Three Lessons from Rework

A Different Way to Work

Jun 19, 2022   |   Book Lessons

Rework is a collection of short thoughts on management, entrepreneurship, and knowledge work. The book was written by Jason Fried, who founded the company 37 Signals in 1999. They have released several popular products like Basecamp, the project management software.

I picked up this book because I read about the company’s unique culture. They seem to enjoy doing work differently than most Silicon Valley software startups, and I wanted to know more about their rules for work. Here are a few things I learned.

Embrace Essentialism

“Start getting into the habit of saying no—even to many of your best ideas. Use the power of no to get your priorities straight. You rarely regret saying no. But you often wind up regretting saying yes. People avoid saying no because confrontation makes them uncomfortable. But the alternative is even worse. You drag things out, make things complicated, and work on ideas you don’t believe in.”

— Jason Fried, Rework

It’s hard to say no to good ideas. However, every decision to take action comes with a cost. Every new path you go down takes away from the paths already started. You only have so much time, energy, and money. If you say yes to every good idea, you’ll quickly be unable to focus on any of them.

If you’re in a hundred different markets, you won’t be able to make great products for each. So how can you compete with niche companies that make products for one market?

You can’t.

Instead of saying yes to everything, embrace essentialism. Raise the bar for what you do and lower the bar for what you avoid. This will force you to work on what truly matters. Then, instead of getting pulled in 100 different directions, you’ll be able to focus on genuinely impactful work.

Take Action

“When you put off decisions, they pile up. And piles end up ignored, dealt with in haste, or thrown out. As a result, the individual problems in those piles stay unresolved. 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.”

— Jason Fried, Rework

You should have a tendency towards action instead of analysis. Looking for the best solution to a problem can waste days, weeks, and months. Instead, look for a solution that is good enough for the moment. You can always change your mind later.

Once actions are taken, you can learn from them and correct them. No amount of analysis can stop you from making errors anyway, so just take action and get it over with.

If you’re really struggling, start by making a tiny decision. Tiny decisions can’t make big mistakes, but they move you forward. It can be the best of both worlds.

Don’t Overwork

“If all you do is work, you’re unlikely to have sound judgments. Your values and decision making wind up skewed. You stop being able to decide what’s worth extra effort and what’s not. And you wind up just plain tired. No one makes sharp decisions when tired.”

— Jason Fried, Rework

Most knowledge workers are judged by their decisions and ideas. If that’s the case, you want to be on your best game as much as possible. Overworking is not a good idea in this context. The long hours at night are not going to produce great work. Instead, you’re more likely to make mistakes and generate poor ideas. Don’t overwork yourself. Rest is essential, and you should protect it at all costs.

Overworking also gives you more slack for wasteful work. Unfortunately, most workaholics don’t actually do more work than others. They just don’t know how to prioritize. You don’t have to work long hours if you know how to get the right things done.

Overall Thoughts

I liked this book, but it certainly isn’t very meaty. The chapters are like short blog posts. I found most of the advice to be refreshingly different from many business books these days. However, they’re all just opinions, with no real backing behind the statements.

If you’re looking for a light read about running a business, I’d pick this up.