Mind of the Manager

What works and what doesn't in the workplace

The Beauty of Brevity

Conciseness saves companies cash.

I’ve long been a fan of short. Admittedly, I have a limited concentration span. But in the business world, this can be an asset. The beauty of brevity is that time saved in one place is time – and labor – that can be deployed productively elsewhere.

Consider a few common activities where brevity is a business person’s best friend.

Meetings – How many times have you ever heard anyone complain that a meeting was too short? (In a career spanning numerous decades, never did.) But have you ever felt a meeting was too long? Though precise calculations of time and therefore salary-hours spent in unproductive meetings are hard to figure, a UK study done for Epson in 2012 estimated the time wasted in meetings for office workers at 49 minutes per week (sounds about right to me), which projects to 26 billion wasted British Pounds (over $US 40 billion) for the UK economy over the course of a year. So the next time you schedule a one-hour meeting, consider: Could we do what’s really needed in 30 minutes? Or if you’re planning for 30 minutes, can we do it in 15? And do we really need all these attendees? Or do we need a meeting at all? And so on.

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Presentations & Speeches – Let’s return to our meeting model. How many corporate presentations or speeches have you attended where you came away feeling, “What a great presentation – it was just too short!” (Can’t recall one myself.) What’s the easiest thing in the world for attention to do? Wander. Better for the speaker, better for the audience, better for the organization that gains productive working time (for perhaps dozens or hundreds or even thousands of attending employees) to keep presentations tight, concise… and leaving the audience alert and wanting more. Which also has the added benefit of leaving more time at the end for Q&A and dialogue, generally a worthwhile audience-engaging exercise.

Memos – Procter & Gamble for years was well known for a policy requiring employee memos to be no longer than one page. (In business I tried to adhere to that ideal, though I wasn’t always successful.) There’s an old Mark Twain saying, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” (Meaning of course it takes more time to be disciplined and thoughtful than just to ramble on.) Implications for everyday communiques? The shorter the memo the better, so long as you cover what’s needed in a clearly understood manner. Concise, well-conceived content also takes less time to decipher and read, thus saving time and frustration at the back end too.

In short, it’s a simple equation: Time saved in one activity = time that can be productively used elsewhere. Not easy to quantify but real nonetheless. And from a career standpoint, there are far worse reputations to have than that of an individual of genuine thoughtful efficiency. All businesses need and value them.

I’d go on, but then this post wouldn’t be brief.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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Victor Lipman recently retired from the corporate world after 25 years with one of America's largest life insurance companies. He writes about management from a psychological perspective.

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