Cut to the Chase And 99 Other Rules to Liberate Yourself and Gain Back the Gift of Time
Summary of “Cut to the Chase”: Our time is the most precious thing we have; to look after it, it is important to know how to get straight to the point by understanding a number of rules; this book presents 100 of them.
By Stuart R. Levine, 206 pages, 2006.
Summary and Book Report of “Cut to the Chase”:
Much like The Unwritten Laws of Business, this book is a small collection of 100 concise rules, the goal of which is to make gains in efficiency by saving our time and the time of others. Here they are without further introduction; I have summarized them, providing more detail for those which seemed the most relevant to me:
Part 1: Start Now!
1. Cut to the Chase
We let time slip through our fingers every day due to emotions that don’t benefit us in any way, people who don’t value our time, and inefficient habits. We can fix that by concentrating on 3 principles, which are the foundations of this rule as well as the other 99:
- Define your goal. A well-defined goal is the compass you navigate by through changing conditions.
- Understand your environment. Continue to learn and understand the world around you. And yourself.
- Concentrate. Put an end to distractions and focus.
2. Just Start
Whatever you can do or dream that you can do, begin. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it! – Goethe
3. Get in early and go home on time
Too many people arrive at work quarter of an hour late, thinking that they will make up for lost time later, then they go get a cup of coffee, discuss the latest news with their co-workers, surf a few websites and, if they are lucky, get about one hour of “real work” done before lunch.
Don’t be like them and don’t confuse time spent at the office with time spent being productive.
4. I got it
As soon as you understand exactly what someone is in the middle of explaining to you, tell him simply one way or another “I understand.” This invites him to move on to something else. This simple phrase can save you precious time.
5. The first twenty minutes
As soon as you get to work, before checking your emails or your phone messages, take 20 minutes to plan your day: determine your most important priorities for the day, update your list of things to do, review your calendar, etc. Good preparation makes all the difference.
6. You’re killing me
What if you say “I understand” to someone and they continue to go on in more detail, and everyone is starting to get frustrated and impatient? Instead of getting mad or walking off, look at the person, laugh and say “You’re killing me. I understand completely. Let’s move on to the next point.” By being funny and direct, you break the tension that is building and allow the conversation to progress without offending anyone.
7. Get over it
When someone cuts us off while we are driving, we might feel mad, and that can quickly become road rage if we are not careful. When someone “cuts us off” at work, that can induce the same feelings. But staying mad costs us a lot of time, energy and concentration. Let it go.
8. It’s not always about you
It’s not necessarily about you when someone is impatient, annoyed or busy. Take a deep breath and step back.
9. What’s keeping you up at night?
This matter goes right to the heart of critical problems that affect your company or your life. Ask yourself the question. And keep a paper or pencil next to your bed: as soon as your thoughts start to torment you, write them down. Often, that will calm you and you will be able to sleep soundly.
10. Don’t hide your passion
If you are enthusiastic and passionate about your work, show it, and do your part.
Part 2: Think Clearly
11. Start with the end in mind
Know what you want to achieve before you begin.
12. Focus on one thing at a time
When you are constantly moving from task to task without finishing them, you are not being efficient because you always need a little time to “unadapt” from your old task and “adapt” to your new one.
13. Organize yourself first
Efficiency begins with a work environment that is clear and orderly.
14. Assumptions kill
Don’t assume that the people around you know what you want or how you spend your time. Communicate and dissipate any misunderstandings that might arise.
15. Think in bullets
We like bullets.
- They give punch to a presentation
- They are easy to read
- They get right to the point
Do the same thing when you think and when you speak.
16. Trust your gut
Sometimes, intuition is your best counselor. Listen to it.
17. Predict how long things will take
You can’t control time, but you can control how you plan and budget time by predicting accurately how much time you will spend on something. When you review your weekly to-do list, make a note of how much time you think it should take to do things, taking interruptions into account.
18. Tailor your message to your audience
Whether you are writing a report, a letter or a presentation, ask yourself:
- Who is the audience?
- What are they looking for?
- What level of detail do they need?
- How can the information I give them help them?
- How much information regarding context do they need?
- Is someone likely to take what I said the wrong way?
- Are they familiar with the jargon I am using?
