how i get it done

How Creative Director (and New Mom) Anna Polonsky Gets It Done

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Francesca Wade

For this special edition of “How I Get It Done,” we’re asking successful women about how they’re making their return to the “office” as new moms.

Before she had her 11-month-old son, Nicah, Anna Polonsky traveled a lot. For Polonsky (who was born in France) and her husband, restaurateur Fernando Aciar (who is from Argentina), it was essential for feeling connected to home. Even with a baby, the couple manages to visit each of their families for several weeks. That’s in large part why Polonsky created a job that allowed her a certain level of freedom — even if that means she’s never really able to log off.

Polonsky is the founder of creative agency Polonsky and Friends, a New York–based strategy and design studio specializing in food-related projects for clients like Troutbeck (a hotel in upstate New York), Le Doyenné (a farm and restaurant outside of Paris), and Moonflower (an Afghan American saffron brand). She also co-founded newsletter The Deligram, which spotlights artisanal food- and beverage-makers in New York. Polonsky finds time for work whenever she can — in the quiet hours of the morning, on walks, while abroad. It’s an approach that worked for her before having a baby, and now it allows her the flexibility to be sustainably present for both her family and her clients. 

Her morning routine:
Nicah wakes up around 6:30 a.m. My husband, FeFo, and I try to alternate who gets him. If it’s FeFo’s morning, I’ll try to sleep another hour, but if it’s my morning, I feed him his bottle. I change him. Then we play and do breakfast — he has started to eat solids, so he’ll have fruit and a little bread. He goes back to sleep at 8:30 a.m., then it’s my time. I’m not a big breakfast person. Sometimes I don’t eat, but if I do, it’s yogurt and granola. Sometimes I just chill and do my emails on my phone. Sometimes I sit with myself and do nothing, because there are not a lot of moments like that. We do a nanny share, and she’ll pick him up around 10:30 a.m.

On feeling like she has “made it”:
Celebrating my wins at work is something I have never done and want to get better at. I definitely have imposter syndrome. When you start feeling like you can say no, it’s an amazing privilege. When you’re starting your career, you’re scared to say no to something, because it could lead to something else. At this point, I know our value, and that has been a nice thing. I think it’s an effect of being a creative director and not making things with my hands. You always wonder, What’s your value? The way I am an entrepreneur is not traditional.

With Polonsky and Friends, I am more focused on what I offer in terms of brand strategy and design. I think we are slowly but surely starting to be recognized for our analog approach, which includes a lot of hand-done typography, illustration, heavy print production, and collaborations with artisanal makers. We don’t do digital — something that’s unheard of in 2023!

On work-life balance: 
I check my emails as soon as I wake up. I check my emails before opening a book when I go to bed. I get back to my clients’ texts and WhatsApp messages throughout the day pretty much in real time. I finish work in front of movies at night, to my husband’s dismay, and I snap photos of inspiration for my team and write notes on my phone anytime I get ideas. Other than the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. And after I had Nicah, I have not been fully off. Even when I do disconnect, during family or friend hangs or on the weekend, my brain never fully does.

But I realized pretty early in my career that my private life was important, so I kept the infrastructure as lean as I could. There are certain things that I’ll never do, because I want to stay small. It enables me to be close to every project while being flexible about where and when I work.

On going back to work quickly: 
I only took a month of maternity leave, but in all honesty, I was back on email two weeks in. Everyone was like, “You’re crazy. You need to take care of yourself. Clients will understand.” But working helped get my mind off breastfeeding and sleepless nights. At the end of the day, my work is not a corporate job for someone else. It actually gave me space from this new insane reality. I was so happy to be back. It helped me from a mental-health perspective.

I’m privileged. My studio is here in Brooklyn. I’m my own boss. I don’t get to the studio before 10:30 a.m. I can work from home when I need to. I love motherhood, and I would do it all over again, but my work is my passion.

How she unwinds:
A lot of Netflix. I’ve been alternating between Black Butterflies (which is a really intelligent French thriller), Harlem, and Ramy, and I just started to love The Rehearsal. I’m reading books. I don’t read a lot everyday — more on the weekend. I just finished My Cousin by Vanessa Schneider and am starting The Creative Act by Rick Rubin. One thing I do diligently daily to manage stress and stay grounded is walk. Since I arrive later to the office, I’m tempted to take a five-minute bus to the studio, but I force myself to walk the 20 minutes, and that really changes the day.

How she exercises: 
I never stopped doing yoga. I haven’t been to a class in ages, but I started doing it on my own — I use an app, Glo. Sometimes it’s ten minutes, never more than 30, usually three to four times a week. To be able to stretch and have that time for myself mentally — it’s amazing. Two weeks ago, I started doing cardio on Zoom twice a week. I have a coach from Europe who is great. She’s based in Madrid. It’s 45 minutes. It’s hard, and I sweat. I don’t have the motivation for cardio, and I didn’t like the idea of wasting time walking back and forth to the gym, so I love the format.

On the people who help her get it done:
We had a night nurse for three months, so that was amazing. My family stayed for a couple of weeks, then we went to France for a month, and when we came back, we started the nanny share. We’re doing it with a family who lives five minutes away, and it has been great. We have a cleaning lady once a week. We always did, but I now ask her to do something I never asked her to do before: fold the clothes. I do the laundry, then pay her for an extra half-hour. Not having to spend my nights folding clothes — honestly, it’s the best little luxury.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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