Updated on 08.09.11

Review: Rework

Trent Hamm

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.

ReworkI often read business books on the side – you know, books that are mostly about succeeding within a business structure, often written by successful corporate presidents and vice-presidents to talk about how they were successful at being a corporate president or vice-president.

Sometimes, though, I’ll read a business book that transcends being a business book and spills over into great thought-provoking advice in other areas: careers, time management, money management, and so on. I’m often really inspired by such books and want to share them. This is one of those times.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson (founders of the software development firm 37 Signals) has a very simple premise about success in business (as well as most other areas of life): simply do something. Stop worrying so much about the perfect plan and just go do something. Achieving something, even if it’s a failure, pushes you much further in the direction of success than planning and re-planning for something.

The book is made up of a large collection of short essays that focus explicitly on that point. I pulled out a few of them that I found particularly worth mentioning.

Learning from mistakes is overrated
Many people laud failure as a setup for eventual success because you learn from your mistakes. Instead, a much better path to success is to look for the areas where you succeeded and just repeat those. Pull forward your successes and leave your mistakes behind. If you’re trying to reboot your spending, keep doing the things that were already frugal, for example, and just replace your other behaviors.

When you work too much, you can easily destroy your ability to judge what’s important and what isn’t. Judgment calls like that require time away from work, where you interact with the world (which is what your product interacts with). Time away from work brings the clarity needed to distinguish between the worthwhile things at work and the trivial things. When you know how to discard the trivial, you don’t need to be a workaholic.

Meetings are toxic
Most meetings do not involve most of the people in the room. They’re essentially interactions between a small handful of people, while everyone else just wonders why they’re there and completely loses their flow on whatever projects you’re working on. Do meetings electronically or only meet with people when you’re sure everyone in the room actually needs to be there. Don’t waste the time of anyone else.

Long lists don’t get done
A long checklist of items feels overwhelming and leaves you with a sense that you can’t possibly get all of this finished. It forces you to choose from a lot of items and adds to your decision making time. Instead, make short lists of only three or so items and don’t go back to the well for more until those items are done. This reduces your decision time significantly and lets you focus on the real work.

Underdo your competition
Most people feel like they need to be the jack of all trades in order to succeed. They need to be everything to everybody, even though they’re never actually good at everything. A much better approach is to simply know what specific things you’re good at, do them as well as you possibly can, and delegate the other tasks. If you do this, you become a central part of the team; otherwise, you’re just another replaceable spinning cog.

Send people home at 5
Go home at five. If you’re a manager, send people home at 5. This keeps them from becoming workaholics and, surprisingly, doesn’t reduce the quality of the work. Remember that one good output is better than three mediocre ones, and a workaholic is the one that will produce the three mediocre ones.

Don’t be a hero
A hero is a person that usually overlooked the value of the people around him. In that process of overlooking, the hero had a great chance of utterly failing and letting everyone down. If you’re facing a challenge, look for what assets people around you have that can help meet that challenge, and don’t be afraid to share in the success of solving the challenge. When someone helps you, give them credit, and they’re likely to give you credit when you help them.

Decisions are temporary
Quite often, when I tell people to save for their goal in a savings account, I do so because decisions are often temporary. Their goals a year from now might be completely different than their goals now, and saving in a savings account keeps their savings liquid and preserves the balance. This is true in many aspects of life. Decisions are often very temporary and the best thing you can do is preserve your own flexibility.

Is Rework Worth Reading?
Rework gets my thumbs up simply because it is such a good read, regardless of whether it’s really applicable to personal finance directly or not. It’s well-written, incredibly easy to pick up, and chock full of good ideas.

As always with books like this, if you approach it with some flexibility, you’ll almost always find multiple ideas that really click with your personal and professional situation, putting it in a new context. That’s the sign of a winning book in any genre.

Check out additional reviews and notes of Rework on Amazon.com.

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  1. John Cardero says:

    I agree totally. Rework is a great read and I got a lot out of it.

  2. valleycat1 says:

    So, “Achieving something, even if it’s a failure, pushes you much further in the direction of success” but “learning from mistakes is overrated”?

    As someone mentioned a day or so ago, not everyone is of the entrepreneurial mindset. Of course this book would appeal to Trent as it disses most of the standard operating procedures of corporate jobs. And maybe if you’re in the position of starting up, owning or managing a company, you could implement some of these ideas. But I’m not convinced you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For example it is possible to conduct meetings that are productive and meaningful to everyone in the room – the first rule is that not everyone in the company has to attend every meeting.

  3. moom says:

    The meetings that are a waste of time is where most of the meeting is just a bunch of information that could have been given in an e-mail, newsletter, memo etc. If meetings are used for discussions and decision-making then generally they are useful and interesting.

  4. Jules says:

    Either this review needs a proofreader, or it’s actually not that great of a book. “A hero overlooks the value of people around him”? That’s not a hero, that’s a jerk. Sending people home at 5 only works if you don’t have email and a Blackberry/iPad/cell phone–and, hehe, I’ve gotten phone calls from my boss as late as 9 at night, and on the weekends. And “discarding the trivial” is at direct odds with the fact that, in many aspects of production/management, the devil is in the details. Seeing your product save lives of kids with cancer is great. But it doesn’t help you when it’s five in the morning and there’s a meltdown in the lab.

  5. Mark Gavagan says:

    I agree Rework is a terrific book.

    I keep a little blog with notes and excerpts about books I’ve read.

    One of the best quotes from Rework is on page 271 – “If you want to do something, you’ve got to do it now.”

    Link to others: nntoor.org/rework

  6. joan says:

    This review does what it is suppose to do, it makes me want to read the book. Thank you Trent for this review. However, I still agree with #3 that bosses can call at any time. And the hero must have been a typo, because Trent always gives value to his friends, family, and to businesses that he likes.

  7. Jen says:

    Great review, makes me want to read the book. I will be looking for it at my library in the future. I do agree with some of the points above though… the description of hero does seem like a jerk. Also, I completely agree with sending people home at 5 (or whatever the end of the day is for the job) and not having people stay late… unfortunately that isn’t how it works at most jobs. My boss calls, texts, emails me all the time. I finally took my work email off my phone which helped a lot but I am still the one that gets called at 5 AM when something goes wrong.

  8. Tanya says:

    Thanks for this reminder to just DO something; it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. Preparation is great, but at some point you also have to take action.

  9. Rob says:

    I think #4 and #6 need to read the review again. The sub-section was called: “Don’t be a hero”. It was saying that the hero (who rushes in and fights fires) was not the person to emulate — instead be the one preventing fires.

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