It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals) has always spoken to entrepreneurs in a similar way as The Four Hour Workweek did. Their first two books (Getting Real and Rework) did not beat around the bush and got right to the point about what you need to do to leave the rat race and live life on your terms. They live the ethos of keeping it simple and keeping it real and have inspired many in the process.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work continues that tradition as it is as much a book about how to work as it is a rant against corporate culture.

The advice in the book can be broken down into two buckets: work-life balance and management. It either is about managing yourself or managing your company but with the obvious overlap.

There are a lot of ideas in this book that are easy to fall in love with, including finding satisfaction in doing your best work, having fair expectations and honest relationships with customers and coworkers, forcing deep thought and consideration of ideas, and choosing calm.

I particularly want to applaud them for highlighting asynchronous communication. Corporate America has taken every single asynchronous communication method this side of the letter and made it into something that demands immediate attention and response. I’ve known people who seem to think the world stops on its axis the second an email hits their inbox and if they don’t address it right then and there then the earth will fall into the sun and billions will die. Email and Slack were invented to help you avoid getting interrupted (by calls and people stopping by your desk) and allow you to do your work!

Their extra benefits (paid vacation in lieu of bonuses, sabbaticals, stipends for learning, and fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to your home for cooking) sound amazing and I imagine contribute to the work-life balance they working towards as much as, if not more than, the self-imposed restrictions on working late or checking your email when outside of the office.

Where I think this book falters is that it almost seems to be asking people to sacrifice their ambitions (to an extent) at the altar of work-life balance. Entrepreneurs are some of the most ambitious people on the planet and, while it is easy to overwork and get burnt out, if you love what you do then why place limits on yourself?

Additionally there are what I perceive to be a few inconsistencies in the book. The one that bothered me the most is where they rail against goal setting yet they do talk about setting six-week plans. Isn’t a plan the methods for reaching a goal?

This is a quote from the book that also seems a bit at odds with their opposition to goals:

“Constraints are liberating, and realistic deadlines with flexible scopes can be just that. But they require you to embrace budgets and shun estimates. Great work will fill the time allotted if you allow it to.”

What I like about that quote is that it reminds me of one of my favorite business quotes of all time from Marissa Mayer in 2006 when she was at Google: “Creativity loves constraint.”

They ended with a chapter titled “Choose Calm” which is a series of questions posed to the reader about what actions they will take as a result of reading the book. Like their other books, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work contains plenty of actionable advice and these questions will remind you to choose productivity over hours and to put yourself in a mindset that nurtures creativity.