It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
Author: Fried, Jason
Notes by: Jacopo Perfetti.

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“It’s crazy at work”?
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There are two primary reasons: (1) The workday is being sliced into tiny, fleeting work moments by an onslaught of physical and virtual distractions. And (2) an unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost sets towering, unrealistic expectations that stress people out.
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You’d think that with all the hours people are putting in, and all the promises of new technologies, the load would be lessening. It’s not. It’s getting heavier.
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People are working more but getting less done.
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The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit.
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Stress never stops at the border of work, either. It bleeds into life.
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The modern workplace is sick. Chaos should not be the natural state at work.
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your company should be your best product.
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like product development, progress is achieved through iteration.
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The same thing is true with a company.
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when you think of the company as a product, you ask different questions :
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We work on projects for six weeks at a time, then we take two weeks off from scheduled work to roam and decompress
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asynchronous communication is better than real - time communication most of the time.
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the distractions went up and the work went down.
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We work on our company as hard as we work on our products.
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Today’s Basecamp, LLC, is like version 50.3
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Hustlemania has captured a monopoly on entrepreneurial inspiration. This endless stream of pump - me - up quotes about working yourself to the bone. It’s time to snap out of it.
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The human experience is so much more than 24 / 7 hustle to the max.
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Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be this epic tale of cutthroat survival.
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You can play with your kids and still be a successful entrepreneur.
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Companies that live in such a zero - sum world don’t “earn market share” from a competitor, they “conquer the market.”
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This language of war writes awful stories.
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But that paradigm just doesn’t make any sense to us.
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What’s our market share? Don’t know, don’t care. It’s irrelevant. Do we have enough customers paying us enough money to cover our costs and generate a profit? Yes. Is that number increasing every year? Yes.
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Lots of companies are driven by comparisons in general.
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Mark Twain nailed it: “Comparison is the death of joy.” We’re with Mark.
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The only things we’re out to destroy are outmoded ideas.
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The opposite of conquering the world isn’t failure, it’s participation
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This anti - goal mindset definitely makes Basecamp an outcast in the business world.
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We simply do the best work we can on a daily basis.
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Because let’s face it: Goals are fake. Nearly all of them are artificial targets set for the sake of setting targets.
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Plus, there’s an even darker side to goal setting. Chasing goals often leads companies to compromise their morals, honesty, and integrity to reach those fake
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How about something really audacious: No targets, no goals?
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You don’t need something fake to do something real.
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The business world is suffering from ambition hyperinflation
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Nothing encapsulates this like the infatuation with disruption.
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Everyone wants to be a disrupter these days.
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Chances are, you won’t, and if you do, it’s not going to be because you said you would.
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We didn’t start the business with a plan, and we don’t run the business by a plan.
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we’ve been figuring it out as we go ,
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Every six weeks or so, we decide what we’ll be working on next.
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long - term planning instills a false sense of security. The sooner you admit you have no idea what the world will look like in five years ,
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the sooner you’ll be able to move forward without the fear of making the wrong big decision years in advance.
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Much corporate anxiety comes from the realization that the company has been doing the wrong thing, but it’s too late to change direction because of the “Plan.”
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The further away you are from something, the fuzzier it becomes
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Oftentimes it’s not breaking out, but diving in, digging deeper, staying in your rabbit hole that brings the biggest gains.
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Most of the time, if you’re uncomfortable with something, it’s because it isn’t right.
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if you listen to your discomfort and back off from what’s causing it, you’re more likely to find the right path.
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Working 40 hours a week is plenty.
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Most people don’t actually have 8 hours a day to work, they have a couple of hours. The rest of the day is stolen from them by meetings, conference calls, and other distractions.
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And what doesn’t get done in 40 hours by Friday at 5 picks up again Monday morning at 9.
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Most of what we think we have to do, we don’t have to do at all.
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When you cut out what’s unnecessary, you’re left with what you need.
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quality hour is 1 × 60, not 4 × 15.
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It’s hard to be effective with fractured hours, but it’s easy to be stressed out :
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Ask yourself: When was the last time you had three or even four completely uninterrupted hours to yourself and your work?
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Productivity is for machines, not for people.
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When people focus on productivity, they end up focusing on being busy. Filling every moment with something to do. And there’s always more to do !
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Instead of adding to - dos, we add to - don’ts.
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A great work ethic isn’t about working whenever you’re called upon. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, putting in a fair day’s work, respecting the work, respecting the customer, respecting coworkers, not wasting time, not creating unnecessary work for other people, and not being a bottleneck
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When you really need to get work done you rarely go into the office.
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Way too many people simply can’t get work done at work anymore.
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Modern - day offices have become interruption factories.
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The major distractions at work aren’t from the outside, they’re from the inside. The wandering manager constantly asking people how things are going ,
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Ever notice how much work you get done on a plane or a train?
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You can’t plan your own day if everyone else is using it up randomly.
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So we borrowed an idea from academia: office hours.
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All subject - matter experts at Basecamp now publish office hours.
