The 3 Types of Burnout And How To Prevent Them

Be like the happy matchstick, don’t burnout!

In my last post, I talked about the best way to avoid burnout without slowing down. I have been reading more since and have found out there are actually 3 distinct types of burnout, that have different causes and different remedies. In this post I will describe each one and the recommended ways to prevent them.

Overload Burnout

This is burnout classic. The most familiar type of burnout and the one I described last post. Overload Burnout is caused by working too hard for too long. The human mind can only focus for so long, focusing is best in short sprints, not marathon sessions. Imagine what trying to sprint for 8 hours straight, 6 days a week for several years would feel like, this is what your brain would be going through, if you worked relentlessly for the same amount of time.

Prolonged burnout, essentially stress, has been linked to serious health issues both mental (depression and anxiety ) and physiological (heart disease, tension, headaches) the list goes on. So preventing burnout, isn’t just something that feels good, it could save your life!

The usual way to deal with Overload Burnout is exercise and taking breaks. Taking a break allows your mind to rest and recuperate. Rest allows your mind to recover, you can approach tasks feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Exercise releases endorphins that are natural stress relievers and feel-good hormones. A repetitive exercise like running allows your mind to focus on something other than work, giving you that contrast between work and non-work that your mind craves.

Under-Challenged Burnout

Ever had the feeling that you aren’t utilising all your skills at work? That you’re just going through the motions and the challenge isn’t there anymore, or maybe it never was. As humans we crave challenge, that’s why we create, why we solve problems, why we compete. Take away our challenges or our creative pursuits and we start to deflate. Life loses its colour, its flavour, you get bored and lose motivation.

If you haven’t learnt anything new at work in the past couple of months (or ever) you may start to feel Under-Challenged Burnout. You’ll notice yourself procrastinating more, not because you are scared of the workload but because it simply bores you, your mind is searching for distraction from the drudgery. You can’t bare to comb through the same set of files, write the same document, or whatever it is you find dull and easy at your job. If this goes on long enough you will start feeling cynical, disengaged and just plain moody at work. You will be less pleasant to be around, you will be rude to your friends and snap at people who don’t deserve it.

Taking breaks or exercising isn’t going to fix this, you need to speed up, not slow down. You need your mojo back. If you want to be inspired at work again (or for the first time), reflect on what drives you as a person. Do you thrive on solving problems others give up on? Do you get a little warm feeling when you make a customer’s day? Think about how you could do more of this at work.

If you love to be creative, find the creativity in your projects, if you get a rush from solving huge complicated problems, find more complex problems to solve. Ask your boss for more challenging projects, no company is short on problems and your boss will probably love to unload some of their problems on to you.

If you can’t find your inspiration at work, consider doing something creative or exciting in your free time, start woodworking, learn to repair bikes, write a blog…

Neglect Burnout

What if you haven’t been slaving away for too long, you haven’t been doing easy, dull tasks for too long, but you still feel burnt out. Maybe you struggle to juggle, all your work and social commitments. You just don’t have the hours in the day to complete all your tasks. You’re putting out fires all day and when you go home, you don’t feel you’ve accomplished anything meaningful. In fact, you swear your task list is longer than when you got in. You feel the responsibilities growing, the pressure rising, the weight of your task list crushing you. It’s hard to breathe and getting harder – you may just have Neglect Burnout.

Neglect burnout is caused by having too much work and/or too difficult work for the level you are currently able to handle. Many people believe asking for help will make them look weak and turning down extra tasks will anger their bosses. So they keep going, saying yes to everything and plugging away. Struggling more and more every day, making no progress, so the work keeps piling on.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do every task you are assigned. Your boss is (probably) human. Talk to them. Humans love talking. Tell your boss you are struggling with the workload or that you are insufficiently trained to deal with certain types of work and you want to learn how to better achieve those tasks. Together you can work out a training plan to be better prepared for such projects or reduce the number of projects you have going, so you can focus on a more narrow set of objectives, allowing you to make significant progress.

