A few weeks ago, a client forwarded me a very cool newsletter from the Washington Post. It’s called “A Better Week”—a self-described “7-day email course that will help you conquer your calendar, get more done, and find time for the things you care about.”
I loved this series—for two reasons. Perhaps most obviously, I’m a sucker for anything time/life/work management related. I read productivity hacks—a lot. And I swear by the magic of a well-organized calendar. So the topic was right in my wheelhouse.
Second, it sparked so many thoughts about how to do newsletters creatively—differently—and provide true value to an audience. Over the course of seven days, I received daily emails about things like friendship and TV shows and even cleaning the house. They were short. They were valuable. And they ended on day seven.
Exactly what was promised. Exactly what I wanted.
If you’re in the newsletter game, I’d love to talk more about how you could replicate this strategy (For real, email me. Let’s chat.) And maybe I’ll make unusual newsletters the topic of a future +Good Intro. But that’s not why we’re here today.
We’re here today to talk about the first email I received from A Better Week. An email that rang so true that I immediately put it into practice.
We’re here to talk about push notifications.
In 2019, researchers from Asurion noted that Americans check their phones 96 times a day, on average. By 2022, that number had quadrupled to 352.
A huge culprit for why we continually pick up our phones (or click to different windows on our laptops, or bounce around apps incessantly) is because of the little alerts that call to us from the ether. Like Thomas Johnson, author of A Better Week, we have a serious distraction problem that is fueled by the popups that serve as our very own Pavlov’s bell. We’re salivating over the next email, Slack message, or Instagram story. We’re inviting interruption by allowing everything to be urgent.
Spoiler: when everything is urgent, nothing is.
This is true for things like social media and random apps, but it’s also true when it comes to work. The push notifications make everything seem immediate, when in reality, very little is.
It’s like this recent post from Adam Grant…
Our email inbox should be a repository that we get to when we get to. We should control our calendars (yay timeboxing!) and choose when we read chats and updates. We are marketers, not first responders, so emergency shouldn’t be in our vocabulary.
So, what do we do? How do we react to the tyranny of the urgent; the overwhelm of all the pings? We fight back. We decide that communication, done right, should be a pull, not a push.
And here are a few ways I’ve been experimenting with doing just that:
- Turn off social media notifications. While I love a good meme as much as anyone, I can happily scroll them at the end of the day instead of being interrupted.
- Turn off inbox notifications on my phone and computer. One of the best things I ever did early in my career was to turn off inbox notifications on my phone. My team always had my phone number, and I told them that if there was something I MUST look at immediately, please call me. Want to know how many phone calls I’ve received so far? One. In well over a decade.
On my computer, I treat my inbox like my physical mailbox—a receiver for materials that I get to when it’s convenient for me. I check it every day, but not much more than that.
- Only tag the relevant parties. A couple of weeks ago, we ran into a big challenge here at S+G. Our Basecamp was out of control with notifications—so much so that we couldn’t get through them. The solution? Batching feedback, saving DMs for things that really deserve priority attention, and only tagging the people who need to be in the conversation. We all know the pain of a reply all that’s gone out of control…and your project management system is no different. Include the people who need to be included; save everyone else the notifications!
- Batch notifications. Set a time to check email. Carve out a 15-minute block to read through all of your pings. Decide to pull your notifications when you are ready for them instead of letting them push at you when they are ready. You are in the driver’s seat and you get to decide. (I literally have “check notifications” on my calendar and “read emails” on my to-do list.)
- Put your phone away. This morning, I was talking with Lindsey about this very topic and she mentioned that yesterday, as she was writing, she put her phone in the other room. She said her productivity skyrocketed. Simply having your phone nearby makes you want to reach for it (hello, dopamine hits!), so fight the temptation by putting it somewhere else! (I haven’t mastered this one yet, but it’s aspirational!)
What else would you add? How are you pushing against urgency culture? How are you fighting the push and choosing the pull? We’d love to learn from you, let us know in the comments!
On a cool, sunny morning not too long ago, I was out for a walk and I randomly selected episodes of two different podcasts I like and listened to them back to back.
It was magic.
The topics were ostensibly different, but all I could hear was the overlap—the way the lessons described in each perfectly complimented one another and inspired me to draw connections. (I love when this happens!)
First up: an episode of The Lazy Genius describing the importance of fun.
Citing a book by Catherine Price, host Kendra Adachi laid out the three elements of fun—play, connection, and flow:
Play: Doing something for the sake of doing it—not to be productive, or achieve an outcome, or work toward a goal. For example, my husband is currently learning the cello. Why? Because he likes the sound of a cello. That’s it. There are no concerts or performances in his immediate future—he just likes to play the instrument for what it is. It’s been such a great example for me over the past few months (and he’s getting way better!).
