DHH on a calm writing process, #blessings, and late-stage capitalism

DHH is back on the Rework podcast this week for the second half of our interview about his and Jason Fried’s new book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. (Here’s the first part in case you missed it.) In this episode, David talks about taking a calm approach to writing and marketing the book. Also, Wailin gets him to say #blessed (kind of) and has some anxiety about late-stage capitalism. We all get through it together!

We’re still taking your questions for David and Jason to answer in an upcoming mailbag episode! Leave us a voicemail at (708) 628–7850 and you’ll be entered into a drawing for an autographed copy of It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. ☎️

DHH on a new book, resetting ambition levels, and responsible software design

You might have heard that Jason Fried and DHH have a new book out called It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work that pushes back against the toxic culture of overwork and unhealthy ambitions that’s driving much of the modern workplace. In the latest episode of the Rework podcast, I sit down with David to talk about the book’s genesis, its intended audience, and the role of responsible software design in fostering calm work environments.

https://art19.com/shows/rework/episodes/58b694a3-c235-46f4-b7bb-0081d3453cb4

The second part of this interview will air next week. In the meantime, we’re taking your questions for David and Jason to answer in an upcoming mailbag episode! Leave us a voicemail at (708) 628–7850 and you’ll be entered into a drawing for an autographed copy of It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work.

Under Pressure

There’s a sentiment in hiring I’ve run into recently. The idea goes that you want to see how someone works “under pressure” before you hire them. What does that look like? You build in a step with a task, add a tight deadline, and wait to see how the applicants cope.

In the worst cases, there is an expectation that giving any help to the applicant would skew the results. And besides, that quick turnaround helps keep the hiring timeline nice and short! That’s always a win. Or is it?

Let’s think about what this looks like to your new colleague. On their first few interactions with you, they get an arbitrary dreadline. The first taste of working with you is rancid and sour and artificial. Stress Max. All the angst, none of the calories. You’ve told them that applying for this job is the most important thing in their life. To drop everything and show you how they cope when times are tough. That asking for help is a weakness.

You’ve also rigged the result. You are far more likely to end up with someone who looks like the people who already passed through the fire. That pressure you are applying presses harder on people who are shorter on time. You might rationalize it to yourself with a “it’ll only take an hour, two tops”. And it is easy to feel that way when it’s your only responsibility. When you are finishing up your 3rd job, or working and caring for a relative, finding precious minutes to do this extra task well can feel impossible. You either accept that you’ll do second-rate work, or you cut into your sleep, or you let down the people relying on you for a chance at a better life. Suddenly, that pressure is costing you a chance to see the potential of your candidates. And for what? A weak simulacrum of the worst possible experience of working at your company.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at the work. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have constraints. Looking at the work is one of the best tools we have to decide on who to work with. You can and should choose the scope of the work with care. Show the applicants what working with you looks like for real. Warts and all. If your business values thoughtful, careful work, give the applicant the time and support to do their best work. Treat them the way you treat the rest of your colleagues. Build up the trust battery, from the very first interaction. Make it clear how to get help, and what good work looks like.

Adding pressure to a system without a safety valve is a recipe for explosions.


Jason Fried and DHH talk more about dreadlines and the trust battery in their newest book: It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work. Check out the chapters “Hire the work, not the résumé”, “The trust battery” and “Dreadlines”. You can find out more at basecamp.com/books/calm

Meetings are Toxic

Meetings are one of the worst kinds of workplace interruptions. They’re held too frequently, run too long, and involve more people than necessary. You may have gathered that we really dislike meetings at Basecamp. And many of you do too! This episode of Rework features:

  • A group of philosophy professors in a meeting they Kant seem to end. You might say it had…No Exit. One attendee, at least, found enough Hume-r in it to tell us about it.
  • A meeting about a meeting.
  • A dramatic reading about conference calls from hell.
  • Basecamp programmer Dan Kim talking about his post on recurring meetings and what you—yes, you!—can do to start changing the ingrained culture of meetings at your company.
  • A brief, pedantic aside to note the difference between garters and garter belts.
  • A cringeworthy meeting with an unwanted participant—and an unexpected outcome.

We had more listener-submitted meeting stories than we could feature in the episode, so here are a couple bonus ones!

No Work Done

I had an intense 12-hour meeting over two consecutive days. We were writing, correcting and estimating stories for a three-month project. Devs were in the room with managers, scrum master and biz owners.

