Short summary - It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work - David Heinemeier Hansson

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work
David Heinemeier Hansson

Work is not war. Live without stress

Modern man does not live. He prides himself on killing himself with work. For recreation, travel, hobbies, reading, family, even for a full sleep and food, miserable scraps remain. Is there a way out of this squirrel wheel?

First of all, we need to give people back their free time. This is natural, because a person lives a single life, and why on earth sacrifice everything for the sake of work? It's in the company's interest: exhausted employees are unproductive. This is in the public interest: stress spreads in all directions, transferring to employees, clients, families.

Basecamp's leaders offer 20 years of proven methods to bring peace of mind to the company, leisure to the employees, and efficiency to the work.

We need to change our attitude towards work. Now she is a source of great stress. Even if they devote themselves entirely to it, neither the employee of the company, nor the leader has satisfaction from a well-executed and completed job, they constantly fail to do something, they are afraid of the displeasure of their superiors and the success of competitors.

There is no real reason for "burning at work", just as there is no result. Has there been much more work in recent decades? How much has the demand increased? Have companies become more efficient and produce much more in-demand products at the cost of desperate stress? Of course, supply, demand, and commodity turnover are growing, but not at the pace at which workload and stress are growing.

The obsession with growth “at any cost”, like the militaristic metaphors that often describe the activities of companies (“battle for the market”, “attacking competitors”), contributes to stress. When work ceases to be a “battle” and becomes just work again, companies will not set unrealistic goals, chase growth indicators, fight competitors, but will produce a specific, if not “disruptive” and even not always ideal product, retain loyal customers and receive at least some profit, then stability will come, peace will come.

Four principles of a calm company:

Organize work (workplace, working hours, interaction) so that nothing distracts employees from their work.

Protect the leisure of employees, create a system of rewards for leisure outside the office.

Build trust and rely on the independent work of small teams.

Limit the size of the company, its ambitions, deadlines for projects.

It is not enough to give up on the evening, weekend or vacation from the constant presence in the mail and chat - Basecamp has developed a system of rewards for full-fledged - outside of work - leisure.

It is not enough to separate work time from leisure time — work time itself must be protected from distractions and ineffective practices.

Avoiding distractions at work and guaranteed rest in the evenings and weekends is the key to a stress-free life.

How to protect your company from stress:

Don't set too ambitious goals.

Don't compete with giants.

Do not borrow or approach venture capitalists.

A company that is self-reliant and confident in the future is able to cultivate a culture of trust based on the work of independent small teams with minimal intervention from above and minimal time spent on approvals. In such a company, people do not "fight", but live.

Eight hours, not 480 minutes

A lot can be done in eight working hours. If it's eight hours (or better yet, three hours in a row, two hours in a row, etc.), and not 480 minutes and not 48 ten minutes.

Compare two working days:

1) At your peak, you work for 3-4 hours on the main task, answer letters and questions in the chat twice a day for an hour, set aside an hour for consultations or teamwork, an hour for solving the current problem.

2) From morning till night you try to do the main task, but now and then you have to solve the current ones, check mail and chat every five minutes, and you have a meeting in the middle of the day.

The main enemies of concentration:

Multitasking and the desire for productivity.

Accountability and alignment.


Communication in real time.

Multitasking is a source of stress (doing one thing, worrying about another). Time is also spent switching from one task to another. In the pursuit of “productivity” (that is, trying to do more and more), you have to stretch the working week: something objectively does not fit in 40 hours. It is necessary not to add hours, but to find something that can be abandoned.

Do not confuse the concepts of "effective" and "productive". "Productivity" - doing more and more, filling every moment and adding more and more things. Efficiency is the ability to do less, free up your time for rest and loved ones.

A huge amount of time is spent on approval and verification. This problem is easily remedied by trust and independence. Any task is solved independently by several people who can quickly and efficiently synchronize their actions.

Basecamp believes that the optimal team consists of three people. It is easy for them to agree, it does not take time. There is no intermediate leadership, the higher one gives the task, determines the deadlines, the direction, and does not bother anymore until the end of the term. A large project is divided into tasks that are feasible for teams of three.

Meetings are the main thief of time. When 10, 20, 100 people are called to meetings, the loss is 100 hours of human time and a ruined day. In addition, the speaker comes to the meeting prepared, while the rest must instantly absorb the information and respond to it. Written material sent out and feedback collected on time will take less time and be much more useful.

At Basecamp, projects are sent out and employees have enough time (at least a few days) to review and make suggestions.

Real-time communication is the scourge of the modern office. A quality hour is 60 minutes. Dealing with constant distractions is inefficient and tiring. But it is assumed that the employee must be in touch all the time. Anwser the questions. Consult. Save.