Connection: The playing helps you connect with something else—whether that’s a person, a place, a higher power, nature, or simply yourself. Think about team sports, or an art class, or taking long walks in the woods.
Flow: That feeling where you lose track of time because you are in the zone. You aren’t thinking about other things. You aren’t distracted. You aren’t reaching for your phone. It’s magical—but it’s rare.
Combine these three elements, and, at least for Kendra and Catherine, you’ll find fun. Easier said than done, right?
(Sidenote: one of the prompts of the podcast was to think about something you’ve done recently that checks all three boxes—something that was truly fun for you. My answer? Escape rooms. No question. But that’s a whole other essay…)
The next podcast I chose was an episode of Kate Bowler’s “Everything Happens” podcast about creativity, with guest Liz Gilbert.
And about one minute in, right in the intro, Kate said, “The joy of doing something for no good reason at all except that it is beautiful, or funny, or ridiculous, or makes us laugh, is to me one of the great acts of humanity.”
Sounds an awful lot like play to me.
Kate and Liz (of Eat, Pray, Love fame—and also the author of Big Magic, which you should definitely add to your TBR pile) go on to talk about creativity, but really, they talk about fun. They talk about play, and connection, and flow. They talk about doing things because you love them and they’re beautiful—doing things because you can’t imagine not.
And instantly, I had a lightbulb go off: creativity is born of fun. Creativity is born of play. Creativity is born of connection and flow—it’s making beautiful things for the sake of the beauty itself.
What a way to think about the work we do.
Maybe, I, a person whose job is to “be creative,” actually have a responsibility to have more fun. Maybe I, a person who wants to think outside the box and develop great campaigns and create compelling pieces, need to, like Kate said, “do something for no good reason at all except that it is beautiful, or funny, or ridiculous, or makes us laugh.”
And maybe you do, too.
So this week, I have a simple challenge for you: choose fun. Play, seek connection, find flow.
Because, as it turns out, choosing fun might look a lot like choosing creativity, too.
I am a sucker for a good time management system. I love to-do lists. I spent (many, many) years waking up before the sun. And buying my planner is a highlight of my year. (Yes, while I heavily rely on digital tools, I still have a paper planner and multiple paper calendars. PaperSource can go ahead and take all my money.)
I’m here for all the trends and hacks—the magic “solutions” that will make the fact that I have 14 hours of work to do in a 7-hour time period somehow manageable. (Spoiler alert: it’s not. Enter my lifelong work of pushing back against hustle culture and my innate need to do.)
But while I fully recognize that a time management “system” is not going to solve all of my problems, I do think a good system can help. It can help you sort through the dozens (hundreds?) of tasks that vie for your attention, prioritize them, and fit them into your day—without you losing your sanity in the process. And hopefully, a good system can help you waste less time so that you make the most of the limited hours you have in a day.
Which brings me to my most recent experiment: timeboxing.
I am not inventing the wheel here, people. Timeboxing is the current time management darling across countless “experts” and publications—just ask Forbes or Harvard Business Review or Bill Gates or Elon Musk—and for good reason: it works.
But first, the basics.
What is timeboxing?
At its core, timeboxing is moving your to-do list into your calendar. It’s assigning not just what needs to get done, but what will get done when. It’s portioning your day into (sometimes tiny) chunks of time that are each allotted to a task, meeting, or item to handle. And according to a Filtered study on the 100 best productivity hacks, it ranks #1.
How do you do it?
I started my timeboxing experiment at the beginning of the year by simply using my Google calendar. I began each week by looking at my task list, then I translated that list into my calendar with “meetings” set for each and every assignment.
The downside, of course, is that life happens. Surprise meetings, tasks that take way longer than anticipated, a phone call that you have to answer, a sick kid. Sometimes, your beautifully scheduled week gets thrown off track—and you have to move all of those carefully placed blocks.
This week, I started playing with Motion—one of many apps designed for timeboxing. The benefit of the app is that it moves tasks for me if I miss them, or if I need more time. It’s constantly rearranging my schedule so that I don’t have to worry about it.
It’s only been three days, but so far, I’m loving it. (Check back with me in a month and I’ll let you know a real review!)
Does it work?
The short answer is yes—timeboxing has been great for me and I’m going to stick with it (at least for now!). Here are a few reasons why:
- I get a lot done. Having a very planned day keeps me productive and less prone to distraction. Sure, I still pick up my phone sometimes, but if I know I only have 20 minutes to complete a task, my competitive nature makes me race against the clock!
- I don’t have to wonder if I’ll be able to make it through my list anymore. I know I can because I already have time allotted to complete every task. It takes a mental burden off of me that I didn’t even know I was carrying.
