Rework (highlights)

My Kindle highlights from Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses. Start referring to your business plans as business guesses, your financial plans as financial guesses, and your strategic plans as strategic guesses. Now you can stop worrying about them as much. They just aren’t worth the stress. When you turn guesses into plans, you enter a danger zone. Plans let the past drive the future. They put blinders on you. “This is where we’re going because, well, that’s where we said we were going.” And that’s the problem: Plans are inconsistent with improvisation. And you have to be able to improvise. You have to be able to pick up opportunities that come along. Sometimes you need to say, “We’re going in a new direction because that’s what makes sense today.”

Maybe the right size for your company is five people. Maybe it’s forty. Maybe it’s two hundred. Or maybe it’s just you and a laptop. Don’t make assumptions about how big you should be ahead of time. Grow slow and see what feels right—premature hiring is the death of many companies. And avoid huge growth spurts too—they can cause you to skip right over your appropriate size.

Have you ever noticed that while small businesses wish they were bigger, big businesses dream about being more agile and flexible? And remember, once you get big, it’s really hard to shrink without firing people, damaging morale, and changing the entire way you do business.

Workaholics wind up creating more problems than they solve. First off, working like that just isn’t sustainable over time. When the burnout crash comes—and it will—it’ll hit that much harder. Workaholics miss the point, too. They try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them. They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.

Workaholics make the people who don’t stay late feel inadequate for “merely” working reasonable hours. That leads to guilt and poor morale all around. Plus, it leads to an ass-in-seat mentality—people stay late out of obligation, even if they aren’t really being productive.

In the end, workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than nonworkaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they’re wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task. Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.

…let’s replace the fancy-sounding word with something a bit more down-to-earth. Instead of entrepreneurs, let’s just call them starters. Anyone who creates a new business is a starter. You don’t need an MBA, a certificate, a fancy suit, a briefcase, or an above-average tolerance for risk. You just need an idea, a touch of confidence, and a push to get started.

When you build a product or service, you make the call on hundreds of tiny decisions each day. If you’re solving someone else’s problem, you’re constantly stabbing in the dark. When you solve your own problem, the light comes on. You know exactly what the right answer is.

Ideas are cheap and plentiful. The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it’s almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute.

When you want something bad enough, you make the time—regardless of your other obligations. The truth is most people just don’t want it bad enough. Then they protect their ego with the excuse of time. Don’t let yourself off the hook with excuses. It’s entirely your responsibility to make your dreams come true.

As you get going, keep in mind why you’re doing what you’re doing. Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone. You need to know what you’re willing to fight for. And then you need to show the world.

Strong opinions aren’t free. You’ll turn some people off. They’ll accuse you of being arrogant and aloof. That’s life. For everyone who loves you, there will be others who hate you. If no one’s upset by what you’re saying, you’re probably not pushing hard enough. (And you’re probably boring, too.)

When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.

There’s a world of difference between truly standing for something and having a mission statement that says you stand for something. You know, those “providing the best service” signs that are created just to be posted on a wall. The ones that sound phony and disconnected from reality.

Standing for something isn’t just about writing it down. It’s about believing it and living it.

The start up is a magical place. It’s a place where expenses are someone else’s problem. It’s a place where that pesky thing called revenue is never an issue. It’s a place where you can spend other people’s money until you figure out a way to make your own. It’s a place where the laws of business physics don’t apply.

So don’t use the idea of a startup as a crutch. Instead, start an actual business. Actual businesses have to deal with actual things like bills and payroll. Actual businesses worry about profit from day one. Actual businesses don’t mask deep problems by saying, “It’s OK, we’re a startup.” Act like an actual business and you’ll have a much better shot at succeeding.

Another thing you hear a lot: “What’s your exit strategy?” You hear it even when you’re just beginning. What is it with people who can’t even start building something without knowing how they’re going to leave it? What’s the hurry? Your priorities are out of whack if you’re thinking about getting out before you even dive in.

Plus, when you build a company with the intention of being acquired, you emphasize the wrong things. Instead of focusing on getting customers to love you, you worry about who’s going to buy you. That’s the wrong thing to obsess over.

… you often hear about business owners who sell out, retire for six months, and then get back in the game. They miss the thing they gave away. And usually, they’re back with a business that isn’t nearly as good as their first.

Embrace the idea of having less mass. Right now, you’re the smallest, the leanest, and the fastest you’ll ever be. From here on out, you’ll start accumulating mass. And the more massive an object, the more energy required to change its direction. It’s as true in the business world as it is in the physical world. Mass is increased by … Long-term contracts Excess staff Permanent decisions Meetings Thick process Inventory (physical or mental) Hardware, software, and technology lock-ins Long-term road maps Office politics

“I don’t have enough time/money/people/experience.” Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.

You can turn a bunch of great ideas into a crappy product real fast by trying to do them all at once. You just can’t do everything you want to do and do it well. You have limited time, resources, ability, and focus. It’s hard enough to do one thing right. Trying to do ten things well at the same time? Forget about it. So sacrifice some of your darlings for the greater good. Cut your ambition in half. You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.

Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Directors cut good scenes to make a great movie. Musicians drop good tracks to make a great album. Writers eliminate good pages to make a great book. We cut this book in half between the next-to-last and final drafts. From 57,000 words to about 27,000 words. Trust us, it’s better for it. So start chopping. Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.

Details make the difference. But getting infatuated with details too early leads to disagreement, meetings, and delays. You get lost in things that don’t really matter. You waste time on decisions that are going to change anyway. So ignore the details—for a while. Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.

Whenever you can, swap “Let’s think about it” for “Let’s decide on it.” Commit to making decisions. Don’t wait for the perfect solution. Decide and move forward.

You want to get into the rhythm of making choices. When you get in that flow of making decision after decision, you build momentum and boost morale. Decisions are progress. Each one you make is a brick in your foundation. You can’t build on top of “We’ll decide later,” but you can build on top of “Done.”

It doesn’t matter how much you plan, you’ll still get some stuff wrong anyway. Don’t make things worse by overanalyzing and delaying before you even get going.

Long projects zap morale. The longer it takes to develop, the less likely it is to launch. Make the call, make progress, and get something out now—while you’ve got the motivation and momentum to do so.

It’s the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Be a curator. Stick to what’s truly essential. Pare things down until you’re left with only the most important stuff. Then do it again. You can always add stuff back in later if you need to.

When things aren’t working, the natural inclination is to throw more at the problem. More people, time, and money. All that ends up doing is making the problem bigger. The right way to go is the opposite direction: Cut back. So do less. Your project won’t suffer nearly as much as you fear. In fact, there’s a good chance it’ll end up even better. You’ll be forced to make tough calls and sort out what truly matters.

The core of your business should be built around things that won’t change. Things that people are going to want today and ten years from now. Those are the things you should invest in.

In business, too many people obsess over tools, software tricks, scaling issues, fancy office space, lavish furniture, and other frivolities instead of what really matters. And what really matters is how to actually get customers and make money.

When you make something, you always make something else. You can’t make just one thing. Everything has a by-product. Observant and creative business minds spot these by-products and see opportunities.

Software companies don’t usually think about writing books. Bands don’t usually think about filming the recording process. Car manufacturers don’t usually think about selling charcoal. There’s probably something you haven’t thought about that you could sell too.

Put off anything you don’t need for launch. Build the necessities now, worry about the luxuries later. If you really think about it, there’s a whole lot you don’t need on day one.

If you need to explain something, try getting real with it. Instead of describing what something looks like, draw it. Instead of explaining what something sounds like, hum it. Do everything you can to remove layers of abstraction. The problem with abstractions (like reports and documents) is that they create illusions of agreement. A hundred people can read the same words, but in their heads, they’re imagining a hundred different things. That’s why you want to get to something real right away. That’s when you get true understanding. It’s like when we read about characters in a book—we each picture them differently in our heads. But when we actually see people, we all know exactly what they look like.

Why are you doing this? Ever find yourself working on something without knowing exactly why? Someone just told you to do it. It’s pretty common, actually. That’s why it’s important to ask why you’re working on______. What is this for? Who benefits? What’s the motivation behind it? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you better understand the work itself.