So at the end of the second day, we finished the last story and we were supposed to groom and task it out next day (a third meeting day, yay). But our manager talked with us the next day and told us that some biz owners were mad about some unclear criteria in the stories, so he said that the (managers and biz) will regroup and this time “correctly rewrite all stories” and that we will have another 12-hour meeting next week.

That’s the story of how I had 24 hours of meetings in two weeks and NO WORK DONE (we couldn’t start working in the project until we had the second 12-hour meeting).

Quelle Horreur

I recently worked as a product manager for an Austrian company that was owned by a big French group. We were an IT service provider for two products, and in this meeting we were supposed to discuss payment providers for our new e-commerce offer.

The office and project language was English. My boss spoke English, French and German. I spoke English and German. Our French colleagues spoke French and English (with difficulties).

The meeting was a jour fixe (recurring) video conference scheduled for one hour, done over a big screen in HD. On our side, it was my boss and me. On their side, it was three project and product managers joined by a “payment expert” and an “SEO expert.” So that was seven people. Five minutes before the meeting, our CFO informed us that he would be joining shortly just to clarify “some budget things” with the department lead. So in total, we had nine people in the meeting: six on their side and three on ours. After the introduction round in English, the CFO and the department lead started to discuss budget details in French and that lasted for 40 minutes. Nine people in the meeting, two people talking to each other, and one of the nine (me) doesn’t understand a word that was said. Once they were done, they both left the meeting, so the rest of us had 20 minutes to discuss what we wanted to discuss.

I’ve read Rework and already had formed my opinion about Jour Fixes and working in meetings. I also complained often and openly about meetings I was invited to but had nothing to say and could have just read the minutes afterward. But this one was a special kind of meeting. It was almost like it was directed by Monty Python. I no longer work there 🙂


We publish Rework on alternate Tuesday mornings. To get new episodes on your phone as soon as they’re released, subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, or RadioPublic, or search for REWORK in your favorite podcast app.

The 25 most popular icebreaker questions based on four years of data

If you need a get-to-know-you question for team-building at work that isn’t trite and terrible, here are 25 to try out…

If you winced at the word, “icebreaker,” I don’t blame you. Get-to-know-you questions and games tend to feel cheesy. We’ve all been victim to a terribly trite icebreaker with coworkers that made us roll our eyes. I know I have.

However reluctantly, you may have realized that you need to break the ice at work. A new employee just joined your team, and you want to make sure they feel welcome. Or, you need to find a way to warm up a conference call between remote team members, and ask some get-to-know you questions for team-building.

After all, it’s always hard to work well with folks you don’t have a rapport with (not to mention, it’s less fun). Trust is the oil of the machine in the team. The more you have of it, the more things run smoothly. And the key to building trust within your team is to ask questions that help everyone get to know each other.

Given this, at Know Your Team, we put a lot of thought (over four years worth of research and fine-tuning!) into crafting get-to-know-you questions that would be as non-cheesy as possible, and elicit meaningful and memorable responses from the team. I get emails all the time from CEOs who’ll tell me, “Wow, Claire, I had no idea this question would get such a reaction from our team.”

Among the hundreds of get-to-know-you questions our software has, I wanted to share with you the top twenty-five…


#1: What was your first job?

By far, this question has prompted the most interesting responses for the companies we work with. Employees are always find it hilarious to learn that their boss’ first job was as a pool boy, or find it fascinating that a coworker’s first job was working in her mom’s doctor’s office. While it’s an unassuming question, the responses stand out.

#2: Have you ever met anyone famous?

This question is a fun one, as it taps into the people that your coworkers admire. Folks bond over a mutual love for Jude Law, or have a laugh when a manager shares her story about meeting LeBron James at a gas station.

#3: What are you reading right now?

People are always looking for something new to read — and so swapping book recommendations are a great way for people to know each other. Learning what others are reading also provides insights into coworkers’ interests. David Heinemeier Hansson, CTO of Basecamp, shared his answer to this question here.

#4: If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

With this question, you’ll learn how your coworkers want to grow or what they aspire to do. For instance, you might learn that a coworker would love to be able to pick up Italian instantly, or that your boss has always wanted to get good at woodworking.

#5: Who’s someone you really admire?

Understanding who someone looks up to reveals a significant amount about a person’s influences, preferences, and outlook on life. This is a great question to ask to help get a sense of what and who a person values.

#6: Seen any good movies lately you’d recommend?

Perhaps you’ve asked this question before — but don’t overlook it. Movies are a great shared conversation topic. It never fails to be one that people like to answer and like to see other people’s answer to. Often times, people will end up going to see them movies that are recommended and talking about it over lunch, etc.

#7: Got any favorite quotes?

Personally, I’m a sucker for a good quote. I think it can provide a fascinating look into a person’s point-of-view. Asking about a person’s favorite quote is a great way to break the ice and get to know them better.

#8: Been pleasantly surprised by anything lately?

While this question may seem vague, the answers to this question are often a delight and intriguing to read. Someone might share an excellent customer service experience that surpassed their expectations, or share a funny story about them liking squash soup despite their initial reservations. This is especially a great question to ask to a group of folks who might know each other a little better already.

#9: What was your favorite band 10 years ago?

This question always elicits a chuckle or two. You’ll find out that you shared a embarrassing favorite band from years ago, and also find the generational difference between coworkers humorous as well.

#10: What’s your earliest memory?

This is typically something that’s not shared even between close friends — so asking about it creates a special connection between folks. Hearing about an intimate, early part of someone’s life says a lot about who they are.

#11: Been anywhere recently for the first time?

Sharing a new, novel experience is a wonderful way to create a sense of connection between people. You’ll learn about a new restaurant, a fun out-of-the-city getaway, or a never-heard-about bookstore you might find interesting.

#12: What’s your favorite family tradition?

Cooking Korean dumplings together around the holidays is one of mine. When you ask this question, you get an inside look into your coworkers family’s heritage and the things that bring their family together.

#13: Who had the most influence on you growing up?

A mother, a sports hero, a grandparent, an elementary school teacher… This question is touching to hear the answer to. You’ll gain a sense of respect about who has shaped your coworkers.

#14: What was the first thing you bought with your own money?

Maybe it was a goldfish as a pet or a pair of Air Jordans. This is another great question that fosters a sense of nostalgia and provides insights into people’s interests of the past and what they valued when they were younger.

#15: What’s something you want to do in the next year that you’ve never done before?

I love asking this question instead of the stale, “Do you have any goals this year?” Rather, this is a great aspirational question that exposes people’s dreams and hopes they’d love to pursue.

#16: Seen anything lately that made you smile?

The answers from this question are often unexpectedly lovely. You’ll find yourself nodding your head as a coworker talks about his kids, or about a beautiful tree she saw on her walk recently.

#17: What’s your favorite place you’ve ever visited?

Responses to this are varied and fun — you’ll find that some folks have the same “favorite place” in Spain that they’ve visited, or a place that happens to be just 20 minutes from where you live.

#18: Have you had your 15 minutes of fame yet?

This is a cheeky question that turns up a variety of answers and interpretations. You might be impressed about how a coworker was in the newspaper one time or get a good laugh about how they were on the evening news.

#19: What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?

I’m a big fan of this question, as you’re essentially asking a person about what wisdom they personally find most valuable. The best advice I’ve ever received, myself? “Trust yourself.”

#20: How do you like your eggs?

Our customers who ask this question are always shocked by how popular the answers to it are. They discover that colleagues are immensely passionate about scrambled eggs or are sunny-side-up diehards.

#21: Do you have a favorite charity you wish more people knew about?

This is a fantastic question to ask. One company I know took it as a way to make a small donation to each charity mentioned.

#22: Got any phobias you’d like to break?

Spiders, heights, the ocean… Sharing fears is always a great way to feel closer to someone.

#23: Have you returned anything you’ve purchased recently? Why?

Ask this question and you’ll unearth some interesting observations on why people buy things — and what they find unsatisfactory.

#24: Do you collect anything?

Skip the boring question, “What are your hobbies?” and ask this instead. You might find that someone is unexpectedly avid butterfly collector (my uncle does this), or enjoys finding a new postcard every time she travels (my mom does this). Regardless, it’s a more unique way to learn about a person’s interest.

#25: What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?

This question continually (and surprisingly) blows people away with the response when they ask it. One customer of ours had such an enthusiastic response on this from her staff, she created a Cereal Day for her team.

I’ve used these questions to get to know a new employee, kick-off group meetings for boards I sit on, and even in one-on-one coffee meetings when I’m meeting someone for the first time. Give ’em a shot. Think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.


Claire is the CEO of Know Your Team – software that helps you become a better manager. Her company was spun-out of Basecamp back in 2014. If you were interested, you can read more of Claire’s writing on leadership on the Know Your Team blog.

How do you fire someone well?

I don’t think a “best way” to fire someone exists — but here’s a stab at trying to do it with dignity, grace, and respect.

I fired someone last year.

Ugh. It was gut-wrenching. I’ve fired people before — but it doesn’t matter how many times you do it, it always feels downright terrible.

To prepare for the difficult conversation, I asked a few mentors for advice. I also posed the question to The Watercooler in Know Your Team, our community of leaders from all over the world, to learn how others handle letting someone go.

From almost 1,000 CEOs, managers, and executives, I compiled six recommendations on how to handle firing someone with dignity, grace and respect that I thought I’d share with you here:

Privacy, please.

Choose a conference room that’s away from the team, ideally that’s close to the exits. Or, if you’re a remote team, make sure you’re in a place that’s private when you make your Skype or Google Hangout call. Make sure your phone is turned off and door is closed so you’re not interrupted. And never ever do it in a public place, like a coffee shop.

The “optimal” time doesn’t exist.

Everyone has different opinions about whether you should let someone go on Friday end-of-day, or earlier in the week — but really, it’s moot. Once the decision has been made, it’s best to let the person go as fast as possible. There never is an “optimal” time to fire someone. Don’t let time or day or day of week become an excuse to delay. The longer you wait, the more your interactions with that person become disingenuous and uncomfortable in the days and hours leading up to you telling them they’re being let go.

Cut to the chase.

Don’t dawdle or make small talk. Your opening sentence should be delivered in 5 seconds or less. For example, one Watercooler member suggested you say, “Claire, I’m letting you go effective immediately.” Be clear, succinct, and direct. Nothing you can say will soften the blow so don’t try to sugar coat your message or ask about how a project is going, etc.

It’s a decision, not a conversation.

Don’t get drawn into an extensive conversation or argument — it’s a decision that’s been made, not something that’s up for debate. Make that clear. One Watercooler member suggested that after stating that you’re letting this person go, your second sentence should articulate terms (severance, impact to equity, etc), and your third sentence should indicate this is non-negotiable. Listen to their reaction, answer questions as you see fit, but try not to get pulled into defending your decision for hours on end.

This sucks for you, but sucks way worse for them.

Another Watercooler member cautioned that you may be tempted to offer comfort by saying something like, “This is a difficult decision” or “I really don’t want to do this.” But the last thing you want to do is indulge and pontificate on how you’re personally feeling. To be frank, the other person doesn’t care how difficult the decision was for you — you made it, regardless. And, if you really didn’t want to do it, you wouldn’t have. Of course it sucks for you, but that’s not for you to impose on the person you’re firing. Find someone else to confide your pain in, and keep in mind that the decision you’re making is on behalf of the team, the company, and their best interest.

Communicate the decision to your team with grace.

Ask how the person being let go prefers to break the news to the team. Their preference might be to send a farewell note themselves, or personally tell the team members they are closest with. Other times, they’ll ask you to simply relay the news for them. If it’s the latter, share the news with respect and mindfulness. Even if the person was fired for performance reasons that were 100% their own fault, thoughtfully consider what is appropriate to disclose. Imagine if the person fired were to overhear you sharing the news with the team: Would they feel it was fair? Use this as a benchmark for how to communicate the decision to your team.

No matter how you do it, letting someone go is one of the hardest things to do as a leader. There truly is no “best way” — but hopefully these tips will be helpful should you face this situation in the future.

I know it’s helped me.


Claire is the CEO of Know Your Team – software that helps you become a better manager. Her company was spun-out of Basecamp back in 2014. If you were interested, you can read more of Claire’s writing on leadership on the Know Your Team blog.

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.

https://art19.com/shows/rework/episodes/ca99d845-34be-49b6-88fb-d8dd5dee5517

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!

Interview or Interrogation?

Interviewing for a new job is so nerve-wracking. The adrenaline kicks in, and you are trying so hard to keep it under control. Trying to deliver the polished answers you prepared and rehearsed over and over. Hoping that you don’t slip up, or get tongue-tied. There’s the weight of an entire future sitting on your shoulders while you try to parse the questions.

Then there are the interviews where you get the feeling that the interviewer is trying to trip you up. I’ve had them in the past, but couldn’t be sure if I was imagining things. Did other people find interviews combative?

As we thought about how we would approaching hiring a new support programmer, we hit the books to find out.

Don’t expect to eat at lunch.

