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Jul 27 2020 | Entrepreneurship

Authors: Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson



One sentence summary

You can be ambitious with your work and still have a life.

Why you should read it

Business books generally aren't that practical. But not Rework. This is one of the most practical 'business' books I've come across. It's filled with lessons you can apply right now.


Learn from your successes and build upon those, not your failures or other people's failures.

On Plans

At best, plans are guesses.

Make your plans flexible - be able to improvise and pick up opportunities that come your way.

Plans have to change depending on the reality of the situation.

Planning far ahead into the future is futile.

You write plans before you’ve even begun. That’s the worst time to make a decision. Make decisions right before you do something, not far in advance.

Figure out the next most important thing and do that.

Sometimes you need to say, 'We’re going in a new direction because that’s what makes sense today'.

Give up the guesswork. Decide what you’re going to do this week. Not this year.


Strip yourself of your workaholism badge.

Workaholics assume that problems will be fixed by throwing sheer hours at them. Workaholism tries to cover up intellectual laziness with brute force, which creates inelegant solutions.

Workaholism leads to ass-in-seat mentality. People stay late out of obligation, even if they aren’t really being productive.

Workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than non-workaholics. They claim to be perfectionists wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving onto the next task.

Be a starter

You don't need much to get started. Just start.

Anyone who creates a new business is a starter.

You don’t need an MBA, a certificate, a fancy suit, a briefcase or above average tolerance for risk.

You just need an idea, a touch of confidence and a push to get started.


Make a dent in the universe

Ask yourself: Is the work you're doing making a difference? Are you dedicating your time and efforts towards making something of value?

You want your customers say, 'this makes my life better'.

You want to feel that if you stopped doing what you do, people would notice.

Feel urgency about this. You don’t have forever. What you do is your legacy. Don’t sit around waiting for someone else to make the change you want to see.

Scratch your own itch

One of my favourite chapters in the book.

Tim Ferriss also refers to this idea of 'scratching your own itch' in his video How to Start a Business of Podcast From Scratch.

Tim says, "If you scratch your own itch, whether it is creating a business or a product, even if it doesn't work out, at least you come away from it with something you'll be proud of."

The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product is to make something you want to use.

Solve your own problem. This approach lets you ‘fall in love with what you’re making’. You know the problem and the solution intimately.

You’ll hopefully be working on this for a long time [...] it better be something you really care about.


Echos the earlier chapter 'Be a Starter'. Your actions are louder than your talk or your plans.

Execution is what matters.

When you’re new to something, you just need to start and create.

The most important thing is to begin.

Ideas are cheap, until you execute them.

No time is no excuse

Making excuses are easy. There will always be excuses: You're not smart enough, experienced enough, you don't have enough time.

It is completely up to you to make things happen and make your dreams come true.

When you want something bad enough, you will make the time for it, regardless of your other obligations.

The perfect time never arrives. You’re always too old or young or broke or something else.

Draw a line in the sand

You have to know why you're doing what you do.

You have to know what you're willing to fight for. You have to show the world.

You need less than you think

You only need the essentials. Anything else is extra fluff that you can live without.

Do you really need $5000 or will $500 do?" Similarly, "Do you need 6 months or can you make something in 2?

Start a business, not a startup

There's a difference between building an real business and building a startup.

An actual business has to worry about profits from day one.

A business without a path to profit isn’t a business, it’s a hobby.

Building to flip is building to flop

Focus on core things. Getting customers to love you and knowing how to keep going, especially during tough times are core things.  

You should be thinking about how to make your business grow and succeed, not how to jump ship.

If you do manage to get a good thing going, keep it going. Good things don’t come around often.

Less mass

If you can stay lean, that's a great thing.

There are plenty of things that can increase your mass (and weigh you down): Contracts, excess staff, permanent decisions, meetings, thick processes and office politics.

Avoid these whenever you can so that you can change direction more easily. The more expensive it is to change, the less likely you'll do it.