This seems so simple. That’s because it is. I have had a situation where I had more projects than I could meaningfully progress with at work. I was stressed out, because I just didn’t seem to be able to please everyone and as a result I wasn’t pleasing anyone. I couldn’t go on like this. I plucked up the courage to tell my boss, expecting her to tell me that I just needed to work harder and figure it out, only for her to say that while being challenged is good, she didn’t want me to feel overwhelmed. As a result, she prioritised my work for me, delayed some work or passed tasks on to other team members and left me with fewer, more urgent and important tasks to deal with. My stress levels decreased overnight. Try it with your boss, I bet they will react the same way.

If you have any more tips for preventing the three types of burnout or even know of some I wasn’t aware of, please feel free to tell me in the comments below! This post was inspired by Melody Wilding’s post on inc.com

The Best Way To Avoid Burnout, Without Slowing Down

One frazzled brain

We’ve all been there, work is just droning on and on. from week to week. Today is no different. You wake up, hit snooze, wish it were still the weekend and slowly drift off to sleep, then 10 minutes later, do it all over again. You drag yourself out of bed and into the shower. That’s over, even getting dressed feels difficult right now. Then there’s the dreary drive, with the never-ending queues of traffic. You finally get to the office and hope nothing major goes wrong, you just want an easy day. You finish, some fuzzy amount of time later, only to realise it’s Monday and you have to do it all over again for the next 4 days.

You swear the job didn’t use to be this bad, that Sally in marketing wasn’t that annoying just a few weeks ago. Yet the spreadsheets you used to tackle with glee (for some people this is true, don’t judge) suddenly look like a grey pile of sludge you have to trudge through. You are stressed. Last week you were stressed. This is what being burnt out feels like.

You see two ways out of this funk:

  1. As soon as you get home, just do nothing. Relax in front of the telly and pretend the whole world away. Then tomorrow, you will feel refreshed.
  2. Don’t work so hard anymore, this feeling is horrible and you don’t want to repeat it.

Here’s the problem, you try plan 1. but you are still stressed the next day, you realise escapism isn’t working, you are just as burnt out as before. On to plan 2. this lasts maybe an hour, then you realise you don’t want to do the bare minimum, you care about doing a good job and you want to progress in your career.

What now? Your two plans have failed. Time to hand in your letter of resignation? No. According to Google’s in-house productivity expert, Lila MacLellan, there is a better way. Google has shown time and time again how successful they can be in cognitively demanding environments, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?

MacLellan recommends doing activities that require you to use your brain in a different way to how you do at work. It’s like when people who go to the gym have different days for different muscles groups, if you did leg day every day, 3 days in a row, your legs would be exhausted and perform more poorly each successive day and you may even injure yourself.

It’s all about using your different brain muscles (figuratively speaking) if you have a super social chatty job like making sales calls one after the other, try quietly reading a book once you get home. If you stay sat at a desk all day, go for a brisk walk in the evening. If you write code at work, try drawing in your spare time. The task can be equally demanding of your brain’s abilities, but it just has to be a different way of using your brain than what got you so fatigued in the first place. Research has shown this to be much more effective in refreshing you from day to day, than just trying to avoid the stress or doing nothing.

This makes your day-to-day life more fun and fulfilling. It will help you to be more resilient, making you feel fresher at work for longer and improving your mood as you will have more skills to handle stress. You can’t avoid stress forever (sadly), but you can become better at handling it.

If you have any stress-busting tips, please let me know in the comments below.

An Experiment in Editing – 2: What I Discovered When I Tried Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule

The following is the second in a series of blog posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.

Original

I saw a video recently about Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule in which it is claimed that Buffett once had a conversation with his pilot. For anyone who doesn’t know, Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors in the world and has been top of his game for decades. After realising he’d had the same pilot for 10 years, he was perturbed to find that the pilot had not moved on in all that time. I will be paraphrasing, but Buffett says something along the lines of “if you’ve been working as my pilot for 10 years, I must not be doing my job right” so he instructs the pilot to write down 25 career goals and that he can write anything he wants.

Next Buffett tells the pilot to prioritise the top 5. This is more difficult, but the pilot does it. Now, Buffet asks him

“What will you do with the other 20?”

The pilot says “I will treat these as 2nd best and work on them when I have spare time”

Buffett replies “No. You avoid those at all costs, until you had achieved your top 5.”

