Jason Fried: Doing the Enough Thing – The Knowledge Project

Check out the Knowledge Project Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “Time is incredibly valuable, and to ask for someone’s time you should have a good reason for it”
  • You should NOT need 10-12 hours a day to get good work done
  • Your tasks expand in proportion to the time you allow them
  • Something to think about:
    • “I find that the more I pay attention to industry trends and who’s doing what, the less free my mind is. You’re just colored by what everyone else is doing and you don’t have as much space for your own thoughts.”
  • Instead of setting goals, just try to do the best job you can
  • It is SO IMPORTANT to be able to clearly communicate your ideas clearly and persuade others to listen to what you have to say
  • The fact that communication is speeding up with things like texting and work messaging apps, does not mean our responses to these messages should be speeding up as well

Books Mentioned


A Lesson Jason Learned From His Parents

  • “Always figure out what the right thing to do is in any given situation. You might not always do the right thing, but know what the right thing is.”

Basecamp – Doing the Enough Thing

  • Cultural pressure dictates that we work harder and longer, and if you’re not working hard enough, someone else will will happily take your job
  • Some Basecamp philosophies:
    • “If the work gets done in only 5 hours a day, then that’s enough”
    • “You shouldn’t need 10-12 hours to get enough good work done”
      • People are working those long hours not because there’s actually 12 hours of work to do – it’s because they can’t find the time within those 12 hours to actually piece together the work they need to do, so it’s spread out
  • If someone wants to schedule a meeting with you, they have to actually ask to do so (in person)
    • “Time is incredibly valuable, and to ask for someone’s time you should have a good reason for it”
  • There are no shared calendars – no one can see anyone else’s schedule or just send a meeting request via email

More About Basecamp

  • There are 55 people in the company
  • Jason works primarily on the product development team
  • Every 6 weeks, the product development team picks 3-5 projects to work on
    • During this time, there are 2-3 smaller teams (of 3 people or less) working on those projects/new features
      • These smaller teams are fully autonomous – there are no check-ins/project update meetings
    • “6 weeks is enough time to make substantial progress on something that’s important”
      • If you give something 6 months, it will take 6 months
      • Jason likes to ask himself – “What’s the 6-week version of this larger idea that we can boil down and attack?”
  • How are the project ideas picked?
    • There’s no huge roadmap or anything like that
    • Jason and 1-2 other higher-ups just focus on what they want to accomplish next

No Goals, No Metrics

  • How is success judged within the smaller project teams?
    • The main priority is to improve the product
      • Since the teams at Basecamp use the Basecamp product – they have a pretty good feel for this
    • There are no project goals/metrics
    • But it’s not just about the outcome, it’s also about how the project went internally:
      • Are people now burned out? Do they hate each other? Did it improve or damage personal relationships?
      • “You could end up with a feature that customers absolutely love, but it might have destroyed morale internally. To me, that’s not a good outcome.”
      • “If you’re only measuring the output and outcome in terms of how customers felt about it, but you’re not really thinking about how the humans working on it felt about it, I think you’re missing a big picture”
  • Before assigning projects, Jason will consider who’s been working on what/how they’ve been doing
    • If a particular person has worked on 3 super challenging projects in a row, Jason will note this and might assign them something easier

Joy of Missing Out (JOMO) Not FOMO

  • “I try not to be influenced by outside factors. I try to be quite ignorant actually.”
    • “I find that the more I pay attention to industry trends and who’s doing what, the less free my mind is. You’re just colored by what everyone else is doing and you don’t have as much space for your own thoughts.”
  • Jason prefers to pay more attention to things happening outside his industry
    • He gets a lot of inspiration from architecture, art, and long walks/nature
    • “You’re much better off looking outside your own walls that looking at the things that are close to you”

Jeff Bezos

  • He owns a decent piece of Basecamp (he bought shares from David and Jason in 2006)
    • Jason and Jeff both share the point of view – “Just because other people are doing it this way does not mean that’s how you should do it”

Who does Jason admire in the business world?

  • Anybody who stays in business for more than 5 years
    • Jason uses the example of his friend who runs a small grocery store in town
      • Related:
        • In the physical world, like in a grocery store, you can often experiment much quicker (like putting an item on the checkout counter and seeing if it sells better)
        • People who own small businesses will often get to know their customers by name, which Jason will never be able to do
  • Stripe and what they’re doing
  • Charlie Munger
    • For his clarity of thought and steadfast commitment to value
  • People like personal trainers who are 100% of the company (so they don’t have employees – there’s obviously pluses and minuses to having them)

Seemingly Successful Companies That Are Actually Losing Money

  • “I have a hard time with tech businesses that are held up as successful examples of businesses but are actually fundamentally terrible businesses”
    • Like Uber
      • They’ve lost billions so far but are able to stay afloat from investments

Business Thoughts

  • “One of the great ways to ‘win’ in business is to just stick around. And one of the ways to stick around is to just become profitable.”
    • For the 20 years of being in business, Basecamp has been 100% funded by customer revenues
  • “Every business eventually dies, but often times they kill themselves”
    • They don’t change, they get cocky, they don’t pay attention to customers, they get greedy etc.
  • One of the downsides of having raised a ton of money:
    • It comes with a TON of expectations related to growth – be careful about wishing to be in this scenario
    • Whereas with Jason and Basecamp – there are no expectations besides taking care of the product and employees, but those are all manageable

What are Jason’s expectations of himself?

