It’s been said that your name is your favorite word. Likewise, a brand’s name is its favorite word. Pair their name with their logo, and it’s a self-love fest.
You can see this play out when you order a physical product from an online store. The shipping box is often branded. Sometimes the tape is even branded. Then once you tear into it, the internal packaging is branded. Then the item, too — often in multiple places. Name, logo, name, logo, name, logo.
There’s nothing inherently wrong about this. Many brands use shipment packaging as advertising. And it’s nice to know when you ordered something from Brand A, and a box from Brand A is waiting for you on your doorstep when you get home.
Back in October I was in San Francisco to record an episode of the Chase Jarvis Live show. We talked for nearly two hours about work, life, building calm (and crazy) companies, FOMO + JOMO, philosophy, the downsides of real-time communication tech, not setting goals, saying no, our new book “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work”, etc. Loads of stuff, a really fun conversation.
For the last decade or so, I’ve been on a number of boards, consulted with a number of entrepreneurs, and have been both formally and informally involved in helping a number of young companies find their way.
Many young companies I’ve seen have one thing in common: They can’t wait to grow up. They desperately want to be taken seriously by others. They want to be perceived as sophisticated, as having it all figured out.
This is where they begin to get into trouble. As they technically begin to be able to do more things, it’s the things they can no longer do that turn out to be the big losses.
Take company size, for example. One way to be taken seriously is to hire more people. As a whole, bigger companies are taken more seriously than small companies. Thing is, small has major practical advantages over large. Small companies can do both small and big things. Big companies can not do small things. Once you get to a certain size, you can no longer do the small things. When you’re big, every initiative turns big, like it or not. Except the small things are often all that’s necessary.
Take “systems”, for example. I’ve seen a number of small companies jump into big sophisticated content management, inventory management, e-commerce management platforms. Buying into something the big guys use helps a small company feel like they’ve arrived. Now they’re ready to scale! But now all the sudden they can no longer do the things they need to do. Trying a quick idea they used to be able to just whip up becomes a wrestling match with the new system that prefers you do things the more complicated way. Now “let’s just try that” becomes “when can we schedule a time to figure out how we can try that?”
The other thing that’s lost in transition from small to big are instincts. I’ve seen companies paralyzed by ideas they can’t seem to implement anymore. They could still do things they same way they used to, but they can’t think that way anymore. For example, a small company that would have just spent a couple hours sending out 50 hand-written emails to test a personalized selling campaign, is stuck for days or weeks trying to figure out how to get their new e-commerce platform to automate the same thing. They could still just pick the customers and write the emails by hand, but they’re forgotten how to think about doing it that way. Once you have something in place that’s supposed to be able to do that work for you, you lose flexibility, your mind and muscles atrophy. You cease to be able to be scrappy.
Scrappy is a mindset, and the skills are lossy — once they’re gone, you can never recreate them the same way again. Being scrappy is easier the smaller you are, the younger you are, and the fewer options you have. Hang on to it for as long as possible! Don’t be in a rush to abandon such critical survival instincts.
It happens to all growing companies. We’ve certainly lost our fair share of scrappiness as well. My suggestion: Resist the allure of large — there’s very little payback, especially if you artificially get there before you’re really ready. Be aware — and beware — of the things you give up too early and never get back.
…Each [short chapter is] packed with a punch that seems both profound and practical — profound for how clear and different they tend to be from most accepted business wisdom, and practical because almost everything they describe is immediately applicable.
And the ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Amazon reviews are flowing in as well. And, BTW, if you’ve read the book, please do leave a review. Thanks much.
If you’ve read and enjoyed REWORK, you’re going to especially love “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work”. It’s really the spiritual follow-up to REWORK. Irreverent, direct, fluff-free, short-essays, and straight to the point. And because we hate long business books we can never seem to finish, we wrote “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work” to be read in just about 3 hours.
What’s the book about?
We put it all right on the cover.
The lessons and stories in the book are based on nearly 20 years of experimenting with how to build a calm company. Inside we push back hard against unhealthy work practices, the obsession with growth at all costs, and treating people as if they’re simply limitless resources rather than human beings. We also share the things we’ve tried, and how we came to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
If you’ve got a few minutes, here’s the full intro below to fire you up…
“It’s crazy at work.” How often have you heard that? Or said it yourself? Probably too often.
For many, “it’s crazy at work” has become their normal. But why’s that?
At the root is an onslaught of physical and virtual real-time distractions slicing work days into a series of fleeting work moments.
Tie that together with a trend of over-collaboration, plus an unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost, and you’ve got the building blocks for an anxious, crazy mess.
It’s no wonder people are working longer, earlier, later, on weekends, and whenever they have a spare moment. People can’t get work done at work anymore.
Work claws away at life. Life has become work’s leftovers. The doggy bag. The remnants. The scraps.
That’s just not OK. It’s unacceptable.
What’s worse is that long hours, excessive busyness, and lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for many people these days. Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity. Companies that force their crew into this bargain are cooking up dumb at their employees’ expense.
And it’s not just about organizations — individuals, contractors, and solopreneurs are burning themselves out the very same way.
You’d think with all the hours people are putting in, and all the promises of tech’s flavor of the month, the load would be lessening. It’s not. It’s getting heavier.
But the thing is, there’s not more work to be done all of the sudden. The problem is there’s hardly any uninterrupted, dedicated time to do it.
Working more but getting less done? It doesn’t add up. But it does — it adds up to a majority of time wasted on things that don’t matter.
Many modern companies seem to be great at one thing: wasting. Wasting time, attention, money, energy.
Out of the 60, 70, 80 hours a week many are expected to pour into work, how many of those hours are really spent on the work itself? And how many are tossed away in meetings, lost to distraction, and withered away by inefficient business practices? The bulk.
The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. And far fewer things that induce distraction, always-on anxiety, and stress.
Stress is an infection passed down from organization to employee, from employee to employee, and then from employee to customer. And it’s becoming resistant to traditional treatments. The same old medicine is only making it worse.
And remember, stress can not be contained. It never stops at the edge of work. It always bleeds into life. It infects your relationships with your friends, your family, your kids.
The promises keep coming. More time management hacks. More ways to communicate. More information spread across separate platforms and disparate places. New demands to pay attention to more and more real-time conversations happening all the time at work. Faster and faster, for what? Panaceas left and right. Snake oil.
On-demand is for movies, TV shows, and podcasts, not for you. Your time isn’t an episode recalled when someone wants it at 10pm on a Saturday night, or every few minutes in the collection of conveyor belt chat room conversations you’re supposed to be following all day long.
If it’s constantly crazy at work, we have two words for you: Fuck that. And two more: Enough already.
At the heart of it all is an unhealthy obsession with rapid growth. Towering, unrealistic expectations drag people down.
It’s time for companies to stop asking their employees to breathlessly chase ever-higher, ever-more artificial targets set by ego, not need. It’s time to stop celebrating this way of working.
Over the last 18 years we’ve been working at making Basecamp a calm company. One that isn’t fueled by stress, or ASAP, or rushing, or late nights, or all-nighter crunches, or impossible promises, or high turnover, or over-collaboration, or consistently missed deadlines, or projects that never seem to end, or manufactured busywork, or incorrect assumptions that lead to systemic institutional anxiety.
No growth-at-all-costs. No constant, churning false busyness. No ego-driven decisions. No keeping up with the Joneses Corporation. No hair on fire.
And yet we’ve been profitable every year since the beginning. We’ve kept our company intentionally small — we believe small is a key to calm.
As a tech company we’re supposed to be playing the hustle game in Silicon Valley, but we’re blissfully far away in Chicago with employees working remotely in 30 different towns around the world.
We each put in about 40 hours a week most of the year, and just 32-hour four-day weeks in the summer. We send people on month-long sabbaticals every three years. We not only pay for people’s vacation time, but we pay for the actual vacation too.
No, not 9pm Wednesday night. It can wait until 9am Thursday morning. No, not Sunday. Monday.
