“Better” is what it’s all about, ultimately: doing your job more effectively, so you can make the biggest possible positive impact.
[This post is part of a series; you can read the introduction/summary here.]
By ‘automating’ many of the tasks and steps, your intellectual energy can now be applied towards improving the quality of your output.
By ‘automating’ many of the tasks and steps associated with producing something, your intellectual energy can now be applied almost exclusively towards improving the quality of your output, without sacrificing quantity. You can clarify your message. You can create informative visualizations. You can plan sensible lay-outs. You can A/B test a new design. You can articulate a thesis. You can incorporate more time for expert feedback.
And you can’t spend time on these things if you’re struggling just to keep up with the basics, which is why “More” and “Faster” are prerequisites.
What makes something ‘better’ varies depending upon the thing you’re actually producing, but I can help you out a bit by listing some of the qualities that I reflexively look for:
- Message focus: At a quick glance, can I see the overall point? At a longer glance, can I identify the supporting points?
- Visual/aesthetic appeal: A wall of text won’t get read by anyone, unless you’re in an academic setting – the sooner you accept this reality, rather than trying to change your readers, the better. Consequently, your output – at a minimum – needs to avoid being imposing. At best, it’s visually balanced, not overly dense, and catches the eye with some useful/functional variety. Tables, bullets, and call-out bubbles, used appropriately, are simple ways to increase appeal and also contribute mightily to clarity (see below).
- Information clarity: When I’m writing something, I always ask myself if there are concepts or pieces of information that would be more effectively presented in a different manner. Perhaps a table could comprehensively showcase the relationships between, or organization of, a set of things. A short bulleted list can more clearly convey the same information that would otherwise contribute to dense paragraphs. A picture could save a thousand words. Graphs and charts can make numbers stronger. Plus, each of these elements catches the eye and breaks up the dreaded text wall.
- Logical narrative: I always examine the progression of content, and ask if it makes sense. Sometimes a particular order is just logical (for instance, a thesis with some supporting points, or presenting something in a timeline), and sometimes it really does just come down to storytelling (which is wonderfully subjective).
- Content focus: I ruthlessly strip out content that is unnecessary, as it distracts from the main point. Sometimes, a note like, “More information on this topic is available at _____” is inserted. Remember, if you don’t make your main point then the entire exercise is a waste, no matter how much content you’ve crammed in. The deeper I get into my career, the more I advocate for the old saying that “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
If you don’t make your main point then the entire exercise is a waste, no matter how much content you’ve crammed in.
Note that I didn’t include “Typos and grammatical errors” in the list. I’ll spot those, of course, and if there are more than a few then I’ll get a bit annoyed, but polishing specific text is a waste of time until the message and overall content plan is established. That is, why would I correct a dozen typos and reword some sentences if I’m gonna recommend removing that content entirely, anyway?
It might be worthwhile for you to talk to your manager about what he or she looks for in terms of quality, so you can work (more and faster) on those aspects of your own activities. Again, though, make sure you actually give this exercise more than lip service, because once your manager has articulated what’s important, then you have no excuses if you fail to deliver – you’re just not good at your job.
It might be worthwhile for you to talk to your manager about he or she looks for in terms of quality.
Once you’ve achieved a certain level of “Better”, then you can ease up on the “More” (that is, you don’t need to spend as much time, in absolute terms), because “Faster” will still ensure that you get lots done in the time available.
If you really work at it, combining “More”, “Faster,” and “Better”, then you’ll eventually start to amaze people with your output, and you’ll ultimately free up more time to work on all sorts of juicy projects.
Of course, going forward you should work to continually refine and extend your capabilities, as the requirements for most jobs are always evolving.