I am a sucker for that new year energy.
Goals, dreams, resolutions, vision boards, reflection questions, brainstorming meetings…give me all of them. I am ready for bold intentions and BIG plans—and I’ve got the new calendars and planners to prove it.
It turns out that January 1 is just a day. And the person I am today, in January, is more or less the same person I was in December, and November, and October. Maybe the science is right: change happens best a little at a time.
This year, as I sat down to make my list of “ins” and “outs” of 2024, I noticed something interesting: almost all of the habits and intentions I identified were things I had started (or even fully adopted) last year. My list was less “break the system” and more “keep doing/refining/slightly modifying this system that works.”
The goals I identified felt a little bit new because Q4 tends to derail many of my habits. The overwhelm of campaign writing meant that I stopped intentionally time-boxing my day. A small surgery in November meant that I had to stop going to my favorite workout class throughout the holidays. The hustle of a very busy season meant that we had to temporarily scrap our slower family weekends.
When I identified 2024 priorities like “use Motion to plan my day,” “go to Bodypump three times a week,” or “prioritize Spontaneous Saturdays,” they weren’t actually new ideas—they were returns to the habits I already had; habits that I know make me feel my best.
When I asked team S+G about their own goals, their comments echoed my own. Many of us sat down to cast a vision for the new year and realized that we had already turned some of our goals into habits. We already knew what to do to—we just had to keep doing it.
We already looked (and worked) a lot like the people (and teammates) we wanted to be—no huge overhaul required.
So this year, as those January vibes make you feel like you want to throw everything out and start over, consider what’s already working. What can you just keep doing? What can you do more of? What can you do less of (or stop doing entirely)? What can you tweak a tiny bit to make it better?
As James Clear explains in Atomic Habits, if you get 1% better every day for a year, you’ll be 37x better by the end of 2024. Turns out those tiny pivots (truly, 1% is almost nothing) really add up!
So that’s the plan. Celebrate our wins and the habits we’ve already built. Do more of what serves us and less of what doesn’t. Aim to get 1% better every day. Exhale. Rest. Tackle the new year just like always—with excitement, energy, compassion, and good work.
What about you? What are your goals for 2024?
Team S+G’s (teeny tiny) 2024 Tweaks
- Lindsey: Shop less and use up what I have instead of buying new. Also, keep perfecting my morning routine.
- Ian: Practice saying no to things that don’t fill my bucket or get in the way of me spending time with my kids.
- Allison: Clear the kitchen island every night before going to bed and wear slippers while working from home.
- Maddie: Protect my peace and focus my energy on things that make me happy.
- Amanda: Make smaller grocery store trips, meal plan, and share leftovers with my mom. We’re trying to reduce the amount we throw away just because it went bad!
Today marks my first year at Swell+Good—and while this past year has been full of changes and challenges, there has been so much personal and professional growth that I am proudly reflecting on. I took a leap of faith when I started this role, entering a different industry, with a new/old team, in a completely remote setting. And even though I encountered some self-doubt, I embraced the challenge, my team, and our work culture, and I learned that it doesn’t have to be crazy at work. (Which was a huge win when compared to previous roles.)
Here are a few other key things I’ve learned…
Starting a new journey, be it professional or personal, can lead to a lot of incredible growth simply by taking that initial risk. Just this year, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects, including Q4 fundraising, galas, silent auctions, website redesigns, and even attending a summit on digital fundraising and nonprofit marketing (NIO). That experience, and the year as a whole, has broadened my perspective and deepened my understanding of the work nonprofits do and how we support them.
How to find balance in work, organize tasks, plan ahead, only worry about what is in my control, and let go of what I can’t have a handle on. All of these concepts, while straightforward, were things I had always struggled with. I previously worked in a hectic industry (pharmaceuticals), which was interesting and professionally challenging, but balance was nonexistent. It felt even more overwhelming because I was onboarded remotely and never really knew or connected with my team or staff. Which leads me to another important realization…
Knowing your peers, understanding their strengths, and cultivating relationships with your coworkers is at the core of great teamwork. As some of you may know, I had worked with Ian and Allison before, so I trusted their direction, vision, and talent—all of which have made Swell+Good grow into what it is today: a small but mighty agency that produces great work, shares great stories, and loves helping our clients reach their campaign goals. We are constantly learning and challenging each other, which is another benefit of working with friends—we know our areas of improvement and we know each other’s potential. Because of our great team, I am happy where I am and I am happy with the risk I took a year ago.
