Simplify first, not last

One common approach is to write a lot, then trim later.

But sometimes, that means you come up with something entirely different than if you had decided to write something short from the beginning.

Simplifying first helps you surface options that are categorically better. By setting a different target, you play a different game altogether.

The benefit is a faster, more efficient way to get to your goal. And you increase the chances of getting what you want.

Simplifying first means you write entirely differently to begin with.

Sure, you can trim a 500 word note to a 50 word note. But there’s no point writing 500 words only to cut 90% of it.

What if you started knowing you need to be at 50 words?

You’d draft a note — from the start — that would get your point across within that constraint. And because you wrote it taking into account your word count, there’s minimal editing needed.

For example, I had to write a tough note about a misunderstanding. It was a complicated situation and I anticipated the person would be upset.

I needed to simultaneously be:
(a) respectful
(b) empathetic
(c) firm

It’s not easy to do all three.

Of course, I worried about it in the back of my mind for a few hours (holler at my fellow worriers!). This note could easily have been 7–8 paragraphs. 

Then I asked myself, “What if this note could only be three sentences?”

The result was a tight email. It wasn’t three sentences, but it was 80% shorter than what it would have been. And it still covered all my main points.

Actually, it ended up BETTER than a long note. 

I realized the goal wasn’t to explain everything. My goal was to quickly get my recipient to agree to my suggestion.

Simplifying first helped me realize that.

(If you’re curious what happened, I’m glad to share good news. Getting their cooperation saved me hours of additional stress, self doubt, and emotional labor. Win!)

Simplifying first helps you decide what to do in complicated situations. 

We need to explain things to other people on a daily basis. There are times when you might think, “This is so complicated. Where do I even begin?”

Simplifying first helps you decide what to do and say.

For example, let’s say you’re on the phone with customer service. You could waste your breath explaining complicated backstory. But you’d have to repeat everything from scratch when you finally get transferred to the right department. 

Instead, challenge yourself to explain your situation in 3–5 sentences maximum.

“I’m having trouble logging in. Who would be the right person to talk to?”

“I would like to make an appointment but I have a few questions about the process. Who would be the right person to talk to?”

“I received form ABC in the mail and it told me to call in to verify my application. Who would be the right person to talk to?”

You’ll save your breath and your sanity. Don’t make things more complicated than they have to be.

The next time you find yourself worrying about what to do: try to simplify first, not last. 

It’s a frame shift that will help you come up with options that are categorically different and usually better.