Buffett explains that spreading yourself too thin means you don’t make any significant progress towards any of your goals. Focusing on a goals instead, is the key to making progress.

This doesn’t mean that you are limited to do just 5 things for the rest of your life, never trying anything new, just repeating the same cycle of days for the rest of time. BUT you can’t do number 6 until you have achieved ONE of the top 5. This is the crux of the idea.

This idea can be applied to any area of life where you have too many options. Too many options meaning there are multiple things you want to achieve, but you never quite seem to get any of them done, they just remain on a wish list for all time. For example, do you have too many hobby projects you never complete? Too many career skills, so none seem to improve all that much? Too many new business ideas, but you don’t ever seem to start any? All of these can be whittled down to your top 5, allowing you to focus and make real progress.

I tried this for myself. I don’t have 25 career aspirations, so I wrote down 25 things I want to do in my life in general from hobbies, to work, to travel. The top 5 I prioritised, see below:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a side-Hustle
  1. I have been reading more and more lately about the benefits of being able to write well, which was part of my inspiration to start a blog, so that was always going to end up on this list.
  2. This blog is new, there’s lots of room to grow and improve, but I’m enjoying the process so far With a lot of practice I hope to be writing better articles, have a better website and anything else that would make the blog better.
  3. I have been trying to do this for years, but I always give up a few weeks in. I was recently pointed towards “Couch to 5k”, which aims to make running a habit by easing you in. Instead of going too hard too soon and quitting, as I always have done in the past, you build up to longer runs until you can do 5k even if you started from a point of doing no exercise at all. The best part for me has been the structure the app provides, as I tend to just run hard, then get tired and never want to run again.
  4. I love to go on solo-travel trips, but I have played it pretty safe so far, going to European cities where pretty much everyone speaks English and the culture isn’t too different to our own. I want to go further away and experience more, even if it is a little scary to not speak the language or know all the customs, that’s part of the fun, right?
  5. I recently read a fantastic book by Chris Guillebau, in which he describes the merits of having a “side-hustle” and how to start one. The book is very clearly written and inspiring, with great advice. I aim to write a post on it someday soon. The main reason the idea drew me in, is it allows you to have a project of your own, that gives you a sense of achieving something of your own. Guillebeau says it’s not about workaholism, having a second job would be a nightmare for many people. Side-hustles come come in many different forms, as you can see on his podcast it’s a creative outlet for some people for others it gives them a sense of independence. It’s a great way to do some work you enjoy, just for you, without going all in and quitting your job to start a business.

If this post or the original video inspires you to try the idea for yourself, please let me know in the comments below, how it worked out for you!

One Page

Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule, comes from an anecdote where, it is claimed that he wanted to help advance the career of his pilot after realising the pilot had had the same position for 10 years. In order to do this, he questioned the pilot about his top 25 career ambitions, making it clear to the man, that nothing was off-limits.

Now that the pilot had his list of 25 career goals, Buffett told him to prioritise them in from most important to least and then circle the top 5. Once this was done, Buffett asked his pilot “now that you have your top 5, how will you treat the other 20?”

The pilot replies “I will focus on the top 5 and work on the other 20 in my spare time”

Buffet says “No. The other 20 are now your list of goals you will avoid at all costs, until you have completed one of the first 5, then you may move on to number 6”.

Buffett’s thinking, was that by spreading ourselves too thin, we end up making little to no improvement at all in the goals we have set ourselves. It is better to focus on a smaller, narrower range of things until you have reached one of those goals, then progress on to the next one, so at any one time, you only have 5 goals vying for your attention.

I tried to do this for myself, my top 5 being :

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle

1. I want to improve my writing for many reasons: work, this blog, being able to communicate better, being able to organise my thoughts better, being able to argue better, this list goes on.

2. I find writing this blog to be a very rewarding hobby, so improving it should hopefully improve that satisfaction.

3. Exercise is just good for you and I haven’t had a regular habit of exercising well since I was at university. The health benefits and benefits it provides to my mood and well-being have been sorely missed.

4. I enjoy solo-travel trips, but I am starting to think I have played it safe for too long, I want to fly further afield and see more of the world than just my home continent.

