Kate Lewis, Hearst’s chief content officer, writes a weekly to-do list and throws it out


I realize most of you won’t know who this woman is upfront, but it’s in the title and I want to talk about to-do lists! Plus I really like Hearst because they regularly send us content and photos. I think they sent us a takedown notice once and they were so nice about it that I was grateful they emailed us. That’s part of the reason I wanted to cover this interview with Kate Lewis, who is their chief content officer. Also, as I always say, I love talking about schedules and processes and find The Cut’s How I Get It Done series fascinating. Lewis said that she writes a list of things to do once a week and then just throws it out and doesn’t stress over it. I really like some of the other points she made, particularly about not sending email on off hours.

On to-do lists:
Once a week I write down everything on my to-do list. It’s a full page of items in eight-point font, and it’s a tremendously overwhelming thing. Then I throw it out. I figure whatever I can remember from what I’ve written down is what I really have to do, and everything else is kind of bullshit. It’s so good. For so long I had notebooks and downloaded to-do list apps, and as soon as I wrote everything in there, I was mad. So I was like, okay, I’m going to try a new approach, and this has been very effective for me. If you fall off the list, sorry!

On managing her inbox:
If you email me and I don’t respond, you have to email me again. I need a nudge. I travel a lot, and on airplanes I sort my inbox by sender and go through by human. I’ll search for all the emails from “Stella,” and deal with it for Stella. Then when I get off the plane, that person gets like 5,000 emails from me, but that’s how I do it.

I’m self conscious about emailing people at night or on the weekends because I think they will feel like they should respond, and I don’t really want them to. So, I actually turn off my email during off-hours and then wait to send them at a normal time. If I’m doing email late at night, I won’t send it until the morning.

On managing managers:
I try to manage with compassion. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about because I think often people who seem optimistic and smiley — which is just my general nature — are perceived as not gritty or tough enough to manage. I really want to fly in the face of that.

[From The Cut]

As someone who writes a daily to-do list, this frustrates me. I get that the point of writing a to-do list and throwing it out may be like studying for a test, but you get a free pass in life to bring notes. It would drive me crazy to have to memorize what I need to do instead of making a list. I get a little rush out of checking sh-t off and getting it done. I’m one of those people who does the dishes right away and who likes doing the dishes at my friends’ houses though. Also, how do you only have one to-do list for an entire week? *Drinks more coffee*

As for the not sending emails on weekends issue, this is something they’ve discussed on Happier with Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite podcasts. Gretchen regularly sends emails on weekends and holidays, but realizes that some people hate this so she’s trying to stop doing that. I try not to do it too much either. Once someone emailed me on Christmas Eve and I was so pissed off I decided not to work with them. That was an exception though.

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18 Responses to “Kate Lewis, Hearst’s chief content officer, writes a weekly to-do list and throws it out”

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  1. Becks1 says:

    I love to-do lists, but I can see what she is saying too. If you write it out, and things stick in your head, those are probably the most important things. For me, writing out a to-do list is the biggest way I manage my anxiety, so I do it every day at home and work. I put things on it just to cross them off, it makes me feel productive, lol (like “take a shower.”) And sometimes when I’m overwhelmed, a to-do list just makes it seem manageable.

    In college and law school, I would make to-do lists for studying, and put time limits on it. “from 9 am to 1030, read for southern politics. 1030-11, coffee break. 11-1230, study psych.” etc. It really helped to manage my time.

    • Kaye says:

      I, too, add things to my to do list so I can cross them off. “Buy groceries” . . . okay, I did that this morning, but I’m going to add it anyway since I did do it, and then I get more satisfaction from checking it off.

  2. Eliza says:

    Sounds like a waste of time. Write it down to throw it out. I mean surely she’d remember the important things without that exercise?

    And sending “5000″ emails after weeks of being ignored. She sounds like a very disorganized boss? Surely an assistant can organize her inbox (if she can’t) that emails from x sender go into a folder?

  3. Lex says:

    Why would an email received on a certain day annoy you? Don’t look? And if you looked (you had to look to be annoyed), why did you? And if not, just reply when you see it. There is literally no problem. People work when they can.

    Check emails if working. Don’t if not. It isn’t difficult?

    • NicoleK says:

      Yeah, this stood out as incredibly petty. It’s just a day and not one that means everything to some people.

    • Birdix says:

      I get emails nights and weekends from my boss and it annoys me because 1. I have to stop to check if it’s an emergency, which it rarely is and 2. Because she’s an awful person and I’d rather limit my exposure to her to work hours. But because of the nature of my (and many people’s) job, I can’t turn email off during non-work hours.

    • Wilady says:

      Same. Just because they choose to work on a certain day doesn’t mean you have to?? And that they deserve “punishment”? No. Just no.

      And if someone works through the night to catch up because those are their hours, it doesn’t mean you need to too. Respond during your own hours, and relax a little.

  4. Ms Lib says:

    A full page of things to do in eight point font! Yikes, I couldn’t even read it. She is a busy woman and my hunch is she has other ‘lists’ that she employs. Maybe not, she might just have that good of a memory. Interesting article and just the right length so I have time to make my to do list ;-)

  5. Faithmobile says:

    I do this. I work from home and have deadlines to meet. My to do lists often get tossed because after it’s typed out it’s in my head. I keep my long term to do lists however.

  6. lucy2 says:

    She sounds like she’s trying to be a decent boss, which is good. I hate that people are expected to be on the job 24/7 these days because communication is so easy, it’s not fair and many take advantage of it. Email isn’t as big a deal though, we get emails from clients at all hours, but I don’t check them until I come in the office, so it’s no big deal. it’s not instant like a text.

    The list thing wouldn’t work for me – I write stuff down BECAUSE I forget to do things, including important ones. Having a physical list helps me stay organized and on task, and I get a sense of accomplishment crossing things off.

    • lucy2 says:

      Forgot to add this earlier – there was some talk that Hearst killed the Bryan Singer story a while back. Hmm.

  7. Keira says:

    Fellow Gretchen fan here! What tendency are you, @Celebitchy?

  8. SamC says:

    I’ll respond to emails after hours and on weekends as long as I’m not officially off for vacation or sick.

    We use Outlook/Office 365 and there is an option to delay sending emails, so while I will often write emails to my support team on weekends, I’ll schedule delivery for Monday.

    And yeah, much as I love tech I’m a handwritten, manual check off to do list person as well.

  9. Esma K. says:

    “Gretchen regularly sends emails on weekends and holidays, but realizes that some people hate this so she’s trying to stop doing that.” I don’t really get the outrage over this. I can send the email on a weekend or holiday it doesn’t mean I expect you to respond immediately. Why are we policing when people send things? If you are the kind of person who doesn’t like doing emails over the weekend than don’t check your email and don’t respond you know?

    • Who ARE these people? says:

      When it’s the boss sending the email, it’s harder to ignore and it also sets a bad example.

  10. sparker says:

    sounds like veiled elitist humble brag to me.

    • yiza says:

      THANK YOU. I was here to say this. I read an interview with Jonathan Franzen about how he had an office to write in and “he worked everywhere but the office.” Massive eyeroll.