Work Can Wait 4,380 days

Or maybe it can’t. It’s your choice — That’s the point.

I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they learn I took 12 years off to raise my kids. They say, ‘But you’ve got such a great career in high tech! How’d you do that?’

I’m living proof you can take a break from your career to do something important to you and still have the career you want when you’re ready. For me, that break was to raise my boys — for you, it could be to travel, care for a family member, pursue an interest, give back or just chill.

Own your work-life decisions

I was the first person in my family to go to college. My Cuban-born mother had an eighth-grade education — my father graduated from high school. I earned a scholarship to Columbia University’s School of Engineering, where there were only three women in my electrical engineering class. After graduation, I got married and started my career in the high-tech industry. I loved my work.

A couple of years later, I had my first son. I fully intended to go back to work after my maternity leave, but the moment I held my son, I knew I wouldn’t be returning to work — not yet. There was something else I wanted to do more: raise my children.

This wasn’t an easy decision. I carried the yearnings of generations of women in my family who hadn’t had my opportunities. They couldn’t understand how I could ‘walk away from my career,’ and they couldn’t see a path for me to walk back later. I also loved my work, I was making a lot of money and I had financial independence. Yet, there was a voice inside telling me to embrace parenting. I listened. I knew on some level that taking time out of my career to do something I REALLY wanted to do wouldn’t be the end of my career.

But this post isn’t about whether to stay at home or to have a career; it’s about trusting your intuition, following your heart and having faith in yourself.

How to take time out of your career without ending it

There is no blueprint for making work wait for 12 years. And yet, I’m always asked how I did this. I never had a plan. I made my choices along the way.

Even though work was waiting, learning new things never did. During those 4,380 days, I thought of my children as my most meaningful work—the immovable priorities in every day—and I chose other pursuits that could fit around them. I earned a teaching credential, taught computer classes and taught myself emerging technologies. (My work passion was also my hobby, which I shared with my children, teaching them to program in Basic.) I consulted to small businesses and helped them set up their networks, volunteered at my sons’ schools and always worked part time around their schedules. In my 12th year out of the workforce, I got a full-time offer to build out a college technology center, join the faculty and then become dean of instructional computer technologies. Later, my self-taught Unix sys admin skills landed me at a company that taught Unix classes in Silicon Valley. It was perfect for me.

From that point forward, as I had before, I used my troika loves of emerging technology, applying technology to business problems and serving customers to choose my next move. I went to business school — my boys would post my report cards alongside theirs on our refrigerator. After I earned my MBA, I worked at email marketing company MarketFirst, then went on to content management software company Interwoven. When I realized I had a passion for the consumer online, I went to Yahoo, where I lead a global team of over 400 professionals in more than 20 countries. I followed my interest of ecommerce and women as CHOs (chief household officers) into a role first as CTO and then as CEO at Myshape (personalized online shopping experience) and then became the GM of ecommerce at Sears Holdings. Which brings me to my role today as chief operating officer for Basecamp.

Along the way, I concentrated on the choice that was in front of me. I never tried to calculate how to land at some future state of my career.

4 Tips for making choices and taking chances

Your career is one part of your life — it’s not your whole life. This is what I learned when I reset my life-work balance for 4,380 days:

  • It’s personal. There is no blueprint. You have to find your own authentic path and make it work for you.
  • Own it. If you don’t believe in your choices, no one else will either.
  • Focus on your strengths and passion. I am passionate (maybe it’s the latin blood). I never wavered from my mission of using emerging technology to help businesses and people be better — even when I hit the pause button on full-time work. Do what matters to you.
  • Don’t let others define you. When others attempt to put you in a box, they’re merely projecting their own fears on you. Resist the temptation to limit yourself because of someone else’s fixed mindset or because you’re afraid.

I’m a better leader because I did what I was drawn to do. It took courage then, and all these many years later, I find myself working with co-founders who have the courage to say this very thing to all of our employees. So, it turns out work can wait. Now that both of my sons are pursuing their own careers, families and passions, I feel energized to continue pursuing mine, knowing that one of my passions has multiplied my efforts.

Sometimes, work can wait — whether that means thousands of days or just evenings and weekends. If you agree, check out our Work Can Wait pledge, and hit the 💙 button below.