5. I recently read Chris Guillebeau’s book on Side-Hustles and was convinced by him that it’s not some workaholic’s dream, it’s more about having a project you do for yourself that you can enjoy, be creative in or just use to provide yourself with a little extra money and therefore independence.

3 Paragraphs

Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule is a rule where a person lists their 25 top goals for their career, then prioritises the top 5 and finally ignores the other 20. That seems counter-intuitive, but the idea is to focus on fewer goals more intensely to achieve real results, rather than making next to no progress across many many goals. You don’t have to never do anything other than the top 5 though, once you complete one you can move on to goal 6 and so on, until all 25 are completed.

I tried this for myself, my top 5 are:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle

1. I want to improve my writing as I see it as a valuable skill in life and work.

2. I want to improve my blog as I enjoy the hobby and want to make it as good as it can be.

3. I want to exercise more regularly to improve my health and well-being

4. Europe is safe and familiar, travel is about new experiences, so I want to go further to find newer experiences.

5. I like the concept of creating a project for myself and I need more money!

One Paragraph

Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule is about listing your top 25 career goals, prioritising the top 5 and forgetting about the rest. Only moving on to goal 6 when one of the top 5 is completed. I tried this for myself and found I want to focus on writing, blogging, exercising, more adventurous travel and starting a Side-Hustle.

One Sentence

Focus on your most important goals, don’t think about the rest until you have succeeded in these goals first.

What I discovered When I Tried Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule

dav

I saw a video recently about Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule in which it is claimed that Buffett once had a conversation with his pilot. For anyone who doesn’t know, Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors in the world and has been top of his game for decades. After realising he’d had the same pilot for 10 years, he was perturbed to find that the pilot had not moved on in all that time. I will be paraphrasing, but Buffett says something along the lines of “if you’ve been working as my pilot for 10 years, I must not be doing my job right” so he instructs the pilot to write down 25 career goals and that he can write anything he wants.

Next Buffett tells the pilot to prioritise the top 5. This is more difficult, but the pilot does it. Now, Buffet asks him

“What will you do with the other 20?”

The pilot says “I will treat these as 2nd best and work on them when I have spare time”

Buffett replies “No. You avoid those at all costs, until you had achieved your top 5.”

Buffett explains that spreading yourself too thin means you don’t make any significant progress towards any of your goals. Focusing on a goals instead, is the key to making progress.

This doesn’t mean that you are limited to do just 5 things for the rest of your life, never trying anything new, just repeating the same cycle of days for the rest of time. BUT you can’t do number 6 until you have achieved ONE of the top 5. This is the crux of the idea.

This idea can be applied to any area of life where you have too many options. Too many options meaning there are multiple things you want to achieve, but you never quite seem to get any of them done, they just remain on a wish list for all time. For example, do you have too many hobby projects you never complete? Too many career skills, so none seem to improve all that much? Too many new business ideas, but you don’t ever seem to start any? All of these can be whittled down to your top 5, allowing you to focus and make real progress.

I tried this for myself. I don’t have 25 career aspirations, so I wrote down 25 things I want to do in my life in general from hobbies, to work, to travel. The top 5 I prioritised, see below:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle
  1. I have been reading more and more lately about the benefits of being able to write well, which was part of my inspiration to start a blog, so that was always going to end up on this list.
  2. This blog is new, there’s lots of room to grow and improve, but I’m enjoying the process so far With a lot of practice I hope to be writing better articles, have a better website and anything else that would make the blog better.
  3. I have been trying to do this for years, but I always give up a few weeks in. I was recently pointed towards “Couch to 5k”, which aims to make running a habit by easing you in. Instead of going too hard too soon and quitting, as I always have done in the past, you build up to longer runs until you can do 5k even if you started from a point of doing no exercise at all. The best part for me has been the structure the app provides, as I tend to just run hard, then get tired and never want to run again.
  4. I love to go on solo-travel trips, but I have played it pretty safe so far, going to European cities where pretty much everyone speaks English and the culture isn’t too different to our own. I want to go further away and experience more, even if it is a little scary to not speak the language or know all the customs, that’s part of the fun, right?
  5. I recently read a fantastic book by Chris Guillebau, in which he describes the merits of having a “side-hustle” and how to start one. The book is very clearly written and inspiring, with great advice. I aim to write a post on it someday soon. The main reason the idea drew me in, is it allows you to have a project of your own, that gives you a sense of achieving something of your own. Guillebeau says it’s not about workaholism, having a second job would be a nightmare for many people. Side-hustles come come in many different forms, as you can see on his podcast it’s a creative outlet for some people for others it gives them a sense of independence. It’s a great way to do some work you enjoy, just for you, without going all in and quitting your job to start a business.

