Tell Me Everything in Ten Words or Less

Some years ago, I remember seeing a company whose boss believed that you should be able to say everything you need to say in a subject line. Over the years, I’ve taken that to heart and often write to colleagues with a simple summary subject line and often no content in the email.

  • Have you done the ABC report?
  • Can we meet on Monday re ABC?
  • Has ABC paid?
  • When is the next meeting with ABC?

You get the idea. I don’t see the point of adding Dear you, regards Chris and more text. If you can send an email with a headline, surely that’s enough. In fact, to be specific, twitter has trained us to be this way. Twitter, which is now over ten years old, trained us to give updates of less than 140 characters. Why send more?

The issue is that this has created a huge ADD issue. ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, has come to the fore because we can no longer concentrate for more than 140 characters. Do you read books? Do you read long articles? Do you read this blog to the end? Is it worth it?

I know that I suffer from ADD these days. If someone makes a boring presentation, I play with my phone. Often, I find myself playing games on my phone whilst watching a movie. I know that I can’t read long articles anymore. How bad is that for a guy who’s an author?

Nah. It needs to hit me in the face upfront or it’s not worth it. It builds on something I’ve mentioned before, which is the ten-word headline. When communicating, you need the ten-word headline, the 100-word summary and then the real deal everything.

These days, don’t send me 1,000 words or more. Send me the 10-word eye-grabber.

But it’s more than this. I always remember losing a deal years ago. We had produced a beautiful document proposal, answering everything in depth. The document looked great, was bound brilliantly, and could easily have been something you would have inherited.

But we lost the deal?

Why? It turns out our document was black and white and the competitor’s was in colour. More than that, our wordcount was 45,000 words and theirs was 3,000. Being able to articulate what you think in a few words is a gift.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain

It takes time to deconstruct what you want to say into a few words, but it’s worth the time to do that. That’s why I think it’s ok to just write a subject line on an email, to send less than 140 characters, to just say what you want to say.

What are you trying to say? Do you have to make it 1,000 words or more?

Oh, and fyi, this article is just under 500 words, which is my usual.

Related: We Really Need a Focus on Financial Literacy