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The shared work calendar is one of the most destructive inventions of modern times.
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When someone takes your time, it doesn’t cost them anything, but it costs you everything.
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nobody at Basecamp really knows where anyone else is at any given moment.
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“But how do you know if someone’s working if you can’t see them?”
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The only way to know if work is getting done is by looking at the actual work.
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everyone knows you’re “available ,” it’s an invitation to be interrupted.
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The expectation of an immediate response is the ember that ignites so many fires at work.
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with more and more real - time communication tools
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the expectation of an immediate response has become the new normal.
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Almost everything can wait. And almost everything should.
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FOMO. The fear of missing out.
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it’s no longer contained to social media — it’s seeping into work as well.
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another thing that asks for your continuous partial attention all day on the premise that you can’t miss out.
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we try to encourage at Basecamp. JOMO ! The joy of missing out.
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turn off the firehose of information and chatter and interruptions to actually get the right shit done.
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not in real time ! If it’s important, you’ll find out.
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We must all stop treating every little fucking thing that happens at work like it’s on a breaking - news ticker.
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writing monthly “Heartbeats.” Summaries of the work and progress that’s been done
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Just enough to keep someone in the loop
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Companies love to declare “We’re all family here.” No, you’re not.
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We’re coworkers.
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Basecamp is not “our baby.” Basecamp is our product.
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Whenever executives talk about how their company is really like a big ol ’ family, beware.
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Because by invoking the image of the family, the valor of doing whatever it takes naturally follows.
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The best companies aren’t families. They’re supporters of families. Allies of families. They’re there to provide healthy, fulfilling work environments
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You can’t credibly promote the virtues of reasonable hours, plentiful rest, and a healthy lifestyle to employees if you’re doing the opposite as the boss.
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If your manager’s manager is setting a bad example, that impression rolls down the hierarchy and gathers momentum like a snowball.
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A leader who sets an example of self - sacrifice can’t help but ask self - sacrifice of others.
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Someone says something, or acts in a certain way, and someone else blows up about it.
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Here’s what’s going on: The trust battery is dead.
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It’s charged at 50 percent when people are first hired. And then every time you work with someone at the company, the trust battery between the two of you is either charged or discharged
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the trust battery is a summary of all interactions to date.
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If you want to recharge the battery, you have to do different things in the future.
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Plus, it’s personal.
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The worst thing you can do is pretend that interpersonal feelings don’t matter.
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Humans are humans whether they’re at work or at home.
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If the boss really wants to know what’s going on ,
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They have to ask !
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the hard ones like “What’s something nobody dares to talk about?”
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Posing real, pointed questions is the only way to convey that it’s safe to provide real answers.
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Forget about ever getting the whole story.
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the higher you go in an organization, the less you’ll know what it’s really like.
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the CEO is usually the last to know.
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There’s no such thing as a casual suggestion when it comes from the owner of the business.
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Evading responsibility with a “But it’s just a suggestion” isn’t going to calm the waters. Only knowing the weight of the owner’s word will.
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“We’ve never done any social media outreach, so imagine how much new traffic” — low - hanging fruit — “we’ll get if we just start tweeting stuff out.”
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The problem, as we’ve learned over time, is that the further away you are from the fruit, the lower it looks.
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We assume that picking it will be easy only because we’ve never tried to do it before.
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The worst is when you load up these expectations on new hires and assume they’ll meet them all quickly. You’re basically setting them up to fail.
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It’s not worth trading sleep for a few extra hours at the office.
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it’ll literally make you stupid.
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A great night’s sleep enhances every waking hour.
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At most companies, work - life balance is a sham.
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Balance is give and take. The typical corporate give - and - take is that life gives and work takes.
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just be responsible with your time and make sure your team knows when you won’t be around.
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CVs might as well be tossed in the garbage.
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What we care about is who you are and what you can do.
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We look for candidates who are interesting and different from the people we already have.
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we put a real project in front of the candidates so that they can show us what they can do.
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This is how companies hire the wrong people all the time. They hire someone based on a list of previous qualifications, not on their current abilities.
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There’s a natural assumption that someone who was already, say, a lead programmer or designer in their previous job will be able to step right into that role anywhere and be effective immediately. That just isn’t so.
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The skills and experience needed to get traction in one place are often totally different somewhere else.
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The more accustomed someone is to that kind of directed form of work, the more they’ll have to unlearn.
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the decision shouldn’t be based on the misconception of immediate results.
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Talent isn’t worth fighting over.
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Stop thinking of talent as something to be plundered and start thinking of it as something to be grown and nurtured ,
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That work is mostly about the environment, anyway.
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We hired many of our best people not because of who they were but because of who they could become.
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The important part isn’t really whether you can afford to pay salaries based on the top city in your industry or at the top 10 percent of the market, but that you keep salaries equal for equal work and seniority.
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companies whose benefits include game - console rooms ,
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seems so generous, but there’s also a catch: You can’t leave the office.
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These fancy benefits blur the lines between work and play to the point where it’s mostly just work.
