Tag Archives: David Heinemeier Hansson

“Inspiration is Perishable” – And a Few Other Valuable & Useful Lessons from Rework by Fried and Hansson

I just presented my synopsis of Rework for some folks at Gaylord.  Terrific group – wonderful session.  It’s been a while since I’ve looked at this book.

Here are some takeaways:

• Some over-all observations from the book:

1)    This book is a blinding flash of the obvious (that’s what many good books are!)
2)    Results really, really matter – almost nothing else does.
3)    Be happy with good enough – but remember, good enough is never shoddy.
4)    Revenue in has to surpass expenses out.  This is the first law of business.  Otherwise, you don’t have a business – you have a hobby.
5)    Do what you need; make sure your product pleases you, meets your needs…  Then your customers will get what they need.

And, I concluded my synopsis with these:

• Six things you can do to respond to the counsel in this book:

1)  Spend only what you have to – be frugal.
2)  Focus on results – and nothing else.
3)  When you have a moment of inspiration, go with it.  Don’t let up.  — “Inspiration is perishable.”
4)  Single task – spend long stretches of time alone to make something happen.
5)  Take (better) care of yourself.  — “Forgoing sleep is a bad idea.”
6)  But, when you work, work hard – with focus – until you get something done.

• And remember – you are a manager of one.  “You come up with your own goals, and you execute.”  (Look for others who are successful at being a manager of one; hire only those, and, only when you have to).

Rework is a good book.  The chapters are short, “bite-size.”  Perfect for a few minutes of reading here and there.  Check it out.


You can purchase my synopsis of Rework, with audio + handout, from our companion web site at 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

The Office – Interruption Factory, Or Idea Factory? (Is Jason Fried Right, Or Wrong?)

So, what do we do when the wisdom sounds so right, so obvious – but may be wrong?

I am a big fan of Jason Fried.  I have presented a synopsis of his book (co-authored with David Heinemeier Hansson), Rework.  I have blogged about his ideas, quoting him, reflecting on his ideas a number of times.  And I like his writing style, and think he is right.

Except…  what if he is wrong?

Here are excerpts from his latest (special for CNN – read it here):

The modern office has become an interruption factory. You can’t get work done at work anymore.

When people walk into the office, they trade their work day in for a series of work moments. It’s like the front door is a “time Cuisinart” — shredding it all into little bits.

When you’re in the office you’re lucky to have 30 minutes to yourself. Usually you get in, there’s a meeting, then there’s a call, then someone calls you over to their desk, or your manager comes over to see what you’re doing. These interruptions chunk your day into smaller and smaller bits. Fifteen minutes here, 30 minutes there, another 15 minutes before lunch, then an afternoon meeting, etc. When are you supposed to get work done if you don’t have any time to work?

People — especially creative people — need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get things done. Fifteen minutes isn’t enough. Thirty minutes isn’t enough. Even an hour isn’t enough.

If I had read this a month ago, I would have said something like:  “Amen! ~ Preach it, brother!,” or words to that effect.  But, now, I’m not so sure.  Because I have just read Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.  And that book is filled with story after story about the creative/innovative energy that is created by folks interacting constantly.  It praises the conference table, and the design of buildings that are intended to enable/encourage constant, “accidental” and “on-purpose” interaction.  “Interruption,” if you will..  Consider this quote from Johnson’s book:

The ground zero of innovation was not the microscope.  It was the conference table…  The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.

So – who is right?  Jason Fried or Steven Johnson?

Maybe both…  but, maybe, if we follow Fried too closely, we might lose out.  Having just finished Johnson’s book, I suspect that Fried’s counsel would have some anti-innovation unintended consequences.  At least, that’s what I think this week.

So – what about all of those interruptions.  Some of them are good, and feed the idea factory.  Others?  Well, maybe we just need to put up a sign that says “I’m in the alone zone – check with me later” an hour or two a day at work.  (“Alone zone” is one of Fried’s phrases, by the way).

Singletask, Don’t Multitask – The Jury Really is In!

As I have observed many times, there are themes that crop in multiple books.  And when this happens, I think they hint at true truth.  That is, the kind of truth that is genuinely important, something to pay a lot of attention to.

