Attacking the hustle culture

Gijs Corstens
Jun 15, 2019 · 3 min read

Recently I read the book it doesn’t have to be crazy at work, written by the founders of Basecamp.

It’s a very fresh perspective on work in general, and really let’s you reflect on why you work the way you work. To give you a few examples:

  • Basecamp doesn’t want to employ more than around 50 people, simply because at this point it really becomes a pain to manage all these people, and you can’t remember people’s names.
  • Basecamp applies “library rules” in their office, which basically means that you need to be very silent in the office so people can actually focus on their work.
  • Empoyees at basecamp are encouraged to just work 8 hours a day, not more. Are forced to take paid holidays, and everyone works 4 days per week in the summer. (while being paid the same amount)

Now I take this book with a grain of salt, as it’s basically a promotional book for their own company, but they make a few very good points.

My favorite one is their attack on the current Hustle Culture in which everyone is encouraged to work 60/80+hours per week, and be proud of that. Being busy is good in the Hustle culture, an your identity is fully built from your working life.

The guys at Basecamp argue that people who work this amounts of hours, often have low quality output because of their deprivation of sleep and social life, and often are hit by Parkinson’s law:

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This actually is a very interesting theory, which dates back from studies of the British bureaucracy of the 50’s, in which they noted that the number of civil servants increased with 5–7% each year, without there being more work to do.

This is how I imagine a bureaucracy to be in my mind

You see this law happen in all types of organizations, where at some point managers want to hire more people to make their roles more important, so they create roles for things that are adding very marginal/if any value to a company. After a while people can’t even imagine anymore how they ran operations in the past with less people.

Now this also happens when you are ought to work 80 hours instead of 40. Because of the larger time frame, you are less forced to focus on what really matters and what doesn’t, and therefore you start wasting a lot of time on things that are marginally important.

On top of that, because you have no time outside your work and probably a lack of sleep, it’s also very difficult to get perspective on your work. This makes it even harder to come up with creative solutions or evaluate well what you actually are doing (which often causes you to waste a lot of time).

Instead of working more, the guys from Basecamp argue, you should work less distracted and more focused in the 8 hours you have.

By having a working environment where you actually can focus (no noise, no interruptions every 30 minutes from colleagues, no expectations to answer mail/slack within 30 minutes) you can output so much more because you can have longer periods of deeper focus.

15 + 15 + 15 + 15 minutes of work is not the same as 1 hour of interrupted work

I think the guys at Basecamp are really idealistic in how they run their business, and they manage to combine it with making a very nice profit and (what seem to be) actually happy employees. I’m not sure if all their practices are possible for every company, but I’m pretty sure we can learn quite a bit from their perspective on work.

This is part 3 of my 28 days of publishing something every day, feel free to join me and Michael in our struggle.

Gijs Corstens

Written by

Founder of HackYourFuture, a refugee coding school in the Netherlands,Sweden and Denmark. I care about how tech can be used to solve societal problems.

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