David Heinemeier Hansson

February 6, 2024

Celebrating a million copies of REWORK

It’s been 14 years since REWORK was first published. It was our first big-publisher book, and it hit the New York Times bestseller list right out the gate. In the first two years, it sold over 200,000 copies. And then... it just kept selling. Now it has passed one million copies sold around the world!

The book consists of 87 short essays, and is meant to be read in a single afternoon. It’s a business book for people who don’t have the patience to read a handful of ideas stretched to fit 300 pages. The kind of book that Jason and I would have loved to read, if somebody else had written it.

Although it wasn’t as much written as it was edited. Much to the shock and initial resistance of the publisher, we literally cut the manuscript in half in the last round of editing. We didn’t just kill our darlings, we went on a murder spree. What was left was an incredible dense tome of the very best lessons we’d accumulated over many years, told in plain English. 

No jargon, no filler, no bullshit.

That’s why the book has drawings for every essay! The publisher didn’t feel they could charge full price for a book that didn’t look as fat as other business books. But we refused to pad the material itself, so we did what every clever kid faced with an imposed page count has done a million times before us: We increased the font size, we shrunk the margins, and we bumped the line spacing. Oh, and we added a picture for every essay. That made the book look like every other 300-page business book.

But the essays themselves are so short, so punchy, that I’ll quote one of my favorites here in full. It’s called ASAP is Poison:

Stop saying ASAP. We get it. It’s implied. Everyone wants things done as soon as they can be done.

When you turn into one of these people who adds ASAP to the end of every request, you’re saying everything is high priority. And when everything is high priority, nothing is. (Funny how everything is a top priority until you actually have to prioritize things.) 

ASAP is inflationary. It devalues any request that doesn’t say ASAP. Before you know it, the only way to get anything done is by putting the ASAP sticker on it. 

Most things just don’t warrant that kind of hysteria. If a task doesn’t get done this very instant, nobody is going to die. Nobody’s going to lose their job. It won’t cost the company a ton of money. What it will do is create artificial stress, which leads to burnout and worse. 

So reserve your use of emergency language for true emergencies. The kind where there are direct, measurable consequences to inaction. For everything else, chill out.

Timeless and succinct. I yearn to hit that brevity today!

But I think that’s part of why this collection of mostly twenty-year old lessons continue to sell in such great numbers. REWORK was and is an antidote to the poison of not only ASAP, but business as usual. An uppercut to pompous MBA heads droning on and on about “synergies” or some shit like that.

So happy one million, REWORK! You’ve stood the test of time.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.