Embrace having less mass.

Right now, you’re the smallest, leanest, fastest you’ll ever be. From here on, you’ll start to accumulate mass.

If you keep your mass low, you can quickly change anything. You can make mistakes and fix them quickly. You can change your priorities, product mix or focus. You can change your mind.


Embrace constraints

Constraints force you to keep things simple, to get creative and make do with what you have.

Boxing ourselves in forces us to prevent things from bloating.

See how far you can get with what you have.

Build half a product, not a half-assed product

Do less, but do it well.

Once you give your great ideas a second thought, they won't appear to be so great.

Cut your ambitions in half.

Movie directors cut good scenes to create great movies. Writers delete good pages to produce great books. Musicians drop good tracks to make a great album.

Start chopping. Getting to great starts by cutting things that are merely good.

Start at the epicenter

Prioritize your tasks. Start with the essentials.  

If you took a part away, would what you're selling still exist? What part can you not remove?

‍There’s so many things pulling you in all directions.

Things you want to do, things you should do, things you have to do. Start with the things you have to do.

When you find it, you’ll know. Then focus all your energy on making that the best you can make it. Everything else is secondary. Everything else builds from that foundation.

Ignore the details early on

You want to make sure that you have the macro stuff, the foundation set in place before you dive into any micro details.

Ignore the details initially. Nail the basics and worry about the specifics later.

Making a call is making progress

Instead of thinking about something, make a decision.

It doesn't matter how much or how well you plan - you'll get some things wrong anyway.

Decisions mean progress and momentum. Optimise for decision making. Decisions are the bricks of your foundation.

The great thing is that decisions are reversible. If your decision becomes a mistake, you can correct it.

Whenever you can, swap “Let’s think about it” with “Let’s decide on it”.

When you get into that flow of making decision after decision, you build momentum and boost morale.

You can’t build on top of “We’ll decide later” but you can build on top of ‘Done’.

Be a curator

A curator makes a museum great by saying the art on the walls is great.

This especially applies to your decision making on what you're making and the quality of it.  

There’s an entire process to curation. There's an editing process. The best is a sub, sub, subset of all the possibilities.

It’s the stuff you leave out that matters. Constantly look for things to remove, simplify and streamline.

Be a curator. Stick to what’s truly essential. Pare things down until you’ve got only the most important. Then do it again. You can always add stuff back later if you need to.

Throw less at the problem

This is one of the most important lessons.

Cut a problem down at its roots. Whatever you do, you want to avoid kicking the can down the road - that's a slippery path to go down once you start.

Trimming down a problem comes first. Then comes polishing it.

Throwing more at a problem only creates a bigger problem. So do less. Cut back. You’ll be forced to make tough calls and sort out what truly matters.

Focus on what won’t change

Invest in the things that will last and stand the test of time.

‍What are people going to want today and 10 years from now?

What will always be high in demand?

Focus on the timeless, the permanent features. The things that never go out of style.

Tone is in your fingers

Get going and make progress as well as you can with what you already have.

In business, too many people obsess over tools, fancy offices, pretty furniture. What really matters is how to actually get customers and make money.

You also see people get hung up on which medium (podcast, blogs, videos) to use. It’s the content that matters.

Use whatever you’ve got already or can afford cheaply. Then go.

Sell your byproducts

This idea of selling your sawdust - something which Jack Butcher talks about and champions.

Create a product; sell that product. The process of creating the product is also product in itself. Sell your process.

When you make something, you always make something else.

Launch now

Launch as quickly as you can. Launching means showing the public. Launching means getting your product shipped. It's better to have it launched than to worry if it's great yet. You can improve it and make it great by iterating on it.

Launch your product sooner than you're comfortable doing so.

If you had 2 weeks to launch, what would you *cut* out? This will force you to focus.

If you really think about it, there’s a lot of stuff that you don’t need on day one.