- What kinds of examples and analogies will be most useful to them?
19. What’s been going better lately – and why?
In general, most people take time to analyze their mistakes. Do the same thing with your successes.
Part 3: Speed Up
20. Explode out of the blocks
A great start will help you gain momentum and set you on a winning path. Get up early and give yourself energy in the early morning before you get to work.
21. Every second counts
In order to better appreciate how much the time allotted to you is precious and limited, carve out one hour next weekend and find a quiet corner where you can work without being interrupted. Write down this question: What is my goal in my life? Then write. The answer will come sooner or later, but don’t stop until you have several sentences describing the goal for your life.
22. Know how things really get done
Don’t trust procedures and other reports to know what is going on in your area. Often, practice is different from theory. Go and see for yourself.
23. Build momentum
Divide a project into mini-objectives that allow you to create momentum for you and your team while keeping your enthusiasm intact by lining the path with regular victories.
24. Make sure your handoffs are clean
In a relay race, if the baton is released at the moment that a runner passes his teammate, it is almost impossible to make up the lost time and the rest of the runners must fight hard to try and make up a few seconds. It’s the same thing in projects with multiple stakeholders. Check your relays.
25. Bag consensus
It is useless to try and please everybody when you have to make a decision. But ask others their opinion and tell them how and when you will make your decision. That way you don’t have to report your choice to them if they don’t reply in time.
26. Breakthrough silos
Stovepipe operations, where every important part of the company operates in an independent manner without worrying about others, or about the whole company – are an enormous waste of time and energy. Break out of them and open the lines of communications between people.
27. Appeal to their enlightened self-interest
When you are trying to sell something – a product, a service, an idea, don’t talk only about that. Tell them how it will improve their life.
28. Measure twice, cut once
That old carpenter’s adage is not only about cutting wood. Actually, quite the contrary to wood, it is impossible to make up lost time. Before getting started on a project or task, analyze the pros and cons, and decide if it is worth cutting the wood or not.
29. Close the loop
Have you already done business with someone you tells you “Can we call you back if there are any problems?” Two weeks go by and still no call you and begin to wonder if everything is really going all right.
When people can’t close the loop, they leave others waiting, which is distracting and can subtlely change the relationship.
Don’t be like them. Keep others up to date.
30. Call an audible
Often in business, in order to stay ahead of the competition, it is important to anticipate changes before they arrive. Envision all the possibilities, then be on the lookout for signs signaling these possibilities – and act.
31. Beat change to the punch
Anticipate changes and go along with them. Nothing can hurt you more than resisting inevitable change.
32. To speed up, slow down
Sometimes when you go too fast, you don’t do things well enough and that can cost time or money. Pay attention to everything that seems like a redundancy – often it is there to salvage a process that was quickly and badly done.
Part 4: Be Direct
33. Teach people how to use your time
Tell your team exactly how you expect them to spend their time – and yours.
34. Treat other’s time as you would your own
Think of this as the golden rule for getting straight to the point. Prepare every meeting with your co-workers as if you were having a meeting with your CEO. And if you have a meeting with the CEO, prepare it twice more 😉
35. Know what’s being asked of you
Before beginning a project, find out exactly who is attending. It’s an enormous waste of time to go forward without a clear sense of where you are going.
36. If you want something, ask for it
Don’t beat around the bush, and don’t think that people will know what you want. Ask.
37. Tell them if the baby is ugly
When someone asks your opinion, give it honestly. First state what you find positive about the idea before saying what you think won’t work about it, that allows people to be more open to your suggestions.
38. Cut to the chase without drawing blood
If you steamroll past your coworkers you will alienate them. You might think you are getting straight to the point when you are simply cutting them out. Be careful.
39. Make sure everyone has the map
Every company should have a general plan laying out its primary objectives.
40. Tell them what’s on the test
There are two types of teachers: those who tell their pupils what topics are on the exam, allowing them to concentrate on the important elements, and those who don’t tell them anything so that they will review everything. In the world of business, the first way is definitely better: telling people how their performance will be evaluated allows them to focus on the most important things.
41. Know your work style – and theirs
Ask yourself “How do I like to work?” Observe yourself. The next time that you are very productive, make a note of the circumstances. Then ask your coworkers or your employees the question.