Though a company like Lending Club claims that lunch is a time for candidates to take a breather and relax, don’t. Your interviewers care about whether you are socially skilled and easy to be around…

…Lierman recommends that you pack a small water bottle and snack in your bag which you can nibble when you excuse yourself to go to the restroom.

How to Survive a Marathon Job Interview

There’s something fundamentally broken about a hiring process that inspires bathroom snacks as career advice. Articles like Nikki Brown’s dissection of “best-in-show” hiring processes weighed heavily. As a remote company, we can avoid the barbarism of the coffee shop interview, but how could we do better? What could we do to set up a candidate for success?

Flipping the script

So, we tried a little experiment. We set up interviews with our shortlisted candidates as usual. A few hours before the scheduled start time, I sent out the following email:

I’m looking forward to chatting with you later. Before we start, I thought I’d say hello and let you know that you’ll be chatting with Justin White and myself. I’ll invite you to the call at noon Chicago time. If you’d prefer to do audio only, that’s totally fine, same if you’d like to use video. Whatever makes it more comfortable for you.

We’ve got about an hour to get to know each other, and I was thinking it might be nice to start with any questions you have, then move on to ours. This is a collaborative chat — we want you to succeed, and it’s the start of working together. That might last for an hour or 5 years, or the rest of your career, but it starts here. Should be fun!

The big change was to flip the natural order of the interview, to start off with the candidate’s questions for us. They could get to know us, settle into the conversation and get comfortable before we asked ours. We wanted to set the stage, so that they could show us their best self. The best way to do that was to turn over the keys, and let them take the wheel.

The rest of the email reinforced that aim. From letting them know who they’d be chatting with, to giving them the time in their local timezone. Giving them control over how we would do the chat, to stressing that this is where their time at Basecamp starts. Acknowledging that this should be enjoyable, and setting them up to win.

We had some great conversations with all our shortlisted candidates. Relaxed, confident and in control, they gave a great account of themselves. Because we recognise that interviews are stressful, we took a more compassionate approach. That led us to a place where every one of our finalists gave their best shot, and some tremendous interviews. They were the most fun I’ve ever had on either side of the interviewing table. We made a great hire, and Rosa started her Basecamp career with our support, right from the very first minute of her interview. Now we get to keep that promise, every day.

Could you try flipping the script in your next set of interviews? What ideas do you have to build an even more collaborative approach? A little unscientific survey shows that we’ve got a way to go:

https://twitter.com/mackesque/status/873150905138413568

Can you help change those results? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Trickle-down workaholism in startups

“And then I said anyone not willing to break their backs working for me was a tourist!”

If you want to understand why so many startups become infected with unhealthy work habits, or outright workaholism, a good place to start your examination is in the attitudes of their venture capital investors.

Consider this Twitter thread involving two famous VCs, Keith Rabois and Mark Suster:


These sentiments are hardly aberrations. There’s an ingrained mythology around startups that not only celebrates burn-out efforts, but damn well requires it. It’s the logical outcome of trying to compress a lifetime’s worth of work into the abbreviated timeline of a venture fund.

It’s not hard to understand why such a mythology serves the interest of money men who spread their bets wide and only succeed when unicorns emerge. Of course they’re going to desire fairytale sacrifices. There’s little to no consequence to them if the many fall by the wayside, spent to completion trying to hit that home run. Make me rich or die tryin’.

The entrepreneurs who sign up for such pressures may have asked for it. If you, knowing their sentiments, ask Rabois or Suster for millions to fund your venture, then you probably should expect to have your vacations, weekends, hobbies, family time, or outings with the kids questioned.

But the pressures don’t stop with the person who signs the term sheet. That shit trickles down. In fact, it’s likely to amplify as it rolls down the hill, like a snowball gathering mass. Because once the millions have cleared, and the headcount has been boosted, it’s usually other people who actually have to make good on those exponential expectations.

The sly entrepreneur seeks to cajole their employees with carrots. Organic, locally-sourced ones, delightfully prepared by a master chef, of course. In the office. Along with all the other pampering and indulgent spoils AT THE OFFICE. The game is to make it appear as though employees choose this life for themselves, that they just love spending all their waking (and in some cases, even sleeping) hours at that damn office.

And if the soma-like inducements don’t work, there’s always the lofty talk about THE MISSION: We’re not just here to capture more attention or steal more privacy in the name of advertising, no, we’re connecting the world! Your single-track life has meaning! All your sacrifices are for a greater good!

Yeah, right.

Not only are these sacrifices statistically overwhelmingly likely to be in vain, they’re also completely disproportionate. The programmer or designer or writer or even manager that gives up their life for a 80+ hour moonshot will comparably-speaking be compensated in bananas, even if their lottery coupon should line up. The lion’s share will go to the Scar and his hyenas, not the monkeys.

Just listen to teacher / I know it sounds sordid but you’ll be rewarded / When at last I am given my dues!

And yet so many continue to go along, because they already went this far. Sunk cost is an easy theoretical concept, but it’s devilishly hard to put in practice. Which is why the yoke of the four-year vesting cliff, the short-exercise window for options, and all the other tricks and techniques employed by cap table-designing masters are so effective. Once the hook is in, the line and the sinker follows easily.

But it will be in spite of prevailing evidence on the power of sleep, recuperation, and sustainable work habits. Whether you’re a top-flight basketball player, like Kobe Bryant, whose off-season work schedule is limited to just six hours per day:

The Kobe Bryant workout routine features a hefty mix of track work, basketball skills and weightlifting. His off-season workout has been called the 666 program because he spends 2 hours running, 2 hours on basketball, and 2 hours weightlifting (for a total of 6 hours a day, six times a week, for six months).

Or his competitor, LeBron James, who frequently gets 12 hours of sleep. Or any of the other star athletes who prioritize their sleep and recuperation as a key component of their performance:

Since athletes need more sleep than average people, eight to 10 hours of zzz’s a night is recommended, and that’s not just before game day — that’s every evening. After all, the more often and more vigorously you use your muscles, the more time it takes for your body to repair and rebuild them. Roger Federer and LeBron James famously snooze for an average of 12 hours a night, while Usain Bolt, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Steve Nash get up to 10 hours a night. Federer has said, “If I don’t sleep 11 to 12 hours per day, it’s not right.

Or how about prodigious thinkers and writers, like Trollope, Dickens, or Darwin who all sought to complete their work within fixed, modest slices of the day, and then kept the rest for leisure. Here’s Darwin’s routine:

After his morning walk and breakfast, Darwin was in his study by 8 and worked a steady hour and a half. At 9:30 he would read the morning mail and write letters. At 10:30, Darwin returned to more serious work, sometimes moving to his aviary, greenhouse, or one of several other buildings where he conducted his experiments. By noon, he would declare, “I’ve done a good day’s work,” and set out on a long walk on the Sandwalk, a path he had laid out not long after buying Down House. (Part of the Sandwalk ran through land leased to Darwin by the Lubbock family.)

When he returned after an hour or more, Darwin had lunch and answered more letters. At 3 he would retire for a nap; an hour later he would arise, take another walk around the Sandwalk, then return to his study until 5:30, when he would join his wife, Emma, and their family for dinner. On this schedule he wrote 19 books, including technical volumes on climbing plants, barnacles, and other subjects; the controversial Descent of Man; and The Origin of Species, probably the single most famous book in the history of science, and a book that still affects the way we think about nature and ourselves.

Neither these athletes or these writers were giving up anything on whatever contemporaries that may have put in more time, more hours, or greater sacrifices. Their contributions to the world were in no way diminished by their balanced approach, quite the contrary.

So don’t tell me that there’s something uniquely demanding about building yet another fucking startup that dwarfs the accomplishments of The Origin of Species or winning five championship rings. It’s bullshit. Extractive, counterproductive bullshit peddled by people who either need a narrative to explain their personal sacrifices and regrets or who are in a position to treat the lives and wellbeing of others like cannon fodder.

Finally, as way of having my own skin in the game, we’ve been running a wonderfully successful business at Basecamp for some fourteen years now. One profitable since the get-go without demanding the total consumption of life force from the people working here. Neither from Jason nor I, nor from our employees.

Hell, right now, we’re working our four-day summer weeks until the end of August. This while servicing over a hundred thousand paying customers, stewarding Ruby on Rails, writing a new book, and ranting with a fervor against the extractive logic of many a venture capitalist. Forty hours or less has been plenty to do all of that since the beginning, and it’s likely to be plenty for you too.

Workaholism is a disease. We need treatment and coping advice for those afflicted, not cheerleaders for their misery.


If the ways of venture capital has you thinking there’s gotta be another way, then I invite you to read RECONSIDER and Exponential growth devours and corrupts. The alternative path exists.

https://basecamp.com/svn