In a matter of weeks, the pandemic took a vast toll on the world’s mental health. Stress, anxiety and monotony warped how people stuck at home experienced time. What Day Is It?, a 7-day email series from The Washington Post, didn’t just explain why time felt distorted. It showed what to do about it. The name captures a question people around the world were asking amid the pandemic blur — and it resonated.
The series combined reported interviews with time researchers and psychologists, research-backed tips and first-person testing. The author, Steven Johnson, used a candid and empathetic voice to guide readers through ways to place themselves in time, distinguish their days with new experiences and stay connected with the world outside their homes.
The newsletter took advantage of a newer newsletter format for The Post — a weeklong email series explicitly tied to an ongoing news event — to help solve a problem in readers’ daily lives. Readers could sign up at any time (and still can) to start the series of 7 emails on the following Monday. Each issue includes:
• Insights from psychologists about time distortion and practices they recommend to fight it.
• A breakdown of the practices the author tried and how they worked for him.
• One new “anchor point” to distinguish days from one another and reorient the reader in time.
• Links to related reading and resources to help the reader through their journey.
• Original illustrations by Magda Azab, along with a daily calendar showing how to structure new routines. (Plus a downloadable blank calendar to follow along.)
Six of the seven issues explore a different factor and practice affecting time perception, including grief and depression, loneliness, busyness and socializing. Sunday’s issue visualizes all the new practices together to show readers their new routine.
What Day Is It? was one of several audience projects with an aggressive focus on serving readers’ needs directly during the pandemic.
And readers responded: What Day Is It? commanded high open rates and drew new audiences, especially from TikTok, while also striking a chord with longtime Post readers isolated at home. Most readers opened all of the 7 issues, showing sustained interest through the week. And it directed a notable percentage back to The Post’s most durable service journalism.
Readers said What Day Is It? was helpful and validating — “one of the first newsletters to offer thoughtful and fresh ideas for the pandemic.” The series added a humane touch to The Post’s coronavirus coverage, meeting readers where they were. As one wrote: “This has been one of the more useful and confirming sources of information during the pandemic aside from actual covid news.”
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