42. Clear the air
When you think a co-worker is mad at you, set things straight. Even though it is tempting to avoid uncomfortable conversations, these situations never resolve themselves. Even if the relationship appears to be normal, the frustration caused by problems that are not laid out on the carpet will affect your work.
43. Cut the bull
Too many conversations in the world of business don’t go anywhere because someone has offended someone else. But it’s no use beating around the bush. Stop the chit-chat.
44. Create a “no loitering” zone
We all know people who prevent us from working by taking up our precious time with their chatter. To prevent it, make your work area a “no loitering zone” and start by putting up a poster.
45. You can’t please everyone
When someone makes an unreasonable request, it is okay to tell them no. You can’t please everyone.
Part 5: Meet Smarter
46. People hate meetings for a reason
People don’t like to waste their time in useless discussions that are often the case in meetings. To make meetings productive work times you must 1) begin by announcing the subject and a specific time to end, 2) summarize the situation and 3) ask for ideas.
47. Every conversation should have a purpose
Don’t let your time be eaten up by prolonged business meals or conversations that have no place there. Ask yourself 1) what you mean to accomplish; 2) what you need from this person; 3)what information do you want to share with this person and 4) what do you want to do to add value to this person?
48. 120 seconds and out
A lot of people think that is it not very polite to just ask a quick question that is to the point and go off on long conversations out of courtesy. Ironically, the person before you expects you to get to the point quickly. Do so.
49. Know when you’re not needed
Before participating in anything, ask yourself if it is really important for you to be involved.
50. Master the ten-minutes meeting
Whenever possible, have 10-minute meetings. Prepare them.
51. Count noses
When you are about to make a significant offer, understand the position of each person that has a voice in the matter and how many you can count on.
52. Stay on course
Nothing is more frustrating than reaching the finish line of a project and discovering that at some point, you have turned left instead of turning right. To avoid this, make sure that everyone involved stays on the same page.
53. Don’t grandstand
We know that everyone loves to hear themselves talk. Don’t be that way. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, including yours.
54. Have a meeting before the meeting
In less than 10 or 15 minutes, have a pre-meeting before an important meeting, to be sure that your whole team is in synch and prepared.
After every significant presentation or meeting, hold a debrief with your team to discuss what happened. Ask yourself “Have we accomplished everything we set out to? Does everyone clearly understand what the next steps are?”
56. Stay in touch
Whether you are a CEO or an assistant manager, if you don’t regularly talk with your customers, you are on the sidelines. Stay in touch with those on the playing field.
57. Master the graceful exit
Avoid falling into the trap of meaningless discussions at the end of a meeting with a customer. Ask them if there anything else needed and, if not, summarize what you have talked about and tell them when they can expect to talk with you again.
58. Recognize when it’s all been said
Part 6: Move Forward
59. Look at the big picture
Before defining any important objectives, it helps to look at the big picture. Determine your Strengths, your Weaknesses, your Opportunites and your Threats with SWOT Analysis.
60. Know your weaknesses, but play to your strengths
Concentrating on your weaknesses in order to try and improve them is a waste of time. Be aware of them, try to keep them to an acceptable minimum, and concentrate on your strengths. And know how to identify them: don’t think that because something is really easy for you that is has no value in other people’s eyes.
61. Think three moves ahead
Plan for your successor. This lets you know whether you can quit or progress easily and to identify rising stars in your company and help them reach great heights.
62. Know when your career is stuck
Pay attention to roles and positions that can burn up years of your career without helping you grow or advance.
63. Make opportunity happen
An opportunity seized wisely, can take you further in a few minutes than several months of planning and working. Line yourself up with opportunities. Stay close to people to whom good things happen. Learn from them. If you see a problem, be part of the solution.
Don’t be in a vicious circle where you don’t have time to hire new recruits or to train them or delegate tasks to them. If you see that you are in such a circle, break out of it. Look at repetitive tasks in particular that can give you a return on your investment in the long run if you take time to train someone how to do them.
65. Life is negotiation
If you are breathing, you are negotiating. We negotiate all the time on an incredible number of things. Make every one of these negotiations easier by limiting your wishes to the two or three elements that count the most.