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Consider the free dinner for employees who stay late. How is staying late a benefit?
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we look at benefits as a way to help people get away from work and lead healthier, more interesting lives.
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Benefits that actually benefit them, not the company. Although the company clearly benefits, too, from having healthier, more interesting, well - rested workers.
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Here’s a list of relevant “outside the office” benefits
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Fully paid vacations every year
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Three - day weekends all summer.
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30 - day - paid sabbaticals every three years.
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$ 1,000 per year continuing - education stipend.
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$ 2,000 per year charity match.
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A local monthly CSA (community - supported agriculture) share.
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One monthly massage
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$ 100 monthly fitness allowance
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Not a single benefit aimed at trapping people at the office.
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Open - plan offices suck at providing an environment for calm, creative work done by professionals who need peace, quiet, privacy, and space to think and do their best.
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In spaces like that, distractions spread like viruses. Before you know it, everyone’s infected.
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Rather than thinking of it as an office, we think of it as a library. In fact, we call our guiding principle: Library Rules.
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library anywhere in the world
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quiet and calm.
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The whole purpose of a vacation is to get away. To not only be somewhere else entirely, but to think about something else entirely.
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But the reality is that most companies don’t actually offer their employees any real vacation time. All they offer is a “fakecation”
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When companies act like they own all of their employees ’ time, they breed a culture of neurotic exhaustion
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whenever someone leaves Basecamp, an immediate goodbye announcement is sent out companywide.
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The person who’s leaving then gets to see all the responses to this announcement
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Saying goodbye is always hard, but it doesn’t have to be formal or cold.
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Following group chat at work is like being in an all - day meeting
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It’s completely exhausting.
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However, chat is not all bad if you use it sparingly.
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is great for hashing stuff out quickly when speed truly is important.
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But it’s a mighty thin line when you’re trapped in an ASAP chamber.
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“Real - time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time”
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Most deadlines aren’t so much deadlines as dreadlines. Unrealistic dates mired by ever - expanding project requirements
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Few things are as demoralizing as working on projects with no end in sight.
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You can’t fix a deadline and then add more work to it. That’s not fair. Our projects can only get smaller over time, not larger.
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As we progress, we separate the must - haves from the nice - to - haves and toss out the nonessentials.
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our deadlines is that they’re based on budgets, not estimates. We’re not fans of estimates because, let’s face it, humans suck at estimating.
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Here are some of the telltale signs that your deadline is really a dreadline :
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An unreasonably large amount of work
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An unreasonable expectation of quality
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An ever - expanding amount of work
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When we present work, it’s almost always written up first.
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We want considered feedback. Read it over. Read it twice, three times even.
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we prefer to present out - of - person, not in - person.
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Don’t meet, write. Don’t react, consider.
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Friday is the worst day to release anything.
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if you work the weekends, you don’t get a chance to recharge.
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First it starts as an outlier.
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Then it’s too late. It’s become the culture. The new normal.
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Unwinding the new normal requires far more effort than preventing that new normal from being set in the first place.
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If you don’t want gnarly roots in your culture, you have to mind the seeds.
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Culture is what culture does. Culture isn’t what you intend it to be.
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The longer you carry on, the tougher it is to change.
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When calm starts early, calm becomes the habit. But if you start crazy, it’ll define you.
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If not, now is the time to make a change, not “later.”
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Later is where excuses live. Later is where good intentions go to die.
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Things should fit together rather than stick together.
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big - bang releases bundle the risk from every component, so if one thing falls behind, the whole thing can get held up.
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So don’t tie more knots, cut more ties. The fewer bonds, the better.
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The cost of consensus is simply too much to pay over and over again.
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Someone in charge has to make the final call, even if others would prefer a different decision.
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Companies waste an enormous amount of time and energy trying to convince everyone to agree before moving forward on something
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What’s especially important in disagree - and - commit situations is that the final decision should be explained clearly to everyone involved. It’s not just decide and go, it’s decide, explain, and go.
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attempting to be indiscriminately great at everything is a foolish waste of energy.
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The challenge lies in figuring out where you can be just kinda okay or even downright weak.
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“That’s fine” is such a wonderfully relaxing way to work most of the time.
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There’s always one more thing it could do, one more improvement it should have.
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But if you actually want to make progress, you have to narrow as you go.
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the first week or two is for clarifying unknowns and validating assumptions. This is the time when the concept needs to hit reality and either bounce if it’s sound or shatter if it’s not.
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That’s why we quickly begin prototyping as soon as we can in those first two weeks.
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Nothing tells the truth like actually experiencing the idea in real life.
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after that brief period of exploration at the beginning of a project — it’s time to focus in and get narrow.
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This runs against the church of endless exploration. That constant chase for the better idea.
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every week should lead us closer to being done, not further from it.
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You can always go back later, but only if you actually finish.
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“Nothing” should always be on the table.
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Calm requires getting comfortable with enough.
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If it’s never enough, then it’ll always be crazy at work.