Like many of his readers, Washington Post audience editor Steven Johnson started feeling a “warped sense of time” as the pandemic ensued.
To regain a sense of stability and routine, he launched a newsletter called “What Day Is It?” that examines how the perception of time affects mental health. This 7-day email series offers to help readers “recover [their] sense of time and redefine [their] week.”
We reached out to Johnson by email to learn more about the newsletter and the importance of routines for self-care.
What prompted you to launch What Day Is It?
Johnson: After those first torrents of coronavirus news, it was clear we needed to speak to parts of life that were going to stick around: collective grief, the toll on mental health, the cut-off sense of the future. Our team has run a few projects connecting with readers directly, creating a Facebook group for the newly unemployed and fielding thousands of questions about the pandemic. Readers were telling us directly how the pandemic was disrupting their lives. One of the most common experiences, which I felt too, was a warped sense of time.
Where do you find the inspiration for your daily tips?
Johnson: I spoke pretty much exclusively with clinical psychologists and researchers. Their tips had a lot to do with building routine, which could sound like time management lingo in another context. But framing them through resilience was eye-opening.
The biggest “aha” moment was not just learning wellness tips, like leaving your phone in another room — it was learning how those tips work together and actually ground you in time.
Who do you consider the main audience for this newsletter?
Johnson: We created it for anyone who’s been saying something like “time is meaningless now,” and especially for people who are still spending a lot of time at home: remote workers, the retired, the unemployed.
I hope it inspires some intergenerational dialogue, too. I wrote it with other young adults in mind, but I’ve heard a lot from older readers who feel isolated. Part of the newsletter talks about how younger people have a lot to learn from their elders about future perspectives.
How has the response been so far?
Johnson: Even better than I expected! Lots signed up on just the first day, and I’ve already had some great conversations with readers. We hope to keep hearing from them after it’s over, and have them share their new routines.
Why do you think routines are so important, particularly for journalists?
Johnson: Media exposure is a huge stressor that can warp your sense of time, and journalists can’t get away from it. (Sign up!) After the nightmarish spring, I’d settled into some kind of routine, but it was ad hoc. I still felt disconnected from time. As I reported the newsletter, I learned how to intentionally place those routines in different days, literally assigning meaning and purpose to parts of the week.
One theme of the newsletter is: “Routine keeps you from losing time. New and fulfilling experiences give it meaning.”
How are you taking care of yourself during the pandemic?
Johnson: Besides dailyish exercise like yoga or running, I learned to add an “anchor point” to almost each day — something that adds meaning and distinguishes one day from another. For me, that looked like family calls on Tuesday, “do nothing” brain breaks on Wednesdays, volunteering on Thursdays, and so on. Sometimes I adjust, and I don’t beat myself up if I don’t magically feel better.
Importantly, I do pointless stuff too — still video games and Great British Bake Off.