- My breaks are real breaks. When I’m not working, I don’t have the nagging thought of “I should be working” because my tasks already have a home.
- My mornings are calmer. I used to wake up and face a big list of to-dos. Now I start with a single task, knowing that all the other single tasks will be waiting for me at their appointed times.
- If I think of something I want/need to do, I know when I can feasibly do it. If a new request comes in, I can give a much more honest timeline. And if I have a personal task to handle, I know when I’m free to give it attention.
Timeboxing, like anything, isn’t magic. But if you’re looking for a way to better organize your days and your to-dos, it might be worth your own experiment. I’d love to hear your thoughts—and if you have your own time management hacks, you know you should send them my way!
Allison shares her key takeaways from Unreasonable Hospitality, including discussion questions you can use with your team or book club and ways to implement Will’s principles to benefit your nonprofit.
About a month ago, I (Allison) picked up a book by Will Guidara, former co-owner of the incredibly highly celebrated restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. I love reading about restaurant culture, so the odds were good that I’d enjoy the read. But I wasn’t prepared to love this book—to immediately send it to my team members and tell everyone I know to read it. I was surprised that a book about a restaurant could radically transform the way I thought about doing business—but it did.
And here’s why…
The book is based on the premise of “Unreasonable Hospitality” (which is also, conveniently, the title). Basically, how can you go above and beyond for the people you serve and the people on your team?
In addition to recommending the entire book to you, there is one story that illuminates so many of the lessons I keep thinking about:
A group of tourists came into Guidara’s (very very) fancy restaurant with their luggage, ready to enjoy their last meal in the city before they left New York. As the staff interacted with the table and brought them course after mind-blowing course, they overheard the guests making a comment that they had tried all of the food they wanted in NYC—the only thing they had missed was a classic hot dog.
A lightbulb went off. Guidara went down to the corner, purchased a two-dollar hot dog, took it to his (very very) fancy chef, and plated the thing—then brought it out to the table.
The guests erupted with joy. Guidara said that he had never, in his whole career, seen a group of diners that excited about a meal.
Now, you probably don’t run a (very very) fancy restaurant. And a hot dog probably isn’t the key to your magic hospitality (though you never know…if you’re lucky, maybe we’ll share our own hot dog social story one day!). But here are the lessons that immediately jumped out to me:
What do you know about your top donors? Your volunteers? Your coworkers? I’m not talking about their giving preferences or their work styles—I’m talking about them as people. Does John love Snickers bars? Is Mary super into opera music? Does Jane relax by reading thrillers?
The only way Guidara was able to go above and beyond in a way that felt special and authentic was that he paid attention to the table. He listened.
So here’s a challenge for you: Do you have time in your week where you get to know your team members (or donors or volunteers) as people? And are you using that time to actually listen and pay attention?
Once you get to know people, you now have the opportunity to be intentional—which requires specific, particular, personalized action.
In our work, it can be so easy to rely on systems—and systems can be wonderful. They allow us to work with large groups, provide consistent service, and streamline our efforts. They are necessary for a team to be productive, collaborative, and efficient.
But the lesson of intentionality reminds me that sometimes, systems are meant to be broken. Did every table get a hot dog? No. Should every table have gotten a hot dog? Absolutely not. But doing that one thing for that one group made a huge difference in their experience. How can we do the same for one donor, one volunteer, or one team member?
Unreasonable hospitality requires risk. Doing the special, intentional thing might feel a little bit uncomfortable—and it almost always requires going first.
Was Guidara certain that hot dog thing would go over well? I’m guessing not. It was a big risk to plate a street cart hot dog at a 4-star restaurant—but he decided it was a risk worth taking.
As leaders, we think it’s our responsibility to mitigate risk, not create it. We think it’s our job to be strong (and, perhaps even more importantly, make it look like we are strong) instead of demonstrating vulnerability. We don’t want people to think we are uncertain, so we stop asking questions. We don’t want to look silly, so we stop taking risks.
What if, instead, we were human? Vulnerable. Bold. Open with our teams, ready to learn, and constantly curious. What might our work—and our teams—look like then?
One of my favorite lessons from the book is that after Guidara had his hot dog experience and saw just how over the moon his guests were, we immediately wanted more. More paying attention. More intentionality. More vulnerability.
And he knew the only way to scale unreasonable hospitality was to empower his team to practice it, too. So he gave them all agency to take their own risks—to give their own above-and-beyond service.
Instead of feeling like it’s your responsibility to know every donor in your database so that you can surprise and delight them personally, empower your team to take their own action based on their experiences.
