Highlights on “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work”

I was just looking for something to read in the hope of finding something to help myself with some of the stress at work. I came across this book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson — published 2018, with 4.6 out of 5 stars from 114 reviews in Amazon. They’re actually the same authors of another title I was initially looking at, “Rework” — published 2010, with 4.5 out of 5 stars from 1280 reviews. I opted to go with the former just because the title seemed more relate-able.

Overall, the book was a quick and easy read. Started reading it late Saturday (nearly Sunday) and finished it Tuesday morning (not one sitting). There were indeed points that were relate-able but maybe for the most part it’s better geared towards management or folks who can really influence change. The last chapter did come with some sort of message in case “you don’t have the power to change at the company level” but really, mostly it’s for those with the power to change at the company level.

Sharing here some of the stuff I highlighted in the book…And there were a LOT of highlights I’ve noted…

“Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity… The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. And far fewer distractions, less always-on anxiety, and avoiding stress.”

“It begins with this idea: Your company is a product… your company should be your best product.”

“Because let’s face it: Goals are fake. Nearly all of them are artificial targets set for the sake of setting targets. These made-up numbers then function as a source of unnecessary stress until they’re either achieved or abandoned. And when that happens, you’re supposed to pick new ones and start stressing again.”

“Set out to do good work. Set out to be fair in your dealings with customers, employees, and reality. Leave a lasting impression with the people you touch and worry less (or not at all!) about changing the world. Chances are, you won’t, and if you do, it’s not going to be because you said you would.”

“…if you’re uncomfortable with something, it’s because it isn’t right. Discomfort is the human response to a questionable or bad situation… If you get into the habit of suppressing all discomfort, you’re going to lose yourself, your manners, and your morals.”

“If you can’t fit everything you want to do within 40 hours per week, you need to get better at picking what to do, not work longer hours. Most of what we think we have to do, we don’t have to do at all.”

“Companies love to protect… but all too often they fail to protect what’s both most vulnerable and most precious: their employees’ time and attention.”

Effective > Productive …Being productive is about occupying your time — filling your schedule to the brim and getting as much done as you can. Being effective is about finding more of your time unoccupied and open for other things besides work.”

“Not doing something that isn’t worth doing is a wonderful way to spend your time.”

“A great work ethic isn’t about working whenever you’re called upon. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, putting in a fair day’s work, respecting the work, respecting the customer, respecting coworkers, not wasting time, not creating unnecessary work for other people, and not being a bottleneck. Work ethic is about being a fundamentally good person that others can count on and enjoy working with.”

“Stop equating work ethic with excessive work hours.”

“The person with the question needed something and they got it. The person with the answer was doing something else and had to stop. That’s rarely a fair trade… Imagine the day of an expert who frequently gets interrupted by everyone else’s questions…What’s worse, they don’t know when these questions might come up. You can’t plan your own day if everyone else is using it up randomly. … So we borrowed an idea from academia: office hours. All subject-matter experts at Basecamp now publish office hours.”

“Have you looked at your own calendar lately? How many things did you put there? How many things did other people put there?”

You can only do great work if you have adequate quality time to do it. So when someone takes that from you, they crush your feeling of accomplishment from a good day’s work. … If you don’t own the vast majority of your own time, it’s impossible to be calm. You’ll always be stressed out, feeling robbed of the ability to actually do your job.”

“Everyone’s status should be implicit: I’m trying to do my job, please respect my time and attention.”

“In almost every situation, the expectation of an immediate response is an unreasonable expectation… Give it a try. Say something, then get back to work. Don’t expect anything. You’ll get a response when the other person is free and ready to respond.”

“Companies love to declare “We’re all family here.” No, you’re not.”

“Workaholism is a contagious disease. You can’t stop the spread if you’re the one bringing it into the office. Disseminate some calm instead.”

If the boss really wants to know what’s going on, the answer is embarrassingly obvious: They have to ask! Not vague, self-congratulatory bullshit questions like “What can we do even better?” but the hard ones like “What’s something nobody dares to talk about?” or “Are you afraid of anything at work?” or “Is there anything you worked on recently that you wish you could do over?” Or even more specific ones like “What do you think we could have done differently to help Jane succeed?” or “What advice would you give before we start on the big website redesign project?”

