by Laura Brown
Originally Published Oct 27, 2014
One of the most frequent questions I receive is how to get through everyday writing faster. We’re all pressed for time these days, and we’re all writing more than ever before. I’ve blogged about this topic before, and when leadership consultant Skip Prichard asked me to contribute a post to his blog, I thought I’d share more tips to help people accelerate their writing at work. This post is an adaptation of the article I wrote for Skip.
According to a 2012 study from the McKinsey Global Institute, we now spend an average of 28% of our time at work reading and writing e-mails. That’s a total of 81 days a year spent on e-mail alone. Another study, from the Radicati Group, found that the average corporate worker processes an average of 105 e-mails every day. Any way you look at it, that’s an extraordinary investment of time and brainpower, and these numbers cover only e-mail, not the other kinds of writing we do at work. What would it be like to get some of that time and energy back to devote to other projects, or just to take a deep breath once in a while?
Writing is likely to remain an important part of the average workday, but there are ways to streamline your writing process so that you can get through your writing tasks in less time. These tips can help.
Discover Your Process
In my consulting practice, I find many people think they’re doing writing “wrong.” They have some notion from a high school or college writing class—or from business writing training at some point—that there is a “correct” way to approach a writing task, and they’re sure they’re doing it wrong. The fact is that there are many different successful ways to get your writing done. One of the keys to success in writing, and to accelerating your writing process, is to discover the process that works best for you.
Writing is typically taught as a linear process: first you consider your purpose and your reader, then you brainstorm content, then you create an outline, then you write a draft, and finally you revise that draft. There’s nothing wrong with that process, unless it doesn’t work for you. Many people find that a less linear approach feels more natural. You can start to discover your own best process by simply observing how you typically start a writing project. Do you like to have an outline before you start? Do you jump right in and write a draft? Do you consider your objectives before you start to write? These are all potentially excellent ways to get started on a writing task.
Once you understand the writing process that works best for you, run with it. Stop beating yourself up about doing it “wrong,” and find ways to work with your own approach. Becoming more conscious of your writing habits and embracing your own preferred style will accelerate your writing, no matter the task at hand.
To Speed Up, Slow Down
One of the best ways to speed up your writing is often to slow down a little. Taking a minute to think before you write can save you a lot of time over the long run. This trick can be especially useful with e-mail. Before you compose an e-mail, ask yourself these two questions: “what am I trying to achieve with this message?” and “who is my reader and what do they expect from me?” This simple, time-saving matrix will force you to isolate and refine your message before you even start writing it. Your e-mail will be more concise, and you’ll be less likely to omit important content (and less likely to have to follow up because of it). You can use the same kind of matrix when you read and reply to e-mails: ask yourself “what is the purpose of this message?” and “what is my reader asking of me?” Slowing down just long enough to ask and answer these questions will speed up your e-mail processing overall.
Do You Really Need to Send That E-mail?
Your first line of defense in the war against the e-mail time suck is to consider whether you need to send an e-mail at all. We’ve all been involved in long e-mail threads hashing out issues that could be more easily resolved by a conversation. Before you send an e-mail, ask yourself if the matter could be addressed more quickly through a phone call or a face-to-face chat. If the answer is yes, don’t send that e-mail. Unless there’s a clear reason the communication must be in writing, try handling the issue through a quick conversation.
Many people dread writing, and writing at work can easily devolve into a time-consuming and demoralizing burden. Taking a few easy steps to master your writing process and address e-mails more systematically can speed up your writing time and make writing for work more enjoyable.