My true home is on Great Barrier Island, where my ancestors lived.
I only get there a few times a year, and when I do, nature has done its best to take over.
Elephant grass up to our waists. Manuka seedlings, thistles, and rushes have their roots deep into the clay.
The job is simply too big for me. I look around and there’s so much to do that I don’t even know where to start. Left to my own devices, I just wouldn’t.
That damn elephant
And yes, I get the idea that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. In my mind, each bite of this clean up, if I do it alone, would be too small and insignificant to even be worth it. There’s no way I’ll ever get all the work done.
But as we arrived on our last trip, my dad pulled out the lawnmower and mowed a track between the house, cabin, toilet, and generator shed. That made a difference.
Carver Boy grabbed a slasher and started on the elephant grass. I did the same and cleared the track to the waterhole.
Within a couple of hours, we could see some progress, and we could function. We could get from A to B. And each cleared space, each cut manuka, each clump of rushes levelled, did two things: made the task seem achievable, and revealed the next level of clean up that could still be done.
Within 2 days, the house looked like someone lived there – with a lawn, clean drains, and nothing overgrown in sight. Far more work than I had even thought possible.
The miracle of many hands
It felt miraculous to me. Because on other trips, when it’s just me and my kids, it’s too overwhelming and we don’t even attempt it. I look around and it depresses me.
I sat on my deck with a well-earned glass of wine feeling so, so grateful for the help. Feeling so, so proud of what we’d accomplished. And feeling relieved that, because of our combined efforts, the next few weeks of this stay was going to be so much more enjoyable.
And I thought about how much more we can do in our lives when we have help.
And how we find it so, so hard to ask for help.
We are grateful when people around us ask for help, but we feel that to ask for help ourselves is a weakness.
Depression is a part of my life
It has been for decades.
I manage it.
One of the things depression looks like for me is a feeling that even the simplest tasks are too much. I look around me and all I can see is things that need to be done, and I can’t face them.
Have a shower? Too hard.
Get dressed? Too hard.
Answer an email? WTAF.
I want to sleep for a week.
We all need help
But when I have help, that changes.
The company of one of my daughters, or Carver Boy, or my Fairy-God-Ninja, Mandy, makes some things possible.
And each thing I accomplish lifts my spirits. I get help (for me – this usually means just some company) to sort the laundry. I get help while I write a list of things that I think need to be done, so they don’t feel so endless. I get company while I clear out some emails and work tasks so the weight is lifted.
When I first hired Mandy I literally had her sit with me once a week just to keep my motivation up – to not let the lurking depression raise its head and climb onto my shoulders. In my calendar those days said, “Mandy babysits Shelly.”
When I’m planning out a big project or a hefty document, I get help. I talk it through with someone as I brainstorm. It gets me out of my head.
What’s in your life that you look at every day and it feels too big?
What could you do with that thing if you had help?
What might help look like?
Who could you ask?
We all need help.
Is it time for you to ask for some?
In all my trainings, with hundreds of professionals each year, this is the thing people ask for above all else: How do I write more clearly?
The answer is so simple it’s almost embarrassing: Write the way you speak.
Write the way you speak. In every document.
I don’t care whether the audience is a CEO or board or minister in government or guys on the street or a scientist. I don’t care whether you’re writing a technical specification or a standard or a policy or an email or a website. Just write the way you speak.
You’ll increase your credibility
Research shows that writing more like the way we speak gives us more credibility. It makes us sound smarter. That’s good for our career development, for our brand, for our business outcomes.
- write using everyday words – use instead of utilise, today instead of on today’s date, we recommend instead of it is recommended
- write the kind of sentence patterns we use for speech – in a nutshell, that’s the active voice over the passive voice (and that’s a whole other article – check out this one while I write mine)
You’ll appear more confident
Confidence sells. It reassures. It stands out. It gets remembered and responded to. Studies support that expressing things confidently gets better outcomes.
- own your statements – say we think, I recommend, you should, not some have observed, it is recommended, should be considered…
- use fewer words – the more words we use, the weaker the message. Think of an EXIT sign. It doesn’t say Consider removing yourself from the building through this orifice in the event of an untimely or unexpected occurrence. It just says EXIT.
You’ll revert to what comes naturally
Imagine how much simpler business communications would be if they were more like conversations? It’s faster to write that way, it’s faster to read that way, and we can all get on with our to-do lists. We know this for a fact. So,
- trust your instincts about how to express an idea – we’re all actually pretty great at communicating verbally
- read what you’ve written out loud – does it sound like you’re actually having a conversation?
You’ll get rid of confusion and misinterpretation
When we write the way we speak we’re more direct. The academic, legal, and traditionally formal corporate voice is a minefield of ambiguity. It’s learned and affected and therefore not natural. That means it’s harder for us to get right. It’s commonly recognised that the active voice is strong from a legal standpoint.
- start your sentences with a who – the client damaged the car, not the car was damaged
- break up long sentences – the more ideas and words in a sentence, the more opportunity for misinterpretation
As I always say in my trainings – just test it out. Just give it a try and see what kind of response you get. If no one mentions anything about the change, that’s a win! It means your writing is working. Even better, people might comment on how easy something was to read, or how quickly you’ve been plowing through the emails. Again, a definite win.
The only caution I have is about expectations.
