jason fried peter attia

Work-Life Balance, Avoiding Burnout, Defining Success, Company Culture, and More – An AMA Episode with Jason Fried on The Peter Attia Drive

Check out the Peter Attia Drive Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Putting more hours into your job doesn’t always equal better results
    • “Putting in more time doesn’t mean anything other than you’re putting in more time. You’re not guaranteeing yourself a better outcome.”Jason Fried
  • “For me, success isn’t defined by revenue targets or big numbers; it’s defined by these questions: ‘Do I want to go to work tomorrow and do the same thing I did the day before? Am I enjoying this? Do I like the people I’m working with? Am I challenging myself intellectually and creatively?’ Those are the things that matter.”  – Jason Fried
  • Culturally, Basecamp’s norm is that no one should expect an immediate email reply; here’s why:
    • “Interruption is a really arrogant act … It’s saying, ‘Whatever you’re doing is less important than what I have to ask you, or what I have to tell you.’”– Jason Fried
  • “Culture isn’t something that a company creates; you can’t create culture. Culture is the byproduct of consistent behavior. It’s what the company does.” – Jason Fried
  • Timing is extremely important when launching a product or company

Intro

Books Mentioned

  • Simon Sinek’s book, The Infinite Game, stresses the importance of long-term thinking
  • Jason’s favorite book on writing is Revising Prose by Richard A. Lanham 
  • One of Jason’s favorite writers is Annie Dillard; he particularly loves her essay titled Total Eclipse, which can be found in her book, The Abundance

More Effort ≠ Better Results

  • Putting more hours into your job doesn’t always equal better results
    • “Putting in more time doesn’t mean anything other than you’re putting in more time. You’re not guaranteeing yourself a better outcome.”Jason Fried
  • The product Jason is best known for, Basecamp, started as a side project, and, at first, only ~10-15% of his company’s time was dedicated to building it 
    • “It turned out that not having a lot of time was actually an advantage … If we had more time, we would have made it more complicated. It would have taken longer to actually get out the door.”  – Jason Fried
  • If you or other people at your company are working late into the night, take some time to figure out why:
    • Are you not finishing your work during the day because you’re constantly getting interrupted? Are you part of the problem? Are you interrupting people constantly? 

How does Jason define success?

  • “For me, success isn’t defined by revenue targets or big numbers; it’s defined by these questions: ‘Do I want to go to work tomorrow and do the same thing I did the day before? Am I enjoying this? Do I like the people I’m working with? Am I challenging myself intellectually and creatively?’ Those are the things that matter.”  – Jason Fried
  • Money is important, but it shouldn’t be your main motivator
    • At Basecamp, Jason could easily increase the cost of their products, but doing so isn’t something that appeals to him:
      • “I don’t want to build an organization that’s interested in squeezing every last penny out of every last customer; it’s just not interesting to me.” – Jason Fried
  • Don’t try to maximize your profits; aim to have the right amount of profits
    • The same goes for employees: more isn’t always better (more moving parts usually means more headaches)

Rethinking Email

  • Culturally, Basecamp’s norm is that no one should expect an immediate email reply; here’s why:
    • “Interruption is a really arrogant act … It’s saying, ‘Whatever you’re doing is less important than what I have to ask you, or what I have to tell you.’”– Jason Fried
    • If there’s an emergency, call the other person. Otherwise, expect them to respond to your email whenever they have free time.

A Framework for Decision-Making

  • For big decisions, always sleep on it
    • (Jason once read that Jeff Bezos only makes important decisions in the first half of the workday—if faced with an important decision in the afternoon, he won’t decide until the next day)

On Work-Life Balance

  • “Work always eats into life. It’s very rare that life can eat back into work.” Jason Fried
    • Expanded: It’s easy to let work take over your life; people see answering work emails at dinner as okay but find leaving work to see a movie quite strange
  • If you aren’t doing work, your company likely thinks you’re slacking off; what if you’re just giving your brain a rest?
    • Jason encourages his employees to daydream 
      • “I don’t think your company’s going to miss that hour where you’re thinking for yourself … In fact, I think you’ll probably use that hour better in most cases than you would have if you were doing some menial task.” Jason Fried
  • Peter recommends limiting how comfortable your home office is. This way, you’re less tempted to work more.
  • Often, the most efficient workers are those with the most responsibilities (kids, partner, etc.)—they know they don’t have a ton of extra time, causing them to use the time they do have wisely 

Avoid Silicon Valley Work Culture

  • Many companies in Silicon Valley push employees extremely hard because they aren’t thinking about the long-term game—most startups are just trying to survive until they get acquired, IPO, or merge
    • This is why most employees at Silicon Valley companies only stay for ~18 months whereas employees at Basecamp stay for several years
    • Making employees give constant, all-out effort leads to burn out and churn:
      • “You can’t behave that way and last for a long time. You’re going to flame out.” – Jason Fried

Dealing With Burnout When Your Job is Also Your Hobby

  • Just as an album you used to love gets dull with frequent listening, the same thing can happen with work
  • A major sign of burn out: procrastinating
  • To avoid burnout, add variation to your work
    • For instance, if you’re a baker that bakes muffins, bake some bread or cakes

The Ideal Workweek

  • Even though technology has made people much more productive, everyone still works the same 40-hour week
  • During the summer, Basecamp employees work 32-hour weeks
    • “It feels to me like somewhere between 30 and 40 is the right number. That’s not to say that 45 isn’t fine too. I’m sure it’s fine. The problem is when it gets to 60, 70, and 80 hours/week.” – Jason Fried

Identifying Company Culture

  • “Culture isn’t something that a company creates; you can’t create culture. Culture is the byproduct of consistent behavior. It’s what the company does. It’s not what you wish the company to do. It’s not what you write down.”  – Jason Fried
  • If you want to evaluate a company’s culture, talk to people who work there:
    • Find employees on LinkedIn and message them
    • Or, call the company’s customer service department to find out how they value their employees
  • Be careful if you hear a company say, “We’re just a big family here”
    • That’s code for, “You’re going to sacrifice for us like you would for your family, which means you’ll do anything that you’re called upon doing because we’re all a family here.” – Jason Fried
      • “Companies are not families; they’re places to work. You have coworkers and you can do great work with them, but you don’t need to fake this family BS. Real companies that care about people actually care about family, and that means time away, time off, and time to yourself.”

Should Companies Offer Equity?

  • Jason isn’t a fan of companies giving equity to employees because, in most cases, equity goes to zero. For this reason, equity is a lot like a lottery ticket.
  • Companies will often give employees equity in lieu of salary
    • “But you can’t go to your local restaurant and pay with stock options. It’s not real money. It’s fake money.” – Jason Fried
  • What does Basecamp do instead of offering equity?
    • They pay employes at the 90th percentile, regardless of where they live
    • (Basecamp does have a ‘stand-in’ for equity: in the case of a sale, they plan to set aside a minimum of 5% of the purchase price to distribute to employees. The longer you’ve been with the company, the higher of a percentage you’ll get.)

Basecamp’s Project Process

  • With projects, Jason preference is to get them out early and iterate later
  • Basecamp teams work on 6-week project cycles. After finishing a cycle, everyone has a 2-week gap to recharge and work on smaller, personal projects.
  • When a project doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world
    • “I just see it as an experience—we move on from it and keep going. It didn’t take us down. It didn’t kill the business. It didn’t kill anybody here. We’re okay. It just didn’t do as well as other things. So, let’s just come to terms with that.” – Jason Fried
      • “The failure would be to continue to pour effort and energy into something that you know is never going to get where you want it to be.”
  • Pushing people to do a ton of last-minute project work—forcing them to work late into the night—may result in the work getting done, but it also destroys morale, burns people out, and destroys personal relationships

The Importance of Timing

  • Timing is extremely important when launching a product or company—if the timing is wrong, it doesn’t matter how great your product/company is
    • Of course, skill, vision, team, execution, etc. all matter, but timing is probably the most important aspect
      • “Ultimately, you don’t get to pick your own luck and your own timing. You ride on the wave and you’ve got to catch it … I think it has a huge, huge degree of influence over whether or not ideas and companies make it or not.” – Jason Fried
  • “Whatever you believe, just do your best. If luck and timing are on your side, all the better. If you create your own luck and timing, great. And if it doesn’t work because you didn’t have luck and timing, who knew anyway?”  Jason Fried

Thoughts on Writing

  • Basecamp only hires people with strong writing skills
    • “We look at a lot of writing samples during the hiring process, no matter what position they’re in” – Jason Fried
  • Jason’s favorite book on writing is Revising Prose by Richard A. Lanham 
  • One of Jason’s favorite writers is Annie Dillard; he particularly loves her essay titled Total Eclipse, which can be found in her book, The Abundance
  • Jason’s three favorite business writers:
    • Warren Buffet
    • Charlie Munger
    • Jeff Bezos
  • Tips for improving your writing:
    • Believe that writing is a skill which can be learned
    • Read the works of great writers
    • Actually write!
    • Read your own writing out loud
  • Petter’s recommendations for improving your writing:

Additional Notes

  • A good parenting lesson:
    • “The one thing I’ve learned about parenting that I also think is true with people is that you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do” Jason Fried
  • Say “no” more
    • “Yes is cheap; it’s easy to say ‘yes’ to anything, especially if you don’t have to do it right now, but that adds up over time. And then, as it turns out, by the time those things come due, you wish you hadn’t said ‘yes.’” – Jason Fried
  • Basecamp doesn’t have any salespeople—they rely on word-of-mouth
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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