Walk into our office and it feels more like a library and less like a chaotic kitchen. Noise and movement are not indicator of activity and progress — they’re just indicators of noise and movement.
We’re in one of the most competitive industries in the world. An industry dominated by giants and frequent upstarts backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in VC money. We’ve taken zero. Where does our money come from? Our customers. They buy what we’re selling and we treat them exceptionally well. Call us old fashioned.
Our benefits are focused on getting people out of the office, not enticing them to stay longer. Fresh fruits and veggies are delivered to people’s houses, not the kitchen at work. Want to learn to play the guitar in your own time? We’ll gladly support you and pay for that too.
We’ll pay for you to get a massage, but we won’t bring the masseuse to the office. Loosening up for 60 minutes only to tense back up hunched over your desk is faux relaxation. No “stay here” signals. Everything’s about wrapping up your reasonable day, going home, and living your life.
Are there occasionally stressful moments? Sure — such is life. Is every day peachy? Of course not — we’d be lying if we said it was. But we do our best to make sure those are the exceptions. On balance we’re calm — by choice, by practice. We’re intentional about it. We’ve made different decisions than the rest.
We’ve designed our company differently. We’re here to tell you about it, and show you how you can do it. There’s a path. You’ve got to want it, but if you do you’ll realize it’s much nicer over here. You can have a calm company too.
This book points out the diseases plaguing modern workplace and work methods. It calls out false cures, and pushes back against ritualistic time-sucks that have infected the way people work these days. We have a prescription to make it better.
Chaos should not be the natural state at work. Anxiety isn’t a prerequisite for progress. Sitting in meetings all day isn’t required for success. These are all perversions of work — side effects of broken models and follow-the-lemming-off-the-cliff worst practices. Step aside and let the suckers jump.
Calm is profitability. Calm is protecting people’s time and attention. Calm is reasonable expectations. Calm is about 40 hours of work a week. Calm is ample time off. Calm is smaller. Calm is a visible horizon. Calm is meetings as a last resort. Calm is contextual communication. Calm is asynchronous first, real-time second. Calm is more independence, less interdependence. Calm is about sustainable practices that can run for the long-term.
By the end of the book you’ll understand it all.
It would mean a lot to us if you’d pick up a copy, absorb the ideas, consider the suggestions, and try to make the work world a better place for a lot more people. We hope you ❤️ it. Got questions? Post ’em below and we’ll do our best to answer everything we can. Thanks in advance for reading!
A number of years ago we bought a new bath tub for our master bathroom. The tub looked something like this:
Man it looked great in the store. SO GREAT. It was luscious. Just look at it. So we bought it.
We couldn’t use the tub until the full bathroom rennovation was done. But once it was, I remember being so excited to try it out that first night. So I filled it up with piping hot water, tossed in some silly bath salts, and got ready to luxuriate.
The first thing I remember was that I couldn’t get comfortable. The sides were sloped in a way that forced me to slide down, vs sit up. I wanted to sit up, but I couldn’t. Or, I should say, if I put my arms outside the tub to hold on I could, but then only half of my body would be in the water. So I’d have this weird mix of hot and cold. It wasn’t right.
Then I noticed that the water was cooling off quite a bit faster than I’d expected. Ah ha, the tub was wide and shallow which meant a lot of surface area for heat to dissipate. Not good. The only remedy was to fill the thing with scalding hot water so it would stay hotter longer, but I was aiming for a soak, not a burn.
Then I realized what happened. We were duped. We bought something that was in-store good, not at-home good.
This happens a lot. The more sensational the claims, the more features on the box, the more something promises to do, the more likely you are to buy something in-store good. It looks great on the floor, it looks amazing in the showroom, the demo’s impressive, but once you remove it from the perfect setting, the perfect lighting, the “I need it” moment, it fails to deliver when you actally get it home.
Now, wait… Couldn’t I have gotten in the tub at the showroom to get a sense of the slope? Wouldn’t I have noticed I’d have slid down the side? In theory yes, but in practice no. You can’t exactly try a tub at a showroom, unless you take baths with clothes on. A clothed body (esp one with grippy shoes on or a belt that creates friction) hugs a curve much differently than a wet, naked, slippery one does. And the heat dissipation part really had to be experienced to even be considered. It just wasn’t something I thought about.
