A couple of months ago, Allison and I found ourselves in a rut, letting excuses and distractions keep us from relaunching this very newsletter. I needed inspiration—and I found it in an episode of “How I Met Your Father” (HIMYF for the acronym lovers out there and those who were also fans of HIMYM), where the gang embarks on a 48-hour challenge to achieve a collective “rewardishment.”
Feeling challenged by their adventure, we decided to follow suit and introduced a rewardishment of our own. The deal was simple: if we relaunched the newsletter by the following Thursday, we’d be rewarded with a mouthwatering lunch at local restaurant, Bartlett’s. However, if we failed, our lunch would be banished to the fast-food abyss of Jack in the Box—a punishment our taste buds definitely did not want.
Spoiler alert: the fear of consuming midnight-teenager-only delicacies was all the motivation we needed. We powered through, relaunched the newsletter, and rediscovered the joy of sharing our thoughts with all of you. Since then, we’ve reestablished our workflow, involved the full team, and made this newsletter an integral part of our weekly routine.
So why did this work when our weekly conversations about the newsletter didn’t get the job done?
Well, first, it was fun. Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping the fun in your work.
Second, when used sparingly and unexpectedly, rewards can have a profound impact on motivation levels. When we receive a reward for completing a task or achieving a goal, our brains release dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. This rush creates positive reinforcement, making us more likely to repeat the behavior that led to the reward in the first place.
We didn’t set out to reward ourselves for writing the newsletter, and we don’t get lunch every time we send another issue, but in that unexpected instance, it hit perfectly.
Parents and children the world over know this works. Heck, my new puppy even gets this. So, let’s embrace the power of positive reinforcement!
On the other hand, punishments serve as a deterrent, reminding us of the consequences of inaction or procrastination. By linking rewards and punishments to our goal of relaunching the newsletter, we created an accountability system that kept us focused and on track.
You Can’t Spell Teyamou without Me and You
But let’s not forget the real MVP of our rewardishment journey—the team (or teyamou if you’re trying really hard to make a subtitle work). When we talked about our newsletter relaunch rewardishment, it wasn’t just Allison or me working in isolation.
We involved each other, rallying together with a shared sense of accountability. Failure or success depended on our collective effort. It was this spirit of teamwork that kept us going, even when the going got tough and our to-do list was filled with other more important things.
S-U-C-C-E-S-S that’s the Way You Spell Success
When a team achieves a common goal, it reinforces the power of teamwork, showcasing the value of that team’s diverse skills and perspectives. Collaborating on a rewardishment fosters an environment where individuals willingly share their strengths, knowledge, and abilities, amplifying the collective effort.
Teamwork can ignite a spark of creativity and innovation. By bringing different minds together, teams can generate fresh ideas and unconventional solutions to problems that may have stumped individuals in isolation. The collective brainstorming and exchange of perspectives fuel creativity, propelling teams to new heights of ingenuity. (We’ve got some thoughts on how to do this and not spend hours on a phone call. You can brainstorm and still cancel meetings.)
Teamwork may make the dream work, but it also makes the learning and growth work! Succeeding as a team creates invaluable learning opportunities. Each member can observe and learn from the strengths and experiences of their teammates, enhancing their own skills and knowledge. The dynamic environment fosters continuous learning as individuals pick up new skills and refine existing ones through shared triumphs.
Working as a team helps spread the responsibility around. We’ve all got plenty to do, and we can’t do it alone. So don’t sit there quietly stressing when you can ask for help and bring your team closer together in the process.
We All Fall Down Together
On the flip side, failure is not the end of the road; it’s a valuable learning experience. When teams encounter setbacks and failures, it can trigger a reflection process that highlights areas for improvement. Failure serves as a stepping stone to success, providing lessons on what went wrong and how to fix it in the future.
Embracing failure as a team builds resilience and adaptability. It forces team members to think outside the box, fostering a mindset that embraces challenges and seeks alternative solutions. Failure breeds innovation and experimentation, encouraging teams to take calculated risks and explore uncharted territories.
Failure also instills a sense of accountability and responsibility within the team. When faced with the consequences of failure, the shared experience creates a culture of accountability, where individuals reflect on their contributions and collaborate to address shortcomings or rectify mistakes. Failure breeds growth.
The journey to success (and failure) is filled with twists and turns—and can contain a healthy dose of rewardishments. No matter what, you and your team come out on the other side better than you started.
So, let’s motivate, conquer, and celebrate together because eating Bartlett’s (or, heaven forbid, Jack in the Box) alone just wouldn’t have been as fun.
