The Brevity Mandate


If you cannot manage people’s inattention, you’ll likely mismanage your career.

Attention spans are in a tailspin. In 2000, the average was 12 seconds and now it’s only 8 seconds. Professionals are interrupted 50-60 times per hour, often unable to get back to the task at hand. The majority of people admit ignoring half the e-mails they get every day.

Brevity is emerging as a new business basic. In my new book Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley & Sons, Feb. 2014;, I outline the reasons why professionals struggle with brevity and how to embrace a “less is more” mentality.

For starters, the discipline to capture and manage elusive mindshare now shapes and defines professional success. Shorter e-mails, organized updates, and tighter and more engaging presentations are immediate indicators that you’ve got what it takes to succeed in an attention economy.

Recommended for YouWebcast: 5 Growth Hacking Techniques to Increase Your Revenue in 30 Days or Less

Getting to the point is a non-negotiable standard. The reasons why are plentiful (

Ten years ago, brevity was a nicety and meant primarily for long-winded types that couldn’t shut up. Today, being clear and concise is an absolute necessity; it’s what successful people expect to see – and get quickly frustrated when it’s missing.

The mandate goes far beyond knowing the importance of brevity; it means the discipline of doing something about it.

Since raising your awareness isn’t enough, here are three things you can do to make an immediate, noticeable shift:

  1. Take more time to prepare. It takes a concerted effort in advance to be brief. Write down your main point and three key ideas before you walk into your next meeting or jump onto the next conference call.
  2. Respect people’s scarce time. Remember that other people’s time is as valuable as your own. When you sense you’re getting on a roll, it’s time to wrap it up.
  3. Empathize with their inattention. Be convinced that the people you communicate with are buried and can’t handle another ounce. With a deeper sense of understanding, you’ll trim information when others go pile on.

Brevity is your professional responsibility. Though it may seem obvious, it really is hard work that requires constant vigilance and discipline. The payoff, however, is worth it when you, your ideas and company clearly and quickly stand apart.

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 2

  • Rich Mistkowski says:

    Great post Joe. I’ve been talking to my wife about this for a long time. It’s a shame, but it’s the reality of business and life today. Attention spans are shot and are not going to get any longer anytime soon. Very valid points and some great ideas on what to keep in mind. Thanks.

  • you are welcome Rick. Thanks sharing your feedback.

Add a New Comment

Thank you for adding to the conversation!

Our comments are moderated. Your comment may not appear immediately.