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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

7 Easy Ways to Make Your Business Writing Stand Out

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 @ 11:39 AM

describe the imageby Lynda McDaniel, Your Inspired Writing Coach, and People-OnTheGo Faculty Member

We all suffer from TMI these days—too much information makes us skim and skip as we read. That means in business writing, we need to grab our readers’ attention to keep them reading.

Try one or all seven of these easy ways to hook your readers:

1. Write from your heart. Writing has changed. Over the past four decades, the accepted style of writing has morphed from the stuffy corporate-speak of the ‘80s to the slap-dash texting of the 21st century. A good balance is somewhere in between—a style that is more conversational and personal—though still professional.

2. Tell tales. “Let me tell you a story.” That’s how the late Steve Jobs often started his presentations. He understood the power of story and used it to capture attention—even before he told the first story! Stories come in different shapes and sizes, from case studies and lengthy chronicles to similes and short anecdotes. Whatever form they take, stories captivate us, in part, because they take us out of our critical left brain so that we’re no longer on the sidelines listening—we’re right there with the storyteller.

Steve Jobs Telling Storiesphoto by Matt Yoshe (Creative Commons)

3. Tie your articles, reports, whatever you write, to current events. When you can, write about how your subject relates to what’s going on in the world. Is it in sync with or in opposition to a current trend?  Does it offer a solution or an opposing view?

4. Practice. Writers love to tell this joke:

A writer and brain surgeon meet at a cocktail party. The brain surgeon sips his martini and says, “I’m planning to take next summer off and write a book.” The writer nods. “What a coincidence!” she says. “I’m planning to take next summer off and do brain surgery!”

Writing is a profession, just like being an engineer, doctor, or teacher, and it takes time to perfect. Keep practicing. Your writing will get better and better.

5. Observe. Remove those ear buds, take the bus, walk instead of drive, hang out where people buy your product or service, listen in the lunchroom, eavesdrop at cafés, go to a library, pay attention. You’ll be amazed at the anecdotes and inspiration you gain.

6. Capture your ideas. Carry slips of paper, buy a small (and refillable) notebook, or record on your cell phone. Don’t assume you’ll remember creative ideas and inspiring observations.

7. Think like your audience. Get out of your own head and get into the minds of your readers. If you’re writing to:

• Support staff: Make sure you know what they’re thinking, not what you want them to think.

• Clients: Survey them to get on their wavelength.

• Potential customers: Get back to “beginner mind” and write to them from that perspective.

And here’s a bonus tip: Read voraciously. Read writing that inspires you, and by osmosis, you’ll become a better writer. What a fun way to make your business writing stand out!

This blog is excerpted from Lynda McDaniel’s latest book, How Not to Sound Stupid at Work: 52 Writing Skills to Turn Ordinary Business Communications into Extraordinary Career Boosters

 Additional Resources & Webinars

Topics: business writing

Write Savvy Headlines to Hook Your Readers—and Results

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Apr 08, 2014 @ 04:03 PM

describe the imageby Lynda McDaniel, Your Inspired Writing Coach, and People-OnTheGo Faculty Member

The art of headline writing is more useful than you may think. Sure, you’re accustomed to headlines atop your reports and proposals, blogs and articles. But what is a tweet if not a 140-character headline? E-mail subject lines? Headlines in a box. And titles, subtitles, and subheads are simply headlines with a different name. 

Engaging headlines are the antidote to TMI—too much information—which has turned us all into skimmers. Captivating headlines and subtitles grab our attention, and engaging subheads make us stop skimming and really read.

Let’s explore four ways to help you write headlines that hook readers—and results.writing for business

1. Learn from the publishers

The publishing industry has spent millions of dollars to discover what makes people buy their magazines. You can benefit from their research by studying the “cover lines,” those teasing headlines that flash like neon at passersby. Below are six of the most popular cover line categories and why they're so effective:

  • How to - (How to Writer Faster, Stronger, Better) People are eager to learn.

  • Why - (Why Dogs Love Humans) “Why” is a magnet for curious minds.

  • Questions - (Why Do Customers Buy?)  Questions draw in readers and offer the promise of solutions.