Self-reflection matters. Taking the time to pause, discuss areas of improvement as a team, and assess my own professional progress and growth has allowed me to celebrate my achievements, acknowledge areas for growth, and set new goals. I have learned to embrace both successes and failures as valuable learning experiences, and I am grateful for the opportunities that have shaped me into the professional I am today. Looking forward, I am eager to build upon this foundation—and I encourage you to pause and take a moment to self-reflect, too. Think about where you are, what led you there, what you’re grateful for, and how it could be better.
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:
- Make a list of things you value personally. (Lifelong learning, exercise, family dinners, uninterrupted reading time…whatever!)
- 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!)
- 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…)
- 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!
It’s no surprise that we’re fierce advocates of protecting our time. And one of our favorite things to remind our teams is that there is no such thing as a work emergency when you work in digital marketing. (In case you need the reminder, too: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MARKETING WORK EMERGENCY.)
Humans are humans, donors are donors, coworkers are coworkers, and clients are clients. All too often, the people around you forget to plan (or ignore your well-crafted plans) and force you into a time crunch. And as much as you try to cancel meetings and set boundaries, you aren’t the only one who can throw a wrench in your calendar.
So while, philosophically, you don’t have emergencies, practically, if you’re anything like us, you definitely have pressure.
The question, then, is what do you do in response?
What do you do when people need things and they need them now?
What do you do when it feels like you cannot take a sick day because you’ll fall too far behind?
What do you do when your to-do list has 900 competing priorities, all of which deserve attention, and most of which needed attention yesterday?
After hiding under the covers or screaming into a pillow or taking a long shower (all very cathartic, in case you were wondering…), we like to follow a few simple guidelines to deal with stressful days (weeks, months…). This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start on things that feel like emergencies (that aren’t really emergencies).
8 ways to respond to that “work emergency”:
- Take a deep breath. You might not get to everything. That sucks, but that’s reality. Got it? Keep breathing. You’re no good to anyone if you’re hyperventilating.
- Prioritize your list. We know everything feels like it needs to get done right this second, but if you slow down and look, that might not actually be true. What can you possibly move to a different day? Can anything go to next week? On really crazy days, we prioritize by the hour. What needs to be done before noon? Delete everything else from the morning list.
- Phone a friend. Who on your team can jump in? Call them. Right now. You do not need to be a hero, and being a hero will destroy you. You do not need to shoulder the entirety of a stressful situation on your own. This is why coworkers exist. This is why we build great teams.
- Set expectations. Are you really not going to make a deadline? Tell someone. Yes, this conversation is not going to be fun, but better to establish an honest reality than have your stakeholders assuming one thing and experiencing another.
- Eat snacks. We are firm believers that 85% of life’s challenges get better after a nap and a snack. If you have the ability to power nap for 20 minutes, do that. If not, at the very least, eat something.
- Ruthlessly eliminate unnecessary tasks. One of our team members used to produce a major conference for a client every year, and in the two weeks leading up to the event, she put a hard-core screening system on her email and phone. If you were not a direct vendor for the event, she sent you to voicemail and didn’t call you back until the event was over. Brutal. But effective. Did people get annoyed? Sure. But the priority was the priority, and everything else was…not.
- Take dance breaks. Our brains are not designed to focus all day long. In fact, our brains cannot focus all day long. Research shows that it is WAY more effective to work in spurts punctuated by true breaks than it is to “power through.” So take breaks. Blast some music. Dance. Then get back to it.
- When you hit your breaking point, stop. Listen. You matter so much more than your work. Do not let a project (even a very important project) hurt you. If you are getting sick, stop. If you cannot keep your eyes open, stop. If you feel like your mental health is teetering toward precarious places, stop. It’s not worth it. You are. Protect yourself. Be your own fiercest advocate.