If this post or the original video inspires you to try the idea for yourself, please let me know in the comments below, how it worked out for you!

The Best Way To Learn New Information, According To Research

How many times have you re-read a few pages of text, then gone to write about them or answer some questions, only to find you can’t remember a word of what you just read? Revising for exams at school, university or even work is never fun (if it is fun, who are you and how did you find a way to bring joy to revision?), but there is good news. It doesn’t need to be so difficult and dull, “but what is this miracle technique?!”, I hear you cry.

It’s Drawing!

The above title is just for people who can’t be bother to read an amateur blogger’s whole post just to find the answer. Now most people at this point are worrying. Thinking things like

“I can’t draw!”

“I wish it was something I am good at, rather than drawing!”

But, imaginary worriers, you need not worry at all. Skill level is completely irrelevant to whether or not you learn better when drawing (please see the title picture for reference). It’s incredibly common to get self-conscious about your drawing skills around puberty, I know I did. I barely drew a thing for years! But it turns out that diagrams, maps, doodles even smiley faces count. So the bar for the required skill level really is low.

This takes off the pressure and means anyone can do it as easily as they would jot down a note. The drawings are for your benefit, not for anyone else.

Some scientists did a study, where a group of people was asked to recall a list of words and definitions, half were asked to write them over and over and half were asked to draw them. The results were that no matter how good each person’s actual drawings were, the doodlers did significantly better at remembering the words and definitions and understanding the content of what they had read.

Drawing Uses Multiple Parts Of Your Brain Simultaneously

It’s not actually clear just yet what happens in the brain when drawing that makes it so damn effective at helping you learn, but the leading idea at the moment is that it engages multiple parts of your brain at the same time. Similar to what I wrote in an earlier post about writing notes by hand.

When you draw:

  • You picture what it is you are drawing, this is the part of your brain that forms images.
  • You move your arm across the page to create different lines, shading and shapes. This is involves the part of your brain responsible for movement.
  • You judge the accuracy of your drawing, this requires analytical thought.
  • You feel the pen(cil) and the paper (or screen) you are drawing on, this engages the touch sensors in your brain

That’s a lot of brain parts and deeper processing has been found to increase the likelihood you remember something so using all those different brain parts are most likely responsible for drawing’s power to affect your memory.

Drawing Helps You Focus

For some reason, your mind is much less likely to wander when you are drawing, perhaps engaging your brain on so many levels means many more parts need to disengage for it to wander and you learn best when you’re concentrating.

Drawing Broadens Your Thinking

Drawing a thing requires you to picture how that thing looks, then how best to represent the thing and which version of thing to use. If you google aeroplane, you could get a whole bunch of similar looking planes, but if you draw a plane, you could draw: a propeller plane, a jet plane, a fighter plane. Then you could draw it: taking off, crashing, upside down, in a hanger. You can choose the detail level: cartoony, super realistic, just the outlines. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination will allow.

Drawing Keeps You Humble

Drawing is hard. I know earlier I said that it doesn’t have to be the best drawing, in the world to count, but try and draw a pig from memory now, how much does it look like a pig? Drawing shows us how much we actually observe in our daily life and how much we actually don’t know.

As with any skill, someone is always better than you, no matter how good you get. Also taking something in front of you and putting down only the parts you need requires a lot of thought. What parts of a pair of scissors do you need to make a drawing look like scissors?

Drawing something you think you can picture in your head only to see something completely different on the page, can be infuriating, but it’s not impossible, so keep trying, you’ll get there.

The following links contain all the information I used to write this post here, here, here and here.

Please let me know in the comments below, what you think!