Show Up: Mind The Work

If you’ve been to London and ridden the Tube, you’ve seen the signs that read, ‘Mind the Gap.’ They’re there to remind you to be careful about the distance between the train and the platform. Around the world, we face an equally dangerous gap in the way we manage work, but there are no warning signs for us. When we don’t bring our full minds to our work, we run the risk of falling into a deep hole of assumptions.

We spend the majority of our time at work. What would it be like if you gave your full attention to your colleagues during a meeting? What if you actively sought to understand what they’re communicating and their perspectives instead of paying attention to the voice in your own head?

The voice in your head is leading you astray

The best professional advice I ever got came from the CEO at Interwoven, Martin Brauns. I was an executive for the first time in my career and I wanted to be a good leader. He was a strong leader and good coach. Using Stephen Covey’s, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” he encouraged me ‘to seek first to understand, then be understood’ (habit #5). With that simple advice, he transformed how I worked with people.

This is what it means to seek first to understand. Say an employee gives you a spreadsheet with information. You take a quick look at it, and you spot an obvious error. Do you tell yourself that the person who gave it to you is careless, lazy or dumb? If you do, this self-talk will dramatically change how you show up for that ensuing conversation. When you confront (yes, that’s the word) this person about the errors, you’ll be listening for data points that reinforce your negative thinking. You’ll be looking to justify your belief instead of seeking to understand. You’re not actually listening or being mindful. You’re busy confirming your hypothesis. Now you’ve reduced this person to these three adjectives. But what if none of that is true, then you’ve fallen into the trap of mindless leadership.

Imagine instead if you were to ask about the error. Instead of making your assumption, you’d say, ‘These numbers aren’t adding up.’ This is a simple statement of fact. Your colleague reacts by saying, ‘Oh, you’re right. I got this spreadsheet from so-and-so in accounting, and I didn’t look at that part of the spreadsheet. I worked on this tab for you.’ That part of the spreadsheet is flawless. Now you have a completely different opinion of this person because you made the effort to understand first. Note the facts are unchanged in both scenarios.

Too often, we assume bad intent behind the actions of others. We fill the void in our understanding with our own negative beliefs. We turn off our minds and go on autopilot. After Martin Brauns introduced me to this habit, I realized that nine times out of ten, when I ascribed negative intent to someone, the person had no such intent. It took probing and questioning, but it was well worth the time to learn what was actually happening versus assuming. When we go through work mindlessly, we jump to conclusions—and when we do that we can’t see the real issues we should be addressing. It’s time to hit the reset button on the voice in your head.

How do you press that reset button?

Don’t Assume You know.


Here are three prompts I use when I find myself in this situation:

  • Can you explain more about how you’re thinking about that?
  • Can you help me understand what’s getting in your way?
  • What have you been able to do so far?

You can still do your self-talk with these questions, but what comes out of your mouth changes:

  • You think: He’s dumb.
  • You say, How are you thinking about that?
  • You think: She hasn’t finished?! She’s slow.
  • You say, What’s getting in your way?
  • You think: He hasn’t started?! He’s lazy.
  • You say, What have you been able to do thus far?

I can’t tell you how many times I thought something wasn’t started only to learn that the person was most of the way done, but agonizing over perfecting the work. Or, that the employee had sent the work to me days ago, but had a typo in my email, so it never arrived. He thought I had it, and I thought he hadn’t sent it. There are so many explanations that aren’t negative.

In his book, “10% Happier,” author and journalist, Dan Harris, clearly explains how he tamed the voice in his own head. He uses ‘skillful…thinking, designed to direct the mind toward connecting with what is actually happening, as opposed to getting caught up in a storm of unproductive rumination.’ While this quote applies more to self talk about yourself, it can apply equally well to how and what you think of others. Let’s mind the work by bringing our full minds to work.

If you’re willing to try this the next time you automatically ascribe negative qualities to someone at work, hit the ❤ button below.

It’s urgent! (Really?)

I’m not exaggerating when I say that since I joined Basecamp, I’ve been questioning everything about the way I’ve traditionally worked. For example, let’s take the knowledge worker’s staple — email. Most professionals (including me) went from using email to communicate asynchronously, as intended, to expecting people to be trapped in email all day. Once we started reading email all day, we promoted it to the job of handling urgent matters — something it wasn’t designed to do. And if we are stuck in email all day, we aren’t really making progress on any other kind of work.

