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Save Important Tasks for Last

Time-management experts recommend doing your most important tasks first. They say that if you start with low-value activities, you may never get to the tasks that could make the biggest difference to your success.

But in writing, it is not always a good idea to begin with your most important messages. It’s smart to start with low-value communications when you need to warm up or to practice for the high-stakes pieces.

Let’s say you are beginning a job search, and you have learned about five job openings that seem like a match for your skills and experience. Two are in dream companies you would love to work for. Two are with companies you would like to work for if the money and benefits were great. The final company is one you are not really drawn to, but the job might be acceptable. You think it is worth investigating.

Which job opening should you apply for first? The one in the company you aren’t really drawn to.

Going through the steps of submitting your resume and cover letter will give you important practice. After you click Submit or drop your application in the mailbox, you will get ideas about how you might have written your pieces more effectively.

Next apply for the jobs you might want. Again, you will discover better ways to sell your strengths.

Finally, after you have thought through the process, sharpened your message, gotten feedback, and caught all errors, you will be ready to apply for the jobs you really want. The mistakes and blandness will be behind you.

So save the best prospects for last–when you are most likely to be successful in your communications.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.