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 timelines. They have been easier to deal with the uncertainties of childcare etc. during a pandemic. I try to book them early for each term and keep them at six to eight pieces, so I know what I’m doing for the next three months or so at all times. I miss writing breaking news, but it’s been hard to fit those things into my schedule for the past two years.

My current obsessions lie somewhere at the crossroads of medical experimentation, required standards for clinical evidence, health equity and what all of this means for how you or I end up being treated in a clinic. Concretely, this means that I continue to work on a draft report on how racial identity is used in health care and medicine. I’m also working on a new project about how people experience clinical trials of new drugs.

Where I work:

I work from my home in Portland, Oregon. After several years of working in the living room or guest bedroom, it was nice to have an entire room to call my office. For the past two-plus years of sharing with my now five-year-old daughter, it’s been 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 work of art that reminds me (a friend who shared) Ann Patchett’s writing advice: “It turns out that the distance between the head and the hand, from floating butterfly to the entomological specimen, is achieved by regular practice. .”

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

Daily routine:

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

Usually the day starts between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Over coffee, I Wordle and write a to-do list for the day using Google Keep on my phone. This includes everything from follow-up emails and replying to edits, to buying school supplies for my daughter. Work usually starts between 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., depending on if I have early calls and who is making the return to school. I work until about 2:30 with a break for lunch, then it’s pick up time. Somewhere there is a walk or some workout. Evenings are a tangle of gymnastics/ballet/playgrounds/dinner prep/etc. Sometimes I spend about an hour at my desk (while said art projects etc. are in progress). This time is reserved for more interruptible work, such as emails, invoices, or very light edits.

Most productive moment of my day:

Mornings. I might work on a draft later in the evening if I can figure out a tricky bit of a story, but those days are rare. For difficult projects or drafts, I get up around 3 a.m. and work non-stop until 7 or 8 a.m. It’s exhausting but I like the pace and calm of those hours before everyone is up.

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

Most essential ritual or habit:

A look after lunch in the backyard, to see what’s growing/blooming/dying and keep an eye out for what the bunnies and squirrels are up to.

Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:

I type an MS Word document if I’m at my computer or whatever type of notepad is handy when I go out, usually a standard journalist’s notepad (I’m not a fan per se, but I haven’t searched hard enough to find an alternative that I like). But I have a favorite pen! Sarasa Zebra, 0.7mm.

How I keep track of my to-do list:

A mix of Google Keep, sticky notes and my whiteboard for everyday tasks. I use Trello to gather strings for slow burn projects. All interviews, appointments, reminders, etc. go to my calendar, which is synchronized between my phone and my computer.

Essential productivity software/apps/tools:

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

Favorite habit of wasting time/procrastination:

I don’t know whether to put Twitter here or under “essential tools”. I spend a lot of time on it, but my feed is probably 70% work and 30% bad puns. I procrastinate on inflicting the latter on my friends, but I also end up signing up for webinars, reporting and pitching or researching strings for future stories.

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

My reading habits:

I read the news, long formats, magazine articles on my phone. I used to love 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 I’ve been trying to pick up the habit for the past two years. I keep it easy by reading simple stories, usually right before bed – memoir, crime, YA. Historical fiction is probably the most common thing on my list.

Sleep schedule:

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


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