Asha Dornfest and Christine Koh are the dynamic duo behind Edit Your Life, a podcast that explores how to simplify your life. They’ve discussed interesting topics ranging from raising a screen-smart kid to becoming more present in your day-to-day. They became online friends in 2006 and have gone on to work as close collaborative partners, including co-authoring the book Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less.
Asha Dornfest began her career as an independent writer in the mid-90s, writing how-to books about Web publishing. The combination of a longtime love affair with the Internet and becoming a parent led her to to discover blogging in the early 2000s. Little did she know that starting a blog would fire up the engine of her career for the next decade, leading to freelance work, travel, book writing, and a vital community of readers and creative colleagues, including Christine, her co-author, podcast co-host, and dear friend. Today, she’s a part-time writer and podcaster and spends her time on community political work and volunteer college prep guidance at a local high school. With her oldest child in College, an empty nest on the immediate horizon, and a possible career change for her husband, she’s excited for her next leap in life!
Christine Koh left her career as a music and brain neuroscientist in 2007. She’s delighted in the intensity of identifying creative gaps that she feels need to be filled and starting new projects. This began in 2006 with the lifestyle blog (Boston Mamas) she started while she was slogging (miserably) through her postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. As a new parent, she wondered why there wasn’t a more immersive lifestyle website (beyond a simple events calendar) for parents in Massachusetts…so she created what she was looking for. It took off and became one of the pioneering lifestyle hyperlocal sites in the United States. Over the years, she’s co-authored and co-hosted alongside Asha and stated several businesses including an advocacy-oriented apparel design company (Brave New World Designs). She’s also the creative director at the social media for social good agency Women Online, and has several regular freelance writing and editing projects on the side and is always contemplating new ideas.
Their joint productivity profile covers how they balance podcasting, parenting, and projects on a daily-basis and how they use Todoist to help organize their busy lives – both as individuals and creative partners!
I’ve always worked a flexible schedule determined by the needs of my family and balanced by my husband’s career as a software engineer. Some years have required more fine-grained scheduling and project planning, while others necessitated more work-family juggle.
Todoist helps me navigate the work/family/community/self balance I strive for each week. “Strive” is an important word because no week is perfectly balanced, and I rarely get to the end of the day with everything done. That’s okay with me as long as I’ve done what’s most important. Todoist gives me a way to make intelligent choices about how I use my time so I can stay clear on my priorities and get as close to balanced as I can.
5:30 am. I wake up, pull on my workout clothes and go have my first cup of coffee (which I’ve set up to brew the night before). I look through my Today list + my Google Calendar to see what I have going on. In addition to the traditional tasks and to-dos, I also have a recurring list of loved ones so their names pop up regularly to remind me to reach out or check in. Otherwise, it’s too easy to let the various to-do list items get in the way of what’s actually most important to me: staying connected to the people I care about.
6-7 am. Exercise. This is a new habit, and an imperfect one. I’ve finally realized that prioritizing my health is crucial so I’m committed to making it happen most days. I either go for a walk/run, head to the gym with my husband, or do some strength exercises in our basement. If I get sidetracked, I move my exercise to another slot during the day.
7-8 am. Shower, more of coffee, read the newspaper, journal, check email and manage my to-do list. During the school year I help my daughter wake up and make her lunch. This is also when I check in with her about her day before she heads off to school. During the summer it’s more relaxed, and I’ll often move to the back patio.
8-9ish am. I walk my dog. My best ideas happen while walking so I often find myself firing off a bunch of content and project notes using my phone’s voice dictation function. Everything ends up in my Todoist inbox, which I later sort into various project lists. Dog walks are also great times to chat on the phone.
9-3 pm. My work hours vary wildly, but generally happen during school. I work out of a home office which I share with my husband. (He, too, has worked from home for most of his career.) Todoist is open all day as is Google Calendar. I sometimes copy the day’s tasks and appointments into my journal because I find that I can conceptualize my time better when I write it out on paper. It also feels good to literally cross off to-do list items!
I work best with a fair amount of flexibility in my day, so I try not to book things back-to-back or have every hour figured out ahead of time. Too much structure dampens my creativity and makes me anxious, and it creeps into the quality of my work. Ironically, I’m less productive when I’m over-scheduled because I’m glued to my calendar and to-do list.
I take a break somewhere during the day for lunch which is usually some combination of leftovers from the night before. I’ve discovered that you can toss almost every leftover (cold) with greens and some oil and vinegar and make a delicious, hearty salad. I’ve even tried this with leftover take-out Chinese food and it was amazing (I added chopped almonds, scallions and a little rice vinegar).
My “deep work” time is clearest mid-morning so if I have meetings or phone calls, I try to arrange them for after lunch. I also try to catch up with friends for lunch or coffee or a walk once or twice per week.
