Highlights from “It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy at Work”

These are my highlights from the book “It Doesn’t Have To be Crazy at Work” by Fried, Jason; Hansson and David Heinemeier, owners of BaseCamp.

Redefining Productivity

We don’t believe in busyness at Basecamp. We believe in effectiveness. How little can we do? How much can we cut out? Instead of adding to-dos, we add to-don’ts.

Rather than put endless effort into every detail, we put lots of effort into separating what really matters from what sort of matters from what doesn’t matter at all. The act of separation should be your highest-quality endeavor.

The only way to get more done is to have less to do. Saying no is the only way to claw back time. Don’t shuffle 12 things so that you can do them in a different order, don’t set timers to move on from this or that. It’s not time management, it’s obligation elimination. Everything else is snake oil.

People should be missing out! Most people should miss out on most things most of the time. That’s what we try to encourage at Basecamp. JOMO! The joy of missing out.

It’s not worth trading sleep for a few extra hours at the office. Not only will it make you exhausted, it’ll literally make you stupid. The science is clear on this: Continued sleep deprivation batters your IQ and saps your creativity.

Office Environment

[Sometimes] someone says something, or acts in a certain way, and someone else blows up about it. From afar it looks like an overreaction. You can’t figure out what the big deal is. There’s something else going on. Here’s what’s going on: The trust battery is dead.

[Group] chat puts conversations on conveyor belts that are perpetually moving away from you. If you’re not at your station when the conversation rolls by, you’ll never get a chance to put in your two cents.

If everyone needs to see it, don’t chat about it…. Give the discussion a dedicated, permanent home that won’t scroll away in five minutes.

Business Paradigm

The opposite of conquering the world isn’t failure, it’s participation.

[T]rying to teach a small company how to act like a big one rarely does anyone any good.

[W]hy not [s]ell to small businesses on one model and also have a group of people dedicated to servicing big businesses? Because we don’t want to be a two-headed company with two cultures. Selling to small businesses and selling to enterprises take two very different approaches with two very different kinds of people.

As we continued to hear fellow entrepreneurs reminiscing about the good old days, the more we kept thinking, “Why didn’t they just grow slower and stay closer to the size they enjoyed the most?” Whatever the pressures, there’s no law of nature dictating that businesses must grow quickly and endlessly. There’s only a bunch of business-axiom baloney like “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Says who? We decided that if the good old days were so good, we’d do our best to simply settle there. Maintain a sustainable, manageable size.

When you deal with people who have trouble, you can either choose to take the token that says “It’s no big deal” or the token that says “It’s the end of the world.” Whichever token you pick, they’ll take the other.

Project Management

At Basecamp, we don’t dread the deadline, we embrace it. Our deadlines remain fixed and fair. They are fundamental to our process—

What’s variable is the scope of the problem—the work itself.

Another way to think about our deadlines is that they’re based on budgets, not estimates.

Nearly all product work at Basecamp is done by teams of three people. It’s our magic number….

What is it with three? …It’s an odd number, so there are no ties. It’s powerful enough to make a dent, but also weak enough to not break what isn’t broken. Big teams make things worse all the time by applying too much force to things that only need to be lightly finessed. The problem with four is that you almost always need to add a fifth to manage. The problem with five is that it’s two too many. And six, seven, or eight on a team will inevitably make simple things more complicated than they need to be. Just like work expands to fill the time available, work expands to fill the team available. Small, short projects quickly become big, long projects when too many people are there to work on them.

If the boss is constantly pulling people off one project to chase another, nobody’s going to get anything done. “Pull-offs” can happen for a number of reasons, but the most common one is that someone senior has a new idea that Just Can’t Wait. These half-baked, right-in-the-middle-of-something-else new ideas lead to half-finished, abandoned projects that litter the landscape and zap morale. That’s why rather than jumping on every new idea right away, we make every idea wait a while. Generally a few weeks, at least. That’s just enough time either to forget about it completely or to realize you can’t stop thinking about it. What makes this pause possible is that our projects don’t go on forever. Six weeks max, and generally shorter. That means we have natural opportunities to consider new ideas every few weeks…. This approach also prevents unfinished work from piling up. Having a box full of stale work is no fun. Happiness is shipping: finishing good work, sending it off, and then moving on to the next idea.

Project Planning

We don’t want reactions. We don’t want first impressions. We don’t want knee-jerks. We want considered feedback. Read it over. Read it twice, three times even.

[A]fter [a] brief period of exploration at the beginning of a project—it’s time to focus in and get narrow. It’s time for tunnel vision

It’s not that new approaches or ideas are bad, but their timing may well be. Always keeping the door open to radical changes only invites chaos and second-guessing. Confidently close that door. Accept that better ideas aren’t necessarily better if they arrive after the train has left the station. If they’re so good, they can catch the next one.

Product Development

[M]any best practices are purely folklore. No one knows where they came from, why they started, and why they continue to be followed.

You’ll often hear that people don’t like change, but that’s not quite right. People have no problem with change they asked for. What people don’t like is forced change—change they didn’t request on a timeline they didn’t choose. Your “new and improved” can easily become their “what the [heck]?” when it is dumped on them as a surprise.

This doesn’t mean your new work sucks, just that people are usually in the middle of something that’s more important to them than a change to your product. They’re already invested in what they have to do and they’re already familiar with how they’re going to do it. And then you toss a change at them that immediately makes their life a little more complicated. Now they have a new thing to learn right in the middle of having an old thing to do.

It’s not free to honor old agreements or maintain old products. That’s the price of having a legacy. That’s the price of being successful enough that you have customers who liked you before you made your most recent thing. You should celebrate that! Be proud of your heritage.

If you want to know the truth about what you’ve built, you have to ship it. You can test, you can brainstorm, you can argue, you can survey, but only shipping will tell you whether you’re going to sink or swim.

At Basecamp we live this philosophy to the extreme. We don’t show any customers anything until every customer can see it. We don’t beta-test with customers. We don’t ask people what they’d pay for something. We don’t ask anyone what they think of something. We do the best job we know how to do and then we launch it into the market. The market will tell us the truth.



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