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According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, the average worker spends 28% of their time reading and responding to emails. That’s about 73 days a year we’re spending dealing with emails. It’s a depressing thought.
Possible? You bet. Investing some time now in changing the way you work could save you lots of time later. If you’ll slow down long enough to change some of your habits, you’ll see an impact in the overall amount of time you spend on your writing tasks. If you can convince your colleagues to adopt some of these practices, the whole organization will save time.
1) Understand exactly why you’re writing
People fire off messages all the time before they’ve really thought through what they want. How many times have you started writing when your ideas were still only half-formed, sent your message, and then thought “oh wait, there’s this other thing too,” or “that wasn’t quite what I wanted to say” or “no, I have a better idea now”? How many times have you read an email and wondered, “so what exactly am I supposed to do about this?” Everyone’s in a rush, but taking a minute or two to clarify your objective can save time over the long run. Setting up an “I want my reader to…” statement can help you check if your ask is really clear. Make your statement as specific and realistic as possible:
My goal is to ______ so that my reader will _________.
If you can’t create such a statement, you might not be ready to write.
How does clarifying your purpose speed your writing? First, defining a specific and realistic ask helps you choose the right content for your message and helps prevent your wasting time on irrelevant content. It also cuts down on revision time. Finally, it improves your odds of getting what you want the first time and can eliminate the need for follow-up.
2) Give your readers what they need
Before you hit “send,” put yourself in your reader’s shoes and imagine how you’d respond to this message. Is the ask clear? Does it supply enough context or information to allow your reader to respond? Is the message appealing and convincing? Does it take into account the reader’s likely point of view? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” take some time to revise so that you can serve your reader better. It’s also worthwhile spending a second or two considering if you’re writing to the right person; sending a message to the wrong person costs everyone time unnecessarily. Filling in a statement like this can help you address your reader more effectively:
I’d like my reader to ______________. To do that, my reader needs to understand/believe__________.
Thinking through these questions will likely take you a bit more time up front, but imagine the time you’ll save in not having to pursue readers who don’t respond, readers who respond incompletely, or readers who find your message unappealing and just say “no.” Taking your reader into account as you write can save you rounds of follow-up.
3) Use a template
If there’s a type of message or document you write frequently, consider developing a template for it. If you write proposals, you almost certainly use a template. You can extend this approach to other kinds of messages and documents: request emails, sales messages and cover letters, to name a few. The template doesn’t have to be very detailed or prescriptive. It can be as simple as something like this, developed by a salesperson for quick, introductory sales emails:
Paragraph 1: Introduce myself, say how I know the reader, and say briefly why I’m writing/what I want
Paragraph 2: Fill in benefits specific to this reader
Paragraph 3: Restate my ask and make a call to action
Developing and using templates has changed the work life of many of my clients. The point isn’t to create a form that you fill in; the point is to avoid rethinking the same challenge over and over. Come up with a structure and flow that works for your document, and you’ll be able to adapt it easily to different circumstances and different content.
If you do use a template, be sure to double-check your document or message before you send it out, to ensure you’re not leaving in content left over from a previous version.
4) Say it in plain English
Business writers spend an awful lot of time writing unclear prose. Agonizing over word choice can slow you down, and the result isn’t always worth it. If you’re struggling with a message or a document, try first writing it out in plain, conversational English. If it helps, speak out loud what you want to convey, without focusing on word choice. Don’t worry if it sounds “too informal”—you can go back and change the tone later if you need to. Expressing your message in plain English first can help you clarify why you’re writing and protect you from losing time spinning your wheels.
5) Address your writing problems
Finally, addressing any problems you have with writing can be a great way to speed up your writing process over the long run. Lots of people worry their writing isn’t persuasive enough and spend time writing and rewriting to improve the impact of their prose. Everyone has a few grammar, punctuation, spelling or usage questions that plague them. Worrying about problems like this takes up more time than you might imagine. If you’re worried that you’re wrong every time you use a comma, it takes a toll on your self-confidence and hurts your productivity.
Rather than spending time worrying and rewriting, invest some time in fixing your problems, whatever they are. Get a grammar book, sign up for a class, hire a coach—whatever it takes. Once they’re fixed, they’re fixed, they won’t bother you again, and you’ll be off to the races.
May 29, 2019 at 10:25AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs