Your attention is for sale.
Detergent jingles blare before YouTube videos, podcast hosts can’t stop yapping about sweat-whisking undies, and spammers are even weaselling their way into our text messages.
I feel like these days we need to make sure our personal email inboxes become even more of a safe haven. Bunkers! Last vestiges of quiet in this loud, loud, loud world. You open it up and you want substance. Value. Gold. And if you don’t get it? Vamoose!
So protect your digital home.
Dig a moat around it. Ready the archers. Fill the cauldrons with boiling oil. And then, just before you raise the drawbridge, make sure you invite only your most interesting friends — the fascinating, provocative, enlightening ones — to join you for a celebratory feast in The Great Hall.
Below are the nine people I’d invite to my Great Hall feast.
And all nine pass my 3 key principles of:
Real Human: The email must come from a real human with a real name and a real face who I can actually reply to and (ideally) get a response back. (Sidenote: If you want to see why I think “humans over algorithms” is crucial, check out my SXSW Speech “Building Trust In Distrustful Times”)
Super Value: Time is precious so the emails I’ve recommended need to offer a depth and richness that jars my brain with incongruent ideas I can thoughtfully apply to ultimately living a more intentional life.
No Ads: “I feel monetized” is the new “I need a shower.” I’m not recommending any clothing companies with pics of sexy people wearing $800 rainboots traipsing through orchid swamps. And if any real human delivering super value is insidiously dropping in ads (and tons of the big ones do), they’re out on my list. Man’s gotta have a code.
And now: onto the list!
9. Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
I’m not sure how he does it but Eric Barker seems to suck up business and self-help books like a vacuum cleaner. A turbo-powered vacuum cleaner. But then, unlike the rest of it, who sort of leave it at that, Eric Barker does not leave it at that. He pulls off a magic trick something akin to opening up the dusty vacuum cleaner bag, sneezing a ton while wading through dust balls and cat hair, and then pulling out three valuable things sucked up in there — a tiny doll’s comb, the back of an earring, a couple of coins — and then tells us all about those three valuable things in a warm and witty way. And the best part? We don’t have to vacuum!
Frequency: Sporadic (approx. 1–2x / month)
Perfect for: Business and self-help book lovers looking to inject more into their brain and anyone looking to stay on top of “thinking trends”
Number of subscribers: >320,000
Signup Form: https://www.bakadesuyo.com/ (Wait for the pop-up)
8. Austin Kleon’s Newsletter
I like the idea that success blocks future success. Are you killing it as a real estate agent? Great. But… what if you hadn’t quit ballet when you were twenty-two? Would you be on Broadway right now? Hard to know because you’re selling so many condos. Are you a great Vice President Of Something at your company? Fantastic. But what artistic itches remain inside you’re always thinking about scratching? Austin Kleon’s newsletter helps me scratch those itches. He’s a former reference librarian turned bestselling author (Steal Like An Artist, How To Keep Going) who points my brain at all kinds visual art, “ear candy,” quotes, and artistic ideas every Friday morning. A great way to keep challenging my own ideas and helps me explore lots of little “what if I dids.”
Frequency: Weekly (Fridays)
Perfect for: People who want to rock themselves out of stasis, those who like getting their brain poked with art, and those who feel a bit uncultured (like me) in big broad areas like music and painting and film
Number of Subscribers: > 60,000
Signup Form: https://austinkleon.com/newsletter/
7. Aha Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham
I am trying to be a better dad. Sometimes I yell at my kids and then feel a huge wave of shame. I get frustrated when it’s taking fifteen minutes to put on rainboots because we’re late and it’s not raining, even though my kids aren’t doing anything wrong. They’re kids. So often I find what I’m lacking are the words. The phrases. The child logic brain to know what to say and how to say it in a way that’s meaningful to them. And that’s exactly what Dr. Laura helps with. Her emails are simple, clear, and, I like to remind myself, aspirational. So, what do we do now to get ready? Make it a game. “You can’t put your boots on! No way, nooooooo wayy!” And my wife Leslie’s new technique of playing a song as a countdown to get going. (“Bust A Move” by Young MC works great. Yes, I put that link to their live 1989 Arsenio Hall performance, just because.) Plus, lots of other things. Some days are frustrating. But Dr. Laura’s email is helping me (slowly) become a better dad.