Illusions of agreement

When you're trying to communicate something, remove layers of abstraction by making something real.

When you make something real, you get true understanding.

Get the chisel out and start making something real. Everything else is just a distraction.

Reasons to quit

If you aren't:

...then you should quit.

Interruption is the enemy of productivity

When you’re interrupted, you’re not getting work done.

Long stretches of alone time is when you are most productive.

You can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.

During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, emails and meetings. Just shut up and get to work. You’ll be surprised by how much more you get done.

Meetings are toxic

Don't do meetings.

Meetings are huge time suckers.

They are a highly inefficient use of people's time. They require more effort than is necessary to prepare for. One meeting leads to another. They tend to be vague. They go on for longer than they need to. The wrong people tend to attend meetings.

Instead, lay out a specific problem with a clear agenda that point to the changes need and who would be responsible for those changes.

Good enough is fine

Problems are negotiable. They can usually be solved with mundane, simple solutions.

Use this principle for problem solving: Get the most out of doing the least.

Sometimes, timeliness is more important than polish or even quality.

When good enough gets the job done, go for it. Better than wasting resources, or worse, doing nothing. Remember you can always turn good into great later.

Quick wins

Quick wins, small victories, tiny improvements. These are achievable, rewarding and will keep the momentum going.

Build momentum by getting something done and moving onto the next task, even if it's a small one.

To keep momentum, make it habitual to achieve those quick wins.

Ask yourself, what can be done in two weeks? Then go do it. Get it out there so that people can see it, use it, taste it, play it. The quicker you can get it into the hands of your customers, the better.

If you have to work on long term projects, 'quick wins' still apply. Try to create small victories every week or two so you can celebrate progress, however small.

Don’t be a hero

If you have spent too much time on something, then you should quit it. The worse thing you can do is to waste even more time on it.

If something takes longer than two weeks, ask someone for advice. Sometimes the obvious solution might be to quit.

Your estimates suck

We are pretty bad at estimating.

Estimates that stretch weeks, months and years in advance are fantasies.""You just don’t know what’s going to happen that far ahead in advance.

The solution: "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."

Treat a twelve week project as twelve one week projects.

Instead of guesstimating that a big task might take longer than 30 hours, break it down into more realistic 4 to 6 hour chunks. Then go one step at a time.

Long lists don’t get done

Things on your to do list either get done or they don't. Make it easy for yourself by making smaller to-do lists.

A note on prioritization: Put the most important thing at the top. When you're done with that, go to the next thing. That way, you'll only have a single most important thing to do at a time. That's enough.

Break long lists 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.

Long lists are guilt trips. The longer the list of unfinished items, the worse you feel about it. At some point, you just stop looking at it because it makes you feel bad.

Make tiny decisions

Big decisions are hard to make and hard to change.

Instead, make small choices that are small enough that they're temporary. When you make tiny decisions, you can't make big mistakes. You can afford to fix tiny decisions without a big penalty if you mess up.

Making tiny decisions doesn't mean you can't make big plans or decisions. It means you're betting on achieving big plans one tiny decision at a time.

The best thing about having small, attainable goals is that you can actually accomplish them and build upon them.

You get to say, “We nailed it, done!” Then you get going onto the next one. That’s a lot more satisfying that the pie-in-the-sky fantasy goal you never meet.


Don’t copy

Emulate the great, but don't copy. Copying means competing with others.

Copying others skips the important step of understanding. And it's the understanding that makes you grow.  

Be an original.

Lead, don’t follow.

Decommoditize your product

If you're a part of your product or service, or if you are the product or service, you'll be able to offer something no one else can offer. That can never be copied away by competitors.

Sell a way of thinking.

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.

Pick a fight

Take a stand against something. Whether that's a competitor or a problem that your customers face. Taking a stand against something makes you stand out and gives you a great story to tell your customers.

