Keeping Calm

Book: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Authors: Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson


There are two main reasons it gets crazy at work:

  • The work day is being sliced into tiny fleeting work movements in an onslaught of distractions
  • An unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost sets unrealistic expectations

Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor. It’s a mark of stupidity.

The answer isn’t more hours. Concentrate on less waste not more production. Create an environment with fewer distractions.

Your company is a product and if you want to make a product better you have to keep tweaking revising and iterating. Ask what are the bugs and problems with your company. Work on fixing the bugs.

You’re not very likely to find that key insight or breakthrough idea north of the 14th hour in the day. Creativity progress and impact do not yield to brute force.

There is a fixation on market share. What matters is that you have a healthy business with solid economics that work for you – costs under control and profitable sales.

Revenue goals are fake. They’re artificial targets for the sake of setting targets. It’s an arbitrary number that looms over everything. Nothing ever stops at the quarterly win. The quarter is only the most important goal until the next quarter.

Often morality, honesty, and integrity are compromised to reach these fake numbers.

If you stick with short-term planning you get to change your mind often and that can be a good thing. Planning too far out isn’t worthwhile because the world changes so fast. Adherence to the plan can cause bad decisions and anxiety.

It can be valuable to listen to your discomfort and back off from what’s causing it. Going outside of comfort zone isn’t necessarily a good thing. Depth can be as valuable as breath.

A 40-hour work week doesn’t seem like enough time because we’re not spending the time doing the right things.

People work best when given long uninterrupted blocks of time.

Concentrate on being effective more than being productive. Do the correct work, not the busy work.

The office environment is filled with interruptions that prevent people from doing work. Especially open offices.

Subject matter experts are interrupted frequently with questions in an unpredictable manner. Explorer using office hours for them to handle these interruptions in a predictable manner.

People schedules at Basecamp are private with the idea that taking someone else’s time should be a pain in the ass. Meetings should be a last resort. People need to own the vast majority of their time to do good work.

The green presence icon on chat is an invitation for interruption. We should interpret green as Do Not Disturb.

The expectation of an immediate response is an unreasonable expectation. If someone doesn’t get back to you immediately it’s probably because they’re working.

People need to be able to focus on the work at hand without being interrupted by every little detail that’s going on.

Your company is not your family. The best companies are the ones that help you spend time with your real family.

Leaders need to set good examples of work-life balance. Self-sacrifice trickles down the hierarchy and creates dread and fear.

Every relationship between two people has a trust battery that can either be charged or drained with every interaction.

Bosses shouldn’t expect people to come to them with issues. They need to ask pointed questions like:

  • What’s something nobody dares to talk about
  • Are you afraid of anything at work
  • What do you think we could have done differently to succeed
  • What advice would you give before we start on this big project.

The higher you go in an organization the less you’ll know what it’s really like for those doing most of the work.

The higher you go in an organization the more weight your suggestions have. It takes restraint to not lob ideas at direct reports that will cause them to focus on the idea more than they really should.

Don’t let people sacrifice sleep for sustained long hours. Doing so will hurt productivity and increase stress over time.

Work-life balance means that if work can claim hours after 5 p.m. then life can claim hours before 5 p.m. It doesn’t mean that work will try not to claim hours after 5 p.m. but it still will sometimes.

Hiring should focus on:

  • good people that other people can work with
  • people different than the type of people they already have hired
  • paying someone $1,500 to do a week of example work and then judge the work.

New hires have a ramp up time even when hired into a similar position as their last one. Companies processes and work are all different and there will be a ramp up time

It’s better to nurture and grow your own talent than to try to plunder it from somewhere else. There’s no guarantee that hiring a superstar from another company will yield a superstar at your company.

All people at the same position at Basecamp are paid the same salary, regardless of tenure.

Many so-called benefits of working at companies are bribes to keep you at work longer. For example, catered meals, gyms, fitness programs. Why not just give employees stipends for meals or the gym and let them do it on their own time away from work?

If you’re going to have an open office plan you should have library rules. Full volume conversation should be done elsewhere. If this seems like a big step, try doing it for a single day every week.

Work should not be able to intrude on your vacations

Unlimited vacation policies wind up with people taking fewer vacations. Have limits but be flexible enough to allow people to go over the limits if they need to.

It’s important to clearly communicate to everyone why someone was let go so people don’t make up stories about it. Every time a person leaves Basecamp they or their manager get to send out an email detailing why they are leaving.

Always on chat programs can be a huge distraction. People feel like if they’re not constantly paying attention they’re missing out on something important. If everyone needs to see it don’t chat about it write it up instead.

Deadlines should always be fixed and not move but the scope of them can be downsized at the request of the team working on it. People don’t trust deadlines that constantly move. But they trust being able to narrow the scope and move unfinished things to the next deadline.