At Basecamp, "leaving the line" is encouraged. If the duties of an employee include advising others, answering questions, settling something (but this is not his main job), he appoints office hours when he can be contacted.

Often modern technology is blamed for the current situation of stress and distraction. But it is not modern technologies that prevent us from living, but the way we use them.

Basecamp has two rules for using chats and other forms of real-time communication:

Respond in real time - sometimes, at a convenient time - always.

Discuss important issues not in a chat, but in a mail or group - where the discussion does not scroll through and does not disappear after five minutes.

We need to get rid of the fear of missing something, which prompts mine employees to check the general chat and work mail all the time. The culture in the company is created by the management. And the bosses can strengthen another culture: when employees write an update once a day or once a week and send it to colleagues. There is no need to check mail and chat: there is nothing there.

Basecamp prohibits any attempt on the time of employees:

Communication in real time.

Urgent orders.


Maintaining a Google doc where employees can enter the time of meetings or common activities. Everyone decides when and what to do.

Modern offices tend to have an open floor plan. This means that everyone distracts everyone - with conversations, questions, suggestions. Distractions spread like an infection.

It is difficult to allocate a separate office for each. But you can introduce "library rules": silence and a complete ban on distracting other "readers".

The main criterion for properly organized, efficient work is whether it fits into normal working hours.

At Basecamp, the working day is eight hours long. A week is five (four in summer) working days. Dot.

Work must not extend beyond working hours. Outside of work, employees should completely forget about it and live.

Outside of work: fresh vegetables and paid hobbies

Many companies (especially in Silicon Valley) include lunch and dinner from the best chefs, sleep and play areas, a fitness center, and laundry in the bonus system - all services are almost at the workplace.

The employer's generosity has a downside: the line between work and leisure is blurred. And not for leisure.

If the company does not offer a corporate lunch, then employees go outside, spend half an hour outside the office, move around, get real impressions.

Dinner at work is an even bigger danger signal. This means that employees are expected to have a non-dimensional working day. A person should have dinner at home.

Sleep deprivation is extremely harmful. Decreased attention, creativity, patience. It is impossible to prescribe to adults how much rest they should have, but if an employee begins to rush at people and make strange mistakes, you need to send him home, decisively disconnecting him from the company.

Basecamp strictly limits working hours. Five working days of eight hours, from May to September - four working days of eight hours. And outside of this time, neither the boss nor colleagues can encroach on the time of the employee.

Complete disconnection from mail and chats for the evening and night, on weekends and during holidays.

In today's culture of corporate stress, it is not enough to set work time limits and order the Internet to be turned off after 18:00. We need a system of incentives that take a person out of the office and help him spend his leisure time in a quality manner.

The Basecamp system includes:

A three-week annual vacation, with a significant portion of the ticket and accommodation costs (up to $5,000) being paid by the company.

Every three years - an additional month of vacation for a full reset.

An employee can devote this time to a long-planned analysis of a family archive or a crazy dream to conquer a mountain peak. The company will support any desire financially and organizationally by planning the work so that the employee can really “disappear” completely for 30 days.

An annual stipend for learning any new skills that are NOT of value to the company.

Hobbies are encouraged: cooking classes, playing the banjo, dancing.

Massage, fitness, and other Silicon Valley perks are also available, with one major difference: a paid spa and fitness center of the employee's choice outside the office. Basecamp does not have its own fitness, as well as its own dining room.

Instead of lunch and dinner at the workplace, the company provides employees with fresh vegetables and fruits at home, encouraging healthy eating and family dinners. Since Basecamp employees live in different cities, the company orders products from farmers locally, at the same time encouraging organic farming, small, family and neighborhood businesses (the same "calm" companies as Basecamp).

Recharge batteries of trust

Trust is as vital and irreplaceable as sleep. A team where there is no trust (in each other, in the organization and in their capabilities), by definition, cannot be effective. A lot of time is spent on negotiations, mutual checks, disputes.

Trust is a kind of "batteries". If they sit down, any trifle irritates, and mutual understanding is impossible.

The term “trust batteries” was coined by Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke.

Only a cardinal change of principles and behavior can recharge dead batteries. Trust is the sum of all relationships. Any relationship is strictly personal. The stock of trust in relationship A and B is different from the stock of trust between A and C, B and C, and so on.

The atmosphere of trust is created by the boss - and creates it by asking questions. Not rhetorical questions like “Can we do even better?” But real difficult questions: “What are you afraid to talk about?”, “What do you not like about work?”

The boss shows confidence in employees by not checking them once again, not giving instructions, not distracting from work and not imposing his ideas. All ideas are equal.

A trust-deficient boss often holds meetings, distracts employees from work, demanding to urgently switch to an urgent or more important matter, torments everyone with checks and achieves a constant online presence so that he can discuss the problem and give further instructions at any time.

The level of trust (and calmness) is higher, the more power is given to employees.

Basecamp is an example of an organization doing without middle managers. Management is limited to setting common goals and forming plans, employees themselves determine their short-term and medium-term tasks.

Team dynamics change with the arrival and departure of each employee, so the policy of hiring and firing is extremely important for a calm company. Basic principles:

You need someone that others want to work with.

We need not just a professional, but a person capable of doing this particular thing.

The team must be diverse.

At Basecamp, other things being equal, they try to take a person who differs in character, place of residence, range of interests or background from existing employees. You don't need 50 young clones - programming geniuses.

Hire not a resume, but a person, and check it in action. When hiring on a resume, past achievements are taken into account, and in a real project, current opportunities are clarified.

After selecting the finalists for a job, Basecamp offers them a small paid project. Real, really necessary company.

One source of stress is the “talent war.” You don't have to get involved in it. Talents are not a limited resource, a company can grow its own excellent (and fit into the culture of the company) specialists, and not poach people from other companies who may not take root in the local climate. We need to create a climate in which talents will flourish.

Basecamp willingly takes people without specialized education and work experience in a well-known company. The fine designer used to work for a provincial newspaper, and the company's best account manager worked in a deli in Tennessee.

A significant source of stress and mutual distrust is the difference in earnings. Employees look at each other with envy, try to figure out how to earn a promotion, move to companies that pay better.

In Basecamp, everything is simpler: the same position + the same level = the same salary. The level of earnings corresponds to the top 10% in the profession. Each year there is an indexation if the average market salary rises (but there is no decrease even if the national average wage in this profession falls). There are no bonuses in the company: when calculating earnings, salary + bonuses in other companies are taken into account.

Many companies reinforce the loyalty and enthusiasm of employees by giving them a share of the shares. However, this does not contribute to trust at all:

Employees experience stress due to every movement on the stock exchange.

The interests of employees with short and long experience, in the prime of life and near retirement age, contradict each other.

When part of the shares goes to employees, the question arises who runs the company.

Basecamp does not distribute shares to employees, but if the profit for the year exceeds the profit of the previous year, 25% of the increase is distributed among the employees. The company also proposes to double any (up to $2,000) charitable donations from employees.

In a company where there is a climate of trust, employee turnover is noticeably reduced. However, lifelong loyalty to the company is not a value at all (on the contrary, it is from the category of “we are one family” or even “we give our whole life to the company”). Naturally, people leave from time to time - without working together, having found something more promising or interesting. It is important that the farewell takes place openly, that the dynamics of relations between the remaining employees do not suffer, and that no one suspects that the dismissal is a punishment for an unknown mistake (for example, for not wanting to work at night), which may threaten other employees.

Deadlines, debts and ambitions

It's time to end the culture of self-sacrifice. Work is not war. No need to chase after victory, participation is enough. You don't have to compete with competitors - you have to be yourself.

"Comparison kills joy." Mark Twain

Abandon “goals” and “settings”. These "sacred numbers" - the number of customers, sales or income - are the main source of stress.

Basecamp follows only one figure - to stay in the black at the end of the year, not in the red.

There is a hyperinflation of ambitions. Every day is something super new that will change the world. A thousand revolutions daily, hundreds of disruptive technologies. Consumers are also under stress - they must switch to a new product without exhausting the possibilities of the previous one.

Creating a creative product, maintaining a long-term business with satisfied customers is quite an ambitious task. Basecamp is constantly improving its products, but does not force old customers to upgrade to new versions - all versions are supported.

A recognized source of stress is the deadline. But without deadlines, stress will increase: people need to know that by a certain point the project will be completed, they will achieve something, there will be a stop and a respite. Stress is caused not by a fixed date as such, but by attempts to move it (forward or backward), perfectionistic demands for results, additional tasks.

At Basecamp, deadlines are irrevocable. A large project is broken down into manageable tasks (4-6 weeks each), and if everything cannot be completed within the allotted time, then the amount of work is specified, not the date. These decisions are made by the team, not the bosses.

At the same time, the deadline also means the indispensable end of work at a certain time. The end of the working day and the working week should be observed, and the deadline should be planned so that working hours do not have to be extended.

Basecamp originally launched a new product on a Friday. This meant that on weekends, bugs were urgently fixed, orders and customer calls were taken, the last little things were sorted out - and a five-day week without a break turned into a 12-day one. Now the launch takes place on Monday, and on Friday at 18:00 everyone disperses for the weekend.

