Proposals for busy people

The butcher block was central for family communication. This wooden slab in the kitchen was the primary transmission device, long before mobile phones and email. “Options for dinner: A) BBQ on the patio, 6 p.m. B) chicken in the kitchen, 6 p.m. C) Nina’s pizza, 8 p.m.,” a note would read, and the kids had to vote, long-form, on the note.

We knew nothing of communicating with busy people, but there was an attention to the detail of choice. For each note we wrote, we respected one another’s time. With a motley family of six people, and a similar number of cars, animals, and interests, the butcher block united us. We had no time to discuss otherwise.

Blocked communication

See also:
Busy people may want to rethink “busy” altogether

When you email busy people, you might believe the best option you can give them is to offer a wide set of options (“I’m available any time in fall 2010. Choose a day that works for you!”) You imagine you’re being generous. Accommodating. You’re not imposing on the busy person.

Yet what you’ve done, in one fell sentence, is impose more busy work on an already busy person. You’ve forced that person to take at least four steps:

  1. Open a calendar to check not a single date, but an entire spectrum of time.
  2. Draft an original set of sentences, rather than a brief “Great, the XX of Sept is confirmed,” or a simple “Yes.”
  3. Wait for additional emails in response to aforementioned new sentences, and respond accordingly.
  4. Repeat.

Proposals for people

While it may seem presumptuous, proposing — diplomatically — a specific date to a busy person is welcome. “How does 11 a.m. on Tuesday, September 17 work for you?” with proper lead time and an alternate. This specificity is wonderfully refreshing and leaves the door open for an alternate suggestion, or simply a single-word email response:


In our house, notes and scribbles were written on the same 3″x5” scraps of paper, physically limiting choice. Proposing what we mean and want gives people, busy or not, the opportunity to respond. If they need an alternate, they’ll ask.

Give people a proposal that allows for choice.