A Day In The Life Of Rae Johnston, Trailblazing TV Journalist And Organisation Super-Woman!

A Day In The Life

Sasha Gattermayr

SBS and NITV’s first science and tech editor, Rae Johnston. Photo – Alisha Gore.

‘I used to be a terrible morning person, but now I love it. It’s so peaceful,’ says Rae. Photo – Alisha Gore.

Rae has been working from home recently, and spends the first hour of the day clearing her inbox. At 9am the NITV team has an editorial meeting where everyone pitches their stories for the next 24 hours. Photo – Alisha Gore.

Once she’s gone on air or pre-recorded from the TV studio, Rae heads into the voice-over or radio booth to record a podcast episode or promo voice-overs. Photo – Alisha Gore.

Rae has just finished Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener, an acclaimed memoir about the author’s experiences as a woman working in a tech startup in Silicon Valley. Photo – Alisha Gore.

Rae Johnston is an incessantly curious person. She has a system-minded brain and a constant thirst for knowledge, the perfect combo for a groundbreaking journalist at the top of her game. She is also a lifelong gamer and self-confessed geek, two passions that primed her for success in her first TV gig – a role as a video game TV presenter. This was the start of her windy, non-traditional route to journalism, one that involved no formal study and a LOT of on-the-spot learning.

‘I went through so much hate and harassment online during my early career, as one of the few female video game journalists in the country (and the world) that I’m pretty much indestructible at this point,’ she says. ‘There is very little about my own life that I keep private – I believe that by sharing the ups and downs in my life it helps break down the idea you have to be “perfect” on social media.’

Now, she’s at NITV and SBS, as the network’s first Science and Technology editor, a role which sees her producing content for television, podcasts and digital channels, as well as hosting tech and science-related panels and events around the country.

‘I love creating processes and efficient ways of working,’ says Rae, identifying herself as a ‘routine person’. ‘That’s always the biggest challenge of helping to create a new role – figuring out how it will work within the existing business – but it’s also my favourite part. Present me a problem, I’ll find five solutions and categorise them by effectiveness, resources required, and time needed to implement them.’

She’s not kidding. The big reveal during our interview (which is a surprise to no one once you’ve seen Rae’s credentials) is that she’s a fastidiously organised person. Between uninstalling social media desktop apps, scheduling her workdays down to 30-minute increments, and some pretty serious spreadsheets I would love to get my hands on for my own life admin purposes, Rae has some of the most impressive productivity hacks going around.

But when it comes down to it, for Rae everything rests on the four ‘wells’: well-rested, well-fed, well-caffeinated and well-organised. I’m obsessed with that mantra.

FIRST THING

I set my alarm for 5am every weekday. On Saturdays I let myself wake up naturally, but it’s usually no later than 7am whether I like it or not. On Sundays, I’m up early again to get ready for a hike.

On weekdays, the first thing I do is throw on my activewear and head to the gym. I like to do classes, whatever is happening, to mix it up. It’s usually a combination of yoga, boxing, and reformer pilates. On Saturdays, I grab a coffee with my husband and son and take our dog to the park. On Sundays I pack my hiking backpack with a thermos of tea and head off to a National Park for the day.

I used to be a terrible morning person, but now I love it. It’s so peaceful.

MORNING

Most days I work from home all day. If I’m hosting an event, or have a filming day in the studio I’ll drive. I bought a car for the first time this year, after 20 years of receiving not-worth-trading-in-hand-me-downs from family. I love driving.

I get back from the gym about 7am. I’ll pop my headphones in and catch up on news podcasts while I do some housework and have a coffee, then at 8am my workday begins.

I like to spend the first hour of the day clearing my inbox, then at 9am the NITV team has an editorial meeting where we all pitch our stories for the day. I could be writing an article for online, producing a TV news segment, scripting an explainer for our current affairs program, or preparing for a podcast episode. Working across all platforms means I have so much flexibility with where stories get to go.

For the rest of the morning, I’m usually making TV and radio appearances as well as chasing and conducting interviews on Zoom for my upcoming stories. It’s my peak research time.

I’ve been getting better at having breakfast every day. Working from home means I can cook something decent to eat while I’m doing my research.