So, now when I buy things I think about them differently. Whenever I’m driven to make an over-enthusiastic purchase, I stop. Why am I so excited about this? Is it the presentation or the product? How’s this going to transition from showroom to living room? What am I going to be doing with this thing? Is it the same as how I’m experiencing it at the store?
So it’s not that an in-store product is bad. In fact it’s very good! It’s just good in the wrong way and wrong place (for you). Making something in-store good is easy. But we don’t live in controlled environments dripping with psychological, consumerism traps. Aim for at-home good.
A number of years ago, Jeff Bezos stopped by our office and spent about 90 minutes with us talking product strategy. Before he left, he spent about 45 minutes taking general Q&A from everyone at the office.
During one of his answers, he shared an enlightened observation about people who are “right a lot”.
He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.
He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.
What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view. If someone can’t climb out of the details, and see the bigger picture from multiple angles, they’re often wrong most of the time.
I’ve written about the class I’d like to teach, but what I’ve been thinking about lately is the class I’d like to attend. Not necessarily now, but when I was growing up. In the 6th grade, let’s say.
I don’t know why people ask me this, but I’m often polled for my opinion on the American education system. What’s my take? What would I do to fix it?
I don’t know, really. “It” covers too much ground to be addressed accurately. Education is delivered at every scale, from an individual reading a book, to a 1:1 tutor, to a small home/classroom setting, to a larger university auditorium-sized class, to online classes that can be theoretically taken by the entire planet at once. From one to 7 billion.
You can’t fix anything that’s so big and so varied. You can, however, fix small parts of things. And hopefully, as the small, fixed parts add up, you have a chance at chipping away at a big problem.
So here’s my one small idea: I’d begin to teach iteration. Iteration as a subject, equivalient to math, science, history, language, art, music, etc. How do you make something better over time? How do you return to something that you’ve done and see it with fresh eyes? How do you apply new perspective to an old problem? Where do you find that new perspective? What trails do you follow and which do you ignore? How do you smash the familiar and reassemble something new from the same pieces?
Once you’re done with school, and cast out into the world, your job is likely to involve iteration. No matter what you’re doing, you’re probably going to have to do something over. And often times again and again. You rarely simply deliver something and move on. You’re asked to refactor, to build on it, to “make it better”.
Making anything better is iteration. When you put something out there, it’ll often land right back in your lap. Sometimes that feedback boomerangs back directly, other times you have to infer the problems by disciphering other people’s behavior when they interact with the thing you gave them. This customer struggled with this, this manufacturing tolerance didn’t line up with that, this printing process looked better on the screen than it did on paper. Or after a certain amount of time passes while working on something, you reflect on what you’ve done and don’t like the reflection.
Either way, someone’s probably going to ask you to take the state of your art, and make it the state of the art.
Now that you’ve got it back, what do you do with it? This is something you have to learn how to deal with. But in school — save for writing a few drafts before handing in the final version — you don’t get to iterate much. You move on from assignment to assignment, rarely getting a chance to revisit your work earlier in the semester. I think that’s a missed opportunity.
So, perhaps for a final assignment (no matter the subject), students should be able to choose something they did earlier in the year and get a chance to improve on it. Make version 2. I think working on four things, and getting a chance to redo one of them would be more valuable than working on five separate things. It would be a better education.
Or another take would be a single assignment for the entire semester. Every two weeks you hand in a new version of it. In time you may slam into diminishing returns, but that’s all part of it too. That would be a better education.
Or maybe you work on something and hand it in. Then the teacher shuffles the deck, so to speak, and hands you back someone else’s assignment. Now you have two weeks to improve on that. And that cycle — improving on someone else’s work — continues for the whole semester. That would closely mirror what work on the outside is really like. That would be a better education.
I don’t know, something like that.