Here’s one that was reemphasized again this morning.  My colleague Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of The Way We’re Working isn’t Working, the new book by Tony Schwartz.  And the book, with lots of really useful counsel, says this about our multitasking world:

The most surprising drawback of multitasking is the growing evidence that it isn’t even efficient…  Once we’re distracted by something new, we often forget about the original task…  The ultimate consequence of juggling many tasks is not superficiality but rather overload.

There are so many books and articles that are making this point in one way or another.  The point is this:


Singletasking is the need of the hour, not multitasking.

Here are some other quotes to reinforce this now seemingly everywhere-present theme:

From ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson:
Instead, you should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
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.

From The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp:
The irony of multitasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently.  You’re also cheating yourself because you’re not doing anything excellently.  You’re compromising your virtuosity.  In the worlds of T. S. Eliot, you’re “distracted from distractions by distractions.”

From Superfreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner:
A person using a computer experiences “cognitive drift” if more than one second elapses between clicking the mouse and seeing new data on the screen.  If ten seconds pass, the person’s mind is somewhere else entirely.

I think the jury is in.  Learn to singletask, really well.  Work with depth and attention and focus on one-thing-at-a-time.

You can leave the multitasking to those who will be left behind by their lack of focus.

Rework’s “Alone Zone” And Its Unexpected Application To Customer Service

Yesterday, I presented my synopsis of the terrific book Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson for a corporate client in Dallas.  In the midst of the presentation, we had some energetic conversation about this quote:

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

Instead, you should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.

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.

I have presented this synopsis a few times, and the idea of “alone time” is one that resonates.  We all live in a world of constant interruptions.  And the advice from this book, which I have followed by carving out “chunks of time” for work, is invaluable.

Later in the discussion, we talked about customer service.  I observed that there has been no shortage of customer service programs and initiatives and training and haranguing for decades, yet fewer than 10% of companies are actually rated as providing excellence in their customer service.

One of the participants stated that it is tough to get in the “alone zone” when your job is a customer service job.  In other words, customer service is, by its very nature,  one interruption after another.  But as I thought about it, I decided that, in fact, this provides the exact approach we all need to take.

If your job is customer service, then you, and the individual customer with an issue at hand, need to be totally alone – that is, you need to be totally focused on this customer and his or her situation.  You, the customer service professional (and we are all, in moments spent responding to a customer, expected to be a customer service professional) need to give undivided, uninterrupted attention to that specific customer until the issue is resolved.  No hurry – no hassle – total attention to one customer at a time.  Alone zone – together, you and one customer.

It reminds me of the great advice once given by a radio personality (sorry — I do not remember which person said this):  “when you are on the radio, always picture one individual listener.”

So, when you work in customer service, focus only on that one, single, individual customer – one customer at a time.

Rework: back cover

The Productivity Challenge Of This Era

Important announcement from the Ministry of Gossip:  THE GOSPEL ON CELEBRITY AND POP CULTURE
PREACH IT! Prince declares Internet ‘completely over,’ Web somehow continues to function


I’ve got a problem.  I can’t get my work done.  Or, at least, I’m not getting it done.  It’s not that I am not “at work.”  It is that while at work, I am not working.  At least, not enough.  I’m too busy doing other stuff.  Stuff that helps me learn, think, ponder – but not necessarily the stuff of my actual work.

In the old days, that other stuff was standing around a water cooler, cleaning and organizing and straightening the desk, the stacks, the piles.  Now, it’s reading and surfing and watching stuff on the web.  I hate to disappoint Prince, but he is wrong – the Internet is not “completely over.”  In fact, it has a death grip on our productivity.

Here is an example:  at least three times, I have run the live stream of a World Cup game in the corner of my computer.  AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE SOCCER!  That live feed was completely distracting.

So, yesterday, I took the bull by the horns.  (I have no idea what that means…)  I decided, enough is enough.  I pulled out all of my old time management tools, and spent some time planning my work.  By the day; day after day.  Which book to read when, which project to tackle when, which task to do at a set time  –  you know, trying to become much more productive.  (And, by the way, writing blog posts is part of my work).

