Why Do We Assume It Has to Be Crazy at Work?

The title of this post is the central question that Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hanson are trying to answer in their book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. Here is the two primary reasons they think that work has gotten so crazy.

There are two primary reasons: (1) The workday is being slides into tiny, fleeting work moments by an onslaught of physical and virtual distractions. And (2) an unhealthy obsession with growth at any costs sets towering, unrealistic expectations that stress people out.

The rest of their book is a series of short essays to help you combat the craziness at work so that you can build a business that is calm and measured and treats employees well. Here are a few highlights from my reading of the book.

If you want to make a good product the thing that makes the the product (the company) also needs to be good and healthy1. They also say that this means you will have to have versions of the company and continue to be on the lookout for bugs in the company function that need to be fixed2.

Fried and Hanson align strongly with Cal Newport on many occasions as well. They expect to build a quiet company with library rules in the office, if you even come into the office. They say that you need to protect the time of your employees if you want to get good work out of them3. They also contend that most companies say their disrupting something mainly to get you to work extra4, and they invoke the family thing so that you sacrifice like you would for family, while the company will drop you at the second it becomes convenient5.

The best companies aren’t families. They’re supporters of families. Allies of families. They’r there to provide healthy, fulfilling work environments so that when workers shut their laptops at a reasonable hour they’re the best husbands, wives, parents, siblings, and children they can be.

When it comes to feeling overwhelmed at work they have a few good insights, including the how long the day feels in the quote below.

Every day your workday is like flirting from Chicago to London. But why does the flight feel longer than your time in the office? It’s because the flight is uninterrupted, continuous time. #41

In the words of Fried and Hanson, modern day offices are interruption factories6 and that we aim for doing more instead of choosing the right things to do7

To combat this, their employees have office hours like College Professors8. If you have a question, you show up during office hours to ask it and if that’s a week, you wait.

They want their employees to own the vast majority of their time9 so they don’t have shared calendars and meetings are very rare.

Basecamp also doesn’t offer all those “fun” perks like a nap room because they feel it’s mostly about encouraging you to never leave the office10. Nor do they believe in real-time work chat, which they did use for a few years because it’s an all day meeting.

Following group chat at work is like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda. It’s completely exhausting.

Overall Fried and Hanson figure that most of the time you feel crazy not because you’re unproductive but because there is way too much to do11. Forget the hacks, and say no more often.

Time-management hacks, life hacks, work hacks. These all reflect an obsession with trying to squeeze more time out of the day, but rearranging your daily patterns to find more time for work isn’t the problem. Too much shit do do is the problem.

Should You Read It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work?

This book is really a collection of essays grouped into themes and there is overlap between themes, which isn’t a bad thing.

I liked the focus of the book, building a calm business and life. I wonder how you do that at the beginning? Did Hanson stay up late in school to launch Basecamp and Ruby on Rails?

As with many of these books we’re hearing from a successful person, not someone trying to get something off the ground. This often feels like a disconnect for people trying to build something or trying to get some recognition.

How do I get there without a bunch of foot work to be noticed?

They do acknowledge that they have worked up to this point and it will take time to offer the same type of calm environment in your business. I guess that makes this aspirational then? In which case, you should read the book regularly to check your current practices against it.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work is certainly on my list to read again in a few years to see where my business sits against this ideal. Hopefully, it don’t have a crazy business running me ragged.

Purchase It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work on Amazon

Photo by: clement127


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  11. Page 172