Have conviction and tell a story. It's like decision making. By making a decision, you're making the case that you're leaning towards one path and away from another.

If you think your competitor sucks, say so. When you do that, you’ll find that others who agree with you will be on your side.

Being the anti 'something' is a great way to differentiate yourself and attract followers.

Underdo your competition

Do less than your competitors to beat them.

Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult problems to the competition.  

Avoid one-upping your competitors. Avoid an arms race. That’s defensive. Being defensive can’t think ahead. You’re not leading, you’re following.

Do simple and do it well. Don’t shy away from this. Highlight it. Be proud of this. Sell this as aggressively as competitors sell their long feature lists.

Focus on you, instead of they

Instead of paying attention to what your competition is doing, focus on defining the rules of your game. Focus on improving yourself.

Refine the rules, not just build something that's slight better.

Worrying about the competition quickly becomes an obsession. What are they doing now? Where are they going next? How should we react?

Your competitors may change tomorrow. This is out of your control.


Say no by default

Deal with brief discomfort of confrontation up front to avoid long term regret. This applies to work and long term relationships.

What are the things that you should really be doing? Maybe you can't see them because you've committed to too many things that you don't need to do but have said yes to doing.

People will avoid confrontation because of the discomfort. But delaying decisions, kicking the can down the road makes things more complicated.

When you say no to people or projects, do so in an honest and polite manner. Explain why you're saying no.

Start getting into the habit of saying no. Even for many of your best ideas. Use the power of saying no to get your priorities straight. You rarely regret saying no. But you often wind up regret saying yes.

Your goal is to make sure your product stays right for you. That way, you can say, “I’ll think you’ll love it because I love it.”

Let your customers outgrow you

People and situations change. You can’t be everything to everyone. Companies need to be true to a type of customer rather than a specific individual customer with changing needs.

There will always be more people who don’t use your product than people who do.

There's an endless supply of customers who need small, simple and basic.

You want to make it easy for people to get on board. That’s where your continued growth potential lies.

Don’t confuse enthusiasm with priority

Revolutionary! Hot! New! Amazing! Faster!

Get as many great ideas as possible. Let your ideas sit. Let them cool down. Then evaluate them with a calm mind.

Be at-home good

Being great at a few things doesn’t look as flashy from afar. That’s OK.

You’re aiming for a long term relationship. Not a one-night stand.

Don’t write it down

If there’s a request that you keep forgetting, that’s a sign that it isn’t very important. The really important stuff doesn’t go away.


Welcome obscurity

Being a newcomer is great because no one knows you. It means you can mess up without much risk.

When you're a beginner, see this as an opportunity to try things, test ideas, make mistakes without everyone knowing about them.

There's no reason to tell everyone to look at you when you're not ready to be looked at yet.

Obscurity protects your ego and preserves your confidence.

When you’re a success, the pressure to maintain predictability and consistency builds. You get more conservative. It’s harder to take risks. That’s when things start to fossilise and it’s harder to change.

Build an audience

Instead of going out to reach people, you want people to come to you.

Share information that’s valuable and you’ll slowly but surely build a loyal audience. Then when you need to get the word out, the right people will already be listening.

When you build an audience, you don't have to buy people’s attention, they give it to you. This is a huge advantage.

An audience returns often - on its own - to hear what you have to say. An audience is the most receptive group of customers and potential customers you'll ever have.

Out teach your competition

Most businesses focus on selling or servicing, but teaching never even occurs to them.

Teach and you’ll form a bond you just won’t get from traditional marketing tactics.

Earning people’s loyalty by teaching them forms a whole different connection. They’ll trust you more. They’ll respect you more.

Individuals and small businesses can afford to teach.

Emulate (famous) chefs

Famous chefs, the ones who are memorable, share everything they know. They put their recipes in cookbooks and show their techniques on cooking shows.

As a business owner, you should share everything you know too.

