Your attention is for sale. Detergent jingles blare before YouTube videos, podcast hosts can’t stop yapping about sweat-whisking underwear, and spammers are even weaseling their way into our text messages.
So it’s no wonder we all feel the impulse to protect our personal email inboxes more than ever. When you open it up, you want substance, which is why I make sure all the newsletters I subscribe to fit the following criteria:
They’re written by real humans. 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.
They don’t have ads. “I feel monetized” is the new “I need a shower.” And if any real human delivering super value is insidiously dropping in ads (and tons of the big ones do), they’re off my list.
They’re valuable. Time is precious, so these emails need to offer a depth and richness that jars my brain with incongruent ideas.
These 10 newsletters absolutely fit the bill and will help you live a smarter and more intentional life.
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 turbo-powered vacuum cleaner. But unlike the rest, who sort of leave it at that, he takes things even further, synthesizing information in a warm and witty way.
Frequency: Sporadic (approximately 1 to 2 times per 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
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? 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-or-other at your company? Fantastic. But what artistic itches remain inside? Austin Kleon’s newsletter helps me scratch those itches. He’s a former reference librarian turned best-selling author (Steal Like an Artist, Keep Going) who points my brain at all kinds of visual art, “ear candy,” quotes, and ideas every Friday morning. This newsletter is a great reminder to keep challenging my own ideas and helps me explore lots of little “what if I dids.”
Perfect for: People who want to rock themselves out of stasis, anyone who likes getting their brain poked with art, and those who feel a bit uncultured (like me) in big broad areas like music, painting, and film
Number of subscribers: >60,000
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 15 minutes to put on rain boots because we’re late and it’s not raining–even though my kids aren’t doing anything wrong. They’re kids. Often I find what I’m lacking are the right words, or rather the right way to say something in a way that’s meaningful to them. 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, uses a new technique of playing a song as a countdown to get going. (“Bust a Move“ by Young MC works great.) Some days are frustrating. But Dr. Laura’s email is helping me (slowly) become a better dad.
Frequency: You choose between weekly, or weekly plus 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
Granted by Adam Grant
Adam Grant is the youngest tenured faculty in the history of the Wharton School, writes a New York Times column, gives TED Talks, and drops an award-winning podcast. Oh, and he 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 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. (And I really liked this profile on Adam from Philly Mag.)
Perfect for: Business book junkies, leaders looking to become better leaders, anyone looking for new ways of thinking about the same old things
Number of subscribers: >100,000
Okay, so technically this isn’t one newsletter. But it’s a great little free email journaling subscription that helps me supplement my constantly floundering home journaling efforts. They send me an email on the dates and time I picked, I reply back with my entry . . . and I’m done. Super quick and easy. Why should you journal? It’s good for your brain and body. Research shows it makes you happy. I talk about journaling; I make 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.
Frequency: You pick your own date/time frequency. (I do Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9 p.m.)
Perfect for: People who already know the benefits of journaling but are having trouble getting into the routine.
Seth Godin’s Blog Posts
Seth is best known as a marketing guru who’s written 19(!) best-selling books. 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 like a ton of bricks. I absolutely love listening to him.
Perfect for: Anyone interested in human nature, entrepreneurs, those working without a safety net, and, of course, marketing folks
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. Every month he sends out a list of the five to 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, librarians, and book industry folks, anyone aspiring to be a better writer or reader.
Number of subscribers: >100,000
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. It’s super high level. 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” section he shares on his About page.)
Number of subscribers: >200,000
Perfect for: people looking for an edge, and–I know this will sound like a contradiction–but also for those looking to slow down their thinking and mentally chill more.
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. She shares everything from the shame she felt visiting her grandmother after not visiting for years, to the pain of her son being bullied at school. I love Mel’s sharp, insightful, empathetic tone on how to build your best life. It makes sense that 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. She’s hosting a national talk show debuting this fall.
Number of Subscribers: >350,000
Perfect for: anyone looking for post-modern self-help, a no-BS kick in the pants, and a strong friendly voice whispering in their ear once a week.
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. 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 10 and has been constantly getting deeper and deeper into what it means to get better at being human. David is a fortysomething guy from Winnipeg, and he’s one of the best street-level philosophers out there. I like his writing so much I got permission to quote him a bunch in The Happiness Equation. 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. He isn’t on the lecture circuit. His books aren’t in 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, beautiful, and he’s living the life he preaches.
Frequency: Sporadic (approximately every two to four weeks)
Perfect for: Anyone feeling an itchiness about the world today, and people looking to lengthen their attention spans.
Number of subscribers: >30,000