  • Statements - (Living in Harmony: A Guide to Creating Community Organizations) Offers, ideas, and information people connect with.

  • Numbers - (Six Steps to Effective Headlines)  The human brain is wired for numbers.

  • Controversy - (The Myth of Teambuilding) Stir things up to draw in readers.

 2. Focus on benefits

Think of your headline from the readers’ perspective. How will your content benefit them? Write to them (not only in the headline but throughout your content). For example, 10 Ways to Work Less and Still Get a Promotion.

-> Sign up for our two-part Business Writing for Success webinar on April 17 & 24, 2014.


3. Use the List of 20

The brainstorming technique List of 20 makes you dig deeper, beyond the obvious. If you were writing a guide on how to become a consultant, for instance, you might start with a headline “How to Become a Consultant.” In one respect, that’s not a bad headline—people often start their searches with “how to”—but it registers zero in personality. By number 10 you’ve graduated to “Working Alone to Help Others Work,” but by number 20 you’ve hit your stride with “A 10-Step Survival Guide for New Consultants.”

4. Include keywords for SEO

Keywords boost the effectiveness of headlines. Consider the bestselling book title How Not to Look Old. It needs (and has) a subtitle packed with keywords: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better. If you need help coming up with keywords, pay attention to the words Google or Amazon suggest in their search boxes. These are popular, powerful words that can boost your SEO.

Take the extra time to craft headlines worthy of your article, blog, email or book. Otherwise, you may lose your readers—and those results you’ve wanted to your results.

Click now for more details on the Business Writing for Success webinar, April 17 & 24.

 

Topics: business writing, business results

4 Tips to Make Your Business E-mail Writing More Effective

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 @ 03:48 PM

describe the imageby Lynda McDaniel, Your Inspired Writing Coach, and People-OnTheGo Faculty Member

We love to use e-mail because it's fast and easy. We also complain about e-mail because it’s fast and easy. The speed of e-mail too often means irritating, typo-filled messages that don’t get to the point quickly (the number one pet peeve in surveys of e-mail recipients.)

What’s wrong?

Some problems with e-mail stem from the challenge of all written words: no gestures, no facial expressions, no eye contact or tone of voice to support the message. Without the twinkle in the eye or the pat on the back, the reader may misinterpret the meaning of the words.

The speed of e-mail also contributes to its problems. Because we can send it fast, we think we should write it fast, dashing off messages without editing or proofing. Otherwise, it's not fast, is it? As a result, huge blocks of sloppy, rambling copy clog our inboxes.

Only to be deleted.

describe the imageI was amazed when I learned that at least half my students and clients freely admit to deleting e-mails they don’t like the looks of. When I asked what they said if asked about the message, they shrugged and answered, "We just say we didn't receive it." Ouch! All that work, but no one reads it.

What's right?

Let’s look at how you can overcome these challenges to write effective e-mail that get the results you need.

-> Sign up for our Business E-mail Writing webinar on April 10, 2014.

1. Subject line

You have only 10 seconds to grab your potential readers’ attention, so be sure to craft subject lines from their perspective. Include benefits they can relate to. For example, which of these would you open?

Carpet repair today or Early closing today

The writer wanted her staff to leave at 2:00 p.m. because the office would close early for carpet repairs. She sent the subject line on the left and was surprised to see everyone still working at 2:10 p.m. Her subject line didn’t pass the “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM?) test.  No one read it. If she’d sent the second version, everyone would have left at 1:59 p.m.

2. Get to the point quickly

Make sure your first paragraph informs your readers about the reason for your e-mail. Summarize your topic and then go into detail.  Remember: everyone is asking WIIFM?

3. Write to your readers, not at them

Don’t just data dump. Tell stories, benefits, and results through your readers' eyes. Use the word "you" often to engage them. "You" is a proven magnet that keeps people reading.

4. End with impact

Leave a lasting impression and make your expectations known. E-mail offers fast calls to action—just tell your readers to hit reply, click a link, download a document. Finally, let them know what the next steps are—you’ll call, they need to call or RSVP. And include your contact information. No contact information is another high-ranking pet peeve.

