88 Actionable Ideas from 5 Books that Will Immediately Make You More Effective

Timeless Lessons from Tim Ferriss, Peter Thiel, Jim Collins, John Doerr, and Simon Sinek

Jake Wilder
Feb 21 · 7 min read
Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

I recently summed up some of my favorite leadership and business books, trying to distill them into a handful of actionable ideas. Whether this helps anyone or not yet, I don’t know. But I did find it helpful to me.

It’s easy to read a book, take away a few key points, and then move on with life. Even with the best implementation strategies, the daily struggles eventually get in the way and we fall back into old habits. Having a few periodic reminders is a good way to reset.

Take what you like. Use what you can. Ignore the rest.

  1. Being miserable while you’re young and physically capable is a poor sacrifice for an enjoyable retirement.
  2. Your interest and energy are cyclical. Bias your work to when you’re most productive.
  3. Don’t give people the chance to say no. Most people will say no before you begin, but hesitate to stop something that’s ongoing.
  4. Focus on emphasizing your strengths as opposed to incrementally improving your weaknesses.
  5. Be wary of rationalizing poor situations. Ask yourself: “Do I really think that this will improve or am I creating an excuse for inaction?”
  6. Aim high. The fiercest competition is for “realistic” goals since most people don’t believe they can accomplish great things.
  7. Excitement is the objective. Don’t ask, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” Ask “What would make me excited?”
  8. Focus on the critical few over the trivial many. Being busy is a guise for distracting yourself with the latter.
  9. The Pareto Principle states that 20% of the inputs will create 80% of the results. Find and execute on the 20%.
  10. If you find yourself saying that you have a lack of time, you actually have a lack of priorities.
  11. Ask yourself: “What are the top 3 activities I use to fill time to feel as though I’ve been productive?”
  12. Limit your daily to-do list to 2 mission critical items.
  13. Finish your highest priority items before noon.
  14. Check your email twice per day, once at noon and once at 4pm.
  15. Focus meetings on making decisions regarding pre-defined situations. Don’t use them to define a problem. Always insist on an agenda.
  16. Delegate as much as possible. Problems tend to disappear once you stop being an information bottleneck.
  17. Set your communication rules. Few others have any, so yours will become the default standard.
  18. First eliminate. Then automate. Then delegate. Don’t simply waste someone else’s time.
  19. The worst-case scenario is never as bad as you make it in your head.
  20. Mobility and flexibility are key parts to a fulfilling life.
  1. The first step in creating a compelling vision is to question what you think you know about the past.
  2. Look at your future as a definitive vision. Define the gap between where you are today and this future state.
  3. When you look at this gap, there are two potential types of progress needed to bridge it: horizontal progress (one to n) and vertical progress (zero to one).
  4. Sustainable advantage comes from vertical progress.
  5. It is better to risk boldness than triviality.
  6. Look for the valuable company that no one is building.
  7. Aim to be a profitable company within a narrowly defined target market. Then you can expand to other markets.
  8. Find ways to measure durability and long-term health, not simply short-term growth. It’s okay to be qualitative in these areas.
  9. Your product won’t grow to leverage large-scale network effects unless it’s also valuable to people when the network is small and just beginning.
  10. Always err on the side of starting too small because it’s easier to dominate a small market.
  11. When your sample size is one, don’t worry so much about statistics.
  12. The easiest way to build a strong company culture is to hire people who align with it.
  13. Don’t fight the perk war. Without meaning and an opportunity to grow, perks are irrelevant. Also, anyone who can be swayed by free dry cleaning is unlikely to have long-term loyalty.
  14. Talented people have plenty of options. Ask yourself why they should come work for you when they could get more money somewhere else.
  15. Make every person in the company responsible for doing one unique thing. Every employee should know that they’ll be evaluated on how well they do that one thing.
  16. Your products won’t sell themselves. Develop a solid sales and distribution team and optimize it around multiple strategies.
  17. If you don’t see any salespeople around you, then you’re the salesperson.
  18. The importance of a founder is that their vision creates alignment and brings out the best work of others within the company.
  1. Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.
  2. An OBJECTIVE is the WHAT to be achieved. It’s a significant, specific milestone.