When I was in college, I loved working in the Student Union. On paper, it was not a great place to study—loud, bustling, full of interruptions. But I loved it. On any given afternoon, you could find me with my stack of books, a notebook (I preferred—and still prefer—to take notes by hand), and a big plastic cup of Diet Coke.
Business school, with its approximately one million group projects, was spent holed up in study rooms; crowding around a table with three other classmates as we pored over case studies, parsed out Excel files, and built PowerPoint slides.
In the early days of my career, I worked from a cubicle that I decorated with photos and quotes. When the cramped little corner got to be too much, I would spread out on a big table in the middle of the marketing area (which I’m sure was not at all distracting to my colleagues…).
When I pivoted to full-time remote work in 2016, I learned to make my own spaces: coffee shops, coworking desks, and my dining room table all turned into offices. To this day, if you give me a city and five minutes, I can find you a cafe where you can hunker down and work.
And now, I spend most of my time in my home office with the big blue bookcase, rainbow-woven rug, and windows overlooking my mini-forest.
All of which is to say: where we work matters.
I recently read a Harvard Business Review article that talked about how our physical surroundings shape our work—and coming out of the pandemic, when office life looks way more flexible than ever before, this type of research feels particularly relevant. Many of us now get to choose where we work.
And if I have a tip for you today it’s this: why not change it up?
Because as much as I love my home office (and I do, because I’ve created it to hit all of my sensory needs—candle, ergonomic keyboard, a specific spot for my coffee, etc.), there is magic in going somewhere else.
The Harvard research agrees.
First, it says, “Engage in placemaking to shape your place to better reflect who you are and who you want to be.” (I’m looking at you, Trader Joe’s Peony Blossom candle.)
But then, it continues, “If you’re stuck on a problem or feeling lethargic and uninspired, it may be a signal that you need to work in a different place for a few hours a day. Research suggests that subtle shifts in environment such as ceiling height or natural elements can often stimulate a different type of thinking and influence your well-being. Sometimes we need more than one place to address the needs of the multiple hats we wear at work.”
Which is why you can find me at my favorite coffee shop at least once a week.
When I need to shake out the cobwebs, or find some new inspiration, or finish a very specific deliverable, I change locations. I physically get up and go. And it always helps.
For me, a change in scenery is particularly useful when I have a set of tasks I think I can complete in their entirety in 2-3 hours. I head to the coffee shop, spread out at my favorite big table, and do not leave until my list is done. It is incredibly motivating and one of my best productivity hacks. I’m not only time-boxing, I’m place-boxing, too.
In fact, I might be due for a coffee shop visit this afternoon…
As you think about place for yourself, here are my two questions for you:
- What can you do to make your “typical” workplace feel more like “you”?
- Where could you go to change it up?
I’m big on work philosophies. Guiding principles. Little phrases I can repeat to myself on a weekly (ok, daily) basis to remind myself what’s true. And while my list changes fairly often, there are a few that always seem to make the cut:
For those unfamiliar, “eating the frog” was introduced by Brian Tracy in his book, Eat That Frog!—and the premise is simple: You find a big, hairy, must-do task (hello, frog) and do it first. Basically, eating a frog will always be tough—so you might as well get it out of the way.
The idea echoes countless other thinkers who have all boiled down their productivity advice to basically this: When you have something you need to do, just sit down and do it.
It’s Anne Lamott’s famous “butt in chair.”
It’s Jerry Seinfeld’s “Seinfeld Strategy.”
It’s Hemingway (or Khaled Hosseini or Haruki Murakami) writing every morning.
It’s simply doing the thing.
And so hard.
It also happens to be exactly how this newsletter gets produced each week. When we decided to bring back +good about a month ago, we made a commitment to return to weekly sends. So with James Clear’s Atomic Habits advice spinning in my head (Clear is another advocate of daily writing, btw), I built crafting an intro into my week. And here’s how it goes…
The deadline approaches, and I need to write. So I do. Inspired or not, I put pen to paper (ok, fingers to keyboard) and I ruminate on whatever it is our team is pondering that week.
Sometimes, I end up with something profound. Often, I end up with something okay. But do you know what I always end up with? Something.
Like one of my favorite fiction authors, Jodi Picoult, once said:
Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.
You can’t edit a blank page—you need to start somewhere. So start. Do the thing.
Whatever your “thing” is.
Maybe it’s a report. Or a spreadsheet. Or setting up that doctor’s appointment. (Side note: If you are a millennial and have not read Anne Helen Petersen’s incredible piece on Millennial Burnout, add it to your list. It explains so much of why even the most insignificant task—like calling the doctor’s office—can feel insurmountable.) Maybe you need to write an essay, just like I do.
Find the thing that’s been on your list for way too long (and taking up way too much mental real estate), and just do it.
Ready. Set. Go.
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!
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!