KEEP CALM and CARRY ON (or "It Doesn't Have To Be Crazy At Work")

The follow-up to 2010’s “Rework” is another goldmine of practical advice
KEEP CALM and CARRY ON (or "It Doesn't Have To Be Crazy At Work")

There must be something about burying myself in the financial minutiae at Zapnito that sparks my interest in the work of Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson. After a few weeks dedicated to finalising our 2019-2021 financial forecasts I swapped my spreadsheet for their new book. It’s another great source of practical, actionable ideas. Their focus this time is on encouraging a calmer approach to the way you work and run your business. I’d encourage everyone to read the whole book, but in the meantime here are my thoughts...

It’s crazy at work

There are two primary reasons: (1) The workday is being sliced into tiny, fleeting work moments by an onslaught of physical and virtual distractions. And (2) an unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost sets towering, unrealistic expectations that stress people out.

It’s time to give people the uninterrupted time that great work demands. It’s time to stop celebrating crazy at work.

1) Your company is a product - Yes, the things you make are products (or services), but your company is the thing that makes those things. That’s why your company should be your best product. To make it better you have to keep tweaking, revising and iterating. When you realise the way you work is malleable, you can start moulding something new, something better.

2) 8’s enough, 40’s plenty - 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. When you cut out what’s unnecessary, you’re left with what you need. And all you need is 8 hours a day for about 5 days a week.

3) The quality of an hour - A fractured hour isn’t really an hour - it’s a mess of minutes.

  • It’s all about minimising interruptions and allowing people to focus and concentrate

4) Office hours - You can’t plan your own day if everyone else is using it up randomly. The expectation of an immediate response is the ember that ignites so many fires at work. Almost everything can wait. And almost everything should. So we borrowed an idea from academia: office hours.

  • Unless a person is in ‘office hours’ do not disturb them, or expect an immediate response, unless there is a genuine emergency

5) Calendar Tetris - Taking someone’s time should be a pain in the ass. Meetings should be a last resort, especially big ones. If you don’t own the vast majority of your own time, it’s impossible to be calm.

6) The owner’s word weighs a ton - It takes great restraint as the leader of an organisation not to keep lobbing ideas at everyone else. Every such idea is a pebble that’s going to cause ripples when it hits the surface.

7) Low-hanging fruit can still be out of reach - Any estimate of how much work it’ll take to do something you’ve never tried before is likely to be off by degrees of magnitude.

8) Don’t cheat sleep - It’s not worth trading sleep for a few extra hours at the office. A great night’s sleep enhances every waking hour. In the long run, work is not more important than sleep.

9) Library rules - Rather than thinking of it as an office, think of it as a library. In fact, the guiding principle should be: Library Rules. Quiet runs the show.

10) The wrong time for real-time - Following group chat at work is like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda. It’s completely exhausting. Chat is great as a small slice but not the whole pie of communication.

  • You use Slack don’t let Slack use you

11) Don’t be a knee-jerk - We want considered feedback. Read it over. Sleep on it. Don’t meet, write. Don’t react, consider.

12) Commitment, not consensus - Good decisions don’t so much need consensus as they need commitment.

13) Have less to do - The only way to get more done is to have less to do. Saying no is the only way to claw back time.

  • “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all” - Peter Drucker

14) Three’s company - A team of three is a wedge and that’s why it works. Three has a sharp point. It’s an odd number, so there are no ties. It’s powerful enough to make a dent, but also weak enough to not break what isn’t broken. Three keeps you honest. It tempers your ambition in all the right ways.

  • Of course ‘Three, it’s the magic number’

15) Calm’s in the black - Profit means time to think, space to explore. It means being in control of your own destiny and schedule. When companies talk about burn rates, two things are burning: money and people. One you’re burning up, one you’re burning out.

  • This is why we keep such a close eye on our costs

16) Launch and learn - Do your best, believe in the work you’ve done and ship it. Shipping real products gives you real answers. So do your best and put it out there.

  • Welcome the feedback and iterate based on real insights and real answers from real customers

17) Promise not to promise - Promises pile up like debt and they accrue interest, too. Promises are easy and cheap to make, actual work is hard and expensive.

  • Remember this applies equally to the tech and non-tech areas

Choose calm

A business is a collection of choices. Every day is a new chance to make a new choice, a different choice. Change the way you interact with people. Change the way you communicate. Start protecting your own time. Make choices that chip away at crazy and get closer to calm. A calm company is a choice. Make it yours.

(All quotes taken from “It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work” by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson)