Excellence is your next email”

In an inter­view with Daniel Pink, lead­er­ship guru Tom Peters says “excel­lence is your next email.”

Peters is known for say­ing, “Excel­lence is the next five min­utes.” That’s true, too.

The point of his com­ment is that it’s com­mon to believe excel­lence is some huge kind of feat. In oth­er words, our default is to believe excel­lence requires enor­mous plan­ning, prepa­ra­tion, and per­se­ver­ance. The truth is excel­lence starts with how you approach all the mico-deci­sions in your life and work. This includes seem­ing­ly mun­dane deci­sions like com­mu­ni­cat­ing with our cowork­ers and how we main­tain our envi­ron­ment.

Excel­lence starts with how you approach all the mico-deci­sions in your life and work

Josh Mitchell

Peters con­tin­ues: “In a five line email, you reveal every sin­gle impor­tant ele­ment of your per­son­al­i­ty and view of life.” Peters remarks to Dan that they both know this is true.

Cue it up to 10:50 to hear Tom Peter’s riff on “Excel­lence is...”

When life and work get crazy, spend­ing time to thought­ful­ly craft a mes­sage in writ­ing requires focus and think­ing. We resist high­er lev­el think­ing and rea­son­ing. We want to achieve the end goal with­out deal­ing with the messy mid­dle.

As you reflect on your work, do you approach micro-actions with any lev­el of excel­lence?

Excel­lent email writ­ing does­n’t have to look super fan­cy or be “Eng­lish on stilts.” It does­n’t mean you have to start have all the cor­rect gram­mar and punc­tu­a­tion (key word start). It means you have con­sid­er your read­er and the issue at hand. It means paus­ing and think­ing about the ques­tions some­one might have when they read your writ­ing. It means car­ing for oth­ers: show­ing empa­thy and con­nec­tion.

What are you reveal­ing about your per­son­al­i­ty when you send an email?

What are you reveal­ing about your view of life when you share your writ­ing?

Peters’ obser­va­tion rings true for me. Many of my cowork­ers and col­leagues reveal so much about their val­ues in the way they write. Some take the time to write thought­ful, clear words. This earns trust. Oth­ers spew out infor­ma­tion onto the screen. This caus­es frus­tra­tion and extra work.

Have you con­sid­ered how you can spread excel­lence in your micro-actions?

The power of checklists

This may sound obvi­ous, but it turns out that check­lists are a super pow­er­ful tool for get­ting things right. I heard a great inter­view about the pow­er of check­lists in hos­pi­tals on NPR — if you’re inter­est­ed check it out here:

For each of our areas, I want us to think about cre­at­ing some great check­lists that allow us to cre­ate “I’m com­ing back” expe­ri­ences for every guest, each week, regard­less of vol­un­teers. 

Atul Gawande explains in his book The Check­list Man­i­festo that there are two kinds of check­lists: (1) DO-CONFIRM (2) READ-DO

A per­son or team per­forms the work, then review the check­list to con­firm all of the steps were exe­cut­ed. If not, the pause the check­list pro­vides is a chance to get right what was­n’t.

These check­lists are more like recipes. They are slow­er to exe­cute but you go down each item line by line and DO the item before mov­ing on. 


  • Usu­al­ly no longer than 9 items (in line with how much the human brain can remem­ber)
  • Leave out things that are implied 
  • Word­ing should be sim­ple and exact
  • Use famil­iar lan­guage of the area
  • It should fit on one page
  • Free of clut­ter and unnec­es­sary col­or
  • Uses upper and low­er­case type for read­abil­i­ty 
  • Tweak and per­fect the check­list as issues arise

Check­lists allow us to not rely on one per­son or even our own brain. Put sim­ply, check­lists become our exter­nal brain that we can rely and trust to remem­ber what needs to hap­pen.

Check­lists allow us to grow our teams and train new mem­bers how to do a role. 

Check­lists allow us to be able to take a day off and not wor­ry about what needs to hap­pen!

Check­lists allow us to make great first impres­sions.

Check­lists pave the way for con­sis­ten­cy. 

I am going to work on some start­ing point check­lists for each of us to con­sid­er for our areas — but I’d also encour­age you to be think­ing about what needs to hap­pen each week and putting that into a sim­ple, con­cise check­list for your area. Look­ing for­ward to see­ing you all soon! I’d love to sched­ule a lead­ers-only meet­ing and check in with every­one to see how you’re doing and areas where you might need help.

Some write, others talk

It can be easy to think that oth­er peo­ple in your life learn and process things the same way you do.

For some, writ­ing is a great way to fig­ure things out. It’s a process that allows a per­son to get their thoughts on a page, see if they agree with them, and make changes until it reflects what they actu­al­ly think.

For oth­ers, writ­ing is an awful way to fig­ure things out. They’re not real­ly sure what they think until they can have a few con­ver­sa­tions and debates until they under­stand what they think.

It does­n’t mat­ter how you fig­ure things out. It’s impor­tant you know which one best serves you. It will bet­ter serve oth­ers.