Why I Take All My Notes By Hand And Why You Should Too

Swapping the keyboard for a pen, has many benefits

Why do you even take notes in the first place? Usually it is to keep a record of something you would not otherwise remember. Computers have become increasingly popular for note-taking due to their speed and the options of storage and (for those, like myself, who are cursed with eternal bad handwriting) legibility of the script.

So if my handwriting is so hard to read, so much slower than typing and storing all my paper notes is so much more difficult than using a computer, why am I recommending handwritten notes to you?

You Remember More Of What You Write By Hand

If your intention is to learn, it makes sense to get as much information down as possible, right? Wrong. Studies have found that when you write notes by hand, summarising in your own words, you actually retain more information than when you type the information.

The more deeply you think about something the first time the better you remember it. Whereas simply copying word for word what someone says, involves much less thinking, less understanding and therefore less remembering. Summarising in your own words, requires you to think about it and then translate it into language you yourself understand, this deep process that doesn’t happen in super fast typing is what helps you remember the information.

Writing By Hand Can Make You More Creative

When you type, you hit a few keys, the letters appear on the screen and you’re done. When you use a pen however, you draw funny shapes, each one different from the other, you feel the pen pressing into the paper, you hear the pleasing skrrtch skrrithch of a pen being dragged across the material.

The engagement of multiple senses, motor functions and cognitive functions lights up so much more of your brain than typing ever could. This ‘lighting up’ effect in your brain, allows many more connections between parts of your brain, allowing creative thoughts to flow. Essentially, typing is the same movement over and over, but handwriting involves seeing, hearing, feeling, moving and thinking.

Writing By Hand Is Relaxing

The slow pace of handwriting that I mentioned before, not only allows us to remember more and think more creatively, it turns out, it even soothes you. Modern addictive technology combined with the constant availability of such tech means we can be stimulated at all times of the day. If we want to be, we can be distracted endlessly. This seems fun at first but it is not good for us. In a world where we never stop, we never relax.

Handwriting is tech-free, it’s totally analogue and very slow, this combined with it lighting up all those different parts of the brain, mean that handwriting has similar benefits for the brain as mindfulness. It allows your mind to rest and recover from the barrage of notifications, videos and texts or just whatever has stressed you out that day.

I’m sure there are many other benefits of writing by hand, but these are just some I have read about. If you know anymore or disagree, please let me know in the comments.

An Experiment in Editing: Simple Tips to Become a Better Business Writer

The following is the first in a series of posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the full idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing. The first attempt is below:

Original Post (One-and-a-bit pages):

This blog is a game-changer, it’s going to disrupt the online content world and create a new, unheard of change in this tired, bloated industry… Actually, my writing is nothing like that, but how many times have you heard that with the word “blog” swapped for the word “company”.

The kind of writing you find on company websites is incredibly clichéd and most of the time boring. This is true for internally facing and externally facing writing. As someone with a blog, I am interested in being a better writer. I am not a business writer by trade, but improvements to any kind of writing are helpful to anyone. You might feel you don’t need to write anything in your job, but you have probably written an email or (for anyone pre-gen-Z) a letter. So, you might as well be better at that, right? Besides, words are what connect people. You can’t get your ideas across to someone without telling them about them, unless you’re a telepath or very talented mime.

Write to Someone Specific

Hey you, Reader, yeah, you! Are you paying attention right now? Okay, good. The first tip is to write to a someone, not to yourself. You know what you mean when you say something, that doesn’t mean a reader does. Know what I’m saying?

The words I say come across more clearly and sound more conversation-ey if I talk directly to you (I hope). Would you prefer that I describe to you how “this makes the writing read more like a personal chat?” or, would you prefer “that the writer of this blog post explain that there is a great benefit to be had, if one were to address a specific audience member, rather than just think aloud?”

Write Exactly as Much as You Need to. No More.

Write Out an Acronym the First Time You Use it

You get to a meeting, everyone is discussing the KPIs, HGTs and GMOs. What. The. Hell? I know maybe one of those acronyms, and I wrote this post! You start to feel stupid, out of the loop. Why does everyone know these words and throw them around so casually? Why don’t I know them? I’d say the fault is theirs, not yours. There’s no need to purposefully, exclude people, from certain information. You’re in this meeting to discuss something, learn something or otherwise communicate ideas to each other. No need to drown someone in codes they don’t understand.

