Stuff You Wish You Knew When You Were Young

This post contains my personal notes from the book: Stuff I Wish I’d Known When I Started Working by Fergus O’ Connell.

You need to aim high. The opportunity is there and there is evidence that these opportunities can be seized; any mountain can be climbed and any summit can be reached. There is no ceiling. The ceilings we set may come from our parents, our assumptions and our thoughtlessness about deciding what we want to do with the precious life of ours.

You also need to live in the moment. You do not want to be in an endless pursuit of the perfect life while missing what is there in front of you. There is only today. So enjoy the journey. Appreciate what you have. Be grateful. The journey is more important than the destination. So:

  • Slow down, do less.
  • Be present.
  • Disconnect.
  • Be present to people.
  • Get out in the nature.
  • Enjoy your food.
  • Take a different route to work.
  • See if you can find pleasure in anything you do.

Do not manage your time. Do not work crazy hours. Do less.  Do things that are only wildly important to you or your boss. Do not multi-task. Get buy-in from your boss. Make sure the things you have to do are measurable – not vague. Give your best to the things you consider wildly important. Keep this wildly important list to a minimum. Say ‘no’ nicely. Cut away other options and commit and focus. Single-task without interruption.

Bosses make mistakes. The only way to point out to your boss that he or she has made a mistake, and to survive the encounter, is to use facts. You can also ask them: Why is this a good idea? Tell me the thinking behind this. Ask them sometimes if they would be happy if someone did that to them.

Bosses like to have their problems solved. So, if you go to them with a problem, you also need to point out the solutions. Bosses also have a tendency to be delusional – the only way to treat a delusional boss is with facts, not seniority, personality clash, their aggressiveness or assertiveness, then you will fail. Bosses also like long hours- the only way to get around that is to give them targets before hand and meet those targets.

It is not talent or passion that will get you far. It is commitment and perseverance. The commitment to get started and the perseverance to get going. Once you commit, once you cross that bridge or burn those boats, all sorts of unexpected things happen: opportunities emerge, doors open, people emerge. Whenever you look at someone who is called an “overnight success”, you will find in the background that they have been grafting away for years. Persistence is important because you never know when success is around the corner.

Common sense is a skill that can be learned. The principles of common sense are:

  • Things don’t get done if people don’t do them. People have to do the work or else the work can’t be done.
  • There is always a sequence of events. This is how everything gets done. Knowing the sequence of events in advance is called a plan. If you want to plan anything, if you want to estimate the time something is going to take, the number of people you need, the cost or the budget – you need to figure out the sequence of events.
  • You need to know what you are trying to do precisely and not vaguely. Whatever you are trying to do has to be well-defined. It has to be box and not a cloud. If you do not know what exactly you are trying to do, you will definitely fail.
  • If you looking at a complex solution, the chance is that you are wrong. Ask yourself whether there is simpler solution. Many times you will find one.
  • Things rarely turn out as expected. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And so you need to have contingency in your plans. You also need to do a risk assessment. This means:
  1. Make a list of all things that can go wrong with your project. These are the risks.
  2. Grade their likelihood of happening: 1 is low, 3 is high.
  3. Grade their impact if it happens: 1 is low, 3 is high
  4. Multiply the likelihood by the impact. For items that score 6 or 9, identify some actions you can take to reduce or eliminate those risks.
  • Things either are or they aren’t. Break the project into the list of jobs to be done. Each job can exist in only two states: it is either done or not done.
  • Look at things from others’ point of view. Especially when you make decisions. How will they view each choice that you might make? And, how will this affect your decision making?

Communication is the most important thing in success. A successful project is happy stakeholders. The stakeholders are the people who are affected by the project in some way. Every stakeholder has “win conditions”- the best possible outcome to the project. To get happy stakeholders you have to deliver the win conditions. The key to doing this is communication. Make sure you communicate at the beginning of the project-find out who the stakeholders are, what their win conditions are and get it in writing. Make sure you communicate throughout the project. Make sure you communicate what you want them to do.

You need to do something creative in your life and not let anything take that away from you – not job, not family, not anything. If you do not do this, then there will be always something missing from your life, some emptiness, some incompleteness. This is to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Learn how to make decisions. You can use this framework:

  • State the issue. State the real issue. To do that, state what you think the real issue. Ask why?- not once but five times.
  • Say what the ideal solution would be.
  • Identify a range of solutions: nothing, more information, other person
  • Pick one. Ask: What will happen if I am not right? What is the worst that can happen? Think of pros and cons. But, finally, you have to do something.

The way to deal with email is:

  • Check email three times a day: when you come to work, when you go for lunch, when you go home.
  • If something really, truly has to be dealt with, then do so. Otherwise leave it.
  • Once a week, starting at the most recent, go through your inbox and empty it.

You will fail. When you do fail, there are three things to do:

  • First, take responsibility.
  • Second, learn the lessons- at least one.
  • Finally, do better next time.

Find your passion. See if you can make a living from it. If you cannot, see if you can spend more and more time at it. To find your passion, write down how you would like to spend your days, with no limitations. Then, the best thing is simply go and try things and see what you like best.

If you are running a business, it is important that you do not run out of money. It is also important that you are passionate about the business and you are not doing the business just for the sake of money. Your customers need to pay you on time and make sure you have a decent profit margin even if your product is cheap and do not depend just on volume. If you run into money problems, try to make deals with your creditors.

People don’t buy what you sell, they buy what you believe, they buy why you do it. Be passionate about what you are selling. Love the people you sell to – make their lives better by what you give them. And make sure you have targets for your selling.

When it comes to management there are two key points. The first is that one size does not fit everybody. Sometimes you have to leave people to do it themselves; sometimes you have to micromanage. The other thing we have to go to where the problem is and solve it rather than stay where everything is good.

Most meetings are a complete waste of time. To hold effective meetings, the following are important:

  • Do we really need to meet?
  • Who really needs to be at this meeting?
  • A meeting needs a goal, an agenda or plan and a chairperson.
  • Decline, refuse or do not go if you are not given these three things.
  • Be on time.
  • No multitasking or device usage.
  • If you are not getting anything out of the meeting, it should be okay to leave.
  • Meetings are not for information sharing.
  • Assign action items at the conclusion of a meeting.
  • Do not go if a meeting does not meet the above.

The key to getting a raise and the key to getting promoted is to do what you said you would do. The key to getting promoted is to act as if you already had the new job.

The basic principle in negotiation is win-win. Splitting 50/50 is good. The rewards should be proportional to the amount of work each side has to put in. You can split the difference in price you are negotiating, give concessions, think outside the box, but backing people into a corner or gloating is not good. Conflict and arguments are bad, so rather than doing these walk away and do not engage.

To network, do the following: Start collecting business cards. Start talking to people. Have an online presence. Start going to events. Build a list.

Know how much stuff you are trying to do and whether you have enough people to do all that stuff.

If you are going to do a presentation, here is what you need to remember:

  • Give them something useful.
  • Ditch the powerpoint.
  • Give them the takeaway in the first 30 seconds.
  • Take them through the detail
  • Do not read a script.
  • If you are naturally shy, think you are speaking to one person.
  • Don’t turn your back to the audience and do not talk to the slides.
  • Remind the audience of the take away.

A plan consists of five things:

  • What precisely are you trying to do?
  • What jobs have to be done to get to 1st goal?
  • Who is going to make sure the jobs gets done?
  • Who is going to do the jobs for goal 2?
  • What are we going to do when things don’t turn out as expected?
  1. What: What are we trying to do?
  2. When: When will it be done?
  3. Work: The amount of work involved in getting the thing done.
  4. Quality: How do we ensure the quality of the jobs that we do?

If you write reports, keep it as brief as possible.

In a business , the key thing is this: Is somebody prepared to pay money for your product. So, put together what you think the product or service should be. Try and sell it.

William H McRaven







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