime, YA. Historical fiction is probably what features most often on my list.

Sleep schedule:

Usually asleep sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 and up between 5:00 and 7:00, depending on the day.

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