The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
Here is some advice from an award-winning writer Mike Wicks.
In business we have to write reports, emails, guides, proposals; all types of communication are vital to the smooth running of our businesses. Whether you are a good writer or not, there will come a time when you are faced with a blank page and come up well, blank. You have no idea of how to start or put into words what it is you need to communicate. Then the fear and frustration rise; you are experiencing writer's block.
Gene Fowler, an American journalist, author and dramatist once said, "Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."
Sometimes it does feel like that, but on other occasions it's like honey flowing smoothly, organically from brain to page. I used to experience writer's block a lot, but over the years I've managed to find ways to get over this blank-page syndrome.
- First, don't sweat it, it's natural and you're not the first person to be afflicted with writer's block and you won't be the last.
- If that blank page is staring up at you and don't know where to start, try going for a walk to clear your head. Often, it's all the other stuff in our mind fighting for attention that's causing the problem.
- Start writing – anything, anything at all. Even if it's total garbage just get some words down on the page, even if it's, "This is stupid, what am I supposed to write …?"
- Do a little research into what you are going to write about, even if you know everything about the topic. This helps widen your perspective. Narrow views are like perfection – they hamper creativity.
- Start writing a paragraph or two, even if your thoughts are only half-formed. Keep moving the paragraphs down the page until you can't think of anything else to write about the topic. Re-read what you've written and extract any good bits and move them to the top of the page. Delete the crap. That's it, you've started!
- Don't judge your first draft – let it be awful. Once it's done you can edit it, change it, slash and burn it. But you'll be working on words, not a blank page.
- Don't strive for perfection when writing – that's what editing is for!
- If you continually struggle with blank page syndrome, start journaling. Yes, keep a journal about anything; your life, your thoughts, your work, whatever. It doesn't matter what you write, no one need read it. It will get you into the habit of writing. You'll be surprised at how much this simple thing can help your writing.
The above list is a great start, however the single biggest thing that has helped my ability to beat the blank page is meditation. Before I get down to serious writing, I meditate for between 10 and 30-minutes. When I first started doing this, I couldn't believe how much better my writing was and how much clearer my thoughts were. I remember a client called me with a rush job just after I'd meditated, she needed a 700-word blog post on a topic with which I was not familiar. I did a quick bit of research and wrote the article in one sitting. It was 45-minutes, from the moment she called, to the time I delivered the article. She was amazed. So was I – this was one of the first times I experienced this phenomenon, but it's not been the last!
So, don't fret the blank page it's not your enemy, it's simply there waiting for your genius to encompass it.
Common Grammar Errors That Annoy Readers
In business writing, the goal is to be clear and concise. It's also a good idea not to confuse people or annoy them with some of those common grammatical mistakes we all make from time to time. It's strange, but most of the following grammatical no-no's actually make some people very angry. Sometimes, they are things that have over the years become accepted; they in effect have become a cultural norm, but they are still technically incorrect. Language is in a state of constant change, but when writing for business it's often a good idea to err on the side of caution. The last thing you want to do is lose a sale because the person reading your sales letter couldn't get over the fact you used "it's" rather than "its."
- We'll start with the example above. It is incorrect to say, "With regard to Model S we have improved it's electrical connections." "It's" means "it is," so you don't need the apostrophe. On the hand if you were to say, "With regard to Model S, its better than Model R in some major areas." That would also be incorrect; in this case "its" should have an apostrophe to make it read "it is."
- When someone says, "I could care less" you could ask them, "Ah okay, how much less could you care?" What they really mean is, "I couldn't care less."
- People often say, "I wish I could get off of this mailing list." While its usage has become fairly common, "I wish I could get off this mailing list" is less grating, and certainly more concise. In the U.S. "off of" is more common.
- Here is something one sees in newspapers, magazines and books all the time,"I said that there should be no flowers on the table"instead of,"I said there should be no flowers on the table."People often pepper their writing with superfluous "that's" and they can add up. Do a word search of something you have written and see how many "that's" you can legitimately remove. Again, in the States the frequent use of "that" is the norm, but far less here in Canada.
- Now, pet grammar peeves can also be linked to where the reader originates. Someone from England would very likely cringe at hearing, "I wrote Bill to say he should stop worrying about how people say stuff" they would phrase it, "I wrote to Bill …" Missing out words can certainly cause a reader concern.
- Here's one that seems to annoy a large number of people. "We are starting to pack less units in each box." The correct wording is, "We are starting to pack fewer units in each box." The key to this is that if you can count what you are talking about, it's fewer, if you can't then it's less. For example, "We are using less packing than we used to."
- Lastly, it's common to see people incorrectly use the words, there, their, and they're. Let's look at them:
- First the easy one; "they're" means "they are."
- "Their" shows possession as in, "It was their table."
- And "there" is the opposite of "here" as in "Their table is over there."
This is not a definitive list and not all are grammar errors per se, but avoiding the wrath of your business readers can only be good for business.
Coach's Corner - How Can You Delegate More Effectively?
"If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you've got to learn to delegate." – Richard Branson, British entrepreneur
Have you ever found yourself in a position where you know there are things you shouldn't be doing? Do you sometimes feel it is easier for you to simply do them rather than have someone else take them on? Do you find it difficult to delegate because you feel others will not do the task as well as you can or the way you would do it?
These are common thoughts that leaders and managers have about delegating activities and tasks. Here are some ideas on how you may become a more effective delegator and a better leader.
- Why is this goal or activity important to you? Do you have a clear outline of expectations? Having a clear and defined plan is critical to success and everyone being on the "same page."
- Who are you trusting with these delegated responsibilities? It is important that you think carefully about the people on your team and who would be most suited and challenged by taking on a delegated activity.
- What are they expected to do? By clearly discussing the objectives and ensuring they truly understand what is expected of them, there is less chance of failure or disappointment on your part.
- When do you expect realistic completion of the tasks? Setting an agreed upon deadline and intermediate check-ins is important to monitoring progress without constantly interfering.
- How are they expected to complete the tasks? What resources are available to them? How available are you if they need clarification, further input or some guidance?
"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling while they do it." – Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President
When you delegate you need to step back and allow your people to do the work. Your role is to monitor and review as it proceeds. You cannot expect them to do it exactly the way you would. If you find something not quite how you would do it, it's a good time to ask why was it important to them to do it in a certain way?
Delegation is a leadership tool which helps you develop, engage and challenge your employees. It also allows you to do your important work.
"The first rule of management is delegation. Don't try and do everything yourself because you can't." – Anthea Turner, British media personality
Paul Abra, Certified Executive Coach, Motivated Coaching