3-5:30 pm. This is the best time for errands, paperwork, and home or medical appointments. Each week looks different depending on what my daughter has going on or (believe it or not) the weather. Sunshine in short supply in Portland, so if there’s a clear day in the forecast I try to plan for a walk or hike with a friend. I also spend at least 15 minutes in my back yard every day weeding or just wandering around staring at my growing plants. Being outside is my favorite form of self-care. I start cooking dinner at about 5:30 every day. I do some low-key meal-planning every weekend (tracked in Todoist), so I know what I’ve got in the fridge.
6-9:30 pm. Family time. We eat dinner together most nights, followed by a combination of homework, reading and TV. If it’s a warm evening I’ll go for a second walk. I’m a morning person, so my mind is fuzzy in the evenings; this is the time for low-to-no-thinking-required tasks like cleaning up the kitchen, folding laundry, and setting up the coffee machine. Before bed I’ll scan Todoist one last time, moving stuff I didn’t get done today to a future date. I love that tasks just appear in my Today list when it’s time. I also love the 7-day view so I can shuffle tasks around as my week evolves.
10 pm. Reading and sleep! I have a stack of books by my bed but I can usually only keep my eyes open for about 10 minutes before I pass out. Falling asleep almost instantly is one of my superpowers.
In a nutshell, there are a lot of moving pieces in my day given that I essentially need to touch 5 different businesses each day, plus handle the needs and fun of my family of four and the reality of care for my Mom. People often ask me how I get so much done and while part of that is my personality—I really am like a rabbit chasing a carrot!—logistically speaking, I rely heavily on productivity tools, and Todoist is at the center of that!
Below is a partial screenshot of a recent work day out of my home office. It’s pretty representative of my life as a multi-business entrepreneur parent in the sandwich generation. You will see my personal + work projects color coded in the left column and the beginning of my to-do list in the central area.
A few of my favorite ways to use Todoist:
- I integrate my calendar appointments since Todoist is always open when I’m working and so I don’t have to keep toggling back to my calendar. It also makes it easier for me to see where I have open blocks of time so I can organize my slaying of to-do list items!
- Sometimes I’ll also time-toggle certain tasks within my calendar appointments to help me organize my time.
- Each day I go through my list and priority flag items so they get red flagged bumped to the top of the list.
- I also use Google docs a ton and one of my favorite efficiency hacks is to add the links to Google docs I need for different tasks in the comments. That way I can just click to get to relevant documents immediately!
The one thing I wish Todoist offered was the ability to sort by project! If you’re in the Inbox or a project, you can sort by date, priority, or name, but I would love it if in the Today view, you could sort by project. I do this manually now, which is a bit of a time sink but is also necessary for me to see what needs to get done for each project on a given day.
Now, on to what my day looked like on this 77-task day!
6:15am: Wake up and head downstairs. I am a creature of habit; every morning I drink a large glass of water with a splash of coconut water in it followed by one cup of coffee. While I’m having my coffee I quickly scan news headlines, and then scan my e-mail to see if there’s anything urgent I need to plan for today. Then I open Todoist. I have 77 items on my to-do list today (pretty typical; it’s usually anywhere from 60-85 items) and I do a quick scan to flag high priority items. I also look at my Google calendar to double check that no meetings have been added to my calendar since yesterday. I integrate my meetings into Todoist because having it helps me figure out how to tackle my to-do items within my schedule.
7am: One of my greatest joys is playing tennis with my husband Jon. We have courts right in our neighborhood and I always feel better set up for the day when I exercise. Mornings are really the best time for us to play but on weekdays we don’t have a ton of time so I eat some watermelon (I don’t like to play on a super full stomach), put out breakfast for our kids and leave them a note, and we’re out the door by 7:05am.
7:10-7:40am: It’s a perfect morning for tennis. We laugh so hard, our neighborhood is such a circus, and today my groundstrokes were really good!
7:45am: Back at home, my daughters Laurel (14) and Violet (8) have already had breakfast but we do a touch base on the day, make sure everyone has what they need for the day, and then Laurel is out the door to go to soccer captain’s practice and Violet is soon to depart for camp. Jon is on point with Violet until she heads out so I can get moving on my work day.
8:15am: I recently developed a fantastic recipe for coconut overnight oats. I grab some and bring them to my office. I have a lot of things to do today but I have until 11am before my first meeting. My first step every day is what I call “quick Todoist triage.” I start by going through my to-do list project by project (my LLC work, consulting work, blog, podcast, design, and freelance editing…notice the color coding!) and take care of the items that I know I can tackle quickly so my list is less overwhelming before I dig into the more time consuming things. Today this includes e-mail triage, designing graphics, and dealing with client matters. By 9am I have gotten my to-do list down to 51 items.
9am: Break to call my Mom (I call her every Tuesday morning), deal with a bunch of family emails related to my Mom’s health, and take a shower.