What problem are you solving? What’s the problem? Are customers confused? Are you confused? Is something not clear enough? Was something not possible before that should be possible now? Sometimes when you ask these questions, you’ll find you’re solving an imaginary problem. That’s when it’s time to stop and reevaluate what the hell you’re doing.

Is this actually useful? Are you making something useful or just making something? It’s easy to confuse enthusiasm with usefulness. Sometimes it’s fine to play a bit and build something cool. But eventually you’ve got to stop and ask yourself if it’s useful, too. Cool wears off. Useful never does.

Are you adding value? Adding something is easy; adding value is hard. Is this thing you’re working on actually making your product more valuable for customers? Can they get more out of it than they did before? Sometimes things you think are adding value actually subtract from it. Too much ketchup can ruin the fries. Value is about balance.

Will this change behavior? Is what you’re working on really going to change anything? Don’t add something unless it has a real impact on how people use your product.

Is there an easier way? Whenever you’re working on something, ask, “Is there an easier way?” You’ll often find this easy way is more than good enough for now. Problems are usually pretty simple. We just imagine that they require hard solutions.

What could you be doing instead? What can’t you do because you’re doing this? This is especially important for small teams with constrained resources. That’s when prioritization is even more important. If you work on A, can you still do B and C before April? If not, would you rather have B and C instead of A? If you’re stuck on something for a long period of time, that means there are other things you’re not getting done.

Also, don’t be timid about your conclusions. Sometimes abandoning what you’re working on is the right move, even if you’ve already put in a lot of effort. Don’t throw good time after bad work.

If you’re constantly staying late and working weekends, it’s not because there’s too much work to be done. It’s because you’re not getting enough done at work. And the reason is interruptions.

Interruptions break your workday into a series of work moments. Forty-five minutes and then you have a call. Fifteen minutes and then you have lunch. An hour later, you have an afternoon meeting. Before you know it, it’s five o’clock, and you’ve only had a couple uninterrupted hours to get your work done. You can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.

A successful alone-time period means letting go of communication addiction. During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings. Just shut up and get to work. You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.

Also, when you do collaborate, try to use passive communication tools, like e-mail, that don’t require an instant reply, instead of interruptive ones, like phone calls and face-to-face meetings. That way people can respond when it’s convenient for them, instead of being forced to drop everything right away.

The worst interruptions of all are meetings. Here’s why: They’re usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things. They usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute. They drift off-subject easier than a Chicago cab in a snowstorm. They require thorough preparation that most people don’t have time for. They frequently have agendas so vague that nobody is really sure of the goal. They often include at least one moron who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense. Meetings procreate. One meeting leads to another meeting leads to another …

It’s also unfortunate that meetings are typically scheduled like TV shows. You set aside thirty minutes or an hour because that’s how scheduling software works (you’ll never see anyone schedule a seven-minute meeting with Outlook). Too bad. If it only takes seven minutes to accomplish a meeting’s goal, then that’s all the time you should spend. Don’t stretch seven into thirty.

If you decide you absolutely must get together, try to make your meeting a productive one by sticking to these simple rules: Set a timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period. Invite as few people as possible. Always have a clear agenda. Begin with a specific problem. Meet at the site of the problem instead of a conference room. Point to real things and suggest real changes. End with a solution and make someone responsible for implementing it.

A better idea: Find a judo solution, one that delivers maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Judo solutions are all about getting the most out of doing the least. Whenever you face an obstacle, look for a way to judo it.

When good enough gets the job done, go for it. It’s way better than wasting resources or, even worse, doing nothing because you can’t afford the complex solution. And remember, you can usually turn good enough into great later.

Momentum fuels motivation. It keeps you going. It drives you. Without it, you can’t go anywhere. If you aren’t motivated by what you’re working on, it won’t be very good.

The way you build momentum is by getting something done and then moving on to the next thing. No one likes to be stuck on an endless project with no finish line in sight. Being in the trenches for nine months and not having anything to show for it is a real buzzkill. Eventually it just burns you out. To keep your momentum and motivation up, get in the habit of accomplishing small victories along the way. Even a tiny improvement can give you a good jolt of momentum.