  3. KEY RESULTS specify HOW we achieve the objective. They are measurable and time-bound.
  4. Hard goals drive better performance than easy goals. And specific goals drive better performance than vague ones.
  5. Clearly defined, meaningful goals, written down and shared freely, are one of our best tools to drive engagement at work.
  6. When you can let people help make a decision or have a hand in a strategy, they’re more invested in executing it.
  7. You can correct wrong decisions with initial results. Non-decisions get us nowhere and teach us nothing.
  8. People need more than milestones for motivation. Leaders need to help them understand the reasons behind their tasks.
  9. With every commitment, you forfeit your chance to commit to something else.
  10. When goals are public and visible to all, the entire company is empowered to spot and attack problem areas.
  11. Alignment is nothing more than helping people understand what you want them to do.
  12. People can’t connect with others that they can’t see. Networks won’t grow in silos.
  13. Set aggressive goals and don’t expect to achieve all of them. Google sets the criteria at 70% to encourage moonshots and tolerate failure.
  14. Every engineer will underestimate how long it takes to get something done. Know this and plan for it.
  15. Stretch goals are crushing if people don’t think they’re achievable.
  16. The key to success is to set aggressive goals, achieve most of them, reflect and learn, then repeat.
  1. If you’re content to be good, you’ll never be great.
  2. Never stop trying to be qualified for your job.
  3. When things go well, look out the window and give credit to factors outside of yourself.
  4. When things go poorly, look in the mirror and take ownership.
  5. Don’t use compensation systems to turn lazy people into hard workers. Use it to create an environment where strong performers thrive and poor performers leave.
  6. Consistently apply your standards at all times and at all levels, especially in upper management.
  7. The best way to show you appreciate high performers is to not burden them with low performers.
  8. When in doubt, don’t hire someone. Keep looking.
  9. When you think you need to make a personnel change, it’s time to take action.
  10. If you find yourself micromanaging someone, you’ve likely made a poor hire.
  11. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.
  12. Create a team that will debate vigorously to find the best answer, but then will unify behind the decision.
  13. Set a bold, compelling vision. But constantly refine the path to achieve it with the brutal facts of reality.
  14. The key isn’t to have better information, it’s making sure that people recognize and use that information.
  15. Understand what you can be the best at. Just as important, know what you cannot be the best at.
  16. Focus your energy on being the best within a carefully selected area, and then seek continual improvement from there.
  17. If your rules are in place to manage a small percentage of poor performers, you’ll overly constrain and drive away the high performers. Which leads to more poor performers and more need for rules and bureaucracy.
  18. Don’t just focus on what you accomplished. Focus on what you accomplished compared to what you wanted to accomplish.
  19. “Stop doing” lists are more impactful than “to do” lists.
  20. Strong performers, more than anything else, want to be part of a winning team. Create an environment where they can produce meaningful, tangible results.
  21. If you want a bad goal, set it with bravado. If you want a good one, set it with understanding.
  22. If you look at your life and know that your short time on earth has been well spent and mattered, be happy.
  1. People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.
  2. Understand the difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when someone comes back a few times. Loyalty is when customers are willing to turn down a better price to continue doing business with you.
  3. Manipulations don’t breed loyalty. These gains are purely short-term.
  4. Financial incentives and punishments won’t motivate people on a personal level.
  5. The most powerful driver for loyalty is to create employees and customers that believe in your vision.
  6. Develop a clear sense of why you do what you do and you won’t need to worry so much about differentiation.
  7. Develop trust by showing people that you share common values and beliefs.
  8. Focus on communicating what you believe. People are drawn to leaders who excel in doing this.
  9. If you can’t clearly articulate why your organization exists, you shouldn’t expect people to be excited about why they’re coming to work.
  10. Don’t hire for skills. You can teach skills. Hire for attitude and purpose.
  11. Instead of trying to come up with all of the good ideas, focus on creating an environment where great ideas can happen.
  12. All leaders need to have two things: a vision of a world that doesn’t yet exist and the ability to communicate it.

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