Book Review: It Doesn't Have To Be Crazy At Work

It Doesn't Have To Be Crazy At Work is a manifesto written by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, the creators of the productivity platform Basecamp. It describes the fundamental (and sometimes unconventional) values that define Basecamp's unique company culture.

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At the heart of this book is the belief that distraction is the greatest enemy of quality work. Fried & Hansson focus on the negative impacts of distraction, how it occurs in the workplace, and what you can do about it.

Below are the distractions—and tips—that I found most interesting.

Distractions

Fried and Hansson argue that many companies focus on protecting their tangible assets—brand, data, secrets, investments, etc. As a result, they often fail to protect the greatest asset that they actually possess—their employees' time.

Employees are human beings, not productivity machines. They need breaks to recharge their minds and bodies. Their time and energy are finite resources. To make the most of these resources, companies should design work environments that encourage quality work by minimizing distraction.

Distraction seems to thrive in toxic company cultures, and while Fried & Hansson explore various "bad habits" that can emerge, these red flags stood out.

  1. Sustained exhaustion as a badge of honor. Some companies have a culture of working unnecessarily long hours. Exhausted employees do not produce their best work.
  2. Focusing on productivity above all else. This encourages people to focus on simply "being busy." Quantity != quality.
  3. Treating co-workers like family. Companies that promote this idea create a culture of self-sacrifice. It puts employees in a position of choosing between work and their actual families.
  4. Chasing goals at any cost. Goals are arbitrary, artificial targets that often lead companies to compromise their morals and integrity.

When employees are encouraged to work long hours—and fill up those hours with busywork and goal-chasing, the opportunities for distraction are endless. If those employees work in an open-office setting, the distractions multiply.

Tips

What I enjoyed most about this book were Fried and Hansson's tips for minimizing distractions. While they are tailored to the workplace, many of them can be applied to daily life. Here are the tips that I found most interesting.

Fight the presence prison

The authors describe the presence prison as what happens when you're always available and/or reachable. Your colleagues feel free to "stop in" and interrupt you with chit-chat, questions, favors, etc. This type of distraction can quickly derail your day. If you work in this type of environment, here are some tips for breaking free.

  1. Create personal office hours. Set aside a dedicated time each week when you're available to answer random questions people have. This is especially useful if you're the subject-matter expert on a topic and people are used to stopping by with "a quick question."
  2. Make your calendar private by default. And set your availability to "busy." When someone wants to speak with you, they have to formally request a meeting and describe the purpose of the meeting. This allows you to decide whether or not a meeting is necessary to address their question—and how much time you need to set aside.

Start "library days"

Have dedicated days where everyone has to observe "library rules." For example, no loud noises, no conversations above a whisper, etc. This tip is geared toward those who work in an open office, where everyday noises can be especially distracting.

Eliminate obligations

The only way to get more done is to have less to do. Focusing on time management will only take you so far. When push comes to shove, a day will never have more than 24 hours. Think carefully about your obligations and eliminate anything that is not essential.

TLDR;

If you're struggling with work-life balance, I can't recommend this book enough. Fried & Hansson's tips won't apply to everyone or every workplace, but you will find some valuable insights and advice regardless of your situation.

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