27 Powerful Lessons from "It doesnt have to be crazy at work"

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27 Powerful Lessons from “It doesn't have to be crazy at work”


A book with great insights for a Calm work culture against the Crazy busy and demanding atmosphere we can find in most companies nowadays.

Book by DHH & Jason Fried.

Jason & David run a company called Basecamp, they make one of the first team collaboration software products out there. The book is hugely biased towards their experience and what they found worked for them at Basecamp. Through the book they share learned lessons from their company’s culture, You might feel the book is inviting you to work at Basecamp 🤷‍♂️ .

1. Your company is a product

If you want to make a software product, you iterate and develop new features, maybe fix bugs regularly to make it better. it is the same thing with your company, think of your company as your product. and employees as the users, Ask yourself do employees like working here? what is good about the company? what is bad? what is fast or slow? what can be optimized?

Start with assumptions on how the company should be and through iterations and experiments you can reach conclusions and decide what best works for the company.

2. Creativity doesn’t yield to brute force

An invitation to “burry the hustle”, and drop the grind work, you don’t have to sacrifice everything or push hard through pain and exhaustion for a long time to catch a bigger carrot. Sometimes more work has better results, but most of the time it does not, you end up burned out with nothing to show.

Especially for professions like writers, designers, and programmers, putting in longer hours doesn’t necessarily yield a higher impact or better results. you are not likely to make a breakthrough on the 14th hour of work. that’s not how creative work is done.

Being an entrepreneur is more about commitment than crazy hard work. it can be much more boring than one expects. just putting in the best work you can do, and repeat that every day. you don’t have to make sacrifices, you can still enjoy your time with kids, watch a silly movie or read a book.

3. Figure it out as you go

Companies often plan a year ahead or maybe 2 years. Basecamp doesn’t do that. Instead they went for short-term plans, they don’t have 5 years or even 1-year plans, they only plan for 6 weeks plan and the rest are ideas they might or might not visit later. That is short-sighted but also flexible and keeps them open for exploring.

4. Defend your time

40 hours a week is plenty, more than enough to do good work, 8 hours a day is a long time. But most people don’t have 8 hours uninterrupted to work, they are usually sliced up with meetings and conferences.

A status meeting with a team of 8 people for an hour does not cost 1 hour, it costs 8 hours. While meetings can be necessary sometimes, most of the time they are not, for a team can write statuses in a few minutes and take their precious time back to do the actual work.

5. Quality hour

Go for 60 minutes hour.

You can split a work hour in many ways, but for sure the quality differs, for example splitting an hour into “4x15 minutes” hour is not the same as “2x30 minutes” hour. The quality increases when you get immersed in the work you do, that is why the longer you are uninterrupted the more quality you produce.

6. Establish Work ethics

It is about being a good person, respecting the team, respecting the customer, doing what you say you would do, not being a bottleneck, and avoiding making unnecessary work for teammates. It is not about always being available or working long hours.

7. Use Office hours

Like in academic life, when lecturers can have office hours where students can come to ask questions. we can use the same concept to protect each employee's time from interruptions. Especially domain experts who need to do their work along with helping others get unblocked.

8. Async First, Real-Time Second

Almost everything can wait, encouraging a culture of eventual rather than instant response. Encourage the team to not check their Slack, email, or any instant messaging tools for an uninterrupted time, Interruptions are the enemy of good focused work. Unless it is an emergency and it is always not, async communication is much more efficient than real-time one.

9. Joy Of Missing Out

Promote the joy of missing out, you do not need to know everything going on in the company, especially instantly, you don’t need to check every conversation on every topic right at the moment as it happens. it can be easier when the company is smaller but it gets harder and more stressful as the company grows. Encourage checking updates async each morning, and encourage team leads to write a summary of work each week so that the rest of the teams can easily be on top of what is going on.

10. They will do as you do

You can’t promote a work-life balance and healthy lifestyle to your employees if you do the opposite. Staying long hours and working the weekends will lead to setting an example of the “normal” and creates pressure to follow along.

11. Don’t Negotiate Salaries

Eliminate the stress with Salary negotiations, everyone in the same role on the same level should be paid the same, equal work equal pay.

12. Avoid Insidious Benefits

There is no free launch in a free launch. Fancy offices with free food and game rooms and maximizing hours the employees stay at the office. It usually happens within companies that promote working 60+ hours a week and are always stressed to push harder.

Instead offer benefits that encourage employees to spend more time with their families & friends. learn new skills. invest in their wellness and encourage having uninterrupted vacations.