Frequency: You choose between weekly or weekly + two blog posts
Perfect for: Parents who want to be better parents, those fascinated by language and communication, and (for the same reason) managers and leaders of teams
Number of Subscribers: > 130,000
Signup Form: At the bottom of https://www.ahaparenting.com/
6. Granted by Adam Grant
Adam Grant is the nerd’s Superman. Youngest tenured faculty in history of Wharton. (I was still in school when he got tenure.) Writes a New York Times column. Gives TED Talks. Drops an award-winning podcast. And, you know, debates Malcolm Gladwell in his spare time. I think it’s safe to say he’s at the top of the social sciences Pyramid of Influence. Every month his Granted newsletter gives me a little peek at the world through his eyes. I always find at least one article to share with friends and family. (I really liked this profile on Adam from Philly Mag.)
Perfect for: Business book junkies, leaders looking to become better leaders, those looking for new ways of thinking about same old things …
Number of Subscribers: >100,000
Signup Form: https://www.adamgrant.net/newsletter
This one isn’t a newsletter so I gave it three asterisks instead. But it’s gold. And it’s one of my faves. Let’s start with this: Do you journal? You should! It’s good for your brain. Good for your body. Research shows it makes you happy. I talk about journaling, I make YouTube videos about journaling, I even make actual physical journals, but guess what? I suck at journaling. That’s why I’m always preaching about it. I’m preaching to myself. Here’s what happens: I snap myself into the journaling habit! I get there! I’m there! I’m doing it, I’m journaling, for a day, a few days, for maybe a week. And then I fall off. Bam. Right to the ground. So now I’ve come up with a patchwork journaling system that has been working for a while. How does it work? Well, first, I surround myself with journals. Two-Minute Mornings in the morning. A longform journal of blank pages on my bedstand to squeeze out late-night anxieties. And… what else? This puppy. Ahhlife.com. What is it? A great little free email journaling subscription that helps me supplement my constantly floundering home journaling efforts. A little plug for the drug. They send me an email on the dates and time I picked and I just reply back with my entry … and I’m done. Super quick. Super easy.
Frequency: You pick your own date / time frequency. (I do Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays at 9pm.)
Perfect for: People who already know the benefits of journaling but are having trouble getting into the routine…
Number of Subscribers: (Not listed)
Signup Form: https://ahhlife.com/ (Click “Start your journal now”)
5. Seth Godin’s Blog Posts
Seth is best known as a marketing guru who’s written 19 (!) bestselling books. But I think of him as this deeply enlightened Yoda spouting pithy and almost coded bits of wisdom that sometimes fly way over my head and other times hit me with a ton of bricks and help me completely re-orient myself in the machine. I absolutely love listening to him.
Frequency: Daily (!?!?)
Perfect for: Anyone interested in human nature, entrepreneurs and those working without a safety net, and, of course, marketing folks…
Number of Subscribers: (Not listed)
Signup Form: https://seths.blog/subscribe/
4. The Ryan Holiday Reading Recommendation Email
Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents harped on you to read all the time? They got you a bookshelf. They read to you at night. Do you still live with them? If not, who harps on you to read now? Well, Ryan Holiday will. He’s happy to! Every month he sends out a list of the 5–10 books he’s consumed together with the not-so-subtle plotline to “Read more books, dummy!” He preaches about how it’s work, your job, your education. His tastes veer towards classics, Stoic philosophy, biographies, translations. “Smart books for smart people.” Yes, I feel really dumb reading his list sometimes. But it always, always gives me a good push. (By the way, I liked Ryan’s email list so much I completely copied it, with his permission, and started my own Monthly Reading Email)
Perfect for: Readers looking for the next great book, booksellers and librarians and book industry folks, anyone aspiring to be a better writer or reader…
Number of Subscribers: > 100,000
Signup Form: https://ryanholiday.net/reading-newsletter/
3. Brain Food by Shane Parrish
Shane Parrish is a former Canadian spy whose weekly Brain Food email aims to break through the “fast food noise” of the world with a grounded, thoughtful reflection of how we’re seeing the world right back to us. Super high level. Way above the fray. Thinking about thinking. A fantastic zoom-out and perfect way to start your week. He’s a kindred spirit on reading more books, too. (Note: Although Shane’s email is the only one on this list with a sponsor, I’ve chosen to include it because of the Ethics he shares on his About page.)