66. Know when to wait
If the timing is not right, it doesn’t matter whether your ideas are clever or whether you present them well. Know how to identify a good — and a bad — moment.
67. Know when not to wait
Waiting for someone’s approval is unnecessary and a waste of everybody’s time. Be autonomous and let your team members be the same.
68. If you need a drummer, hire a drummer
If you try to build a music group and you have everyone, except the drummer, don’t hire a pianist who can play little drums. If you need a marketing representative to boost sales, hire a real one, with experience and a track record, not a sociology student with brilliant ideas about everything.
69. Don’t be afraid to hire people you’re going to lose
Don’t hire someone mediocre just so you can keep them for the long term. Hire someone you are sure will leave some day or someone else because they are ambitious and talented. If you develop real synergy with them, they can do a lot more for you in the time they are there than decades of work from someone less talented.
Part 7: Cut Back
70. Decide what not to do
Don’t hesitate to scratch things off your list of things to do. For every task, ask yourself :
- Will this bring something of value to the organization?
- Is this directly connected to a strategic objective?
- Is this a critical thing that me or my team can work on efficiently?
- Does this directly affect my customers?
- Will this teach me something new and significant?
If the response to all these questions is no, then either eliminate it or delegate it.
71. Addition by subtraction
We all have people who take more than they give, whether they are a friend, a co-worker or someone else. Avoid them as much as possible. Friends should enrich your life, not do the opposite.
72. Rip it in half
I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.- Truman Capote
Whatever the task, you are probably doing too much. Reduce it by cutting out all the unimportant parts.
73. The highlighter is mightier than the sword
Underline the important points in what you say, whether oral or written, so that you can get your message across better.
74. A picture is worth a thousand words
75. Tell a story
Numbers can help you build a house but stories convey the message in the house. Men are fond of stories, pictures, and metaphors. Use them.
76. On it. Pending. Done.
Create shortcuts with your coworkers. For example, you can agree on the code “On it, Pending, Done.” When you ask them something, they can send you an email “On it,” to tell you that they are working on it. If they meet an obstacle and the task is going to take longer than expected, they can send you an email “Pending” to explain the problem succinctly and eventually ask your help. Once they have finished they can send you an email “Done.”
77. … To get to the other side
In school, we learned the bad habit of providing the conclusion after a long argument. This wastes everyone’s time. Present your conclusion immediately and argue afterwards.
78. Weed out your reading pile
You can’t read everything, but you can stay up with what is going on in your area. Choose what you read carefully and don’t hesitate to eliminate unimportant items in your current pile.
79. TMI (Too Much information)
Sometimes you can drown in information that comes from all parts of the company and which are all considered important. For every report that you receive regularly, ask yourself 1) what is the purpose and whether the report is relevant with respect to that; 2) how much time does it take to write and be read; and 3) will you be able to reach your goal with less information and what sort of information is vital.
80. Good enough is good enough
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to do your best. But you should know when to stop so that you don’t get bogged down in sterile perfectionism. Know when to stop when you can be generally satisfied with the result.
Part 8: Watch Out
81. Your time is your life
Value your time and don’t let it be eaten up with whatever comes along. Don’t refuse to help people but set standards from which you will not deviate. Favor people who want to learn, those who clearly want to advance and those who respect your time.
82. Don’t let your smartphone take over
You would not give a hammer or a wrench the power to decide when it should be used. Don’t give that power to your smartphone. Set times and limits for their use.
83. Avoid toxic people
You find toxic people in every organization – those who have some need or other that distracts everyone around them. Avoid them. These are counter-productive traps.
84. Don’t let distractions derail you
Concentrate on what you have to do. Nothing is more damaging to productivity than all these distractions – often voluntary – that prevent you from concentrating on what you are doing.
85. Don’t hang in the door and chat
Be respectful of other people’s time. The next time you go to a coworker’s office, be aware that, if his hands are on his keyboard, or if he has a phone in his hand, or if he is in the middle of reading a document, you are interrupting him. If he did not specifically invite you, go away and come back later or send him an email.
86. Cut down on the fire drills
If everything is urgent, nothing is. Respect yourself and respect those around you by planning and eliminating all alarms or unnecessary fires.