(Eventually, Guidara hired a whole team whose entire job was exactly this. They literally had a makeshift craft studio in the back of the restaurant to make any and all dreams come true!)
I know what you might be thinking…”We don’t have the time/money/human capital to do this!” And I get it. I really do. It feels like a nice to have, not a need to have—so it would be so easy to skip. But here’s the deal: the least expensive donor to acquire is one that you already have. And a retained donor who is obsessed with you because of the personal attention she has experienced is likely to be your best advocate.
What if unreasonable hospitality was not an extra cost, but actually a great retention, acquisition, and marketing investment?
For Guidara, his strategy was 95/5—manage 95% of your time, budget, and structures super strictly so that you can spend the other 5% on whatever whims you can imagine. The goal is not to break the bank or your schedule. The goal is simply to hold 5% of your time, energy, and resources to go above and beyond.
Guidara’s hot dog cost $2 and 10 minutes.
It paid dividends for years.
Five percent of a standard 8-hour workday is about 20 minutes. That’s an hour a week to do something unreasonably hospitable, unexpected, and awesome. I hope you’re as excited as I am to get started.
- In the book, Guidara shares his definition of unreasonable hospitality. What is your personal definition of hospitality? Does your team have a shared definition? And what would it look like to practice hospitality in your own role or organization?
- Now that you’ve defined hospitality, what structures can you put in place to foster a culture of hospitality? How can you make it second nature for you, your team, and your organization?
- Where can you as a leader be vulnerable?
- Throughout the book, Guidara gives multiple examples of ways he found roles where his employees could shine. When was the last time you took stock of your team and their roles? Who in your community could be doing something even more awesome? Maybe a slight shift could be transformational.
- If you carved out 20 minutes a day (or an hour a week), what is something awesome you could do? How can you go above and beyond with that five percent?
Ready for your weekly motivation?
You can’t do it all.
Even if you hustle. Even if you bend over backward trying. Even if you’re really really (like, for real, really) good at things.
You have limits.
You have weaknesses.
You are human.
Guess what? So am I. And so is everyone you know.
Here at Swell+Good, we write a lot about how to be more efficient, make better use of your time, and be awesome at your work. We believe in these tenets to our core—but we also know that they don’t tell the whole story. Because sometimes, effort won’t get you where you need to go.
Sometimes, you need to outsource.
Example 1: For those things that you totally can do, but maybe shouldn’t (at least right now, in this season)
My fiance is super handy. He’s singlehandedly doing construction projects on our house, constantly dreaming of his next project, and understands the inner workings of just about any vehicle.
So this weekend, when my car needed an oil change, his first inclination was to do it himself. Because he can. And he has before. He’s good at it—it’s well within his skill set.
But right now, in this season, we’re swamped. We’re renovating a house and planning a wedding and parenting and working and all the things. So while he totally could do the oil change, it would have taken time that, right now, is better spent elsewhere.
Sure, it’s slightly more expensive to take the car to an oil change place—but it saves time and brain energy, both of which are in high demand right now.
Three months from now, this job will probably go back on his list, but you have to know your season and outsource accordingly.
Example 2: For those things that you just hate doing (and are ready to take off your list)
We all have tasks that are just…not fun. The dishes, for example. Or laundry. Or accounting. Your “blah” list is specific to you, but you know you have one. They are the tasks that move to the bottom of your list. Every. Single. Time.
Sadly, we cannot always outsource all the blah tasks (if wishing made it so), which is why we suck it up and eat the frog, but sometimes, it’s ok to prioritize your joy. Especially if “joy” looks more like “emotional wellbeing.”
If you have tasks that are sucking the life out of you, start with your team (or your family): who could do this instead? Who might actually enjoy this? Have you asked them to step in and help?
Next: choose the one thing that you’d most like to get rid of. Is there a way to hire someone to do just this one thing? Could you afford that “splurge” to make your life better?
Example 3: For when you’re ready to grow
If you follow Swell+Good on social media (hey, you should do that!), you saw that we just welcomed Amanda Agundiz to the S+G team as our Head of Operations. We can’t wait to introduce you to her—and we can’t wait to feature her here in the +good newsletter!
Until then, know this: adding Amanda is essential to our growth. Our existing team was at its limits, meaning we couldn’t build anything new without first freeing up time. And freeing up time meant adding hands and brains. Our existing team was at capacity, so our future was limited. Now, we have an open horizon in front of us and it feels SO exciting!
Growth requires investment—and often, investment looks like human capital. We can’t wait for this next season, and we are so excited to have Amanda on the team!
(If you’re ready to grow, but need some extra brains and hands on the team, too, let’s chat! We’d love to work with you and help you open up your own new horizon!)
What have you outsourced? How did it go? Let us know in the comments!