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So yesterday I’m standing in the hallway, early morning, still in PJ’s, with the phone pressed to my ear.
Enduring a lengthy automated menu while trying to make an appointment with a new doctor.
“If you are a NEW patient and would like to schedule an appointment, press SIX.”
I beep the “6” button.
A harried receptionist answers. Yes, I’m a new patient and would like to make an appointment.
“Oh, for that you have to call the new patient line,” she says, in a tone that communicates that she thinks I can’t follow simple instructions. “I’ll transfer you.”
W…w….what? I pressed six. I followed your rules! But it’s too late, she’s gone, the phone is already ringing again at a different location.
Stuff like this used to drive me bonkers. (This isn’t my fault! Your menu is wrong! Get it together, office people!) Until I realized:
I really just feel bad for this receptionist.
Think about it – new patients are ringing her phone all morning, interrupting her work. She probably thinks it’s because the greater Baltimore area contains a lot of people who can’t use a phone menu. And that’s a real burr in her saddle. When in fact, the wires are just crossed somewhere and their misdirecting menu hampers her work flow.
And the funny thing is, this annoyance has nothing to do with her actual work.
But if someone would fix a simple menu, her work days would go a lot better. Or at least contain fewer interruptions.
So here is our mission today: Locate and destroy those tiny, irksome, non-work-related peskies that are causing and re-causing annoyance for you.
Yes, it’s worth the time.
Have you ever carried a plastic grocery sack that dug into your hands, and you didn’t realize how much it had been hurting until after you set it down?
Sometimes you don’t realize how much of an energy vampire a tiny annoyance is until you feel the sweet bliss of its departure.
And you’ve got a limited daily budget of energy.
So if summertime is a busy season, it will pay off a hundredfold to spend time TODAY getting rid of every little energy vampire that’s leeching attention away from your goals.
You can sweep out an impressive majority of these irritations in four steps:
Step #1: Look at any written information you offer clients, and cut the length by at least 20%.
I’m guessing a top source of annoyance for you is the fact that clients don’t read what you give them. If they would just freaking READ, they wouldn’t be emailing you with questions that you already answered somewhere, right? Nor would they be sending you snippy little emails, all mad about something, when you gave them plenty of advance notice had they bothered to look.
Some people skim the heck out of stuff. It’s unavoidable. The good news is, the shorter you make something, the fewer words they tend to skip when they skim.
Let me tell you a secret: You can cut most writing by 20% without losing meaning.
At LEAST 20%. Usually more.
Here’s an example:
“Within three days of your session, I’ll email you to tell you your gallery is ready.”
can be trimmed to:
“Your gallery will be ready within 3 days. Watch your email!”
Which is clearer and easier to read?
“Sessions must be rescheduled at least twenty-four hours in advance. If you don’t give twenty-four hours’ notice, you will be charged $50.”
can be easily and pleasantly re-worded:
“Want to avoid a $50 reschedule fee? Just let me know 24 hours in advance!”
We’re not against all long writing here, we’re against writing that doesn’t need to be long.
Most of the time, stuff isn’t long because it MUST be so.
It’s because it takes a little extra effort to reread a sentence and consider how you could say the same thing in fewer words. Most people do not take that time. You will stand out if you do.
Granted, it may be not worth it to agonize over every word in every email. But in materials that multiple clients see? It’s worth cutting excess words to make sure clients see as many as possible.
Good writers make liberal use of the delete key.
The fastest way to cut words is to read a sentence, then shut your eyes and say the same thing the way you’d say it out loud to a friend. Then type those words out. Usually the result is shorter, and means the same thing.
Another surefire way to shorten is to quit hedging and just tell people what you want them to do. For example:
“Wearing casual clothes will make you feel more comfortable during your session”
can become, simply: “Wear casual clothes. You’ll feel more comfortable.”
People WANT you to just tell them what to do. You’re the pro. If it feels too bossy, you can add a friendly prefix: “My advice? Wear casual clothes. You’ll feel more comfortable.” It’s still 25% shorter than the original sentence.
(Need some more help with shortening stuff? Want to know how to keep people reading? I recommend checking out Irresistible Words. This is the best time of year to work through it.)
Step #2: Take an eagle-eye view: Breeze through last year’s client communication and see if you can spot any recurrent annoying questions/problems.
Fact: Sometimes you’re so caught up in getting small concerns off your plate as quickly as possible…..that you miss patterns.
A receptionist can easily just transfer a lot of new patient calls without thinking to check the phone menu. Not because the receptionist isn’t smart. It’s just not part of the usual routine to check the phone menu. It’s faster to simply transfer people and solve the immediate problem than it is to notice that this keeps happening, then sit down and go spelunking for the source.
