Sometimes I am asked how I can reconcile all my different activities. My answer is: Basecamp. Basecamp is a project management software that has it all. All my projects – whether professional or private – flow into this software and are displayed every morning at 9 am as an interactive todo list. I plan weeks and days, of course, but I don’t know exactly what to expect the next day or the next week – especially in the evening, which is quite advantageous for a good night’s sleep.
Basecamp is an American company that only releases this one product of the same name. But this is not about the software, it’s about the latest book that the two company bosses – CEO Jason Fried and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson – have published: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. In this book you described how they turned their own company into a “Calm Company”, a company without long days, overtime, evening and weekend work, information overload, stress and … Meetings.
Here I summarize my nine most important findings from the book and tell you what founders can get out of it.
1. 40 hours is enough, 30 are perfect
Especially at the beginning of your independence you will be told that this would be hard work with many hours a day and on weekends. Self and constantly. That’s nonsense. You can do a lot in 40 hours. And 40 hours is hard work. I even think that every hour after the eighth hour of the day is ineffective and not meaningful. This applies all the more if there is not so much to do at the beginning of self-employment because the order situation has to develop first. If there is nothing to do, there is nothing to do. At the beginning of my independence I always made the mistake of cold calling when there was nothing to do. I saw it as my duty to do something, because the money has to come in. But this is an unpleasant job for both sides, which should be left alone. Instead, read, maintain your networks, do things you enjoy.
A few more things that founders always do wrong:
Only work if you get paid for it. Many fill the missing orders with not at all or badly paid jobs. “Better than nothing” – no, that’s worse than nothing. Don’t do that. You are recommended as service providers who work for nothing or little money. You are not taken seriously. If so, then do it pro bono. If, for example, you become self-employed as a web designer*, offer your work pro bono to non-profit institutions and not to stingy entrepreneurs* who exploit you. You work out references and contacts, do something good and gain experience. But it is crystal clear that companies have to pay good money for you.
Another tip: bill everything – two-hour meeting, bill. The customer keeps calling, billing. She writes long e-mails with complicated instructions, bills. Also take a reasonable hourly rate. Only then will you be taken seriously and paid well. In the beginning you might leave some money on the street if customers don’t participate, but believe me, that comes back faster than you think.
2. stay in your comfort zone!
One sentence I really hate is, “Get out of your comfort zone!” The authors speak from my soul. Why? If I don’t like going to networking events, don’t go there. That won’t work, people will notice that you don’t feel well. Do things you can’t or don’t want to do? Why? You will not do that well. Better learn what you can do and do what you can do even better.
3. Work where you want (if you have the possibility)
When small teams are formed, they often immediately think of their own office. But that only costs money, and an office does not necessarily offer the best working atmosphere. Work where you feel most comfortable. I have a quiet office, where I mostly work. In the morning and after work, I answer emails and plan my days on a small Macbook in my kitchen. I’m also writing this text there right now. But sometimes I fly to another city in our time zone, rent an Airbnb, and work a week with a reduced number of hours. Mostly when there’s not so much going on. Many single founders also like to go in coworking spaces. It’s not that cool for me, it’s too loud for me. But everyone* has to know that for themselves. Work wherever you want!
4. Be immune to the real-time constraint
So in here I’m bad myself, and for a year now I’ve been training myself to react in real time. The multitude of different communication tools usually make it impossible to concentrate for hours on end. I deleted Facebook myself, turned off the notifications from What’s App and all other apps on my iPhone, deleted all email accounts except my private one to get more peace into my daily work. Everyone can find their own way. But don’t feel obliged to always answer immediately. Everything can wait. You decide for yourself what is important right now. In return, be indulgent if someone else needs a few hours or even a day to answer your questions. They will have their reasons.
5. No group chats, no group chats, no group chats
The What’s App Group has found its permanent place in the world of work. Besides private 28-headed gift groups and such nonsense, distractions crackle all day long that keep you from real work. And the day is over and you haven’t done anything or earned any money. Reject that. Ask your customers not to do that. In case of emergency you can call. Above all, refuse voice messages. You save your customers time at your expense. Use a software where you can discuss topics in a group (I use Basecamp, as I said, there are also many alternatives). Customers don’t always like to use new software. But commit them to effective and timely communication.
6. Vacation is vacation
What you’ll notice very quickly when you get rid of your boss: some customers* are even worse … they call you at all possible times. If you allow it, the rest is gone. “Fakecations” is what the authors call that. They don’t care about the end of the day or the holidays. When you go on holiday, everything switches off. Delete all communication apps from your phone and really go on holiday. Believe me, you need that – especially as self-employed. If you like to travel shorter distances, I recommend doing “workations” (see point 3). Stupid name, but makes clear what is meant. But then make the general conditions clear and reduce your working time. For self-employed people, holidays always cost twice as much, because no wages are paid during this time. “Workations” are a good compromise. But once a year there should be at least three weeks rest.
7. Set realistic deadlines and stick to them
At first this point is somewhat contradictory in the book, because it is mostly a question of not letting one’s life be determined by one’s work: Stick to deadlines – your own and your customers’ deadlines*. Whatever happens. Because if you don’t, you’ll quickly lose control of your work. Sure, you’ll say it’s self-evident, but in fact, postponing deadlines is the most commonly used solution when time is running out. Instead, if you set the deadlines realistically and very importantly, don’t let the workload increase significantly during the project. I always make a list of additional ideas that come up in the project and turn these ideas into a new, subsequent project. This also has the advantage that the additional work is paid for. Don’t get involved with deadlines like “as soon as possible”. If the customer doesn’t want to give a deadline, you give one.
8. Make compromises in quality – good enough is good enough
That’s right. Many customers, but also entrepreneurs, say that we make no compromises in quality. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson say the opposite. If something is good enough, that’s enough. Be as good as you can in the given time, within budget and with reasonable effort. Better make sure that your work is finished and usable. It always gets better. You don’t have to give 110% (it doesn’t work at all), 80% is enough.
9. Three is the perfect number for a team
Even if you are single founders, you usually work in a team. The perfect size is three, say the two authors, and I can also confirm that. With four or more team members you need a team leader and five people is not a good size for a team – it becomes immobile. If you’re more human, make two teams of two instead of four, one team of two and one team of three instead of five. Better divide the work into teams. This will save you a management structure that only costs money and causes trouble and lengthy discussions. At Basecamp, the designer always has the lead over the project because it makes sense in terms of content. I also often work in a team of three and used to always take the lead myself. But now I’ve started to always give leads in projects. Technical project, programmer has the lead, design project, designer has the lead, marketing project, I have the lead. That saves a lot of time, even though sometimes I don’t know exactly what the others are doing. But they know.
Conclusion: Make your company a calm company
Surely there are always situations where there is stress, where you have to work longer, where it becomes “crazy”. But this should remain the absolute exception. And surely you all have your own working world, where some things I deduced from the book don’t fit. But I hope you can find some tips for your foundation here. If you have any questions, have your own insights, need or have tips, please contact me or write a comment.