About a decade ago, I sent out an important email with a major mistake in it. The blowback was a mess.
Someone I was working with at the time—a former journalist who had both more wisdom and life experience than I had—told me that I was overdue for a practice that she’s employed for decades: any time she had something important to send out, she would hold off on sending it for a few hours or even a day, and come back to it a second time. She said that I needed a structural fix to my process, or I’d make that same sort of awful mistake time and again.
She was right. I’ve employed that tactic ever since and it’s saved me countless similar blunders.
(Aside: the “Schedule Send” feature in Gmail is a nice way to implement this.)
The goal of this extra step isn’t editing—the document is supposed to be finished—it’s simply to ensure there are no important mistakes or inconsistencies.
For the way my mind works, this step is most successful when I look at the “final” draft in a different form factor. So, if I’ve written it in Word or PowerPoint, maybe I read the final PDF instead. Or if I’ve written on my laptop, I reread on my phone (the latter works especially well with my blog posts). And, if it’s really important, I force myself to read the whole document out loud.
I also apply this approach to anything I write when my emotions are high. In these situations, my orientation is different: instead of rereading for content, consistency, and typos, I’m reading for what the content makes me feel, and where the emotional dial is set. More often than not, if the emotional vibe is negative, upon rereading I decide not to send the note at all, and instead to talk to the person directly. Negative things immortalized in writing rarely age well.
One of the deceptions of how we all work today is that all our communications seems quick and impermanent, when they are anything but.
Our words make as much impact as they ever have.
It might be time to build a habit of stopping, taking a breath, and reading what we wrote with fresh eyes.