When did the inbox become the center of the work universe?
The fear behind “ASAP”
Every company has its own culture, which is reinforced by the actions its employees and leaders take and the stories they tell. One particular company I worked for valued being in the know — knowing every little detail. In this environment, it was not OK to say, “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.” And that created fear.

In a company like that, to make sure you never get caught saying, “I don’t know,” you over-prepare for meetings. You email your team for ASAP help when you’re in meetings. And if it’s your boss in a meeting, you stand by for those ASAP bombs in your emails. In the meantime, you attend meetings all day long during which hardly anyone actually participates because they’re reading email.

When I worked at companies where this was the norm, if I had 30 minutes in a day when there were no meetings, I did the dance of joy. That was my time slice to “work.” Ironically, I found that if a meeting got cancelled, I was able to get more work done in that one hour than the entire rest of the day. 
And of course, as fewer people got work done, we needed more meetings to check in to see why work wasn’t getting done. Meetings became the way we kept each other updated. Those meetings spurred more email, and the cycle was painful.

That’s the old way of working.

Don’t let false urgency throw you off your priorities.

Fast forward to the present.

The other day I received an email to which I replied, “Please call me if this is urgent.” I didn’t have time to deliver on the request the sender put in his message, and I wasn’t going to be in the office the next day, a Friday. (One of our benefits at Basecamp is a four-day work week during the summer.) But then, I thought about that. If I replied that way, I’d have to check my phone and email all day — my day off — for an “urgent” message. The more I thought about it, I realized, how could this email be urgent? The external sender didn’t even state a timeframe. And I didn’t know him.

When did every email become urgent? When people started hanging out in email all the time.
Unfortunately, if you’re expected to monitor email all day, you can’t get any work done. We’ve changed what the meaning of work is — in a bad way. We’re splitting our attention between responding to emails and attending meetings (that demand more email). Maybe you’re reading this post and looking at your email right now!

Email was never intended as a platform for doing work. It has no intelligence. There’s no prioritization. It lands in your inbox chronologically. And yet, when you’re replying to or sending email, you feel busy. You feel like you’re doing something. But are you really? When you’re reacting to email, someone else is setting your priorities.

The heartbeat of your day shouldn’t be your inbox.

Now, some things are truly urgent, but real emergencies won’t likely come through your inbox. And while it may be ego-crushing to admit this, so little of what we do in the tech industry overall is truly urgent. If you stop monitoring your email for imaginary emergencies, and you start working on your own priorities, you’ll get stuff done and you won’t need to attend a meeting to explain to others what you’ve been up to. There will be no fear at the end of the day that you weren’t productive. And that’s a great feeling.
 If you’d like to continue this dialog, you can always send me an email. Just don’t mark it “urgent.”

We’re looking for a marketing-focused designer to join our team

I’m Mercedes, Basecamp’s COO, and I’m leading our marketing efforts. I’m looking for a wonderful designer to lead our visual marketing team.

Designers at Basecamp are a fun bunch who bounce around different projects and do a bit of everything. In addition to graphic design, designers at Basecamp write tight copy, tell stories, design the UX for the website and marketing-related screens in the app, and write the HTML and CSS to make it all work.

While we’re thoughtful and deliberate, we move quickly and like to experiment often, so you may find yourself redesigning something you just designed. It’s all in the service of making something great! You should feel comfortable making new stuff, iterating on existing stuff, and everything in between.

This is your chance to design sites and materials that’ll be seen by millions.

Here are a few things my team worked on over the last few weeks:

  • We completely redesigned around new messaging, and made the new site look and feel more like Basecamp the app.
  • We worked on a few ideas and designs for making upgrading a simpler process inside the Basecamp app. We’re a/b testing them now to see if they worked.
  • Designed a friendlier way for customers to play with a sample Basecamp and then create their own.
  • We used data to evaluate a log-in/signup issue, offered up a visual design to significantly reduce the problem, and worked with a programmer to implement the fix. We hope to roll this out soon.
  • Helped write and design emails our customers receive once they start using Basecamp.
  • Came up with an idea to help guide customers through the process of setting up a new Basecamp by asking them one simple question at a time. We designed the screens and worked with a programmer to hook them up. This will be launching shortly.

