Listener questions, answered

It’s time for another mailbag episode where Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson answer your questions! In this one, they discuss how to apply calm company principles to client work and classrooms, and talk about healthy ways for business partners to disagree.

Take a Break

Smell ya later! We here at the Rework podcast are taking off the month of August. Before we left, we interviewed three business owners about sabbaticals. In this episode: Adeline Koh of Sabbatical Beauty shares the story of how she ended up starting a business while on leave from a different job; Jason Fried explains why Basecamp offers paid sabbaticals as an employee benefit; and Rachel Winard of Soapwalla talks about what it’s like to go on sabbatical when you’re the boss.

We’ll be back in September with all-new episodes of Rework! In the meantime, you can catch up on episodes you missed at or peruse the archives of our previous podcast, The Distance.

Reflecting on five years at Basecamp

Back when I was a kid, they called this place 37signals. 👴👋👽

This week I celebrated my fifth year around the sun at Basecamp. For a lot of people that’s probably not a big deal, but for me it kind of is — it’s by far the longest I’ve ever been at any one job (my previous record was ~3 years).

That got me wondering — what’s so different this time around that made it stick? I eventually realized it basically came down to this:

I’m happy at Basecamp because every day I’m in a position to ship the best work that I can.

I admit that’s a rather generic statement, and pretty much every company in the world tries (or claims) to do the same. So what does Basecamp do that works so well for me?

Now before we get into the specifics, let me just say that this post isn’t meant to be a humble brag of how amazing Basecamp is. It’s simply an examination of how one company among many thousands operates, and why that meshes so well with someone like me.

So, as I was saying — what’s so special about Basecamp that it suits me so well? Well, it’s a bunch of things that all interleave together…

🚢 Shipping meaningful work is what matters

I’ve been at companies where I did a lot of “work”, but it often felt like I was just shuffling widgets around. I’d go to meetings, send emails, and make some stuff, but in the end, it’d be hard to tell if my work meant anything to the final product.

Other times we’d have so many pointless “stakeholder perspectives” that by the time we shipped, the final product was so watered down that it didn’t matter to anyone.

And yet other times, after months or years, some things would just never ship at all.

Basecamp is the exact opposite. As a small company working in small teams, we don’t have the luxury of spending any time on stuff that isn’t essential to shipping. And because we have to be choosy about what we work on, it’s usually the case that what we ship will be meaningful to our customers.

So we discuss ideas thoroughly, but don’t paralyze ourselves with analysis. We don’t pretend to know everything or try to predict the future, we ship and see what happens. We don’t have soul-sucking multi-hour meetings, we focus on the real work of designing, programming, and supporting our customers.

In the end, shipping meaningful work is what matters most to me, and that’s what keeps me motivated day in and day out.

😌 Calm is critically important

While shipping meaningful work is a great goal and motivator, even the best employees in the world can’t do their best work if they’re stressed, tired, rushed, or distracted. The folks at Basecamp know this, and that’s why calm and focus are cornerstones of everything we do.

One of the main ways we maintain calm is by not wasting time and energy on unnecessary bullshit and distractions. This is incredibly important to me — when I’ve got plenty of focused time to get my work done, I don’t rush. And when I don’t rush, I don’t feel stressed.

And while that may sound obvious and easy to avoid, I’ve worked at enough companies to know that wasting time is extraordinarily common. Opportunities to waste time present themselves in a lot of different ways, so here are just a few things we do to combat them:

  • We have very few (if any) meetings during a normal week. If there are any, they have the fewest people possible involved, usually a max of 2–3 folks. And we definitely don’t have recurring meetings.
  • We don’t commute. We all work remotely. Why spend 30–60 minutes traveling to some random building in a busy area to work when we can do the same work at home? This easily saves me 10 hours a week.
  • We don’t chat all day. There’s zero expectation of keeping on top of every chat or responding to an IM immediately. In fact, if anything we’re encouraged to close everything communications-related (including Basecamp!) so that we can focus on the actual work on hand. I regularly do this for hours on end, every day.
  • We don’t all work 9 to 5. We work hours that fit our life and brains. If, for example, you’re sharpest at 6 am, why the hell would you wait until “normal business hours” to start working? That’s a waste of your best brainpower! As long as we overlap a few hours with our team, we work when it makes sense, not by some arbitrary clock time.

Another major component of maintaining calm is to be very, very serious about not overworking and recognizing life’s priorities. In other words, when the work day is over, it’s over. And if something happens that’s clearly more important than work, we go take care of that . We work to serve our lives, not the other way around.

That means I don’t work some bullshit 60 hour work week.

That means that I don’t get notifications from the Basecamp app after 5 pm.

That means I don’t have meetings early in the morning or late in the evening that interrupts time with my family.

That means if I’m sick, I actually take the day off to get better, not partially stumble through the day trying to work.

That means if something comes up at home that’s way more important than work, I go take care of it and my co-worker’s don’t even blink at it.

That means I get a good night’s sleep because I’m enthusiastic about the next day’s work, not dreading it.

“Work-life balance” is an overused, rarely accurate term, but I think we’re doing it pretty damn well.

🙏 Autonomy and trust

A big part of Basecamp’s culture is the autonomy that we’re afforded. There are no managers, no daily stand-ups, and no playbook on how to do our daily work. It’s up to us to figure things out and own the calls we make.

For me that means I get to make a lot of decisions that have a direct impact on the outcome of my work — I choose what I want to work on, I make the final call on how any particular batch of code is shipped, and I’m ultimately responsible for how it performs.

Maybe this all doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it means a lot to me.

To me having freedom and autonomy is a vote of confidence. When the people around me give me plenty of space to do my thing, it isn’t negligence or disinterest — it’s trust. It means an awful lot to me that people I genuinely respect have such trust and confidence in me. Maybe that makes me weird or lacking self-confidence or sappy, but it’s true.

Whatever the reason, it’s been an important, formative element of my five years at Basecamp.

🎩 It starts at the top

Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned in my nearly 20 year career is that for me to have any kind of longevity at a company, it’s critically important to believe in the people at the top. I’ve worked for all sorts of companies before Basecamp, and I’ve never exactly felt super connected to those folks running the show.

Why is this important? Because at the end of the day, there are going to be a handful of people in a company that make the big decisions. And those big decisions in some way, big or small, have a direct impact on me and my work. These people are the ones deciding what’s important at the company, what isn’t, and what my work life is going to be like as long as I’m there.

And so the question becomes, do I believe in those folks? Am I more or less aligned with their principals — their professional beliefs, ethics, values, strategies, and overall ideals? Or do I have fundamental disagreements with a lot of what they believe in.

For me, Basecamp is the first place where I really do believe and trust in our leaders, Jason and David. Most everything they’ve done to build, grow, and sustain Basecamp agrees with me. And that makes it a hell of a lot easier to stick around and stay motivated than it would be working at a company where I’m constantly wondering “WTF are these clowns thinking?”

Now does that mean I agree with everything Jason and David do or say? No, of course not, I’m not some mindless drone. But generally speaking I do believe in the direction they provide and the choices they make. And perhaps more importantly, even if I do disagree, I respect their position, the thought they put into making a call, and the honesty and decency they treat everyone with.

👩‍👩‍👦‍👦 It takes a village

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the people I work with at Basecamp — what a crew! I truly, genuinely would not be where I am today in my career without them.

Sorry, it’s a tired trope but I have to say it — I work with really wonderful people. They’re so open-minded, friendly, welcoming, and damn smart. We’ve worked on so many great things together and I’ve learned so much from them. It’s an easy choice to stick around when you’re around folks like this. And beyond all that, they’re just great human beings.

Thank you Adam, Andrea, Ann, Ashley, Blake, Chase, Chris, Colin, Conor, David, Dylan, Elizabeth, Eron, Flora, George, Jabari, James, Jamie, Janice, Jason, JZ, Javan, Jay, Jayne, Jeff, Jeremy, Jim, Joan, John, Jonas, Justin, Kristin, Lexi, Matt, Matthew, Merissa, Michael, Nathan, Noah, Pratik, Rosa, Ryan, Sam, Scott, Shanae, Shaun, Sylvia, Tara, Taylor, Tom, Tony, Wailin, Zach, and all our beloved alums for making this a fantastic five years!

Thanks for reading — if you enjoyed it, please do mash the 👏 button so we can show Medium that they really nailed that 50 clap idea! 😏

Hate your job? Happier times are within your grasp

As is common this time of year, I took some time to reflect on life and work. And a few different things reminded me of how incredibly fortunate and happy I am to be working at Basecamp.

But I bet you can guess the punchline — yeah, it wasn’t always like this. The year before I landed at Basecamp, things were pretty rough and I was miserable at work.

I know this feeling isn’t unique. In fact you might be feeling today how I did years ago — coming home from work tired, uninspired, unhappy, and even angry. It’s not a good look.

But change is within your grasp. It won’t be easy, but you can be damn sure it’ll be worth it. I speak from personal experience.

When I eventually reached my job-hate breaking point, the first order of business was to quit said job. I have to admit it was kind of exciting and liberating. But it was also intensely scary.

I was walking away from a good job working at a stable, respected company — a company where I could’ve had a prosperous (albeit miserable) career. I voluntarily went from having a very generous salary to one of literally $0.

Oh and by the way, as I took on this adventure of rebuilding my career I still had some huge responsibilities back at home: namely my twin infant sons and all the adulting required to keep them happy and healthy.

So you can imagine the unsettling feeling of self doubt I felt early on. More than once I wondered, “Did I make a huge mistake??”

But ultimately I realized what scared me the most was the long-term prospects of doing nothing — not just being unhappy for one year, but allowing that misery to fester over three, five or even ten years.

We spend an inordinate amount of our life at work — somewhere between 20–30% of our waking hours. How could I standby and let all those hours be filled with misery, only to bring that misery home with me every day to my family? No, if I was going to spend that much of my life doing something, those hours better be happy ones.

So I pushed aside that doubt, put my head down and got to work. I joined The Starter League and got my brain and attitude in the right space. I was learning tons and meeting great people. I felt professionally energized and excited for the first time in a long time.

I finished up my classes there and soon after I mustered up all my courage and took a long shot: I reached out to Jason Fried to ask if there was anything I could help with. We got to talking, and a few months later he invited me to join 37signals.

What an unbelievable turn of events. Going from the the worst job I’d ever had to working at my dream company wasn’t anything I’d ever expected. Fast forward 4+ years and I’m doing the best work of my career and I’ve never been happier at a job.

Now look, I’m not recounting this story as some kind of humble brag or to make myself look like hot shit. Anybody who knows me I am the furthest thing from hot shit. I’m ice cold shit.

I bring it up because I hope it shows the kinds of crazy, unexpected, wonderful things that can happen to anyone’s career if you take a chance.

I’m not special — all I did was acknowledge my unhappiness, embrace the uneasiness of change, and got to work. Yes, there was some luck involved, but even if I landed somewhere other than Basecamp, I still would’ve been happier and better off for having tried.

Of course it’s really important to remember that everyone’s situation is different, so don’t take my story as gospel.

I was fortunate to be in a position to take a chance like I did. I had years of work experience to help me recognize when to get out of an ugly situation. We were financially secure — it was a moderate risk, but I never put ourselves in any kind of precarious lose-it-all situation. And most importantly I had wonderful, incredibly supportive people around me — family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and so many others. I recognize not everyone gets the deck stacked in their favor like this.

It’s also worth noting that life wasn’t all roses and sunshine afterwards either. It took a long while to get everything back up to speed — to rebuild our finances, to re-establish my career direction, and even smooth out our family life and routine.

But in the end was it worth it? Absolutely, positively, hell yes.

If you hate your job, I’d really encourage you to consider taking action. But first you’ll need to evaluate your career situation, then decide what’s best for you and your family, now and in the future. It’s natural (and healthy) to feel scared, worried, and hesitant. Take your time, consider deeply, and take action when it’s right for you.

But no matter what your situation is, if you’re in a rough patch in your career I hope that my story gives you a spark of hope, something you can hang onto — the belief that better times await you when you’re ready.

There’s something great out there for you and your career. You absolutely deserve the happiness it can bring — go on and get it. 🤜🤛

If you enjoyed this post, please do hit the 👏 button. Thanks!