“Respect the work that you’ve never done before. Remind yourself that other people’s jobs aren’t so simple. Results rarely come without effort.”

“Sleep-deprived people aren’t just short on brains or creativity, they’re short on patience. Short on understanding. Short on tolerance. … people who start on long hours simply stay on long hours. Be careful taking that first hit!”

“It’s pretty basic. If you work Monday to Friday, weekends should be off-limits for work.”

“Open-plan offices suck at providing an environment for calm, creative work done by professionals who need peace, quiet, privacy, and space to think and do their best.”

“…if someone’s at their desk, we assume they’re deep in thought and focused on their work. That means we don’t walk up to them and interrupt them. It also means conversations should be kept to a whisper so as not to disturb anyone who could possibly hear you. Quiet runs the show.

‘When it comes to chat, we have two primary rules of thumb: “Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time” and “If it’s important, slow down.”’

“If everyone needs to see it, don’t chat about it.” Give the discussion a dedicated, permanent home that won’t scroll away in five minutes.

“More work piles on but the timeline remains the same. That’s not work, that’s hell…. Few things are as demoralizing as working on projects with no end in sight.”

“Here are some of the telltale signs that your deadline is really a dreadline:
…unreasonably large amount of work that needs to be done in an unreasonably short time…
…unreasonable expectation of quality given the resources and time…
…ever-expanding amount of work in the same time frame as originally promised…”

“Behavior unchecked becomes behavior sanctioned.”

“If you don’t want gnarly roots in your culture, you have to mind the seeds. You don’t have to let something slide for long before it becomes the new normal. Culture is what culture does.”

“Jeff Bezos put it well in his 2017 letter to shareholders: I disagree and commit all the time… Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.”

“Companies waste an enormous amount of time and energy trying to convince everyone to agree before moving forward on something. What they’ll often get is reluctant acceptance that masks secret resentment.

“Knowing when to embrace Good Enough is what gives you the opportunity to be truly excellent when you need to be. We’re not suggesting you put shit work out there. You need to be able to be proud of it, even if it’s only “okay.” But attempting to be indiscriminately great at everything is a foolish waste of energy.”

“It was amazing that it could be done, but we had forgotten to ask whether it should be done.”

“Reasonable expectations are out the window with whatever it takes. So you know you’re going to grossly underestimate the difficulty and complexity required to make it happen.

… Rather than demand whatever it takes, we ask, What will it take? That’s an invitation to a conversation. One where we can discuss strategy, make tradeoffs, make cuts, come up with a simpler approach all together, or even decide it’s not worth it after all.”

“Too much shit to do is the problem. The only way to get more done is to have less to do.… Management scholar Peter Drucker nailed it decades ago when he said “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

“If the boss is constantly pulling people off one project to chase another, nobody’s going to get anything done… These half-baked, right-in-the-middle-of-something-else new ideas lead to half-finished, abandoned projects that litter the landscape and zap morale.

“Saying “Yes, later” is the easy way out of anything. You can only extend so many promises before you’ve spent all your future energy. Promises are easy and cheap to make, actual work is hard and expensive. If it wasn’t, you’d just have done it now rather than promised it later.”

“You’ll often hear that people don’t like change, but that’s not quite right… What people don’t like is forced change — change they didn’t request on a timeline they didn’t choose.”

“Here’s something that should be obvious: People don’t like to have their grievances downplayed or dismissed. When that happens, even the smallest irritation can turn into an obsessive crusade.

“When you deal with people who have trouble, you can either choose to take the token that says “It’s no big deal” or the token that says “It’s the end of the world.” Whichever token you pick, they’ll take the other.”

“Choose Calm … protect people’s time and attention…
… make a reasonable number of hours count for more…
… give them the focus that their best work requires…
… give teams control over what can be reasonably accomplished given the time…”

“You always have the choice to change yourself and your expectations. Change the way you interact with people. Change the way you communicate. Start protecting your own time.”

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