We'll go into detail on all these points—plus many more in my upcoming Business E-mail Writing webinar on April 10, 2014.

-> Click now for more details on the webinar.

 

 Additional Resources & Webinars

Topics: business writing, email etiquette, guest bloggers

Reach More Customers with eBooks | Hear a 2-min. Audio Preview of our Free Webinar on 12/5/13 with Author Dalya Massachi

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 @ 05:24 PM

In an era where content is king, publishing a book or ebook is a powerful way to not only distinguish yourself as a professional in your field, but to attract many more customers and clients to your business.

Want to learn how?

Then you won't want to miss award-winning author Dalya Massachi as she presents, "Publishing Your eBook for Greater Business Impact," at our complimentary Lunch & Learn Webinar on 12/5/13 at noon PT.

Click now to register for the free webinar!

Topics: career, business writing, books, business results, Lunch & Learn Webinars, webinars

Time Out! How Taking Breaks Can Improve Your Writing

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 @ 11:56 AM

describe the imageBy Lynda McDaniel, Your Write with Confidence Coach

Lynda will be teaching a two-part webinar on Sept. 10 & 17, How to write attention-grabbing, brand-building blogs, articles, and social media. Click here to register for the sessions.

She'll also be presenting at our FREE Lunch & Learn Webinar on Sept. 12 at noon PT: Unleash Your Inner Storyteller for Business Writing. Register now for the complimentary session!

“Take breaks” ranks high on my list of favorite writing tips. It’s an excellent example of “accomplishing more with less” and can boost the results you get from your writing.

Sound too good to be true? Let me share a real-life example.

TimeOut People OnTheGoI was writing an article about Jeffery Robinson, a lawyer whose career was shaped by the Civil Rights Movement. He is kind, courteous, and caring, and I wanted to do him justice. That said, I also was eager to cross this assignment off my to-do list. I put the final touches on the article and asked a colleague to review it. She came back with the dreaded words, “You’re not done.”

She was right. I found several areas that needed to be stronger, including this prosaic phrase: “Robinson has amassed an impressive list of awards.” (No wonder she said I wasn’t done!) I tried many approaches, but I was still stumped. I gave up and took a nap. When I awoke 15 minutes later, this phrase popped into my head: “If awards were legal tender, Robinson could forget about billable hours.”

Where did that come from? According to William Zinsser, author of, On Writing Well, my brain had been working on this problem while I napped. He writes: “Your subconscious mind does more writing than you think... While you slept, your writer’s mind didn’t. To some extent, a writer is always working.”

That’s just how our brain is wired, and we need to give it time to work for us. Maybe you go to lunch or work on a different project, or, if you’re lucky, take a nap. Everyone complains about not having enough time to write well, but how are we spending the time we do have? Breaks are as vital to your writing as your choice of words and punctuation.

Most of us never learned the writing process and how it works. Like my scratch-it-off-the-list mentality, we just want to get our writing done as fast as possible. But attention-getting writing doesn’t happen that way. Sure, get your first draft done fast, but then spend time editing, taking breaks, and editing again. Who knows what will pop out of that marvelous brain of yours?

Join Lynda at her next webinar on Sept. 10 & 17, How to write attention-grabbing, brand-building blogs, articles, and social media. And don't forget to register for the free webinar on 9/12: Unleash Your Inner Storyteller for Business Writing. You can also watch her interview on WriterSpeak, below, for additional writing inspiration, tips, and more.

Additional Resources & Webinars

Topics: business writing, time management tips, webinars

Transform Your Message From Confusing to Clear with Storytelling (VIDEO & 5 Quick Tips)

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 @ 04:16 PM

Don't miss our free Lunch & Learn Webinar, The Power of Three—How to Distill Your Message to Its Essence with acclaimed author of Beyond Bullet Points, Cliff Atkinson, on Thursday, May 2 at noon PT. Register now for the complimentary webinar!


