How This Design Editor Stays Human

Grant Rindner

The internet is a spam-bot for ways to be more productive. But in this age of “self care” (whatever that means?), a lot of us could use more help focusing on the things that keep us feeling grounded and alive. Our ongoing series, How I Stay Human, shares the best work-life balance adviceemphasis on the “life” partfrom friends we admire.

Working in the media industry blurs the lines between career and personal interests until they feel indistinguishable. It’s one of the reasons burnout is so common—if you love movies and become a film journalist, the prevailing wisdom says you should never get sick of movies. But the reality is rarely so simple, as Sydney Gore, digital design editor for Architectural Digest, has learned throughout her professional life.

Gore, 28, and I first met as contributors to the music blog Pigeons & Planes in 2017. After years profiling pop stars and indie rock darlings for outlets like Highsnobiety and MTV, her interests shifted toward design and wellness, specifically how trends in those industries speak to our cultural moment. Covering mushroom mania for The Strategist and the wiggly-furniture wave for the New York Times, she also established her curatorial sense with the Instagram account Spoiled Goods.

Her writing and refined eye caught the attention of the people at Architectural Digest, who offered her a staff position in the spring of 2021. Before accepting, Gore had to consider whether it was worth disrupting her successful rhythm as a freelancer. In the end, she says, “It was a risk worth taking. [I had to have] the confidence to know that if the vibe’s not feeling right, I can walk away and be okay. I’ll have learned from the experience.”

At AD, Gore is both a writer and an editor, the kind of dual role that can cause your free time to evaporate. I texted her to see if she’d be up for sharing how she maintains that separation, and she offered the tips below in her own words—including using the out-of-office message (even as a freelancer!), knowing when you’re in a creative groove, and being frank about when you need more time.

Photo illustration: Brenden Lovejoy

Establish your own “office hours”—and stick to them

[While freelancing] I started using that app Calendly; it became like my assistant to help me have an organized schedule. It connects to your calendar and you can set a certain number of hours where you’re available, so if people are like “Can we hop on a call?” or “Let’s do this interview,” you can send them the link so they know when you’re open. Wednesdays I’d give myself off. If I wanted to just rest or meditate I could do that, and if I did want to work then I could, but it was no pressure. And I wouldn’t take any meetings on Wednesdays.

Distinguish between you, the employee, and you, the person

It’s important to have a life outside of work. Not to say that you shouldn't be passionate about the work you’re doing—being driven and ambitious and motivated in that respect is amazing and I fully support that. But when it becomes a little too intertwined, that’s when people lose themselves and get wrapped up in this internal dilemma of “my entire identity is based around my job or profession.” After my first job I was like, “Wait, everything I am and do has been about this brand. Who am I without it?” Slowly I realized, “This job doesn’t define me or make me who I am.” You’re a person and a job is a job.

Understand your energy patterns

I learned recently that in human design there are energy types, and I think everybody should look into this. It gives you a better understanding of the kind of quote-unquote worker that you are. I learned that I’m a projector: Basically, I absorb all the information and then, as the name implies, I project it. I digest it for people to better understand and then I put it out there, but I can’t be on-on-on, working 24/7. After I do that, I need time to chill out and recharge. So for me, that’s why the 9-to-5 constraints aren’t the most productive.

In the beginning [of work from home], I was really bad about remembering to eat lunch. You’ll blink and it’s 3 pm and you’re like, “I haven’t eaten since I made that omelet this morning.” I always give myself a lunch break, I think that’s really important and helpful. Even if I don’t want a full lunch, I go grab a matcha. I usually do that in the morning to start my day, but sometimes I wake up and immediately want to work, so I go in the afternoon and give myself a little space to step away from the screen, get some fresh air, and move.

I tend to reach a point in the early afternoon where you feel the wheels in your mind starting to slow down and then you’re like, “Okay, I’m kinda done for the day.” I’ll light some incense or palo santo, try to get a scent moving through the space, and allow myself to slowly turn off a little bit.

After my first job I was like, “Wait, everything I am and do has been about this brand. Who am I without it?” Slowly I realized, “This job doesn’t define me.” You’re a person and a job is a job.

Build restorative habits into your free time

Weekly meditation classes have been a really grounding practice for me. I live near Central Park so whenever I have the energy, I’ll go for a walk to clear my head. I’m an earth sign so being immersed in nature is essential. I also listen to music throughout the day. When I can’t see friends in person, music is the next best thing—it’s my favorite companion for moments of solitude.

Do what you have gas in the tank for

[My work modes are] like being a taxi with the light on or off. When the light is off, I’m zooming. I’m in that creative flow, no interruptions. When the light is on, I’ve got nothing, I need a distraction. I will pretty much procrastinate. And that’s the thing—I read something recently that said people want you to think you’re a procrastinator, but really they just want you to feel bad because you’re not burning yourself out.

Especially when you’re working full-time, there are a lot of administrative tasks you’re expected to do and I’m always like, “If I could just remove all of these things, all of these meetings, this would be great.” So when I’m really not feeling creative or like I want to write, I lean into those tasks. I’m still doing my job, just not the creative part. I make sure I have the time and space when the flow is there so I can get done what I need to.

Don’t be afraid to ask for an extension when life interferes with your ability to work

When the racial reckoning was happening [in the summer of 2020], I had a couple assignments I was working on and I was just so mentally, physically, emotionally exhausted that I did not have a fiber in my being that could do them. I contacted my editors and was just like, “Look, I really am not up for working on this story right now. I still want to do it, but I’m not going to be able to meet the deadline. Would it be okay if I extended it by a couple weeks?” All of them were very cooperative, had no problem with it, and allowed me to do that. When the time came and I was finally up for the task, the stories turned out really, really great.

It doesn’t help anybody if you’re struggling in your personal life and then you’re trying to work on something. I’ve had writers who’ve had something going on and didn’t tell me and I’m following up a million times just being like, “Hey, what’s going on?” Once they told me what the situation was, I of course was like, “Let’s extend this” or “Don’t worry about it, let me take this off of your plate.” But if you’re not comfortable communicating that to your editor/manager, that affects your reputation and makes people think you’re not able to get things done.

I like to give people a little something to smile about in their inbox, with the hopes that they genuinely will not bother me and respect the out-of-office.

Reclaim the OOO (and make it your own)

Setting an out-of-office message was something I didn’t do for a long time when I was a freelancer because I was like, “Well, I set my own hours, so I don’t really need to do that.” And then I realized there were some days I really didn’t want to be bothered, so I should just set an out-of-office so people aren’t emailing me and following up wondering what’s going on. I started doing that more and it was great. And when I’ve had these salaried positions, I always make a point to make the OOO as amusing as possible. I share songs, a GIF—I switch it up every time. Email can be mundane and I like to give people a little something to smile about in their inbox, with the hopes that they genuinely will not bother me and respect the out-of-office.

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