LUNCHTIME

I break for lunch at 12pm every day, and try to eat in the sun as well. I’m following the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet at the moment – it makes me feel better, and gives me more energy.

AFTERNOON

If it’s a studio day, I’ll drive to the SBS/NITV studios after lunch. There I’ll usually head straight into hair and makeup, where I edit my scripts from my phone.

Once I’ve gone on air or pre-recorded from the TV studio, I’ll head into the voice-over or radio booth to record a podcast episode or promo voice-overs.

Then I like to clear my inbox again. Some days, I can get through all my emails.

My final task of the workday is to sort out my schedule for the following day. My life basically looks like a game of Tetris in a Google Calendar.

I usually have a big afternoon slump after recording – being on-air fills me with so much adrenaline, once it leaves my body I just want to nap. I usually have a piece of fruit and a cup of tea to give me a boost at around 4pm.

EVENING

I officially finish at 6pm, but sometimes I have radio or TV appearances in the evening. I find it hard to get any writing work done once the sun sets. I’m great in daylight hours, but as soon as it gets dark, my brain turns to mush.

Myself, my husband and my son take turns to cook – it’s great. If I’m cooking, I’m usually roasting a chicken or making a big pot of soup. My son is the burger specialist, and my husband loves to smoke meat, it’s amazing.

I love to knit while we watch a movie at nighttime. My nan taught me to knit when I was little, and I recently picked it back up again. It’s something to do with my hands that isn’t mindlessly scrolling through Instagram.

I do one of two things to switch off – I hike, and I play video games. Both force me to focus on one thing, don’t allow me to multitask, and show me new and wonderful places with friends and family.

LAST THING

I’m usually in bed by 9:30pm. I’ll start to wind down at 8:30pm with a hot shower, my skincare routine, some comfy PJs, a herbal tea and a book. I’ve started journaling recently, too.

I have clinical depression, and getting enough sleep every night helps me manage it. If I have a bad night, it can throw me off for a week. Sleep is very important to me, and I need a lot of it.

‘If it’s a studio day, I’ll drive to the SBS/NITV studios after lunch. There I’ll usually head straight into hair and makeup, where I edit my scripts from my phone,’ Rae explains. Photo – Alisha Gore.

Flooded with so much adrenaline after being on air, Rae usually experiences a classic 4pm slump. She usualy has a piece of fruit and a cup of tea to keep her going. Photo supplied courtesy of SBS.

Rae officially finishes at 6pm, but sometimes she slots in radio or TV appearances in the evening. Photo supplied courtesy of SBS.

Right now I’m listening to, watching, and reading…

I can never listen to, watch or read just one thing at a time.

So right now I’m listening to a few podcasts: Curtain by Amy McQuire and Martin Hodgson, the Wall Street Journal Tech Briefing and Shameless are my current regulars.

While in isolation I’ve been re-watching Parks and Recreation – I needed something comforting. I’ve also been watching Doom Patrol, an incredible comic series adaptation with Brendan Fraser.

I just finished reading Anna Weiner’s Uncanny Valley, a memoir of her experiences in the early days of Silicon Valley. I’m currently reading Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia, a collection of stories written by some of my NITV colleagues and edited by fellow Wiradjuri woman Anita Heiss. It really highlights the diversity of experience we have.

I get my best work done when…

I’m well-rested, well-fed, well-caffeinated and well-organised. 

My productivity tool/tip is… 

I’d be lost without my calendars. I have a year-to-a-view spreadsheet that I use to block out big event hosting days, and I use the weekly view on my digital calendar to schedule my workdays in 30-minute increments. It sounds like a lot, but it works for me, and keeps me on track.

I’ve uninstalled Twitter and Facebook from my phone, and only access them on desktop during work hours. I also set limits on Instagram so I don’t waste time scrolling.

A philosophy I live and work by is… 

It used to be “never hope harder than you work”, and then I experienced burnout. Now it’s more along the lines of “do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. Everyone is “winging” it. Your best is always good enough. 

Something I’ve learned the hard way is… 

The importance of scheduling in down-time as well as work. I’m still learning where my limits are, and sometimes overextend myself, but I’m getting better.

Keep up with Rae’s fast-paced life on Instagram!

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