Every time I recommend an ideal word count to a client (say, 50 words for email), I get pushback.
“Oh, that’s way too low,” someone in the meeting will say. “We’ll never be able to condense our content to meet that word count.”
Yet the evidence keeps piling up: Employees (like everyone else) are simply too distracted to stop and focus on long content—especially when that information comes in the form of email.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Christopher Mims writes about the problem he calls “The Distraction-Industrial Complex.”
“First, there’s the matter of our frail psyches,” Mr. Mims explains. Research shows that we humans interrupt ourselves on average every three minutes.
What’s worse, he writes, are “interruptions we didn’t invite, especially if they draw our attention to an unrelated task, such as incoming email, instant message or other alert.”
The problem these days is that “entire empires have been built on the push notification; they are the only reason messaging apps like WhatsApp and SnapChat work, and they are key to getting people to engage with services as Facebook and Twitter.”
The result of all this pinging? We’re more and more distracted. For example, Mr. Mims cites a recent Microsoft study which showed that programmers interrupted by an incoming email lost 10 minutes every times they switched from their original task.
Here’s what this means to those of us who are trying to communicate: It’s likely that employees will be interrupted a few minutes after they start skimming an email, scanning a web page or watching a video. So if you don’t get your point across right away, you’ll lose your fight for employees’ attention.
Short is not optional; it’s essential.