Say No

It’s easy to say yes, whether it’s to a customer request or a deadline from your boss. But saying yes too many times can result in an unmanageable workload or distract you from the stuff you really want to be doing. It’s good to practice saying no and setting boundaries. In this episode of the Rework podcast: A personal organizer helps her clients say no to physical clutter; a programmer at Basecamp peers into the abyss of burnout and steps back just in time; and a healthy meal-planning startup rejects complexity, even if it means letting some customers go.

Workaholics Aren’t Heroes

Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more. (Rework)

Being tired isn’t a badge of honor. We’ve been saying this for a while now, because our culture loves to glorify toiling long hours for its own sake and we think that leads to subpar work and general misery. In this episode of the Rework podcast, we talk to a veteran of the video game industry and a member of Basecamp’s customer support team about workaholism and burnout. We also hear from the owner of a new business who’s balancing mindfulness with the demands of starting her own meditation-focused company.

The issue of workaholism, particularly in tech startups, continues to be a prickly topic—so much so that when DHH wrote a piece for this very blog entitled “Trickle-down workaholism in startups,” he kicked off a Twitter fight about it. We’ll be talking about that dust-up in the next episode, which is entirely devoted to why and how David argues on Twitter. So listen, subscribe (via Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, or the app of your choice), and stay tuned!

Work culture — important things you can learn from my salon

I’ve been seeing the same hair stylist for years — Valerie. Not only do I consider her a friend (and of course great at keeping me proud of my hair), she’s full of interesting lessons about business. She’s even recently opened up her own salon. (I’ve written about her and her partner before.)

I was chatting with Valerie about what makes a great place to work. She mentioned two things.

First, Valerie sees so many salons pretending that cutting hair is way more important than other aspects of employees lives, like their family or extracurricular activities. She wants to see salons encourage employees to go after what they want. Whether it’s performing in a band, or auditioning for an acting job, she’s wants an environment that works around the real lives and schedules of employees.

Second, Valerie doesn’t want employees to feel stuck doing a certain thing. Many salons silo their employees. You can only cut hair. You can only do color. Valerie wants her employees to be able to explore any facet of the business they want to learn and get better at.

As Valerie talked to me about what’s important to her, I realized those were the same things that drove my career direction and entrepreneurship goals.

One of the first jobs I had was as a consultant. I was on the road, living in other states 5 days a week. My life at home was completely ignored by my employer.

And it’s not just consulting companies. How many work places expect their salaried employees to work as much overtime as possible for free to help make the founders wealthy?

I also saw how companies stuck me into siloed places. I kept finding myself in positions where I wanted to learn and contribute to more aspects of the business, but didn’t see a path to do so. I didn’t expect my employer to hold my hand, but I felt shut out of even the ability to try and learn.

So when I would switch jobs or create my own companies, my objective would often be to overcome these obstacles.

Now don’t get me wrong. These goals are still aspirational to me as I run Highrise. I’m positive I’m still not the best at executing on these ideas, but I want to be.

I realize employees here at Highrise have important things going on in their lives other their work here. So instead of the typical “end of week retrospective” about work, during our end of week meeting we focus on everyone’s weekend plans and life updates. Or we try to promote and encourage the outside efforts of employees, like Alison Groves’ work to give girls a wonderful environment to learn about business, technology, working together, and more with Girls to the Moon.

I also try to provide an environment where Highrise employees can participate and learn about any facet of the business they want to. Any team. Any project. If someone in engineering wants the raw data to customer interviews or our website analytics to see what drives business decisions, it’s all open to them. If someone on customer support, wants to help with marketing and SEO efforts, the contributions are more than welcome. If anyone wants to sit at the trade show booth with me talking to people, they can. If anyone wants to develop, they can. If anyone wants to design, they can.

I want Highrise to be a place where you can absolutely grow into the person you want to be. I know I can get a ton better at this and hope I can. But if you are looking at building your own company and looking for some advice on the people side of things, those are two big ones that stand out to me.

P.S. Please help spread this by clicking the below.

You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life. And if you need a no-hassle system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise. And if you need a hair stylist in Chicago, go say hi to Valerie.

The Managerial Entitlement Complex

It’s popular for managers to bitch about how millennials have an entitlement complex. It’s always easy to pick on someone smaller and younger than you, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you who has the entitlement complex. Any manager that feels entitled to someone else’s personal time has an entitlement complex.

