how i get it done

How I Get It Done: Audrey Cooper, Editor-in-Chief of the San Francisco Chronicle

Audrey Cooper.
Audrey Cooper. Illustration: Rebecca Clarke

Audrey Cooper is the editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Chronicle. She is the first woman to hold the position in the paper’s 150-year history. She has a scooter, a 3-year-old son, and a husband, who runs a medical-technology company. She gets to work at 8:30 a.m. every morning and works almost every weekend, with three hours to herself on Saturdays. She gets roughly 2,000 emails a day and her schedule is full at least three weeks in advance. Here is how she gets it all done.

On accepting that she can’t be on time in the morning:
Every Monday I say I’m going to be in the office at 8:30 to meet with my assistant Christina, and I am almost never on time. About half the time I take my 3-year-old son to school. We’re working on getting dressed and that’s difficult. On Monday, I told him that if he hurried he could have a candy bar for breakfast because he thinks that granola bars are the same thing as candy bars. I’m soon to get my mother-of-the-year award in the mail.

I was 15 minutes late this Monday. I promised Christina that we’d move back our meetings because she’s always on time and I’m not, which is rude. We mostly discuss the week ahead and what’s going on, any outstanding issues. If I have to do any appearances or things like that for the week, she has the details and will remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing.

On the necessary evil of meetings:
I don’t even know what my life would be like if I didn’t have meetings. The newsroom is a really large and complicated operation that involves a lot of moving parts, so I don’t feel like it’s a waste of time. It’s the most amazing thing ever when a meeting is canceled. My mood improves significantly. If I can’t make a meeting, somebody else goes and sends me a rundown of what happened.

My schedule is usually filled out to the half hour, with almost no openings, about three or four weeks in advance. It can be pretty crazy. So whenever people come up to Christina and say, “Hey, can I get 30 minutes with Audrey?” we laugh. Yeah, in three weeks. This week, I asked Siri how many meetings I had in one day, and I took a screenshot of it because she said, “You have 16 meetings today. That’s a lot.” Thanks Siri, you unhelpful little thing.

On the snafus that occur when you’re a mother and a boss:
Wednesday started as kind of a disaster because I had on my schedule that I had rescheduled time to read to my kid’s preschool class, which I had to reschedule three times before because meetings kept coming up at the last minute. I’d already flaked on both my son and his teachers so I couldn’t skip reading to his class this time. Since I didn’t have to be there until 9, I had this great idea that I would go to the gym and then I decided stupidly to drive, but then I got stuck in the parking garage from hell that I couldn’t figure out how to get out of. Because I couldn’t figure out how to prepay my ticket. Long story short, I was 20 minutes late to read to the preschool class. Another mother-of-the-year moment. I should have not driven. Those books they have to read are heavy, though!

On day-to-night dressing and accepting when you’re too tired to put on eyeliner:
I had an event that night, so I had to dress up more than usual. I got out of reading to the class and I came back to work and I was wearing an all-white dress, brand new. As I was getting out of my car, of course I bumped the coffee against the steering wheel and came into the newsroom with coffee all down the front of me, and I was supposed to go into a meeting with a freelancer who had just left Sports Illustrated. I walked in looking like a disaster. I had eight meetings after that so I didn’t have time to go home and change. I took the dress off in the bathroom and I soaked it, and thank god nobody walked into the bathroom. We got a Tide pen, I don’t even know how it came out.

Friday morning when I woke up was probably the most exhausted I’ve ever been, to the point where I could not summon the energy to put on eyeliner. It makes everybody go, “Gosh, you look really tired,” and I’m just like, “No, I’m just not wearing eyeliner.” We also had a work event on Sunday night, and I had informed my husband that I do not have a dress that matches in formality with his tuxedo that was clean. So I went to the mall to try to find one, but didn’t. These are things guys don’t have to worry about: What are you going to wear on the day of this event? It seems like it happens to me a lot. The dress I ended up wearing was not altogether clean. I wore a sweater over it and nobody could tell.

On the never-ending workday and the never-ending workweek:
I am almost never home before 7. If it’s a great day I leave at 6:45. Probably an average of three nights a week I have events at night, so I’m not home until 9, 10, 11, depending on what the event is. There’s a secret 15-minute break in my schedule after our afternoon news meeting. It never takes as long as it’s scheduled for. If I haven’t eaten lunch by then, I can run downstairs to our cafe and get something. But I also go to a lot of lunches, working lunches. Probably half the week is a working lunch and the other half I eat after our 2:30 news meeting. That’s really hard when you’re not eating carbs. I tried last week to stop eating carbs again.

I have a job where I’m working 24 hours a day really. I know everybody thinks that, but the news happens all the time, so I’m always on call. I frequently have events at night and on the weekends.

What a typical weekend looks like:
Saturday morning is usually my time by myself. I get three hours to go to the gym and stay in bed a little longer. This last Saturday, I actually did have a pseudo-work event. I had to go to the Warriors game. We have a suite that the Chronicle gets every other time, so we pull in advertisers and other people. I thought it was a night game all stupidly and then I realized it was a day game, so you can’t find a babysitter in the middle of the day. On Friday night I was working on this very complicated arrangement where a friend that loves basketball would go with me in exchange for his wife watching the kid. In the end, my husband who was supposed to be at a conference in town, decided to skip part of it so that I could go. There was a lot of shuffling around of childcare duties.

Saturday night we went out with our friends and then we went home and I fell asleep at 8, which is the very unsexy reality that is my life. When you have a three-year-old that jumps on your head at 6 in the morning, you get tired really easily.

On responding to her glut of emails:
I get approximately 2,000 emails a day, regardless of what day it is. I try really hard to respond to all of them that are not spammy. When I wake up in the morning, I roll over and grab my phone. I read the newspaper online. On Sundays, particularly, I try to read it before I do anything else because then the day gets crazy. I try do all of that before my son is awake.

On forcing yourself to be okay with not getting everything done:
I didn’t cross a single thing off of my work to-do list this week. Not a single thing. They’re all still there. I still haven’t written my employees’ evaluations, I still haven’t done a ton of stuff. That’s something that I always think, “Maybe I’ll get some time this weekend to do it,” but I felt pretty good about the meeting on Thursday. I should have done an updated email that said, ”Here’s what we all agreed on” but being busy editors, I’m hoping they will grant me a one- or two-day reprieve. And it starts all over again this week.

Am I satisfied with my week? I work sometimes 100 hours a week. I think that’s like as much as you can expect from yourself. I saw my kid and I read to his class — and usually I feel like the worst parent ever, so I’d say that’s a pretty good week for me.

How a Newspaper Editor-in-Chief Gets It All Done