If you want to dramatically change the way you’re writing documents that others have to approve, give managers/reviewers/end users a heads up.
Get buy-in. A disconnect in expectations is guaranteed to bring out the red pen – and resistance to change.
Other than that, go!
And write the way you speak.
What are you putting energy into resisting?
What might happen if you just roll with it?
I’m what you might call ‘highly strung’ (uggh). Me earlier in life was a basket-case. Control-freak, stressed out, ready to blow up over stupid shit on a regular basis.
I really struggled to get through each day and eventually had some real challenges with depression.
Then my husband died.
If you ever need something to help you reconsider what’s important in life, death will do it.
Of course, the grief and growth since his death has been a long and winding 20-year journey. But ultimately what has happened is this: I’ve learned to roll with things.
I’ve learned that if I want to cope with life, I have to release my death-grip on the reigns.
I have to roll with shit.
I have the most beautiful partner today. While my carver boy gets a good deal of credit for that, cos he’s a good, good man, I also give myself credit for a bunch of things, and learning to roll with stuff is one of those things. It means I don’t try to manage him or control how our life together works. It means I’m accepting of the twists and turns. It means I got more patient (and faaaaark, has that been a ride!).
Most people today consider me fairly chilled (although high-energy). They’re surprised when I say how much of a stressed-out control freak I used to be.
So here’s the thing. Or the things.
There are some things we shouldn’t let go of – some things we do want to manage and influence. Like the fact that my family needs to eat. I’m not going to just roll with them going hungry. Or the fact that we need to be safe while we drive. I’m not going to just roll with breaking the law or risking our lives.
But the timing of that trip in the car? I can roll with when that happens. Who comes in the car and what they wear or what they bring with them? I can roll with that.
What we eat and when? I can roll with that. We can’t all sit down to a meal of meat and 3 veg at 6pm? I can roll with that. Someone wants to eat weetbix instead? Go for your life.
Trying to manage and control things is EXHAUSTING.
And it means that you’re setting yourself up for stress, disappointment, upset, and maybe anger and rage, if things don’t go the way you tried to make them go. The odds of things not going to plan are HUGE.
So I wonder what you’re resisting right now? What’s taking up your energy? What are you giving power to because you’re laser-focused on it happening a certain way?
Choose one small thing.
Now what might it look like if you just rolled with it? What’s the worst that could happen? What might you gain? How much happier might you become? How much lighter might you feel?
Roll with it.
Let those swells bring you safely and gently onto a shore where the sun is shining and you can get some rest.
#SorryNotSorry but there’s no such thing as how to write a report.
Like there is one kind of report and there’s one right way to write one.
Meeehhh! Wrong. But thanks for playing.
There are endless kinds of reports
- status reports
- research reports
- analysis reports
- financial reports (hundreds of kinds)
- investigation reports
- incident reports
- audit reports
See what I mean? You’re not asking the right question.
How to write a report isn’t the right question.
You need to be asking how to write THIS report.
Every single report needs to be written in a way that’s fit for its own purpose. So there’s a set of questions to ask so you can build a report that will achieve what it needs to.
- How’s this report going to be used?
- Who’s going to use it?
- Therefore, what sections does the report need?
- And lastly, what level of detail do those people need in each of those sections, so they can use the report for their purposes?
Now you’re on the right track
If you can answer those questions, you have a plan. Once you have a plan, you can write the pieces that are easiest first, and work your way from there. Lots of reports should have an executive summary (pretty much any report that’s 2 pages or longer needs one), and you can write that last.
They can be big beasties, but they are certainly manageable. And there’s definitely NOT one right way to write a report. Please stop asking!
Being wordy is only good if you’re a dictionary.
If there’s one thing we know about text, it’s that messages get weaker as the word count grows. But, flick our writer switch, and what happens? The more concerned we are with getting our point across, the more words we use!
We’re worried people won’t get it. We’re worried they might miss something. So we say the same thing over and over again, in slightly different ways, trying to cover all our bases. All the “just in case”s. Every eventuality.
You know what that gets us? Really badly written legalese.
Brief = strong
The best business writing is stripped back to just what’s needed to make your points and achieve your outcomes.
So how do we strip our writing back, but still be comprehensive enough to get the job done? Here are a few quick approaches.
Strip out fluffy, wordy phrases
It’s easy, when we’re trying to put our most professional foot forward, to take on an unnaturally wordy voice. Because we want to be taken seriously, we try to sound a bit more formal. Resist!
|to||in order to|
|can||be able to|
|because||as a consequence of|
|consider||give consideration to|
Write less formally and more conversationally
We think a conversational voice is waffly, and that’s true in one respect – we speak in very long, run-on sentences with lots of “and”s.
But if we use conversational to mean the active voice and everyday words, that will be less wordy than a traditional formal voice.
Use headings and bullets
A well-written heading speaks directly to your reader. It engages them. The following approach forces you to think first, write second, and do that in a very focused way.
- Separate your thinking into key points
- Turn those into statement headings
- Then list supporting info as bullet lists beneath them
And no, before you ask, I’m not suggesting that you then flesh out each of those bullets into a paragraph. The bullets are enough! Use them as often as you can (but keep each list short – no more than 7 bullets).
Stay concise and outcomes focused and your business readers will love you for it!