  • “Just to do the right thing and do the best work I can, on balance”
  • To create an environment at Basecamp so people can do the best work of their careers
    • “If someone decides to work here, they’re saying no to a million other opportunities. I have to respect that.”
  • Jason has no personal goals or a huge desire to change the world
    • “I just want to make a great product, work with great people, be intellectually challenged, and have a good life outside of that”

Why You Should Think About NOT Setting Goals

  • Goals and metrics are just made up targets
    • If you don’t hit them, you’re bound to be disappointed
    • And then when you hit a goal, the excitement only lasts for like a day, and then you move on to set another one
      • It just results in a perpetual state of stress…and you’re going to just do that for your whole career…for 40 years!!???
    • “How about not setting goals at all and just trying to do the best you can?”
  • Jason recalls Basecamp once tried to hit revenue targets
    • It only resulted in them doing things they wouldn’t normally do – like advertising on Facebook to move the needle

How does Jason feed his brain?

  • Jason has 4 kids, so his personal time is limited
  • Lately, Jason has gravitated towards audiobooks (mostly nonfiction and autobiographies)
    • He only listens at 1x speed
      • He used to listen at 2x when possible, but then realized:
        • “Why am I rushing? Why am I trying to pack everything into my head? There’s time to get to these things and if I don’t get to them, I don’t get to them.”
  • Jason draws a lot of inspiration from nature
    • When he gets the chance, he tries to take lots of long walks


  • Jason tries to never ask for parenting advice because it’s hard to draw comparisons
  • Jason enjoyed the book – The Self Driven Child
  • “It’s important for kids to play, explore, and be creative. Whatever they get into is fine with me. I’m not into pushing anything on anybody.”
  • One thing Jason does focus on – not applying unnecessary pressure
    • The – “Do X or else you won’t…”
  • “Building some self-awareness and really knowing yourself is probably the most important lesson [for kids to learn] ultimately”
  • If Jason were to try to instill something in his kids, it would be:
    • “Find your path. Figure out what you like. Find out what drives you and what you’re curious about and go into that.”
  • A final thought:
    • It’s very important to understand why you’re leading your kid in a certain direction, and it’s very often not all that well thought out

Learn to Write Well

  • “The thing that surprises me most for people coming out of school is how poorly school teaches them to write and communicate”
  • It is SO IMPORTANT to clearly communicate your ideas clearly and and persuade others to listen to what you have to say
    • That’s not taught in school

Jason’s Hiring Process

  • When considering who to hire, the first thing Jason notices is their writing skills (on their cover letter)
  • Another thing Jason tries to gauge – whether or not the person is really curious about what they do
    • How does he tease that out?
      • If someone’s a programmer, they might contribute to open source code in their spare time (this is just an example, not everyone may have time to do this)
      • Maybe they have a ton of personal projects related to their work
      • Jason is just trying to get an idea of how much they like to “play” with their work – the people who would do their work without getting paid

Jason’s Books

  • Rework was essentially the cookbook/recipe for how Basecamp runs
  • It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work is all about pushing back on current, unhealthy industry trends
    • Like people working 80-hour weeks, always available and busy, and working on weekends
      • Why is it okay that people answer work emails on Sunday at 3:00 PM?
    • In past jobs, Shane has noticed that the people who are sending work emails at 11:00 PM, are the same people who are typically unhappy in their relationships
      • It’s almost like a virus – you’re expected to answer, and doing so only hurts your personal relationships
    • “As far as the expectation of an immediate response – it’s a cultural issue”
      • The fact that communication is speeding up with things like texting and work messaging apps, does not mean our responses to these messages should be speeding up as well
      • At Basecamp they have the motto – “Eventual response, not immediate response”


  • If you email Basecamp support, you’ll get a response in about 10 minutes
  • Wow!!
    • Jason says he was a C student
    • Shane – a D student
  • Jason uses a 13-inch laptop without an external monitor to prevent him from multitasking
    • “Screen real estate – you don’t want a lot of it, you want a little of it”

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

Knowledge Project : , ,
Notes By MMiller

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