Whilst the example I gave was more silly, there are times in my job as a BSA (Business Systems Analyst) where it can be really helpful to have someone explain the acronym about to be used. I am sure it’s the same for your job. I didn’t even realise SQL was pronounce see-quel when I started…

If you are the one writing in order to share information, make sure everyone knows the acronyms by explaining it the first time you use it, SWIM (See What I Mean?). This tip works for technical jargon too.

Passive Voice and qualifiers are really weak!

I sound stronger when I explain to you that I wrote this post. That I thought up how I was going to say it and then said it, exactly like that. I sat there in my leather armchair, smoking a pipe, surrounded by leather-bound books, pondering my next sentence. I didn’t actually, but it sounds better than “The leather chair was sat in by the author, the pipe was smoked by the author. The books surrounded him and thoughts were had by him”

Another thing that really doesn’t sound very good is a qualifier such as “really” or “very”. Just say it was “amazing” , not “really good” , or say that it was “crap” , rather than “very bad” .

Make It Easy to Scan the Page

How many times have you been reading a lengthy document thinking “I know the point I liked was here somewhere, in this never-ending wall of text. It was at that line, no. Next line. Ah, here’s the bit about the dolphin trainer, so it must be coming up soon, hmmm. Still can’t find it.”?

This is exactly the experience you have had before, dolphin trainer and all. This is what it’s like to try to find a specific point in a solid block of text. Instead, use headings, bullet-points, and the like to make the page easier to scan. People hate reading more than they have to, to find the bit they like. So give them signposts to follow, your readers will silently thank you.

The original article that inspired this post is from Fast Company, I didn’t take down all their points, just the ones that resonated with me the most. Please feel free to read the original article in full, here.

More Succinct Version (Under One Page):

Business writing is often uninformative and boring. The tips below aim to help you make yours much more interesting and easier to understand. Being able to write well in any context is a skill worth having, so even if you aren’t a business writer, I hope you gain something from these tips.

Write to someone specific.

If you write to everyone, you actually get through to no one. Speak to someone. It can be yourself, it can be an imaginary friend or an avatar of the person you wish to speak to. You could even speak aloud to someone and then write down what you said. Conversational language is the easiest to understand. If you are writing for other people to understand (this would apply to most cases, I imagine), then write tosomeone. People don’t talk through each other, they talk to each other, so write like that.

Write exactly as much as you need to. No more.

Passive Voice and Qualifiers are really weak!

When things are explained from the point of view of the thing, it reads and sounds bad. “The armchair was sat in” or “They sat in the armchair”. Which sounds better? You can’t emotionally connect with an armchair (probably). So talk about people, they’re always connecting.

Qualifiers sound weak. Instead of “it was really hot”, try “it was sweltering”. Instead of “I am very angry”, try “I am furious”. Remove “very”, “really” and “well” from your vocabulary.

Make it Easy to Scan the Page.

Readers might not want to read all the beautiful prose you have written. They might have spotted one thing in the headline and they’re looking for the answer to the question now burning a hole in their head. Or they may be re-reading your article and need to find a particular section. Give them bold headers and smaller text in the body of paragraphs so readers can pick out certain sections. Also Main headers should be bigger than sub-headers so they know the order to read in without thinking. The moment your reader struggles with the formatting of your writing, is the moment they are no longer absorbed in your content. Getting people’s attention is hard enough in the digital age, so don’t make it harder for yourself.

A Few Paragraphs (Less than 100 words):

Most business writing is full of cliches, these are boring and don’t give you any real information. Let’s change that.

Write to Someone Specific

Your reader is a single person, not a crowd, write accordingly.

Write as much as you have to. No more.

Passive Voice and Qualifiers are really weak.

Describe what people do, not what things do. People connect to people, not things.

Don’t amplify weak words, learn more interesting words instead.

Make it easy to scan the page

People don’t want to waste time. Save them time. Direct them with headers and formatting.

One Line Version:

To write better, aim for clarity and simplicity.