Succinctness

I thought I had previously written about how I have adopted what Merlin Mann calls ‘Inbox Zero’, but I can’t see any mention of it.  I will just say that I’ve been successful at reducing my work inbox (personal mail is something else, I have two accounts) to 0 each and every time I check it for over a month now, while my 00ToReply folder has never gone above 24.  (Many of those items I should probably just reply to or accept that I never will; they involve work things for which I am not strictly paid to think about.  Replies to meta-questions posed by my grandboss, for instance, regarding mission statements.)

Having said all that, my next project in my quest for self-improvement and efficiency is to be a model – a paragon, a champion, perhaps the epitome – of succinctness.  That is to say, now that I’ve made good inroads on how I handle email coming in (and how I generate outgoing), I will try to reduce the effect I have on others.  To that end, I want to write less, and have what I write mean more.

A Livejournal friend of mine is doing a series of posts that are no more than 100 words.  (It could be that they are each precisely 100 words, I haven’t checked.)  I’m taking a seminar class in cognitive science where one of our assignments is to produce about 100 words on our readings for that week.  I am taking the relative  as a challenge to produce precisely 100 words for each of these assignments.  I admire the clarity and brevity of posts by people like Seth Godin – he manages to pack a lot of information and ideas into relatively few words, his posts are usually well under 100.

Obviously this post is a failure at brevity, but I will endeavour to improve.  One potential issue is that one thing I’ve always prided myself on is the clearness of my writing.  More than a few people have told me that they find my documentation easy to understand, for instance, although it is usually no less wordy than this post (or most of my emails) are.  I need to somehow balance economy of words with maximising nuance, without killing myself.  (It took me an hour or so to do my readings this weekend, ten minutes earlier to decide what my writing was going to be about, and almost half an hour reducing my text to 100 words.  That’s not really tenable.)

3 Replies to “Succinctness”

  1. Your post (420 words) seems a great length for a blog post, as far as I’m concerned. 45 seconds to read (I just timed myself reading at normal speed), and I can consider whether to respond in under a minute total.
    It’s a noble challenge. One that I’ve tried and gotten lax with, since I write slowly anyhow. Best of luck finding the balance.
    Also: MT’s OpenID is awesome.
    There’s always Pascal: I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

  2. Yes, I think 100 words might be overdoing it a bit. It also depends on what you’re trying to convey, of course.
    I’ve found myself quoting Pascal far too often in apologizing for an email that would have been a five page memo.

  3. I also forgot to say, I’m cursed in this regard with the ability to write and type very quickly. It was a great help in my career as an undergrad, but it lends itself poorly to trying to keep things brief – it’s far too easy for me to spout off at great length about some topic or another.

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