9:40am: Settling back in to work. I’m wondering about my scheduled recordings today given that massive drilling has started outside of my office. This is for sure one of the annoying unpredictable elements of working out of a home office! I dig in to the client consulting items on my to-do list, scanning all the orange color coded items on my list (metrics reporting, Facebook management, content, e-mails). Basically I think in a “knock out that color category!” mentality! I then move on to take care of some to-do items for my blog Boston Mamas (engaging on social, assigning tasks to my assistants, editorial review). I decide to move my recording rig from my office to a different room in my house because the drilling is still going on right outside my window.
10:30am: Break to get camera ready! Because it’s summer, I keep my hair super simple (the rest of the year I’m all about loose waves) and by nature my makeup routine is fast. I’m dressed and ready in 10 minutes. And then in the 20 minutes before hopping on to my 11am interview, I take care of several podcast tasks (production HQ check-in, creating graphics for the next episode, fine tuning interview questions for an upcoming episode). By the time I break for the interview my to-do list is at 36.
11-11:50am: My book co-author and podcast co-host Asha Dornfest + I hop on a Google Hangout media interview.
11:50am-12:25pm: I don’t feel like I can relax for lunch until I’m done with my on-camera work so before my 12:30pm Facebook Live I record and edit a video for my Boston Mamas life skills editorial/video series and create the audiogram for the next podcast episode.
12:25-1pm: Facebook Live for a client. Praise be, the guest is tech savvy and there are no technical issues!
1-1:30pm: EXHALE. Busy, busy morning but got a lot done. I have a half hour before my next meeting so I head downstairs to make myself lunch; I almost always have some kind of salad with protein, which is the case today as well. Over lunch, I listen to The Daily podcast but my rage level starts rising rapidly so I switch to reading a novel. Reading is one of my very favorite forms of self-care!
1:30-2pm: Business development call. Because I’ve been so screen heavy, for most of the call I sit in a different part of my house and extend my gaze. If I don’t need to be at my computer for conference calls I routinely either sit somewhere else or I will stretch my body while I’m on the call. I am acutely aware of the amount of time I spend at my computer so I try to take advantage of all the small moments to move around.
2pm-3:40pm: Definitely feeling the energy flag creeping in. Coffee does not sit well with me in the afternoon so I make an iced green tea with honey and settle back into work. To-do list is at 31 tasks. I work through podcast to-do’s (managing social media, sound checking final cuts for the next episode, final review of show notes, responding to sponsorship emails). I take care of social media for a client. I triage my different e-mail accounts. I tackle Boston Mamas tasks (final editorial review for tomorrow’s new post, create Pinterest pin, update Boston Mamas editor’s pick posts, draft next newsletter). In the final stretch I take care of tasks for my advocacy-oriented apparel shop (checking order status, making donations, creating and sharing donation graphic on social). I do a quick check on my personal social media but quickly leave; I just don’t have time for it!
3:40pm: I have 8 things left on my to-do list (some personal, some work) but I need to switch into Mom mode and pick up kids at camp!
4-8:30pm: Get the kids home. Jon gets home early and the kids are eager to get to the tennis court (they also have the bug!) so we all head out to play and play doubles for the first time ever! We get home and my 14-year-old offers to make tacos (WINNING AT LIFE) so I go get a shower. We have dinner, then everyone goes into chill mode, which is a mix of reading books, playing video games, and watching American Ninja Warrior. I also take a few minutes to look at Todoist because I know I am closing out on productivity for the day. I check off some personal items I have completed and punt forward the items I couldn’t take care of for one reason or another. I finish the day with 73 tasks completed. At this point I also take a quick peek at my calendar + to-list for tomorrow just so I have a sense of the arc of the next work day. And then I stow my phone for the night.
8:30pm: Boss the kids to go up and get ready for bed. I always do my evening routine at the same time as my kids, otherwise it’s too tempting to just fall asleep at the end of the day. I brush, floss, and fluoride—no joke, ever since I started flossing, no cavities! I wash my face and follow with eye cream, toner, and moisturizer. Then I hunker in to hang out and catch up with Jon. When I started my freelance career I used to work every night after the kids went to bed and I know that that is how a lot of people squeeze in hours, but honestly, it was a disaster for my marriage.
Over the years, I have worked on mega-efficiency during the day and simply being better about setting boundaries. I work hard and intensely during the day so I no longer work in the evenings, and it is wonderful.
9:45pm: Head upstairs. I really, really love sleeping and am happiest with 8 (really, 9) hours of sleep. Since my teeth/face routine is already done, I crawl right into bed with a book (I’m currently reading The Lost Girls of Paris). I usually fall asleep with a book on my face after about 5 minutes, but I made it to 10pm this evening!
This interview with Asha Dornfest and Christine Koh has been edited and condensed.