An enormous amount of your energy is drained by the same small things over and over. It’s just faster to deal with the individual instance in front of you than it is to prevent it from happening again. But collectively, all that time adds up.
So, what did people email you about this past year? Did 2-5 people ask the same question? Did they misunderstand your rescheduling, your booking, or your sales procedures? If so, go look up how you explain those things. Is it clear? Is it easy to follow? Can you take a long-winded paragraph and shorten it, transform it into 1-2-3 steps, or make bullet points that are easier for the eye to track?
This doesn’t need to take long. Anytime you find yourself thinking “Why do people not understand ______?” go check out your explanation or directions. Your phone menu, so to speak, might actually be causing you the grief.
Step #3: Stop fighting your stuff for space.
Ever sat down at your desk and found that you had nowhere to set your mug of tea because there were things piled everywhere?
Ever gone to put laundry away and had to shove aside the 80% of your closet that you never wear in order to squeeze in the 20% of your wardrobe that you do?
Ever found yourself, in general, stacking things you use frequently atop items you never use?
This is going to sound nuts, but I have to say it to myself on occasion, so maybe someone else needs the reminder:
Your space exists to house YOU, not your stuff.
So if you find that your stuff is squeezing you off your desk, out of your closet, or consigning you to only the top few inches of a deep drawer or the outer third of a shelf – time to let some things go.
You owe your stuff nothing. It’s not paying rent. And it’s not going to show up at your doorstep with mascara trails under its eyes if you send it packing.
Some stuff will have “purge” written all over it – broken, ill-fitting, outdated items. But – warning! – the rest will be harder.
- Give yourself permission to donate anything that is useful in theory, but not useful to you right now.
- Forgive yourself for spending money on things that you “should” use or like, but never do, and are only keeping out of guilt.
- Photograph sentimental things you can’t possibly hang on to forever, and send them out for someone else to make memories with.
- If you didn’t even remember you had it, and it doesn’t light you up with excitement when you see it again, you probably don’t need it.
I applied the above advice to my closet last week, which was crammed so full I had to throw my shoulder into it when putting laundry away. So I got rid of about 70% of the things in there. And oh, the space! Glorious space!
Every morning my day begins with me feeling like I live in a catalog. And you can bet that feeling buoys up my day and motivates me to create more of the things I want.
If you need help clearing stuff, I highly recommend the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Amazon affiliate link). It’s a quick read, not as hokey as it might sound, and far more useful than any magazine article I’ve read about organizing or clutter-clearing.
Side note for the sentimental among you: If it almost feels like a betrayal of memory to let something go, but you know you want to, consider finding a good-cause organization to donate it to. Because then it stops feeling like “oh I’m terrible for dumping this!” to “oh look! I’m a philanthropist! These people need this much more than I need it in my closet!”
For example, Dress for Success accepts gently used business wear and uses it to enhance the economic independence of disenfranchised women. And organizations like The Lupus Foundation will even come to your door and pick up the stuff for you. Someone needs the items that are overcrowding you, I promise.
Step #4: Set a budget to replace the three small items that cause you the most grief.
I know, replacing your car or camera might not be feasible right now.
But seriously, there are three items in your life that you totally can replace. And if you did, your brow would furrow far less often.
Some might be in your office space – like that crammed mugful of cruddy ballpoint pens that only half-work. (Just get two nicer pens and enjoy the free space!)
But anything is fair game. That nonstick pan with flaky Teflon coating. That undershirt that shrunk up in the washer that you tug down every time you wear it. The garden hose that leaks.
Give yourself a small budget and get the one-step-up-in-quality version that actually works for you.
Even $30, mindfully spent, can make a huge splash of positive emotion and relief.
By the way? Some things might not need to be replaced, just repaired – it’s amazing what a single walk-through of your home with WD-40 in one hand and a screwdriver in the other will do for your mood over the next three months. Try it. I dare you.
In your quest to do better in your business, don’t forget to eliminate all the stuff that’s destroying your focus.
If your life is clogged with answering the same questions over and over, dealing with preventable client issues, fighting your clutter for space to do the work, and grabbing pens over and over to find that they’ve run dry, you might find big-picture things languishing for no reason other than you haven’t been able to focus on them.
And just think – the less time you spend on irksome details that frustrate your life, the more time you can spend addressing irksome details that frustrate your client’s lives, and that’s where the money is, friend.
Try it out and let me know how it goes!
P.S. Did you know you can grab a free sample of Irresistible Words, inside which you’ll learn my best trick for keeping people reading, no matter what you’re writing? Seriously, go grab it.