13. Library rules

While “Open-plan offices” are great for enabling better communication, collaboration, and building strong relationships between employees, they can be easily noisy, distracting, and not suitable for doing the actual work, Bringing sales teams who tend to be loud on the phone with engineering teams who prefer to work in the calm environment might be distracting.

Don’t give up on open-plan office though, it is still much cooler than traditional ones. Just think of your office as a library, encourage being calm and quiet as part of your company’s culture.

14. Avoid offering Unlimited vacations

It’s common for companies nowadays to offer “Unlimited vacations”, it sounds like a good benefit at first but actually it is such a stressful benefit. In reality, it was noticed that people tend to take fewer vacations when having that benefit. the exact opposite of what was intended, right?

Well, that’s because most people don’t like to appear slacky or abusive to that generous benefit. they prefer staying on the safe side and taking the least amount of vacations.

15. Calm goodbyes

When someone leaves the company or is let go, you need to offer a clear explanation to the team. Avoid the rumors, fear, and anxiety that might grow if it was not clearly communicated why someone leaves, this can be done by encouraging the person who is leaving to send a goodbye note to the whole team before leaving or to explain why they left after they leave. In general, don’t let employees assume and make up stories that are most probably much worse that the actual story.

16. Dread Lines

For a calm work environment, you need to have a fixed and believable deadline, you can’t change the deadline and add more requirements. projects should get smaller with time not bigger with more requirements. Always differentiate the required work from the nice to have and make sure to get rid of the unnecessary work.

17. Watch out for 12-day weeks

Friday is the worst day to release anything, if something goes wrong you are working the weekend, and you don’t get a chance to recharge, if you keep working the following week too, you will end up working 12 day week. You are probably better off avoiding that kind of stress.

18. Bad habits beat good intentions

What we do repeatedly hardens our habits, good intentions are no match for the power of habits. don’t deceive yourself by procrastinating the change for “later”, if you don’t like the way you work right now, act now. Scope the work to fit working hours only with no need for pulling an all-nighter. Small habits shape the company's culture for a long time, so be careful.

19. Narrow as you go

When working on cycles, spend a week or 2 clarifying unknowns and validating assumptions. This is the time that concept hits reality, it either shatters or bounces back as a sound concept. After that, it is time for tunnel vision, each week should lead to getting closer to finishing the work. Resist any new ideas or changes that might appear while execution and move them to later improvements backlog.

20. Worst practices

Always question the so-called “best practices”, a company’s best practices don’t necessarily fit other companies. With different sizes, goals, and cultures. You should always find what works for you and your company.

21. Whatever it takes

A fixation on “whatever it takes” no matter unrealistic your goals are, means you will probably be working at night and deliver sloppy not well thought of work.

Instead ask “What will it take?”, a question to put all the options before committing, maybe there is a tradeoff or cuts that can help you, or even you may decide the goal is not worth chasing after all.

22. Have Smaller Teams

Big teams can easily 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”. You can do big things with small teams. While doing small things by big teams usually is not efficient compared to small teams. The author suggests teams of 3.

23. Pursue Early Profitability

When companies are not profitable, they have limited time, working in a pressurized environment most of the time. Employees worry about their jobs. Generating revenue is not enough either, revenue without profit is not going to save you, you can still go broke generating revenue.

24. Avoid per-seat pricing

Go for flat pricing over per-seat pricing. While setting flat fee pricing is definitely not optimal financially, you are leaving so much money on the table with all the big enterprises’ customers potentially paying 10 times or 100 times as much, But on the other side there will be no big customer with special customized requests making priority on your product decisions, there are no big whale customers that you will feel anxious if they are slightly not satisfied. No fear of super customer churning leaving a big impact on your ARR.

25. Launch & Learn

Shipping is the best validation for your assumptions, do your best, believe in your work, and just ship it. maybe it is exactly what users wanted to have, or maybe it sucks, you will never know unless you put it in the hands of users and get answers from them. The market will always tell the truth.

26. Promise not to promise

Only sell the current version of the product you have right now, you will often receive feature requests from customers which you don’t currently have, it’s tempting to promise customers that you will have the feature next week or month. Promises lead to rushing, Promises pile up like dept and grow interest too.

27. Don’t Force Big Changes

People are often bothered by change, they can be easily uncomfortable with big changes happening in your product. you can hear “What did you do with the app, it was perfect the way it was”, Alternatively present the new change as an option for existing customers, and support having multiple versions of the product.

Final thoughts

Those were ideas I found interesting that can lead to a calm work environment in the face of craziness around. But again there is no silver bullet or one size fits all companies, companies are different and you will have to pick the ideas that would work the best with your company.

Thanks for reading ❤️

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