So there, I guess that’s my initial idea to improve the educational system. Teach problem solving through iteration. Bounce things back to people for a second or third try. And then a fourth and a fifth. And so on. Require them to bring new perspectives. Demonstrate how time, space, and chance are on your side — they give you the opportunity to wander around with an idea and take it in new directions. Iteration is evolution. Hopefully what’s next is better than what came before it.
Now you can add [daily, weekly, monthly, yearly] repeating events to the Basecamp schedule. Here’s how it works:
When you add an event in Basecamp 3…
…you’ll see a new option to repeat the event…
…the options include every day, every week day, once a week, once a month, and once a year…
…you can choose to repeat the event forever, or until a certain date…
…the repeat frequency is shown on the event page as well…
This feature has been a long time coming. Thanks to everyone who sent in a request, to Merissa on the support team for championing the push to make this happen, and to Jeff, Conor, Pratik, and everyone else who pitched in to help make it all work. The new feature is live for all Basecamp 3 customers on all platforms (Web, Mac Desktop, Windows Desktop, iOS iPhone + iPad, and Android). We hope you find it useful.
They’re mostly terrible, but there’s room for smart choices.
Last week, DHH skewered the open office floor plan. He was right. But wait, we have an open office floor plan. And we’ve done a respectable job figuring out how to make it work. Maybe I should share something about that.
First off, an open office is appealing from a few perspectives:
It makes economic sense. Building out separate private spaces for everyone is costly. Yes, you could argue people being unable to work out in the open is even more costly, and I wouldn’t fight you on that, but that’s an abstract economic impact. Paying construction bills has a very direct economic impact.
It’s more flexible to remain open. Companies like to imagine growth. If you have 20 employees today, but may have 40, 60, or 80 a year or two from now, it’s very difficult to forecast what you’re going to physically need. If you don’t build enough private offices for everyone, then some people are going to get pissed. If you build too many, you’ve wasted a bunch of space. Open is flexible and flexible is comforting — especially if you’re signing a 5+ year lease.
You need less space. You can pack a lot of people into 5000sqft of open space. You can nudge desks together, you can squish people in a few feet, etc. I’m not suggesting these are good ideas, but they’re practical and workable. But if everyone needs private offices, you’re going to need a lot more space, which means a lot more rent. That’s expensive.
So it’s not hard to see why open offices make sense from a purely practical, economic perspective. They’re also easier to clean and maintain, too. But like DHH, I don’t buy the collaborative benefits. Not for a second. That’s a mask used to obscure the real reason — cost savings. Open plans are cheaper to execute, period. And the people who make the decisions about how the office is designed are usually the ones that make the financial decisions.
Ok, so given all that, if you do go open, how do you make open work?
Walk into any library in the world and you’ll notice a few things. One, they’re generally open spaces with a number of desks and surfaces scattered throughout — similar to an open floor plan office. And two, they’re quiet. There are few things as culturally consistent as library design and library behavior. At Basecamp we call these Library Rules.
Libraries are full of people working, reading, thinking, studying, writing, contemplating, designing, etc. Yet they’re silent. People are heads down doing independent work. In our opinion, this is the model business, the model office. We pattern our way of working around Library Rules.
So this is the first lesson: Embrace Library Rules. Open offices work all around the world every day. They’re called libraries! And the more you treat your office as a library of work — rather than a chaotic kitchen of work — the better an open floor plan is going to work. Making an open floor plan work is a cultural decision.
Library Rules means keeping to yourself, keeping your voice down in hushed tones, not distracting one another. If you do need to talk to someone at normal volumes, grab a room. A key to making open floor plans work is also having private rooms scattered throughout the space. A place where a few people who need to discuss something in real time can jump in, talk it up and work it out without bothering anyone on the outside.
At our office, we call these private spaces Team Rooms. Here’s what they look like:
BTW, eliminating distractions doesn’t just mean physical distractions. It increasingly means virtual distractions. Real-time chat rooms/channels are basically open offices — and worse in many ways. So even if you’re fortunate enough to work remotely, or in an office with private rooms for everyone, if you’re forced to follow multiple real-time conversations all day long, you’re effectively working in open plan office too. Sorry!