I won’t bore you with the details. But they included actually printing out some sheets of paper (you remember paper, don’t you?), and pulling out my old high-tech tool:  a clipboard.  (It is an amazing tool!).

But the real test will be when I settle down in one of those blocks of time I have blocked out, and seeing if I can stay focused, truly on task.  That’s when it will get scary.

In a column in the LA Times, Building One Big Brain, Robert Wright describes the battle between our loss of focus, reflecting on The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, and the ways that the Internet and all of these “social brain” activities change the way we function (referring to an upcoming book What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly, a long-time tech-watcher who helped launch Wired magazine and was its executive editor back in its young, edgy days).

Here is how he starts his column:

For your own sake, focus on this column. Don’t think about your Facebook feed or your inbox. Don’t click on the ad above or the links to the right. Don’t even click on links within the column.

Failing to focus — succumbing to digital distraction — can make you lose your mind, fears Nicholas Carr, author of the much-discussed book “The Shallows.” At least, it can make you lose little parts of your mind. The Internet, Carr suspects, “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”

In other words, don’t just float/surf/fly around – sit down and do some work!

But then, he asks the next part of the question, referring to the soon available book by Kelly:

As for Kevin Kelly’s view: I’ll let Kelly speak for himself as the timely publication of his fascinating book approaches. But it’s safe to say that he’s upbeat. He writes of technology “stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrating cloak of electronic nerves” and asks, “How can this not stir that organ in us that is sensitive to something larger than ourselves?”

No doubt some of his critics will think of ways. But the question he’s asking strikes me as the right long-term question: Not so much how do we reconcile ourselves to technology, but how do we reconcile ourselves to — and help shape — the very big thing that technology seems devoted to building?

So – here is my thought.  I have often blogged about the loss of focus problem.  I have quoted fondly from Rework, in which the authors talk about the great value of chunks of alone time to get actual work done.  They are right.

But, we also live in this social brain activity era.

Getting the balance – doing both well – that is the productivity challenge of this era.

Inspiration is Perishable — Don’t Let it Escape!

When That Moment Of Inspiration Arrives, Run With It – Now!

When I presented Rework for the May First Friday Book Synopsis, I described the book as a “daily devotional for business readers.”  If you are not aware, there are many magazines, and books, written with daily “devotional thoughts” for believers in all faiths.  They are usually written to be read one page a day, and each thought “stands alone.”  This genre best describes the style of Rework – not for the content, but for the format.  Each chapter is short (never over a couple of pages; many, only one page).  And though there are some over-arching themes, many of the chapters are true stand-alone chapters.  And each one gets you thinking…

Here’s one theme:  The authors argue that work should not consume your life.  Quit work at 5:00; don’t work weekends; “Forgoing sleep is a bad idea.”

But there is an exception to this “rule.”  And that is when you are overtaken by some great burst of inspiration.  Here’s their quote:

Ideas are immortal.  Inspiration is perishable.  If you want to do something, you’ve got to do it now.  Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator…  If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.

In this short chapter, they argue that when you fall under the spell of a moment of inspiration, do whatever it takes to turn that into action before it “perishes.”  Pull an all-nighter; work through the weekend, grab it before it leaves you.

Here’s a well known historical example.  Arguably the greatest piece of music ever written is Handel’s Messiah. (with apologies to the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”).  Do you know how he wrote it?  In one burst of inspiration.  And, in this case, it may have been truly the epitome of “inspiration.”  Though accounts vary (he locked himself in his room; he wrote it in a garden), it is commonly believed that he did not deviate from his task until it was finished.  He spent 24 days straight on the piece, and did not leave his work area even to eat (food was delivered to him).  Legend has it that he wrote the Hallelujah Chorus, the climax of the work, on his knees, and as he finished it, he handed the music pages to his assistant and said, with tears running down his face, “I thought I saw the face of God.”

Here’s what the Rework guys say.  If you have a burst of inspiration, recognize that it is “perishable.”  (great word!)  So, in such a moment, drop everything else, and do-it-now!


REWORK by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals