What I’m working on:
For the past year and change, I’ve had a pretty thrilling secret project: preparing for the launch of a new publication. I am over the moon to announce that The Transmitter went live yesterday at an event at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, DC. Like Spectrum, it’s a trade publication, but for neuroscientists of all stripes, at all career stages. It has news, opinion, and analysis of the field, written by journalists and scientists, and we have ambitious plans to develop tools as well. We want to be useful to our readers, in the classic tradition of great trade journalism. And Spectrum isn’t going away: It is now a brand within The Transmitter and will continue to serve our loyal audience of autism researchers.
The development work has been so much fun, and I’m excited to finally get to tell people about it. We have a talented staff in place, throwing all of their creativity and smarts into the new site. We have a committed board of contributing editors—all prominent scientists offering essays and ideas. And we continue to expand the pool of freelancers we work with too. Reach out to me if you are interested in writing for an audience of working neuroscientists.
Where I work:
Monday through Thursday, I am in New York City’s Flatiron district at my office, which has lovely light and views over the city to the south and west. I can look out my windows and see all the way downtown or over to our apartment building in Hoboken, where my husband and I camp out during the week. The Transmitter team typically works from home on Friday—although it’s been key to have everyone in the same place at least some of the time to brainstorm for our launch. I try to spend every weekend at our house in Philadelphia. I love our neighborhood there and it’s just a nice change of environment.
I am usually up by 7:00 a.m. at the latest. Coffee first. Always. I try to get to a Pilates class at least once a week before work and then head in for our daily 9:30 staff meeting. I recently moved apartments and so I am experimenting with new routes: shuttle to the PATH, ferry to the bus, bus to the subway. If it’s not raining, I regularly swap out one of those transportation legs—on land, that is—for a quick 30-minute walk. When my daughter was in high school, I used to commute daily from Philadelphia to New York, so it’s fun to have lots of options now.
In the office, my days are a mix of meetings: with our editorial team to discuss pitches and the status or scheduling of different stories; with the various agencies that have helped us with the branding, market research, and site development for The Transmitter; with sources or freelance writers I am working with on a range of stories or projects; and sometimes with colleagues elsewhere at the Simons Foundation. (Spectrum and The Transmitter are supported by, but editorially independent from, the foundation.) In between, I work on edits and making assignments and keeping tabs on everything flowing through production. If I have time, I like to squeeze in another walk at lunch.
I try to make it home by 7:30 p.m. During the week, my husband and I usually eat dinner together and just relax, or sometimes we take another walk. On the weekends, we try to jam in a week’s worth of socializing and sports and time outdoors.
Most productive part of my day:
Early in the morning, before the day’s meetings and Slack chatter begin. In fact, I am writing this at 6:32 a.m. It’s just easier for me to focus and plow through things uninterrupted. I used to be very much a night person, but now I work at night only if I absolutely need to find more hours in the day.
Most essential ritual or habit:
Probably walking. I try to walk as much as I can. I need to move a lot, so getting my steps in helps me use up that energy and clear my thoughts.
Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:
No novelty here. I have hundreds of Google docs for collecting ideas and string from different meetings and conversations with people. And I still take a lot of scratchy notes by hand. I always have a notebook or three going.
How I keep track of my to-do list:
Now that I am putting this down in words, it sounds tragically like some sad digital version of a true ‘80s kid’s Trapper Keeper binder. But so be it: I have a garish color-coded spreadsheet, with different columns for different parts of my life—the two magazines, the two houses etc. I also keep a lot of shared Google docs so that my co-workers and I can jot down things we need to talk about together. Quick-turnaround tasks sometimes live on sticky notes on my desk—and then migrate to the master spreadsheet if they linger long enough (or I drop food on them).
I’ll confess to sometimes adding things to my spreadsheet that I’ve just done—instant satisfaction! I’ve tried some of the apps but the notifications make me crazy. I’d rather scan my list and triage what to tackle next based not just on urgency, but the amount of time I have at that moment. I kind of make a game out of squeezing smaller tasks into those interstitial spaces between meetings. If I win, I have a shorter list the next day—at least temporarily.
Essential software/apps/productivity tools:
I am particularly fond of Airtable for keeping track of our lineup and other projects. And I’d find it hard to live without Slack. We use it for some real conversations—which are still always better in person—but we also have fun, silly channels; #bad-stock-photography is essentially one long caption-writing contest. Otherwise it’s the usual stuff: Google and Adobe Creative Cloud, Word and WordPress.
Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:
On weekends, I’ve started trying to play golf, which seems unrivaled in its capacity to suck up whole days. It’s also a terrific way to cultivate, hothouse-style, greater patience. At my stage of learning, even the shortest par 3 can quickly turn into a dramatic reenactment of Zeno’s paradox: I whack the ball halfway to the hole, and then halfway again, and again—without ever quite getting there. Regardless, I get all my frustrations out and come back to my desk ready to do something else.
For short-term procrastination, I love to doodle and draw. I also play a lot of word games. I try to finish the New York Times crossword in the span of my train/ferry/bus ride every morning, and my daughter, who is in college, often sends me Boggle-like games by text. She beats me every time.
My reading habits:
I love reading newspapers—from big national papers to my Philly neighborhood’s local rag. And research papers at work. Otherwise, I read mostly fiction at home. This past year, I sped through Caleb’s Crossing and Things Fall Apart, which I somehow never read in school. And I’ve been revisiting Palace Walk; I read it a long time ago and I’m now listening to the audiobook. I recently picked up Dave Barry’s Swamp Story, but I have had a hard time getting into anything new the past few weeks. In September, we lost our cat Cocoa, who was the consummate lap cat. Every time I sit down to read, I miss his weight anchoring me to the chair.
I am almost always in bed by 10:00 p.m. these days. My younger self is embarrassed for me.