I have a confession to make. I’ve become utterly terrible at finishing books, especially non-fiction. I once even published a list of books I will definitely maybe read one day. The reasons why I don't finish them are manifold: For one, there is always some work to do that seems more important than to sit down and read a book. Then, I have a lovely family and I spend as much time as I can with them. And ultimately, there is the Interwebs demanding “screen time”. So I had not finished a book in months.
Last Friday, I did.
The book is the latest one by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, the founders of Basecamp, and it’s called It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. It is a collection of ideas and advice about how to establish and maintain a “calm” company culture, without the hassle and craziness that seems to have become the new normal in tech, design, and often also in business in general. Yet the book is not only aimed at founders or executives but also full of useful advice for everyone working anywhere, regardless of position or if they work at a company or are self-employed.
The main message is as true as it is often left unsaid: At many places, work has become this ugly, greedy beast that wants you to work for 60, 70, or even 80 hours a week and robs you of your time with family and friends, your sleep, and, ultimately, your health.
The answer, according to the authors, isn’t more hours, but “less bullshit”. Fewer meetings, less distractions, less unrealistic deadlines, less false promises, and more focus on the real important work.
Through my work as a freelance designer, I have seen quite a few companies and their different approaches to company culture and processes. David and Jason are definitely right: At many companies, unnecessary work, artificially created tasks, and – especially in open-plan offices – repeated distractions absorb most of the time there is to do your work. What you end up with is a cluttered day, where you don’t have the time to focus on a task for a few hours straight or to thoroughly think something through. Combine this with unrealistic deadlines like a website launch date set by a client upfront or rash overpromising by project managers without getting a second opinion from the people doing the work and you are right on track for a project full of stress and compromises. What a waste of energy.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work provides important, sane, and actionable advice on how to change all of this and I cannot recommend it more. I can’t wait to give many of the ideas a try.
A few days before I bought the book, I listened to a great conversation between Jeffrey Zeldman and Jason Fried on the Big Web Show that also covered the book, so I already had a pretty good idea about what to expect. Maybe that’s the reason why – in the spirit of the book and despite the busy last weeks of the year – I took the time to unwind a bit and read it calmly from start to finish. It already felt like a first step on the road to recovery.