Any manager who expects a response from an employee at any time of night has an entitlement complex. Any manager who expects someone to get back to them at 4pm on a Sunday has an entitlement complex. Any manager who thinks someone’s life comes second to their work has an entitlement complex.

Paying someone a salary doesn’t mean you own them. It means they work for you. During work. Work is not always, work is sometimes. If a manager thinks work is always or whenever they want it to be, they have an entitlement complex.

As as owner, as an employer, as a manager, I don’t feel entitled to anyone’s nights or weekends. That’s their time. I’m an asshole if I think it’s mine. I’ve done nothing to deserve a right to that time. Treating people well at work is what I’m supposed to do — it doesn’t buy me more of their time whenever I want it.

Can I send someone a message through Basecamp at 9pm on a Thursday because that’s when I’m free to do it? Sure. But if I expect a response any time before the next morning, then I’m a shitty manager.

Are there exceptions? Occasionally, yes. True emergencies or crisis are also exempt, of course, but those should happen once or twice a year, if that. And if they’re happening more frequently, there’s an even deeper problem with the company, the culture, and the quality. More hours ain’t gonna fix that.

At Basecamp we believe 40 hours is enough. We’re not perfect, but we try our best. There’s next to nothing that needs to be handled at 9pm that can’t be handled at 9am the next morning. When things seem to require more time, we try to find out what we should do less of, not what we should do more of.

The outwork myth

Enough already

You can’t outwork people.

You may be able to outwork someone.

Maybe you have a lazy friend. Or you’ve met a few entrepreneurs who talk a big game but they don’t seem to want to do any work.

They don’t represent people, they each represent a person.

The world is a big place. It may feel smaller, but it’s actually bigger — more people in more places have more opportunity than ever before. It’s hungry.

If you’re ready to work on something, there’s someone else out there who’s ready to work on it too. Someone just as hungry. Or hungrier.

Or if there isn’t — if you’re truly on to something no one else has ever thought of — then you aren’t working against anyone anyway.

Assuming you can put in more hours than someone, or work harder than someone else, is giving yourself too much credit for your effort and not enough for theirs.

Hours are never the differentiator — it’s never about working more hours than someone else. It’s about the decisions you make. How you spend your time, what you do and don’t do. Especially what you don’t do.

You’ll have more opportunities to waste time than use time. If you’re going to measure hours, the ones worth measuring are the ones you don’t waste, not the ones you spend.

Like Peter Drucker said decades ago, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”

The people who’ve made it didn’t make it because they worked harder than everyone else. There wasn’t someone 100 hours behind that would have made it had they put in 101.

People make it because they’re talented, they’re lucky, they’re in the right place at the right time, they know how to work with other people, they know how to sell, they know what moves people, they can tell a story, they can see the big and small picture in every situation, and they know how to do something with an opportunity. And so many other reasons. Working harder than other people is not the reason.

So get the outwork myth out of your head. It’s not a thing.

Is Basecamp successful because we worked harder than everyone else? Absolutely not. In fact, when we launched Basecamp back in 2004, David, our one and only programmer, only had 10 hours a week to put into it because he was still a student in University. It was a side project for us too.

Is Basecamp successful because it’s great? We hope so. Is it successful because we were in the right place at the right time? Certainly so. Is it successful because it’s original and unique? We believe so. Is it successful because it’s straightforward? We’ve heard so. Is it successful because it helps other people be successful? Absolutely so.

From the mountaintop to everyday life: how I embraced work / life integration

Saddle Mountain at dawn — photo by Natalie Keshlear

In June, I went on a 5 week sabbatical from work — I ventured out into the woods with my boyfriend and we hiked. We climbed mountains, slept in a tent and got dirty — we took showers infrequently and we had a hell of a time. We went all over Oregon and then onto the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. It was hiking heaven and the 5 weeks went by slowly — I felt fully rested and reenergized, daily.

During that time, I noticed things — small things; details. Slowly and then all at once. I noticed how my boyfriend’s beard seemed to grow more quickly in the wilderness — not kidding, beards grow more freely in the wild — they can’t be stopped. I noticed my legs and how they felt stronger after each day of climbing rocks and scrambling up mountain ridges. My attention and focus were sharpened — I felt a clarity after so many months of distraction and information overload. My mind in fact, became saturated with all the things I had failed to notice previously.

