Donna-Claire Chesman is the Managing Editor of DJBooth, a digital music magazine focused on publishing original editorial and video content daily, in addition to highlighting the best new music, both from mainstream and independent artists.
Based in Philadelphia, Donna has also written for publications such as Pigeons and Planes, Mass Appeal, XXL, and Vinyl Me, Please, among others.
Balance the Grind spoke to Donna about transitioning from freelancing to managing writers, typical day in the life of a Managing Editor, being honest about her workload, writing poetry as a way to recharge and plenty more!
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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?
Sure, my name’s Donna and I’m the Managing Editor of DJBooth.net, a digital hip-hop magazine based out of SoHo in New York City.
I started off writing for free and freelancing for a handful of years, and then one day Tyler, The Creator’s Flower Boy leaked.
The album was so special to me, I knew I had to write about it. I woke up, rolled over, pitched our EIC, Z, and went back to sleep.
When I woke up, he had accepted my pitch and we were off to the races, as they say. It was a really exciting moment, but I had no idea it would be the start of my career as I understand it today.
I freelanced for DJBooth from that point but opportunities kept cropping up and I kept being in the right place at the right time. I’d like to thank “hard work” or “perseverance,” but I also have to say that I am incredibly privileged and incredibly lucky.
2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
As Managing Editor, I do a lot of writing, business calls, meetings, pitch calls, and, of course, editing.
Somewhere in that mix I have to find time to pitch and write my own ideas. It gets pretty tricky, because I could spend two straight weeks on branded content and working with others, and it throws off my ability to write for myself.
To strike a balance in that department, between branded content, editing, and writing, I’d say is still a work in progress. But I’m trying!
3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
A typical day for me starts around 6:30AM with coffee and general check-ins with my people.
I think it’s incredibly important to keep a close circle of people you love and extend yourself to them a few times a day.
You have to be present in the lives of the people that matter to you. It’s all about reciprocity. So, from coffee and check-in time, I dive into emails.
I don’t have nearly as many emails as my EIC, but I get a good amount and my first order of business is to get back to everyone that needs my attention.
From there, I dive into editing everything that I either didn’t get to the previous night, or things that were sent in the morning hours.
By that time, my EIC usually gets online and we go over getting everything live for the day and its accompanying Twitter copy. And then, anything can happen!
I could be writing news blurbs all day, I could be pitching and writing a piece or two. I could have one, two, or three interviews in a day.
I could have a call with my dearest Senior Writer, Yoh, one of the greatest minds currently working. I could have a branded content meeting.
No two days are alike, which sounds trite, but is very true. It keeps things exciting but also exhausting.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?
Lists! Make a series of to-do lists. Organize things by importance, due date, run date, and be honest with yourself. My favorite app for this is Trello.
I use it on my desktop and on my phone to keep myself organized and feeling like I am on top of my work. I like to push myself whenever possible.
I just marathoned interviews for two weeks, but I ended up feeling burnt out and sick afterwards. You should never feel physically drained from your work, if you can help it.
It’s so important to be honest with yourself and never spread yourself to thin. If you are thinking of taking on three big tasks in one day, ask yourself if you can’t spread them out.
There’s no shame in doing less per day, if you’re doing the same amount per week. I like to think of productivity as a fun game where my stats only matter at the end of the month, that takes the pressure off the hour or the day, or even the week.
You have to find ways to create without pressure, and you have to find ways to constantly be kind to yourself.
5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?
As I mentioned, the morning check-ins are a big part of my life. I make sure to talk to a select number of people every day, even if it is once a day.
I have weekly check-in calls with a few friends, and I have been making a concerted effort to keep my weekends, my weekends.
You have to, especially working from home, get out of the damn house and see people. Recently, I’ve been seeing friends on a schedule every Friday night.
That helps me have something to look forward to and have dedicated cool-down time.
If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly worried about being productive, but being good to yourself and seeing your circle might be one of the most productive things you can do.
Recharging keeps you going, conversations spark ideas naturally, and having love in your life makes you happy, and everything in life feels easier when you feel loved.
6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?
Reading. Oh my goodness do I love to read. I read poetry every morning for 30 minutes no matter what my day looks like.
I need that time to connect with the work, and it’s very tactile for me. I annotate everything. I like to read completed collections of poets’ work, and I like to write in my tomes.
It makes me feel like I am one with the language, and it helps me focus. Not only am I zoned into the writing, but the amount of reading I do makes me a better writer in the end.
Apart from reading and seeing my people, I like to watch interviews. It’s calming to hear other people talk, and I find that I am a better interviewer the more interviews I consume.
I can pick up on what I like and don’t like about an interview, etc. I realize all of my hobbies sound like parts of my job, but that’s because I’ve built my life to be centered around my work.
So with that in mind, I also write poetry, which has nothing to do with my job. I think it’s really important to have a hobby that has nothing to do with your career goals, but just makes you feel good.
Sure, it’s still writing, but I can’t escape the fact that I am a writer.
7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question.
The truth is, I struggle with balance every day. I was just on the phone with Yoh a few days ago, telling him how difficult it is for me to balance everything.
I think I try very hard to manage my life, but I’m not that good at it and while everything may look dandy on Twitter, the truth is, I’m always having a hard time.
Perhaps that’s the better answer because it is the true answer. I’d love to give you some platitudes on the work-life balance, but I think we are all struggling more than we let on, and I’d rather just be open about how difficult things can get for me.
That said, I’ve made more concerted efforts to set up boundaries for myself. Working from home, it’s easy to justify working ’round the clock.
I’ve set up boundaries that after a certain time, unless it’s a fire, the computer goes off and I have to go about my night. I have to stop answering emails after a certain hour of the day. I have to choose myself.
8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?
Oddly enough, I don’t read self-help books, but I do just advocate for reading time in general to help you balance yourself.
9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
I call it “winning my first hour,” and I’m sure I didn’t think of this myself, but my thesis is: If you work very hard for the first hour of the day, you’ve won the day.
So as long as I put in work that first hour and really crush my editing or my writing, no matter what happens the rest of the day, I’ve succeeded.
It’s all about rewarding yourself and being kind to yourself while you kill it.