Here are some things we’d like your help with over the next few weeks, months, and years:

  • Continue improving — design and a/b test a wide variety of alternate designs to see if we can improve signup rates and conversion.
  • Help us figure out the best way to help customers understand how Basecamp can improve their business.
  • Help us do a better job of explaining a variety of key features — either through visualizations, short videos, or storytelling.
  • Explore designs that speak to the different audiences that visit, and make sure the site is organized to do this well.
  • Updating frequently so it feels alive and fresh.
  • Support external events through focused landing pages and other collateral.
  • Lend a hand designing and redesigning our help/support materials.
  • Work on a variety of special print projects and surprises for customers.
  • Support anyone else in the business who needs visual/design help or inspiration.
  • And make sure everything we put out there looks great!

Other Considerations

This is an important role for us. Please take the time to read the following questions below before you apply. If they resonate, please apply.

  1. Do you enjoy telling stories and helping customers succeed? How can you demonstrate that?
  2. How does our product market itself? How would you blur the line between product design and marketing design?
  3. How would you use immediate feedback on how your design impacts our customers, their adoption of Basecamp and their success?
  4. Have you ever considered what the purpose of a website for a company like Basecamp should be?
  5. Are you someone who excels at getting your points across visually and succinctly? How do you do that?
  6. Do you like to see how your work can move company levers? What did you do that helped move the needle?
  7. Do you love seeing customers be successful? How do you do that?

Ready to apply?

Great! Here’s a couple more things you should know:

  1. You can work remotely for this job. I am based in CA. We just need to make sure we have some working schedule overlap. Working remotely is just one of our many our many benefits. Our CEO, Jason Fried, recently wrote about those benefits.
  2. We have a long standing history of favoring candidates who put in extra effort into their applications. Whether that’s a video of you introducing yourself or making us a custom website — that’s up to you. We want to know you’re qualified, but more importantly that you want this job and not just any job. Tell us why Basecamp.
  3. When you’re ready, you can apply by sending an email to with the word DESIGNER in the subject. We’ll be accepting applications through May 1, and reviewing them on a rolling basis. If this role isn’t right for you, but you know someone who’d be perfect for the role, please share this posting with them.

Good Luck!

I’m New Here…

A couple of months ago, I made a big decision. I joined Basecamp as its first-ever COO. Once I came aboard, I was immediately reminded what’s tough about joining a new company.

There’s a lot about the company you don’t know.

And one of the hardest things is where to start.

Especially when you’re in a new role for a company like Basecamp.

I had a head start. Jason and David were clear and unwavering about the charter from the outset: We want to operate the company with as much love and attention and care as we already put into building our products. We want Basecamp the company to be outstanding at every level.

That still leaves a lot of wiggle room. Where do you start with a company that is already so great to begin with? A company that trusts its employees to choose and figure out what to work on. How I can I do that when I’m new?

But that’s the magic. I’m only going to be new once. Being new wasn’t the predicament, it was the breakthrough.

I came in with fresh eyes and an open mind. It was like wearing 3-D glasses. Everything was intensified. I had no pre-conceived notions and plenty of room for new thoughts. I had the gift of fresh perspective.

So what did I do with this gift?

I spent the first week going through our company basecamps. Luckily it was all waiting for me: The marketing basecamp, the team OMG (our support team) basecamp, the data basecamp and many others. They were all there with their to-do’s, message boards, documents and threaded discussions. It didn’t matter how long ago my colleagues commented in these basecamps. It was all there for me to see, review and learn from.

I asked for and received written responses from almost everyone in the company to a message I posted seeking advice for newbies. My colleagues were helpful, generous, funny and a little irreverent in their responses — just like our culture. Advice ranged from …and never, ever, drink the Malört to drink the Malört, it’s totally fine. It’s only gross when you can smell it, are drinking it and for a few short hours afterwards.

I was in several hang outs with my colleagues. Each hang out was different. I listened to their questions and asked where they thought I should start.

I went to our meet up. I got to meet almost everyone in the company face-to-face. It was great. I tried to speak everyone personally and asked them what they thought I should focus on first.

After that I asked questions. A lot of questions. Some were in one-on-one pings and others were in response to threaded discussions about specific topics.

I read books that were recommended to me.

I helped answer support tickets for our customers.

I listened in campfires and piped up when I had a question.

Then something magical happened. Big rocks (from Rockefeller Habits) started coming into my field of view. All the interlocking pieces came together in my mind’s eye. I chose (with a little help from Jason and David) and figured out which big rocks to focus on for Basecamp.

I’m new here and that’s a good thing! 😀