What’s worse than an open floor plan? An open floor plan loaded with hard surfaces! And given that many open plans are housed in old warehouse/loft-like spaces, you’re materially at a disadvantage. All that wood and brick and glass looks great, but it sounds awful.
Our office space started as a 10,000sqft concrete and glass box. It was a former furniture factory, and a present day echo factory.
A big part of our office design was acoustic design. For example, we built a huge volume in the middle of the office that’s wrapped in stacked felt. The felt serves as a sound absorbing material, and the irregular stacking helps deflect sound. The material and application looks like this:
We also lined one long wall with an acoustic material used in recording studios to help absorb and deflect sound.
Carpet tiles lines the floor of the open work area to further reduce echo and sound transmission when people are speaking openly:
And even the team rooms themselves — rooms designed for collaboration and normal volume communication — have been designed with acoustics in mind. From the acoustic ceiling tiles, to the stacked and slotted cork walls to deflect sound and kill echo, each decision was deliberately made to keep sound from traveling where it shouldn’t.
And because we can’t help ourselves, we even installed neoprene grommets between any team rooms that shared the same glass wall. It’s hard to see this in the photo, but there’s a slight gap between rooms where the glass passes across an inner wall. The neoprene expands to fill that space and kill sound transmission between rooms.
We also built a separate sound proof (room inside a room) recording studio for recording our podcasts. It’s also lined with the same material we had on that long back wall.
Desk dividers out in the open office are made of another acoustic material made from recycled plastic:
And finally, anyone who needs to make a private phone call (personal or business), can duck into one of three phone rooms. The rooms are sound proof and lined with the same material we use for the desk dividers. There’s also an IN USE sign that lights up whenever someone’s inside — reminding everyone that someone’s in there.
Density and desks
Aside from acoustics, there’s another consideration which plays a large role in keeping an office quiet a calm — density. Packing people on top of each other is a form of induced stress. Desks face each other (but dividers keep people from seeing one another), and there’s about 10 feet of space behind each person’s desk. You never have to worry about rolling your chair back and hitting someone.
Further, our desk layout is arranged so no one is looking at anyone else’s screen. Knowing people are looking over your back — even unintentionally — is a really uncomfortable feeling. We’ve eliminated that with our layout.
Last, the desks are lined up along huge windows to make natural light a full part of everyone’s day. Natural light is especially calming, and independently operated shades help with the rare glare based on the season.
Open’s a choice
Yes, an open floor plan is a choice, but it requires a cultural commitment to respect and quiet. Luckily everyone already knows how to do that since everyone knows how to behave in a library. Beyond that, it also requires a capital investment and deliberate office design choices. Even if everyone’s quiet, tossing a bunch of desks in an echo chamber isn’t going to get the job done. If you want to keep things quiet, you have to think about what you’re designing. Every decision has an impact one way or another.
And it’s all optional!
We did the best job we could designing an open office (and a culture) that allows everyone to work in focused peace and quiet every day. But even that’s not good enough, which is why no one is ever required to come into our office. Basecamp is a fully remote company of 54 people, and even the 14 people who work in Chicago work remotely from home most of the time. Walk into the office on any given day and you’ll see 3–5, if you’re lucky. Yes, it’s a tremendous waste of space most of the time, but that’s a concession we’re comfortable making.
When do we do our best work? When we’re excited about something. Excitement morphs into motivation. We do our best work when we’re motivated. A great way to stay motivated is to work on something new. No one likes being stuck on a project that never seems to end.
The typical project
The typical project starts out great but then our motivation and interest wanes as time goes on. It’s natural. Staying interested in a project over a long period of time is a challenge for anyone. The longer the project the thinner the tail. You’re not going to do your best work in the tail.
The ideal series of projects
When you do a series of small projects, or break a single big project into smaller individual projects, you stand a better chance at maintaining motivation and rekindling interest. When you have a pile of tiny projects you get the chance to work on something new more often. We do our best work when we’re excited about starting something new. That’s why the bulk of our projects fit into cycles that last 6-weeks or less.
Credit for the waveform concept goes to Jim Coudal.