The Power of Place

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: 

  1. What can you do to make your “typical” workplace feel more like “you”?
  2. Where could you go to change it up?

Your Time Matters

As I prepared to get married last year, one of the best things my husband and I did was take time to consider our family values. Some of them are silly (“Snacks are a family value,” as my 13-year-old says) and some of them are serious (curiosity, learning, prioritizing people)—but all of them have one thing in common: they define how we live our day-to-day lives. 

We can make quick (and simple) decisions because we’ve already decided

A friend needs a last-minute babysitter? Easy yes. (Because we have values to “say yes when possible” and “show up for people.”) 

Want to buy a book on a random topic? Sure. (Because we believe in “lifelong learning.”)

Someone is frustrated, overwhelmed, or upset? Feed them and let them take a nap. (I told you snacks were a family value!)

Now what does all of this have to do with you and your work? 


In the same way my family’s values shape our daily decisions and schedule, your organization’s values shape your work decisions and schedule. 

  • If your organization values deep work, then start canceling meetings
  • If you value collaboration, schedule quarterly brainstorming offsites. 
  • If you value autonomy, then get out of the way of your staff! 

What’s more, your personal professional values should govern the way you work, each and every day.

  • Value uninterrupted time with your kids? Block your calendar in the evenings. 
  • Value peaceful mornings? Charge your phone somewhere other than your bedroom. 
  • Value creativity? Schedule time to create, explore, and discover. 

You are the boss of your time, and you are the boss of your modus operandi. 

But here’s the trick—in order to live by your values, you first have to define what those values are. And this can be way easier said than done. 

So here are my challenges for you this week: 

  1. Make a list of things you value personally. (Lifelong learning, exercise, family dinners, uninterrupted reading time…whatever!) 
  2. Look at your calendar or task list. Are those things reflected in your actual time? (Your days make up your life, so make sure you are making space for the things that really matter to you!) 
  3. Now get with the coworkers with whom you work most frequently. What do you collectively value that you want to shape the culture of your team? (Flow state, brainstorming, silence, team lunch…)
  4. How can you build those values into your systems, structures, and schedules? 

Your time is your most valuable asset, so spend it on the things that you actually value—personally, professionally, as a team, or as a family. 

We’d love to hear what values are emerging for you. Let us know in the comments!

Push Notifications

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.)
  5. 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!

Timeboxing to stop boxing yourself in

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!

Guard your time

Guard your time

As you’ve heard us share ad nauseam, we are in a career-long fight to protect our calendars. 

Step one was cancelling meetings. Step two was building a schedule that fits your life

Step three is where it gets hard: How do you guard your time while also being a good teammate? How do you balance your own stuff while also being available when someone asks you for help? 

Because this always happens, right? You make a lovely schedule, and then a colleague needs something. You build your list of priorities, and then someone starts adding to it. You fight for margin, and then that margin gets eaten up with requests. 

It’s unavoidable—but in our experience, there are several things that can help you maintain your productivity (and sanity) while also helping others: 

1. Respond with kindness and understanding. 

First things first, be a good human. Be nice. Even if you’re annoyed (and even if you’re going to ultimately say no), treat your colleague/friend/acquaintance/cold email lead with respect. Set the tone for the conversation from minute one. 

2. Keep your needs (and yourself) front and center. 

Their list is not more important than yours. Their priorities are not more important than yours. They are a person with an idea (yes, even if they are the boss), and those ideas have to fit within your framework. Sometimes, circumstances will require you to drop everything and handle a fire drill, but that should be the extremely rare exception, not the rule. Don’t throw away your autonomy at the first sign of a request. 

3. Give what you can, but set boundaries. 

Our work culture celebrates helping one another, but it also celebrates saying no. Saying yes to a request that you actually cannot handle is not helpful. Saying yes to something that will overwhelm and exhaust you is not good for the team. Saying yes to more when your own plate is already overflowing is a recipe for frustration, resentment, and poor quality work. So know yourself. Know your boundaries. Guard your time. And know when to say no. 

4. Do things on your terms and time. 

More often than not, we figure out how to say yes and offer help to those around us—but our yeses come with caveats. Yes, I can help—tomorrow. Yes, I can help—when do you actually need this? Yes, I can help—but I need to prioritize this other project, so can I get this to you next week? Yes, I can help—but I cannot join that meeting. Give yourself the freedom to help without putting yourself in a tough spot.

We aren’t experts—and in so many ways, we’re preaching to ourselves. But if we believe our work, our margin, and our brain space matter, then we have to protect them. So we’re learning how to do just that.

What would you add to this list? How do you balance your own priorities with “hot” requests from others and guard your time? Let us know in the comments!