We know what busy seasons feel like. We know what overwhelming days feel like. And we know that we are still learning to deal with work stress right alongside you.
We also know that cracking this nut is important because our well-being is important. We want to love our work, and that means developing a plan to handle hot mess disasters even before they arise.
What would you add to our list? What helps you get through even the most pressure-filled moments? Let us know in the comments.
Here at Swell+Good, we talk a lot about work processes. How do we make our team more efficient? How do we improve quality? How can we better serve our clients? And, most importantly, how do we make sure that everyone on our team actually gets to enjoy their life?
Yes, we love marketing. And yes, we love helping organizations raise more support so that they can better do the work they were born to do. That’s our what, and we’re kind of obsessed with it.
But if we’re honest, we give equal attention to our how—to the way we do the work, not just the work itself. We’re very, very into work culture. We’re very, very into people being humans first and employees second. And we’re very, very into work being fun and not-terrible.
We were virtual and remote long before being virtual and remote was cool, so we’ve had lots of time to get creative on how we connect and communicate—and ultimately we feel pretty proud of where we’ve landed.
Our tricks aren’t magic, but they are intentional. And over the next few weeks, we’re excited to give you an inside look at the secret sauce of Swell+Good.
First up, we’re asynchronous.
That means that our team can work whenever they want, wherever they want.
Or, more simply, working asynchronously means when you send a message you don’t expect an immediate response.
And here’s the deal: “Not only does async produce the best work results, it also lets people do more meaningful work and live freer, more fulfilled lives.”
Working Asynchronously? How? Well, let’s turn to the research!
- Synchronous communication prioritizes communication over productivity. “Synchronous communication is heavy on staying connected. Here, you are expected to be available at all times during the day. In a team group chat with over 10, 50, or even 100 employees, this could mean you could possibly miss out on important information just because you weren’t available within a certain timeframe.” (Read more!)
We’ve all experienced this, right? Sitting on Slack waiting for a response? Getting left behind as a reply-all email spirals out of control? Watching your colleagues travel way off course on a problem you could have solved in two seconds all because you took a 30-minute break to make a sandwich?
- Synchronous communication promotes overworking and increases work-related stress. “Being constantly available translates to working 24/7 with no downtime. Employees, especially those with parental and spousal responsibilities, fail to find a work-life balance, resulting in increased levels of stress that can often lead to burnout.” (Read more!)
This is the real problem. When you’re expected to be “on” 24/7, you’ll….be on 24/7. And that’s just not a healthy way to live.
(You already know our opinions on work emergencies. And if not, here’s a hint: You don’t actually have any.)
But here’s the deal, friends. It doesn’t have to be this way.
When you prioritize working asynchronously instead of rapid chat (or, even worse, constant meetings), you give your team freedom. You give them flexibility. You give them time.
Sure, we have client calls that are scheduled. And there are some conversations that just have to happen immediately. But 85% of our internal communication can wait—so it does.
- Really, really good task and project management. We use Basecamp (another huge fan of async, btw), but you can use any tool you like. The key is actually using it—and making sure that everyone on your team is using it, too.
- Long-form written updates. It’s the old “this meeting could have been an email” except instead of an email, we default to public posts. Have notes you want to share? Type them up. Have a discussion question? Post it and let people reply when they have time. Writing—then sharing that writing in an open-to-your-team forum—is where the magic happens.
- Plan ahead. If you don’t want crazy, “emergency, do this now” deadlines, you need to have a long horizon. Same-day deadlines are not in our policy (they happen sporadically because…life, but they are absolutely the exception, not the rule). This lets people plan their days and their weeks without worrying about missing a key task that got added to their list two hours ago.
- Over-communicate. Asynchronous communication works when everyone explains everything they’re thinking. Over-communication also makes occasional meetings and conversations way more productive because everyone on your team is already up to speed!
We’ll keep sending you what we’re learning about working asynchronously (and all of our work processes! We’ve got lots more to test and discover and share!)—and we want to hear from you, too! Have you tried async communication? How has it worked for you? Let us know by replying to this email. Just make sure you do it at a time that works for you.