“Email is Where Keystrokes Go to Die.”

Scott Hanselman, a Microsoft employee and productivity expert, was speaking about effectiveness on stage. And he was ready to make a simple, but important point.

“Email is where keystrokes go to die,” he said. “You have a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die.” 12

His point was clear: Every keystroke you type is one stroke closer to your last. And because every keystroke counts the same, why spend so many of those keystrokes answering emails that 1 person will read and then never look at again, when you could be using those same keystrokes to write an article that will help a thousand people? Or a blog comment that 10 people will read? Or a poem that 25 people will enjoy? 3

This is one of the primary reasons why I publish my articles every Monday and Thursday. I want some of my keystrokes to be useful for as many people as possible. I believe that when you share your writing, you lead at scale.

And this idea applies to far more than just email and keystrokes…

Musician? It's nice to play for yourself or your family, but wouldn't it be great if you shared your talent with your community as well? Too many songs die in bedrooms and basements.

Photographer? Your legacy will be shaped by the art that people see. Vivian Maier needed a miracle for others to appreciate her world-class photography, don't leave your art to the same fate.

Anyone? We are all experts in something. Teach everything you know. Knowledge is squandered unless it is shared. Don't die with your greatest lessons still inside of you.

How many keystrokes do you get before you die? The answer is a limited number. On any given day, it can feel like you have a lot left, but the truth is that number is dwindling. You seldom feel it in the moment, but there is an invisible urgency in the words that we write and the work that we do.

It is not just about finding the guts to share your work and to contribute something to the world around you. It's about doing it now because every moment is eating up what you have left to give. Time is precious. Share your gifts.

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Footnotes
  1. Do they deserve the gift of your keystrokes?” by Scott Hanselman

  2. Hanselman has even built a website that tracks the amount of keystrokes you have left based on your age and typing speed: keysleft.com

  3. Hanselman actually learned of the idea of counting your keystrokes from a fellow Microsoft employee named Jon Udell, who wrote about it in a post titled, “Too busy to blog? Count your keystrokes.” Udell said, “When people tell me they’re too busy to blog, I ask them to count up their output of keystrokes. How many of those keystrokes flow into email messages? Most. How many people receive those email messages? Few. How many people could usefully benefit from those messages, now or later? More than a few, maybe a lot more… If your choice is to invest keystrokes in an email to three people, or in a blog entry that could be read by those same three people plus more — maybe many more — why not choose the latter? Why not make each keystroke work as hard as it can?”