It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work!

By Dr. Wanda Wallace


Being “Crazy Busy” at work seems to be a symbol of success in business today. People wear it as a badge of honor, like they’re proud of it. But is this actually healthy or productive? It doesn’t have to be crazy to be successful.

David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder and CTO of Basecamp and creator of Ruby on Rails, notes “How many times do you ask someone how things are going and receive the instantaneous reply that ‘It’s crazy’?” He believes you can have success without the overwhelming feeling of being “crazy busy”.


“Calm, is what we should be striving for, and Crazy should be apologised for!” David said. In It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, David and his co-founder, Jason Fried, explain how they consciously have led Basecamp to not be crazy and still be a very successful company. They encourage leaders to ask three critical questions in creating a productive, not crazy culture.


When is it enough?

Tech start-ups are currently setting trends and they’re revelling in the glory of 80 hours a week. For example, Marissa Mayer, Google’s first female engineer, was famously quoted as saying that when Google first got off the ground, she discovered she could work 120 hours a week if she was “strategic with her bathroom breaks”.


Eighty hours a week does not cultivate a happy, stable environment, and it doesn’t get the best out of people. Research shows that when physicians work 80 hours a week, they end up making life-threatening mistakes. David believes such models are not aspirational, they are pathological. Small could be legitimately where you want to be.


You can say, “We’re keeping it small, and we’re happy where we are?” At Basecamp, David and his co-founder ask themselves when is enough (wealth, success, profit) enough.


How do you get great productivity?

To be successful, you need peak performance from your team. Working double the number of hours does not get you twice the amount of work. We need to stop looking at the number of hours and instead look at the quality of those hours. “Not all parts are created equal.”

David believes 40 hours per week is enough. Rarely do people get 8 really productive hours in a day. I have heard other senior executives express a similar view.

“It is extremely easy to come in, be extraordinarily busy and get nothing done!”

“We need to start deprogramming now,” according to David. To get optimum performance, we need to address our addiction to ASAP. No one wants to wait. So, we make unrealistic promises to our team and our customers. We expect instant responses to email and chat. David believes that we are letting insecurities make us always available to our clients, but that isn’t reasonable, or healthy. Setting boundaries may actually gain you respect. Self-care is vital for productivity. Basecamp says that when employees are on vacation, they need to be able to fully disconnect, not taking work calls and emails. There are no fak-cations. We need to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation has been well-researched, and we know it impacts the quality of work. Without sleep, we can’t see the big picture, creativity is muted and work becomes shallow. This is a profoundly unsatisfying way to work, people run around being crazy all day and cannot determine what they have achieved. More Practices at Basecamp to Not Be Crazy at Work

Status update meetings have been banished. Instead, they post status updates in a log.

There is no shared calendar. People have to ask to schedule a meeting so that it’s hard to do so. If it’s easy, then there are too many meetings.


At Basecamp, after using software they developed for chat, they pulled the plug on it because they found chat led to less productivity and more interruptions. The company operates by “library rules”. Like a library, the default is quiet.


Additional Advice on Not Being Crazy at Work

Short term goals create problems. When they are achieved, loftier goals are set. This puts people under constant pressure, striving to achieve exponential growth. Instead, set a long term or a more general goal.


Decide who you want to be, and know when to say: “That’s enough, we are happy with that.”It’s easy to try and squeeze out the last drop of everything until its dry, but we all know that the last drop doesn’t taste good!


Know what you are saying yes to. Mantra’s such as ‘the customer is always right’ cause problems because they place one part of the system above the others. Instead, think of the business as a whole system comprised of the owners, shareholders, employees and customers.


Lastly, David believes a leader needs to instill calm on him/herself. One way to do this is with trust. Just like the battery on your mobile phone, keep the trust battery topped up.

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