87. Know when you’re stuck
When you are blocked, you are blocked. There is no point in spinning your wheels. Ask yourself: Do I have enough information? Can someone help me make progress more quickly? Do I have enough authority to move forward? Can I do it a different way? Am I simply afraid of making a decision?
88. When you hear something once, pay attention. When you hear something twice, act
We lose a lot of time by ignoring red flags and alerts because they make us uncomfortable. But if you receive the same complaint twice for the same thing, lend an ear and act. It is often a sign of a real problem that needs fixing.
89. If you sense trouble, do something
Even the little misunderstandings can snowball and become conflicts. It’s up to you to decide if you leave a snowball to become an avalanche. At the very moment that you notice the confusion or a growing conflict, act to nip it in the bud.
90. Procrastination takes years off your life
In a recent televised intervention, doctors specializing in anti-aging, Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz – co-authors of the bestseller YOU: The Owner’s Manual, showed that certain kinds of stress were much more likely to cause premature aging than others. Notably, the act of putting things off until tomorrow and leaving things unfinished, that is to say, procrastination.
91. Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment
If you and your team spend the day pushing the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower, hoping to move it, you will have been very busy but not very productive. Don’t confuse the two.
92. Don’t make the same mistake twice
If you make a lot of mistakes, learn from them. If you make the same mistake twice, you are wasting time.
93. Sweat the small stuff
When you get to the point, don’t forget the small details. When you ignore the “little things,” they have a have habit of becoming big problems.
Part 8: Find Balance
94. Don’t let a difficult coworker dominate your life
Hell is other people. -Jean-Paul Sartre
95. Manage your personal life as well as your personal life
What is the point in keeping a detailed account of your expenses at the office if you must go home just to look for your bank statement? Why bother to plan your meetings all week long if you forget to buy tickets to the theater where your daughters are playing on Saturday? Why work so hard during the week if you are ignoring everyone you are working for?
96. Renew yourself every day
A person must listen to a little music, read a little poetry, and look at a beautiful picture every day so that the daily necessities don’t obscure the sense of beauty that God has planted in the human soul. -Goethe
97. Take back the weekend
Don’t take work home with you on Friday. Finish all the little things that are pending so that your mind is not cluttered with them and so that you can completely enjoy your weekend.
98. Turn the page
At the end of the day, take 5 or 10 minutes to tidy your office and put things in order for the next day, then leave your work behind you. Turn the page for the evening.
99. Know when to put the book down
When you are irritable, whether you are tired and can’t concentrate, or whether you get up in the middle of the night, take a step back. It is time to more than simply “turn the page” on a day’s work. Whether it is a long weekend or a real vacation, you need a break. Take one.
100. A bottle of wine, a cut flower.
The intense discipline necessary to stay focused on your goals for your life and for your career result in more time for you, your family, and the things you appreciate. It’s the reward of getting to what’s important. Be aware of those moments. Cherish them. They invigorate you and help you maintain that intense discipline necessary to develop your career – and yourself.
Book Critique of “Cut to the chase”:
I will get straight to the point and tell you that this book “Cut to the chase” is an excellent collection of rules, some of which seemed to me to be absolutely excellent and made me think. As with The Unwritten Laws of Business, I think however that many of them will be in one ear and out the other.
I am beginning to ask myself about the relevance of collections of rules. They are more than anything collections of short texts related to each other by a common theme, and this format often prevents books from really getting in depth on the subject. I think almost every day about the contents of The Path of Least Resistance, that book was so profound, but honestly, hardly at all about The Unwritten Laws of Business since I read it. I think the best use that you can get from collections is to put them on your desk and read one rule a day, then try to apply it during that day. That way, we can begin to get a handle on the rules and tricks that are the most useful. These books are also relevant if we encounter a problem specifically dealt with by one of these rules – as long as you can remember it when the time comes.
The book itself is good. Full of pictures, humor, and even a little poetry. The author is clearly a football fan and uses sports for several of his images, which might put some readers off – and not others. The rules waver for the most part between good and excellent.
- Short and concise
- Lots of excellent rules, most of them good
- Lots of pictures, with a sense of humor and a penchant for poetry.
- Does not deal with the subject in depth
- Lots of sports imagery and notably football, which might put some readers off – or not
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