Long-term planning at first inspires a false sense of security - and then causes double stress: will we be able to fulfill the plan and have we managed to take into account all the factors. No one knows what's going to happen in a year, and it's hard to imagine anything more stupid than stubbornly moving in the wrong direction just because that's the PLAN.

At Basecamp, the standard project time frame is 6 weeks. Plus two weeks to rest after it.

It is possible to really assess the correctness of a decision only at the time of its implementation.

Launch the ship into the water - it will either float or sink. And if you have invested only six weeks in it, it is not a big problem, if it sinks, build a new one, taking into account the mistakes.

Meeting deadlines is possible only if perfectionism is abandoned. The product must be good enough for many, not perfect for everyone. By agreeing to compromise where it is acceptable, you leave yourself the time and energy to pursue the ideal where it is needed.

For the sake of progress at every step, you have to cut off the excess. There are many possibilities, and everything can be improved - but not always necessary. You need to be able to sometimes do NOTHING and say "ENOUGH".

The project starts with a brainstorming session. But already in the second week a prototype is being made, some of the ideas are cut off, and it remains to "wait for the next train."

The quality of the product is tested only by the market. Your product is good if there are enough people willing to buy it.

The main condition for peace of mind in corporate culture is self-restraint. There are no secrets to time management: time is a limited resource. We cannot stretch time, we cannot control its course. But we can control its consumption.

You just need to reduce the number of cases, remembering the testament of Peter Drucker: "There is nothing more pointless than the effective implementation of what should not have been done at all."

Don't live in debt. If you do not need to pay back a loan or dividends to investors, you can be satisfied with the most minimal profit. Commitment forces you to do a lot of "over" - to strive not for efficiency, but for productivity.

Basecamp has never taken out a loan or raised venture capital.

Promises are also a form of debt. If you guaranteed a certain product to appear at a certain time and with certain qualities, you did not set a deadline and did not raise the reputation of your company - you borrowed from the future. You can't be satisfied with a "good enough" product by the deadline - you have to create exactly what you promised. Promises create stress, forcing you to do something that you could not do or do at another time and in a different form.

Each company develops its own culture, including its own ways of staying calm. They cannot be transferred ready-made from one company to another - the difference in size, life span, ambitions, individual characteristics will affect. Basecamp has found what works for it, but aside from the core principles of maintaining work-life balance, avoiding distractions, allowing maximum independence for teams, and aiming for efficiency over productivity, everything else is optional.

Billing at Basecamp terrifies any MBA graduate: corporate clients pay as much for using the software product as individuals. A company with 5,000 employees pays the same as a company with 10 employees. Would it be more profitable to use conventional billing by the number of users? Undoubtedly. However, in this case, a large client would become too important for the company, the fear of losing it would create stress, new projects would be done with this client in mind - and as a result, this would lead to a loss of independence, efficiency and peace of mind.

Choose your own ways to protect independence, efficiency and peace of mind.

Top ten ideas on one page

    Modern corporate culture calls for self-sacrifice, denying employees the leisure and life outside of work. Lack of leisure creates constant stress.

    There are several causes of stress and inefficiency in the workplace:

constant distractions;

the need to be online and respond instantly to messages;

multitasking and excessive requirements;

approvals and meetings;

lack of trust and excess leadership.

    The attention of employees must be protected. The boss should refuse to constantly interfere in the process - this distracts employees. Some tools for interaction between management and subordinates should be canceled or limited: meetings should be replaced with written discussions, and chat with regular mailings.

    Working hours should be limited. Outside of the eight-hour working day and five-day working week, employees must be completely free from work, communication with work is disabled. No one should be rewarded for overtime.

    The incentive system should be aimed at ensuring that employees have a good time outside the office, and do not use the spa, restaurant or laundry a stone's throw from the desktop. Employees do not belong to the company, their life is much more valuable and diverse than their function.

    A small team works better. According to Parkinson's law, no matter how many people work on a project and no matter how much time is allotted for it, all resources will be used up. You should limit human resources and time resources and see what you can get.

    Eliminate rivalry and strengthen team cohesion. Pay for employees in the same positions should be the same and high enough in the industry.

    When selecting employees, it is useful to strive for diversity, to hire different people with different backgrounds and lifestyles, to encourage expression of individuality and to give people the opportunity to be themselves.

    Company ambitions and long-term planning must be kept within limits.

Set tasks with a visible planning horizon (one and a half to two months).

Agree to implement a “good enough product” without trying to “change the world”.

Risk only what you can afford to lose.

    Do not make promises to customers and advertise products that have not yet appeared. It is useful to update and improve the product, but it does not need to be imposed. If customers are satisfied with the old version, you need to support the old one - for decades.