If you absolutely have to work on long-term projects, try to dedicate one day a week (or every two weeks) to small victories that generate enthusiasm. Small victories let you celebrate and release good news. And you want a steady stream of good news. When there’s something new to announce every two weeks, you energize your team and give your customers something to be excited about.

For example, let’s say you think a task can be done in two hours. But four hours into it, you’re still only a quarter of the way done. The natural instinct is to think, “But I can’t give up now, I’ve already spent four hours on this!” So you go into hero mode. You’re determined to make it work (and slightly embarrassed that it isn’t already working). You grab your cape and shut yourself off from the world. And sometimes that kind of sheer effort overload works. But is it worth it? Probably not. The task was worth it when you thought it would cost two hours, not sixteen. In those sixteen hours, you could have gotten a bunch of other things done. Plus, you cut yourself off from feedback, which can lead you even further down the wrong path. Even heroes need a fresh pair of eyes sometimes—someone else to give them a reality check.

Keep in mind that the obvious solution might very well be quitting. People automatically associate quitting with failure, but sometimes that’s exactly what you should do. If you already spent too much time on something that wasn’t worth it, walk away. You can’t get that time back. The worst thing you can do now is waste even more time.

Break the big thing into smaller things. The smaller it is, the easier it is to estimate. You’re probably still going to get it wrong, but you’ll be a lot less wrong than if you estimated a big project. If something takes twice as long as you expected, better to have it be a small project that’s a couple weeks over rather than a long one that’s a couple months over.

Break that long list down into a bunch of smaller lists. For example, break a single list of a hundred items into ten lists of ten items. That means when you finish an item on a list, you’ve completed 10 percent of that list, instead of 1 percent. Yes, you still have the same amount of stuff left to do. But now you can look at the small picture and find satisfaction, motivation, and progress. That’s a lot better than staring at the huge picture and being terrified and demoralized.

Whenever you can, divide problems into smaller and smaller pieces until you’re able to deal with them completely and quickly. Simply rearranging your tasks this way can have an amazing impact on your productivity and motivation.

Don’t prioritize with numbers or labels. Avoid saying, “This is high priority, this is low priority.” Likewise, don’t say, “This is a three, this is a two, this is a one, this is a three,” etc. Do that and you’ll almost always end up with a ton of really high-priority things. That’s not really prioritizing. Instead, prioritize visually. Put the most important thing at the top. When you’re done with that, the next thing on the list becomes the next most important thing. That way you’ll only have a single next most important thing to do at a time. And that’s enough.

Big decisions are hard to make and hard to change. And once you make one, the tendency is to continue believing you made the right decision, even if you didn’t. You stop being objective.

make choices that are small enough that they’re effectively temporary. When you make tiny decisions, you can’t make big mistakes. These small decisions mean you can afford to change. There’s no big penalty if you mess up. You just fix it.

Making tiny decisions doesn’t mean you can’t make big plans or think big ideas. It just means you believe the best way to achieve those big things is one tiny decision at a time.

You have to understand why something works or why something is the way it is. When you just copy and paste, you miss that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath.

If you’re successful, people will try to copy what you do. It’s just a fact of life. But there’s a great way to protect yourself from copycats: Make you part of your product or service. Inject what’s unique about the way you think into what you sell. Decommoditize your product. Make it something no one else can offer.

Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too: how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it, and how you deliver it. Competitors can never copy the you in your product.

Having an enemy gives you a great story to tell customers, too. Taking a stand always stands out. People get stoked by conflict. They take sides. Passions are ignited. And that’s a good way to get people to take notice.

This sort of one-upping, Cold War mentality is a dead end. When you get suckered into an arms race, you wind up in a never-ending battle that costs you massive amounts of money, time, and drive. And it forces you to constantly be on the defensive, too. Defensive companies can’t think ahead; they can only think behind. They don’t lead; they follow. So what do you do instead? Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition. Instead of one-upping, try one-downing. Instead of outdoing, try underdoing.

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