Out in the woods and on mountaintops, I was learning how to be quiet again and listen. I noticed so much more when I slowed down. The first week, it felt like coming off a drug — the drug of distraction. I could not sit still. I was jittery — I felt left out — I wanted to be connected. Then, it got easier to sit down and read — it got easier to avoid Facebook and Twitter and put down my phone and pick up a pen or my camera. The days felt longer — the hours stretched endlessly — I felt truly immersed in every bit of it and when it was time to sleep, I felt completely ready for rest. I felt incredibly fulfilled.

Over the last year and a half, my personal life has blossomed — I’ve learned new things — roller derby, I ran a 10K, started training for a half marathon and I hit the books daily — reading up a storm. I failed a lot too, but learned that failing does not make you a failure (I’m still working on believing that). I was challenging myself and it was invigorating. I learned how to say “no” more and build more healthy boundaries. I stopped asking “can I do it” and flipped the script to “how can I do it” — I was less afraid and more empowered to try new things. My mindset was changing from being okay with inner life complacency, to a more growth mindset.

As my personal life flourished, it sadly left my work life in the dust. I noticed a huge contrast in how I lived my life (weekends, evenings, vacations) versus how I felt and lived my work life every Monday through Friday 9am -6pm. I just assumed, “well this is how it’s gonna be — you can either thrive in work or life, but not both”.

But, something had been stirring for a while in me and having a break to really think, made me wonder if there was a way to apply the new ways of living that I was learning in my “off hours” life — to my work life as well. It was a whisper of a thought, but it intrigued me. Was there a way to integrate the two? Did they need to be separate? Was it possible to bring in more critical thinking, more self compassion, more growth, more vulnerability, a space for challenge and more mindfulness and use all those things to enhance my performance at work?

Then, I came back to work.

After 5 weeks of quiet and solitude and space to think, I tripped and fell headfirst into my old habits. Habits that left me feeling stuck to my computer, glued to my smartphone, email, Twitter & Facebook.

Falling into my old habits made me feel uncomfortable — like putting on clothes that are a few sizes too small. They didn’t fit anymore. The things that felt so normal before (rushing through emails, checking into work off hours to squeeze in more work, multitasking 5 things at once, distracted to the point of numbing, stressing, not taking time to respond to coworkers or talk to them because it was busy..etc), suddenly felt so wrong.

I had been doing an objectively “good job” every day, but looking back — I was in “low power or energy saving mode”— not really using my strengths or challenging myself to my full potential; saving my energy for something else — I’m not sure what. This is not in anyways the fault of my employer — my job is wonderful and we have amazing employee benefits — I am very lucky and privileged to work where I do. I recognize that daily. I am in the best work environment that I could hope for. I just did not have a very flexible mindset when it came to what kind of person I could be at “work”.

I was ready for a real change.

There are a few things that I think can help in the process of cultivating a healthy work / life integration. Consider this a guideline and not the only set of rules to follow:

Embrace mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined as “a sustained awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment.” This is the definition I identify with the most and what author Ellen Langer speaks about in her book by the same name. So, what does it mean? It means thinking more about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Langer expands upon how to bring mindfulness into work below:

“You can come to mindfulness in one of two ways. First, you can engage in noticing new things. It can be new things about a product you’re working with, your supervisor, your manager, about your family, whatever it is; you’ll come to see that by noticing them, they’re different. And when something is different it becomes naturally engaging. By having people notice new things it leads people to become mindful.

The second way to become mindful is by learning the importance of uncertainty and understanding the power in uncertainty. When you approach things with the mindset that you no longer think you know everything about it, you bring a different kind of attention to it. This respect and understanding for uncertainty leads people to become more mindful. “— Ellen Langer

For me, a way to bring mindfulness into work is by recognizing why I feel the way I do — when I’m angry, sad, frustrated, happy or any one of the many emotions humans have — I like to think about the “why” behind it all. Yes, I’m a person who likes talking and thinking about feelings and I’ve embraced that. For example, during the day, if I feel overwhelmed (if it’s a really busy day or I am doing a lot of things) I slow down and make sure to breathe and consider why I am stressed out. I know if I’m feeling flustered that I need to ‘put on the brakes,’ take a walk or just stop for a moment to recover a bit.

