37 Lessons on Productivity and Work from Basecamp’s Jason Fried
I recently caught up with Jason Fried for a conversation about work, life and productivity on the Future Squared podcast. Fried thinks deeply about collaboration, productivity and the nature of work. He’s the co-founder of Basecamp — one of America’s best small businesses according to Forbes, author of influential books such as Rework and the newly released It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work and TED speaker. His 2010 TED talk on ‘Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work’ has been viewed over 5 million times.
As somebody who shares many of Jason’s philosophies on work, I really enjoyed this conversation. Organisations are projected to invest US$2T into digital transformation by 2022 to make them more efficient, but they could reap what I would argue are vastly greater rewards, not only in terms of productivity but in terms of employee wellness, if they just changed the way they work today.
I often reflect on conversations and capture all of the learnings that both my guest and I brought to the table. On this occasion, there was just so much value that I thought I’d share it with you. Some of the many take-aways from the conversation can be found below.
Note: These lessons are representative of both Fried’s and my reflections.
If you’d like to listen to the entire 65-minute conversation on the Future Squared podcast, you can do so here, or ‘watch’ it below.
Lessons on Productivity and the Nature of Work from Jason Fried
- Technology, like any tool, comes down to how you use it. In most organisations and in many ways, technology has made work worse, not better. The constant ding of notifications that puts people in a hyper-responsive state is but one.
- Most organisations have created a culture where an immediate response is expected.
- A “growth at all costs” mindset that permeates corporate America is a problem.
- People are “so busy, crazy busy” but aren’t getting things done
- People are proud of being busy, not getting enough sleep and working long hours
- Nature always wins. 12 hour days is not natural. Ergo, 12 hour days lose.
- We can spend about half of an eight hour workday in flow
- More shallow time work won’t make up for a lack of time in flow, where we are up to five times more productive
- A sleep debt can never be repaid, at least, the detrimental effects can never be undone.
- You can get away with not exercise for a week or not eating all that well for a few days, but not sleep.
- We tend to be less irritable if we exercise and sleep well, because it serves to regulate our emotions.
- Emotional intelligence is not a destination but a constant journey
- One you go past three people in a team, you start to need middle managers which ultimately slows things down
- More people slows down almost anything, except for brute force work
- The rules in place in many organisations were put there by the people in power, so it’s not in their interest to change them
- Eight people in a one hour meeting isn’t a one hour meeting, it’s an eight hour meeting — that’s what it’s costing your organisation.
- Basecamp doesn’t have (many) meetings because they instead prefer asynchronous communication “(I’ll get to it at a time that suits me”), because…
- Most things don’t require an immediate response.
- You must establish boundaries with clients and colleagues with respect to availability and responsiveness
- There is a fallacy around how quick we think clients expect a response
- Taking investment in your company makes your company a bet, a financial instrument
- If all you do is chase growth you will inevitably end up unhappy because nothing grows at the same rate forever
- Taking capital = working to make millionaires and billionaires richer = not that exciting
- If you start a business to be independent and have your freedom, only to take capital, then you’re no longer free. You’re now accountable to investors whose vision and interests may not align with yours.
- Ask yourself, “what do you actually want?” when it comes to your business.
- Set reasonable deadlines.
- Company benefits should be enjoyed outside of work, they shouldn’t be designed to keep people there (eg. gym and massage passes, fresh fruit bowls sent home, all expenses paid annual leave etc)
- There is a ‘presence prison’ at many large organisations where one feels that they must stay back late, despite having limited cognition after, say, 5pm, because “everybody else is doing it” and “the boss is working late”
- It not true that if you stay longer you get more done
- Open office sabotage our getting into the flow state
- No time to actively sit and think
- Executive flights across the country for some ‘face time’ are often wasteful and can be replaced with a short phone call
- At Basecamp, people can’t see each other’s calendars and steal time from each other. Instead, they propose what they want to talk about asynchronously, and if deemed fit, schedule a short meeting to discuss. You have to ask to take someone’s time. You can’t just take it. The responder is in control.
- Don’t seek consensus, take ownership. Most decisions don’t require many heads, they just require taking ownership of the decision and the consequences.
- If a decision requires multiple heads, debate it, make call and get in line.
- Basecamp has allocated a point person who after some healthy discouse will make a call
- Fried has turned off all desktop and smartphone notifications and has his smartphone set to airplane mode most of the time with only significant people, such as his wife, able to get through — this, along with many of the other above items, gives him time to focus and get several hours of deep work in every day (most people are lucky to get an hour of uninterrupted time in a day)