The Art of Storytelling at a Glance:

  1. Be authentic.

  2. Know your audience. Be interested in them, rather than just focusing on being interesting

  3. Have a clear goal.

  4. Be interactive. Listen as a storyteller. Engage in a dialogue with your audience.

  5. Create an emotional component along with the information in order to make it memorable.

describe the imageWhat are your tips, strategies, and suggestions when writing your marketing and communications message? Do you use the art of storytelling in your presentations, sales copy, and other content?

Attend The Power of Three—How to Distill Your Message to Its Essence, our free Lunch & Learn Webinar on Thursday, May 2 from noon to 12:40 PT. Reserve your webinar seat now!

Additional Resources

Topics: career, business writing, Lunch & Learn Webinars, leadership

Five Easy Ways to Kick-Start Your Book or E-book, by Lynda McDaniel

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 @ 07:58 PM

describe the imageDid you know that only a fraction of the people who want to write a book ever do? Why?

Even those who normally breeze through a blog or article often freeze when faced with the challenge of 200+ pages in a book. Add in hectic schedules, and the idea of writing a book gets more daunting.

Sound familiar? You can overcome these mental obstacles and start enjoying the business-boosting benefits of a book/e-book with these kick-start techniques:

1. Imitate to innovate: Find a book you love, a book that’s similar to the one you want to write. Often, what you admire is what you aspire to. Now deconstruct its style. Study how the book starts, finishes, and everything in between. You’ll quickly have a blueprint for your book.

2. Write 100 words for 100 days: If procrastination holds you back, this could be your breakthrough tool. Psychologically, you know you can fit 100 words into your schedule. And many days, you’ll write much more because once you’re on a roll, the words tumble out.

3. Write fast first drafts: Don’t worry about the quality of the words—and don’t edit as you go. Just get your ideas down as fast as possible. (This also increases your creativity.) Capture that jumble of thoughts so you can turn it into something great—later. You can fix a messy first draft, but you can’t fix a blank page.

4. Plunge in: Start wherever you feel passionate. Jump into the middle or end—you don’t have to start at the beginning. You’ll find your creativity is super-charged when you’re excited about the section you’re writing.

5. Take breaks: This may sound counterintuitive, but it works. As Pierre Khawand describes in Accomplishing More With Less, work on your book (or any task) for 40 minutes and then take a brief break. That’s 10 or 15 minutes longer than other performance studies, and here’s why in Pierre’s own words: “… while 30 minutes is reasonable and achievable, after 30 minutes of focused work, the ‘engine’ is now fully warmed up and functioning optimally, so those extra 10 minutes are ‘pure’ performance.”

Why not start your business-boosting book today? If you need one more nudge, just think about what it’s costing you not having a book/e-book to promote your business and expertise.

describe the imageLynda McDaniel is a writing coach and co-founder of The Book Catalysts. www.bookcatalysts.com/writing-class

 

 

Additional Resources

Topics: business writing, guest bloggers, productivity

I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. by Kyle Wiens (Harvard Business Review, 7/20/12); summary + commentary by Lynda McDaniel

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sun, Jul 29, 2012 @ 04:23 PM

Haven't heard about our summary+commentary (s+c*d) format? Learn more!

Guest blog article by Lynda McDaniel

Summary

SpellingGrammar Summary and Commentary People OnTheGo

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Kyle Wiens calls himself a “grammar stickler.” He explains that everyone applying for a position at either of his companies, iFixit or Dozuki, is required to take a grammar test. With the exception of a couple of extenuating circumstances—dyslexia and English-language learners—he has a “‘zero tolerance approach’ to grammar mistakes.”

The difference between “too/to,” “its/it’s” and “their/they’re/there” is important, especially at his companies where the main products are user manuals and technical documentation. But grammar matters at every company, he explains. Whether in blogs and articles, e-mails or company websites, Wiens believes “your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence.”

Commentary

Wiens comments echo my own efforts to elevate the quality of writing in the workplace. I appreciate his insights about people judging us with the clues they have—which today are often only our words. Fortunately, people seem to be increasingly interested in refreshing their grammar and punctuation skills. So I question Wien’s rigidity about a single mistake. Excellence is an honorable goal, but not perfectionism. I find perfectionism makes my clients quiver and quake when facing a writing project. It shuts down their creativity and actually causes errors.