Frequency: Weekly (Sundays)
Number of Subscribers: > 200,000
Perfect for: Anyone who feels too micro wanting to get more macro, people looking for an edge, and I know this will sound like a contradiction, but those also looking to slow down their thinking and mentally chill more …
Signup Form: https://fs.blog/newsletter/
2. Take 5 with Mel Robbins
Whenever I open up Mel’s email I feel like I’m hanging out behind the scenes with an A-list celebrity who’s somehow radically self-aware, authentic, and even self-critical. Her weekly email sounds like a long email from a friend who shares the shame she felt visiting her grandmother after not visiting for years, the pain of her son being bullied at school, and even being a mom of three deciding she needed pelvic physio and encouraging everyone to look into it. I love Mel’s sharp, insightful, empathetic tone on how to build your best life. Makes sense she’s one of the world’s most booked female speakers, has sold more books on Audible’s self-publishing platform than anybody, and why one day last year every single recommended video on my YouTube sidebar featured Mel Robbins. YouTube knows something. And TV execs watch YouTube! Makes sense she’s hosting a national talk show debuting this fall. I’ve already heard people calling Mel the White Oprah. She is three big flame emojis.
Frequency: Weekly (Thursdays)
Number of Subscribers: > 350,000
Perfect for: Anyone looking for post-modern self-help, a no-BS kick in the pants, and a strong passionate friendly voice whispering in their ear once a week…
Signup Form: https://melrobbins.com/
1. Raptitude: Getting Better At Being Human by David Cain
Ten years ago David Cain wrote an article on Raptitude mentioning my blog 1000 Awesome Things and I noticed a traffic spike and hyperlinked over to say hello. I wrote that blog for four years. David’s been writing his for over ten (ten!) and has been constantly getting deeper and deeper into what it means to (yes) get better at being human. David is a fortysomething guy from Winnipeg and he’s one of the best street-level philosophers out there. He writes about The Elegant Art of Not Giving A Shit and how Everything You Own Is A Relationship You’re In and about The Simple Joy of “No Phones Allowed.” (I like his writing so much I got permission to quote him a bunch in The Happiness Equation.) My wife Leslie and I often swap Raptitude posts back and forth over email with our thoughts on top. Because I know so many “thought leaders” who read David’s writing I sometimes think of him as a bit of a thought leader’s thought leader. His writing is crisp and thoughtful and occasionally veers into challenging and cerebral waters. David Cain isn’t on the lecture circuit. His books aren’t front of the bookstore. He isn’t posting Insta-stories, sweating the size of his platform, or trying to “build his list” with piles of Facebook ads. Why? Because he’s chill. Because he’s beautiful. And because he’s living the life he preaches.
Frequency: Sporadic (approx. every 2–4 weeks)
Perfect for: People looking to live more pacefully, anyone feeling an itchiness about the world today, and people looking to lengthen their attention spans…
Number of subscribers: >30,000
Signup Form: https://www.raptitude.com/
And, yes, yes, of course: I also have my own email list which I didn’t put on the list above. I write and send an article every other Wednesday morning to over 30,000 people all about living intentionally (failure, trust, reading, resilience, etc.) Samples? This article you’re reading, “8 More Ways To Read A Lot More Books,” or “Why You Should Never, Ever Retire.” I’d love for you to check it out.
Now, those are my dinner guests!
Time is precious. Attention is precious. Thanks for reading.
A slightly modified version of this article originally appeared on Medium.