What are your recipes? What’s your cookbook? What can you tell the world about how you operate that’s informative, educational and promotional?

Go behind the scenes

Give people a backstage tour and show them how your business works. People are curious about how things are made.

Letting people behind the curtain changes your relationship with them.

They’ll feel a bond with you and see you as a human being instead of a faceless company. They’ll see the sweat and the effort that goes into what you sell. They’ll develop a deeper level of understanding and appreciation of what you do.

Nobody likes plastic flowers

Don't lose the soul in what you do.

Boil things down to the essence but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and uncluttered, not sterilised.

Don’t worry about how you’re supposed to sound or how you’re supposed to act. Show the world what you’re really like. Warts and all.

There’s a beauty to imperfection. Japanese principle of wabi-sabi. Which values character and uniqueness over a shiny facade. Learn to embrace the cracks and scratches in things.

Press releases are spam

Press releases are a terrible way to get the world to notice your product, service, company or announcement.

Press releases are tired and formulaic. Everything is labelled sensational, revolutionary, groundbreaking, which makes them numbing.

Stand out and avoid being generic by calling someone. Write them a personal note. Do something meaningful to be unforgettable.

Forget about the Wall Street Journal

Niche media over mass media.

Go for a trade publication or niche blogger instead of big publications.

Focus, target and be specific.

Emulate drug dealers

Don't be afraid to give a little bit of your product away for free.

You want to make your product so good and 'addictive', so 'can't miss' that giving your customers a small free taster makes them want to come back with money.

Drug dealers know their product so well that they are willing to give a little away for free upfront. They know you’ll be back for more, and come with money.

Be confident in what you’re offering. You should know that people will come back for more. If you’re not confident about that, you haven’t created a strong enough product.

Everything is marketing

Everything you do is marketing.

Marketing isn't any one off thing that you do. Marketing is the sum total of everything you do.

Every email you send, every phone call you make, every time someone uses your product or service, every error in the software you build is marketing.

All the little things are more important than any one off thing you do to ‘market’.

Myth of the overnight success

There are no shortcuts to success.

Trade the overnight success for a slow, measure growth.

It’s hard, but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out. You have to do it for a long time before the right people notice.

Instead, start building your audience today. Start getting people interested in what you have to say. Then keep at it. In a few years time, you’ll chuckle when people speak about ‘overnight success’.


Do it yourself first

Never hire someone to do a job until you’ve first tried to do it yourself first. That way you know a job well done looks like.

Run with the ball as far as you can before handing it off. That way, you know what you’re looking for once you do decide to hire.

Hire when it hurts

Hire to kill pain, not for pleasure.

There should be things you can’t do anymore. When you notice the quality level slipping. When you’re hurting. That’s when is the right time to hire.

Pass on great people

Pass on hiring people you don’t need, even if that person is a great catch.

If you don’t need someone, you don’t need someone.

No need to make things more complex than necessary. Or waste talent getting them to do meaningless or artificial work.

Years of irrelevance

There’s surprising little difference between someone with 6 months of experience or 6 years of experience.

The real difference comes from the individual’s dedication, personality and intelligence.

How long someone’s been doing it is overrated. The real question is how well they’ve been doing it.

Forget about formal education

GPAs and test scores don't matter when it comes to business.

Delegators are deadweight

In a small team, delegators are deadweight. No one is above the work.

Hire the better writer

People who can write well show that they can communicate well and think clearly. Hire the person who is the best writer for a role.

So much of our communication happens over written text - emails, text messages, blogging, chat forums. Having good writing skills will work in your favour.

It doesn’t matter if the writer is a salesperson, marketer, designer, or programmer, their writing skills will pay off.

Great writers know how to communicate. They make things sound easy. They can put themselves in the shoes of the other. They know what to omit.

Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.

The best are everywhere

Geography doesn’t matter anymore. Technology enables remote teams to work together more easily than ever. Don’t limit your talent pool because of geography.