Discussion

How are your  grammar and punctuation skills? What is the quality of writing in your workplace? Do you ascribe to a “zero tolerance approach”? Where do you stand on the difference between perfectionism and excellence?

Additional Resources

Topics: business writing, email etiquette, guest bloggers, summary-plus-commentary

Your Bad Grammar at Work: What's the Problem? by Alison Griswold (Forbes, 6/22/12); summary + commentary by Lynda McDaniel

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sat, Jun 30, 2012 @ 05:02 PM

Haven't heard about our summary+commentary (s+c*d) format? Learn more!

Guest blog article by Lynda McDaniel

Summary

NoTecknolegy By Sammy0716Flickr c2008

Alison draws from a Wall Street Journal article about grammar gaffes invading the workplace. She offers some legitimate reasons for this, such as words and usage have always changed over time. (After all, we don’t sound like Shakespeare!) She takes a close look at more common gaffes in today’s business writing, such as its/it’s, who/whom, less/fewer, their/they’re/there.

The article also explores her concern that the subjective tense is missing from most business writing today. As she explains, subjunctive tense is used when posing a hypothetical. We should say, “If I were the manager,” instead of, “If I was the manager.” The articles closes with six tips from author George Orwell, including 1) Never use a long word where a short one will do and 2) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Read the full article.

Commentary

I agree with Alison that good grammar is vital. But what concerns me more than the missing subjunctive is our growing struggle to craft cohesive thoughts. Texts and tweets have taken their toll. We need to write longer and more thoughtfully in order to engage our readers and tap into insights and creative ideas. We can learn to write faster and more effectively, and when we do, we enjoy increased results, respect, and revenues.

Discussion

How is your writing changing? When are texts or short e-mails the perfect response? When do you need to spend more time developing your thoughts? Neuroscientists have proven that we have all kinds of great ideas just waiting for us to tap into them, and writing can help us discover them. Do you spend time exploring your thoughts and creativity?

Additional Resources

Topics: business writing, email etiquette, summary-plus-commentary

How many exclamation points should you have in an e-mail!? And how many is too many!!!? by Lynda McDaniel

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 @ 08:04 PM

Guest blog article written by Lynda McDaniel, Founder and Director of the Association for Creative Business Writing

exclamationLast week, I read an amusing essay in the New York Times about the increasingly popular use of exclamation points in business writing, especially e-mail and texts. BE—before e-mail—any serious writer wouldn’t consider using them unless the comments were truly, well, exclamatory: “I never!” or “Goodness gracious!”

But AE—after e-mail—we’ve naturally gravitated toward using this happy-looking slash + period. I say naturally because after you’ve received your first 1,000 e-mails (which, sadly, can take less than a week), you can’t help but sense the cold, flatness of the medium. It drains the life out of the most animated prose. Back in writing school, they teach that if you need to use exclamation points, you probably need to rewrite and make your copy livelier. But these days, that's a tough sell when e-mail will cast a wet blanket over your best efforts.

And, frankly, who’s got that much time? Today, my students balk at proper grammar and punctuation; I can’t imagine suggesting that they take the time to make each word s-i-n-g. In an ideal world, that would be grand. In our real world, one or two exclamation points seem to work just fine. (Emphasis on "one or two." More on that in a minute.)

Reluctantly, as though they were confessing to a dark secret, several famous authors cited in the essay shared their predilection for exclamation points. Some did suggest restraint, however, and that’s what I teach as well. “More than one or two in an e-mail,” I often say, “and your e-mail looks more like a teenager’s diary than a business document. It won’t be taken seriously.”

The essay also quotes the co-author of one of the best books on the subject, Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. “The exclamation point is the quickest and easiest way to kick things up a notch,” Schwalbe says, “but not if you’re angry. Only happy exclamation points.”

Good point!

Additional Resources

The Successfully Starting Your Writing Project Workshop: 9/14 (11:30 am to 1:00 pm Pacific Time)

The Business Writing for Success Workshop: 9/16 and 9/23 (11:30 am to 1:00 pm Pacific Time)

Topics: business writing

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