Define healthy boundaries

Defining healthy boundaries at work is really important. So what does it mean and look like? People who have developed healthy boundaries are described as:

“People who had very, very clear boundaries about what they were willing to do, what they were not willing to do, what they were willing to take on, and what they were not willing to take on.” — Brené Brown

Brené goes more in depth into this in the video below:

I like defining boundaries. When I’m going on vacation, I communicate clearly what my boundaries are while I’m out. I communicate that I’ll be out and define who can help in my absence. I politely say “no” if someone requests that I take on a new project the day before my vacation and I maintain consistency while “out of office” — by not checking emails or work stuff — so then, my colleagues know my words line up with my actions. Work can wait and being tired is not a badge of honor, but sometimes you’ve got to remind yourself and others of that — even when you work at Basecamp.

Care less and let go of control

Care less about situations that you cannot control — it might sound like not caring, but it’s not. It can be a much needed shield when working in emotionally draining jobs/environments. Chris Gallo from Highrise wrote about caring less in customer support:

“When I care too much, I’m putting the other person in control of a relationship I shouldn’t even be in.

You have to have thick skin working in customer support. You have to let some things go. One person being upset isn’t a reflection of you or the majority of people that use the product.

It sounds backwards, but you’ve have to care less. Not more.”

I agree with Chris. I also work in customer support and I used to get really stressed worrying about people’s replies. Something that’s helped me a lot is to know that I can’t change how someone reacts to a situation. I can do my best and be my best in an interaction, but it’s not a guarantee that an interaction will go well. Even if I reply and you can practically hear a smile or the aura of a rainbow colored mini goat dancing the tango, shining through an email. It does not matter sometimes. I can’t control how someone reacts to me. It’s not the end of the world and I can move on more easily.

Communicate openly and directly

Having the space for open lines of communication and the ability to directly communicate without fear of retribution is very important at work.

“People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool–even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously they don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open.” — Joseph Grenny

A safe space for open communication is key. This is given and I believe cultivated from the top. If team leads/managers, senior employees and CEO’s aren’t demonstrating that it’s okay to disagree or give constructive feedback without getting publicly snubbed, it’s hard to to believe it’s really okay. This can lead to silence and silence is a noxious gas. Claire Lew from Know Your Company, offers her perspective on how to create a space for more open communication:

“If you’re a manager, business owner, or CEO, the most important thing you can do is act on the feedback your employees give you. After all, that’s why an employee is giving you feedback in the first place — they simply want action to be taken.

Now I’m not saying that you should blindly appease every request that an employee makes. But you have to start somewhere. If you want an open, transparent work environment, you can’t just talk about being open and transparent. You have to act in an open and transparent way.” — Claire Lew (source)

Having open communication channels and being able to directly communicate, helps me to feel more connected with my teammates and bosses. If there’s a misunderstanding or miscommunication between myself and another teammate, I bring that up and prefer to talk through that — rather than leaving things unsaid. It’s uncomfortable — it does not feel great while it’s happening and it can be scary, but afterwards I’m always glad to have had those tough conversations.

My sabbatical is long over, but the lessons I’ve learned during it are still fresh in my mind. I don’t claim to know all the best practices surrounding how to integrate work and life and I’m learning as I go. My “real life” is something I’m more happy with now and it combines all parts of my life (work and life and everything in between). It’s nowhere near perfect — but, I don’t think “perfect” is a state that can be reached. My “out in the woods & on mountaintops” experience has continued to grow at my work desk, inside my apartment, on a busy street in Berlin. I now find comfort in the belief that I don’t need to be thousands of miles away to experience a fulfilling life — it starts at home — wherever that might be.

How do you maintain a work/life integration or balance? Is it important to you and how do you achieve that? Tell me in the comments below or tweet me here.

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, communicating more openly, setting healthy boundaries, self preservation and more, I recommend the books and blog posts below:

Mindfulness by Ellen Langer, Daring Greatly & Rising Strong by Brené Brown, Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless by Laurie Penny, Crucial Conversations: tools for talking when the stakes are high by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler and Humble Inquiry by Edgar H. Schein.

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