Consider not pitching new ideas at meetings but in documents that are sent out to everyone. You’re more likely to get well-considered feedback than knee-jerk reactions.

Consider breaking feature dependencies and shipping individual features when they’re ready and not bundling them with unrelated things.

Don’t try to achieve consensus on everything. Someone should make the decision, explain it, and everybody commits and move forward.

Don’t try to be indiscriminately great at everything. Understand where you can compromise on quality.

Once initial exploration of an idea is over, every week should be closer to it being done not further from it. The amount of questions and unknowns over time should be decreasing not increasing.

Sometimes the right answer is to do nothing and not to force a bunch of changes on people who might be comfortable with the existing system.

It’s important to be able to draw the line at what is enough and not have the opinion that it’s never enough.

Sometimes best practices are not what they claim to be. It’s good to treat them like training wheels and to always question and consider them.

Don’t commit to do things whatever it takes. Have a conversation about what it will take.

Always be on the lookout for getting rid of work that doesn’t need to be done.

You can debate and agonize over an idea forever or you can ship it and see how your customers actually react. We live in a world of iteration.

Avoid making promises for future work. It piles up obligations that drag down everything else.

Imagine every time a customer has trouble there are two tokens that can be taken:

  • one says no big deal
  • one says this is the end of the world.

For whichever token you don’t take the customer will take the other. You want to take the this is the end of the world token so the customer takes the other.

If you don’t have the power to make change at the company level make the change at your local level.

Stories of mental excesses, losses, and transforms.

Book: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Author: Oliver Sacks


Dr P lost his ability to visually tell the difference between objects unless they had rather remarkable characteristics even though nothing was wrong with his eyes. However, his skill and talent with music was unaffected and possibly grew stronger as his condition worsened

Jimmie was a 49 year old who lost all memories prior to roughly his 20th birthday.  His short term memory was also totally lost and unless his brain was challenged to stay on a single thread of thought he would lose it within minutes.

Christina lost the ability to feel or sense her own body. Walking became impossible and her hands would often touch or grab things without her knowing it. She only could control her body if looking at it.

A man stopped recognizing his leg as his own and found it repulsive – as one would if waking up next to a dead disembodied leg.

Madeleine, an elderly blind woman had been misdiagnosed early in life as being unable to use her hands and had gone through her entire life having everything done for her and never using her hands. As such she had no concept of them or how to use them. Through rehabilitation she was able to learn how to use them and even became a sculptor.

After a stroke, Mrs S lost the meaning of the concept of left. She couldn’t turn left, observe things on the left side of her body.

Aphasiacs are people who have lost the ability to understand words but can still understand expressions and tone. There also exist people at the opposite pole who can only understand the words and their exact meaning.

Natasha, a 90 year old woman was diagnosed with a form of neurosyphilis that made her more energetic and impulsive.

Mr Thompson, a Korsakov patient, developed memories and created stories in real time to replace the memories he lost and was unaware of doing so.

Mrs. O’C, an elderly woman, woke up one morning hearing Irish songs from her childhood that would never stop. It was difficult to hear conversation with others through the songs.

An elderly woman suffering from Parkinson’s was given L-Dopa and began having extremely detailed memories surface from 40 years earlier that she hadn’t remembered or recalled during the intervening period. After her treatment was stopped, the memories ceased.

An Indian girl of 19 with a malignant brain tumor began entering peaceful dreamlike states where she had visions of her home in India growing up.  The worse the tumor became the longer the states would last until right before she died it was practically impossible to remove her from them.

Stephen D, a 20 something PCP user woke up one morning to having extremely heightened senses, especially his sense of smell. This lasted for several weeks.

Donald murdered his girl while under the influence of PCP and had absolutely no memory of the event until years later he suffered significant brain trauma during a bicycle crash and then all memories of the event came back to him.

Rebecca was clumsy, withdrawn, and stressed when in structured settings but had remarkable skill in acting and theater and was able to find success when focusing on that aspect of her personality.

Martin was able to memorize thousands of operas and had refined musical talent. He was happy when singing or helping orchestras.

A pair of twins were able to name the day of any date in history or list prime numbers despite not being able to calculate in typical methods.

Jose suffered from frequent seizures and was unable to talk but was able to express himself through his drawings in remarkable ways.


I never would have picked up this book myself, it was a gift from my father in law because he enjoyed it so much. And it was supremely fascinating and a very quick read.

We really don’t understand the workings of the brain very well yet, especially when things go wrong. It’s an amazing organ and it seems like it’s capable of way more than people living with a fully functioning brain are able to take advantage of.

We don’t have adequate care of those who don’t have normally functioning brains.