Inspired by my last post’s gif and by a few recent client experiences, I want today to advocate for the phone.
For contract workers, freelancers, and anyone working remotely, email (and its more casual cousins, like Slack) are the queens of communications processes. Asking a quick Q, updating a far-flung project partner, onboarding a client: In all of these cases (and most others) it feels supremely efficient to send a quick email. Email lets you get stuff done when you're in the midst of other work.
But sometimes that's a problem. Email aids the multitasker, but its benefits are often perceived rather than real (research typically shows that the high mental cost of task-switching makes multitasking pretty inefficient anyway).
At the same time, inbox scope creep is very real and a very real problem. It’s hard to hierarchize replies and responses to anything when everything—every query, question, and fyi—is piled on top of an already towering heap.
Meanwhile, the phone, also a tool of communication, seldom feels like an appealing alternative. In the email era, a call may feel a little intimidating. It’s more involved, and it’s more intimate, perhaps because it seems to require participants’ (almost) complete attention.
But a phone call conveys care, and—because it assumes an immediate response—helps aid prioritization. It can also keep projects running smoothly. A few years ago, I began integrating phone calls into my SOP where I’d typically send an email. It’s hard to gauge the impact on productivity, but I absolutely noticed a difference in my work. Getting on the phone to more regularly check in and troubleshoot helped partnerships feel real and invested.
Because of this, I’ve become an advocate for picking up the phone: It may be out of style, and it definitely feels more labor intensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not time to bring it back.
In my work with book development, authors who finish their books often differ from authors who don’t finish in just one respect: Those who don’t finish don't feel accountable—for a variety of (sometimes complex) reasons--to completion.
Creating flow charts, using editorial calendars, adhering to timelines, tracking time, soliciting beta reader feedback: These tools help foster a willingness to take responsibility for a project. Appropriately deployed—and routinely used—they can encourage someone to feel more accountable for a project than they might otherwise feel inclined to do.
I rely on the tricky quality of these types of tools to produce posts. My editorial calendar works as an impassive disciplinarian, coldly reminding me that I’ve set out to but have yet to complete a task.
Coaches and others know that there are all kinds of ways to foster accountability. One of the simplest is to articulate your goal. Go further by writing it down. Go all the way by writing it down and regularly reporting your progress to a friend.
The efficacy of this method was tested in 2014 by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University, who wanted to test the premise of the never-conducted-though-frequently-cited 1953 “Yale Study of Goals.” The latter was used (spuriously, it turned out) as evidence that people who wrote down their goals had a much higher chance of reaching them.
When Matthews created her study, she found that among her 267 participants, 76 percent of those who had been instructed to write down their goal and send their weekly progress to a friend accomplished their goal or felt they were “at least halfway there.”
Matthews's sample size may be too small to draw big conclusions, but I will add my anecdotal evidence in support: Authors whose work requires routine progress reports almost always progress. Those who do not make use of progress reports may progress, but who can tell? They don’t report.
Whether you manage teams or just yourself, research suggests that there are some very basic ways to foster the accountability that can lead to success. Write it down and phone a friend to get at least halfway there.
If you’re a reader of the MWS newsletter, you already know that I used Independent Bookstore Day to restock my supply of birthday books. You also know that at the very top of the heap is Normal People, Sally Rooney’s follow-up to Conversations with Friends (an emo-elder-YA hybrid), and that it’s for me!
But there are lots of other titles in my stack, and they’re mostly for young readers. My favorites include the endearingly odd Dory in Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon, the clever environmentalist Noah in Flush by Carl Hiaasen, the delightfully different Penderwick sisters in The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, and the hilariously unlikely nanny in Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt.
I love giving books because it lets me imaginatively repeat the first-time reading experience with the anticipation inspired by the knowledge of what’s to come—the book is great! When I give Life After Life by Kate Atkinson or Enchanted by Rene Denfeld or Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell or Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, I feel like I’m giving someone a ticket to a fantastic land I’ve just discovered.
But of course, because it’s a one-way, single-use ticket, I can’t take that journey again. Sure, I can reread the book (and that, too, is a source of great pleasure), but I can't ever discover an already-visited land. In this way reading is like stepping into Heraclitus’s river: It’s never exactly the same book (because it’s never exactly the same reader) twice.
Giving books, then, is a gift you give yourself. In giving, you get to relive a bit the magic of discovery, and once your recipient has returned from their journey, you get to talk about your discoveries together.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, mom to three troublemakers.