17 Essential Best Practices for Making Things Happen


I previously wrote about my PIF coworker Sarah Allen’s little rules of working life, which I thought was pretty awesome. I decided to think through some of my own rules, or as I’m calling them, “Best Practices for Making Things Happen”.

The idea is that these are all maxims that I live and work by, that I’ve learned over time and that I believe have made me more effective in accomplishing meaningful things.

The list is neither complete nor fully elucidated, but that’s totally in line with BP #2 and #7. =)

Would love to hear what you think: questions, feedback, etc.

Jason’s Best Practices for Making Things Happen

  1. Keep the promises you make to yourself. I learned this one from Stephen Covey – we make little promises to ourselves all the time (“I’m going to stop working on weekends.” or “I’ll definitely get a workout in tonight.”) These promises are in fact more important to keep than the ones you make to your customers, your boss or your family. Because private victories come before public ones.
  2. If you’ve got a good idea, try to take some kind of action on it right away. Too often good ideas slip away, either due to momentum (it was exciting at the moment, but less so now) or just through forgetfulness. So when you have a good idea, send an email to a potential collaborator, sketch out some designs, or at the very least, make an Evernote note for the idea.
  3. Insert a little personality / humanity into your communication. For a variety of reasons, most businesses tend to speak very formally to their customers. Professionals often write formally to each other as well. It’s stifling and dehumanizing. I’ve found very positive responses in just adding, say, a smiley to the end of a newsletter, or a friendly PS at the bottom of an otherwise formal email. Here are other ways to give your communication some personality.
  4. Tell people when their behavior is undermining the success of a shared outcome. While it might feel a little intimidating, it is your responsibility to proactively and responsibility alert folks that you’ve noticed they tend to interrupt the client (or choose undescriptive variable names or whatever!) and could they watch out for that in the future? Learning how to deliver negative feedback effectively is crucial.
  5. Make every effort to understand someone else’s motivations for acting a certain way, especially if you disagree with it. Humans are notoriously bad at appreciating how another person thinks and feels. What’s the back story here? How might this person’s experience, position, skillset, social group, and value system cause them to act in this way. Many disagreements and corporate disfunction would be resolved if we all did this.
  6. If you find yourself doing a lot of things only because “your boss said so”, it’s time to leave. As per BP #5, it is your job to understand what your boss cares about and what’s important for the organization. But if consistently you think your assignments are not the right ones, you’ve done your best to make the case for a different approach, and keep getting shut down or told to do it “because I said so”, you need to get out of this team, and maybe this organization.
  7. If it is 80% done, and getting it to perfect is going to take a lot more effort, ship it, and fix it later. You’ll be surprised to find out how few things actually need to be “perfect”. This doesn’t give you an excuse to phone it in, but I’m a big believer in being prolific over being perfect.
  8. Don’t gloss over the setbacks and hard parts of the story. I hate when speakers skip over the uncomfortable struggles and difficulties they faced in becoming successful. It makes the victory seem too magical and “meant to be”. When you share stories of your achievements, make sure to leave the tough parts in. I tried to do that in talking about my journey to winning the NCAA championships.
  9. Most people really hate uncertainty. If you’re an entrepreneurial type, remember that most people aren’t and they don’t like facing a future that is uncertain. Help them feel more comfortable by showing that your ideas have precedent, and give a sense of the possible outcomes and how likely they are to happen.
  10. Don’t offer too many options. Likewise, people don’t do well with too large a menu of options. Try to provide no more than three options and make sure one choice is the “recommended” one.
  11. Model the kind of behavior you want to see in those around you. If you want people to work long hours, work long hours. If you want people to admit when they make mistakes, do the same yourself. No one respects a hypocrite.
  12. Never get defensive. You should behave in such a way that if you’re ever called out on what you’ve done, you can look the other person in the eye and say in all honesty “I stand by that decision as it was the best one I could have made at the time.” If you can’t say that, ask yourself why not.
  13. If everyone thinks it is a good idea, it might not be a very good idea. The winners of hackathons and business plan competitions are rarely the most successful companies. The best ideas are typically controversial, and often look very much like bad ideas.
  14. Find out what’s going to be on the test. Remember those annoying kids who used to ask if anything was going to be on the test? Well, they were on to something. Make sure you know what metrics, feelings or judgements will define your success, and concentrate your efforts there.
  15. There is something valuable to be learned from everything. Even with “worthless” tasks, be they boring, impossible, unrelated to your normal responsibilities or just plain tedious, you won’t waste your effort if you learn something from your actions. It might be a skill, an insight about people, or just a deeper understanding of how a system works. Writing and reflecting helps you appreciate and capture those learning.
  16. If you’re achieving 100% of your goals, you aren’t thinking big enough. Only by really pushing yourself will you discover what you’re truly made out of. Whether it is a workout, a deadline, a business deal or a romantic partner, you’ve got to go out on a limb and reach for more than you think you can get.
  17. When the right opportunity arises, seize it by the fucking throat. Once in awhile, a very special opportunity emerges – to travel somewhere, meet someone special, do something amazing. When you get that gut feeling that this is a big deal, do not hesitate to drop everything else you’re doing and pour all your energies into wringing that opportunity for everything it is worth.


My friend Philip Guo asked me to make a short video highlighting and elaborating some of my favorite best practices. I did my five favorites in a little more than 6 minutes.