“ It doesn’t have to be crazy at work” — Is this book good for academics?
In the book “I doesn’t have to be crazy at work”, the CEO and CTO of Basecamp highlight the practices they apply in their company to make it a calm workplace and healthy environment for their workers and themselves. They mainly critique the current culture of long hours, hustling and sacrifice is mandatory for a successful business. Is this only applied to company or are there any good take aways for those of us in the academic world?
This was the first time I read something from Jason Fried or David Heinemeir Hansson. And I picked up this book mainly because I’ve been emerged in the “no pain no gain” mindset pretty much since I remember.
It started at a young age in school — the harder you work the bigger the reward. I worked really hard in school but I managed to keep a busy social life outside school. That ended when I entered college, where staying up late working on assignments was praised, working on weekends was a given, and having no work/life balance was taken as a mandatory. Do you have time for parties? You must be slacking school. Result: I managed to finish college in the designated time but I felt pretty burned out at the end of it.
Now I’m doing a PhD but I find myself in the same loop. Feeling bad if I take weekends out, and not really feeling relaxed.
Even though, this book reflect mainly on how to run a company, I feel like many concepts also apply to academia — the last one to leave the lab is usually seen as the hard working student, and if you managed to go through your PhD without some degree of sleep deprivation, you were not doing it right.
I give this book a 4 out of 5. Language is simple and funny, the chapters are short and concise which makes the book an easy (fast) read. The downside: the authors usually don’t go into much detail and it does sounds a little obnoxious.
Here are a list of take aways that resonated with me either because I feel like it applies to me or to something we can do in the lab to make the workplace better:
- “Hustle”, “grind”, “no pain no gain”. All expressions far too common in todays work culture. More often than not, this is the enemy of good work. The fact that we have our minds constantly busy, leaves little room for creativity, reflection and critical thinking. This is specially import for research where I feel like a few hours of reflection can make my work easier for several weeks.
- SLEEP. This is a big topic for me. Why sleep 8 hours when I can function perfectly with just 5/6 hours? This is what I use to think. But more often than not, I was not functioning perfectly, I just thought I was. There’s plenty of evidence that sleep deprivation not only crushes your productivity now, but also harms your health.
- 8h day, 40h a week. If we think about it, 8h a day is plenty of time, but it feels little because we usually don’t spend all that time working. We have distractions that fracture our schedule into pieces and prevents us from working for a long time without interruptions. The cool thing about research is that you manage your own time. The bad thing about research is that if you’re like me, you probably manage your time poorly. It’s rare for me to stop working before 6pm and I spend several evening doing “this extra thing”. I clear sign of poor time management. Sometimes because I procrastinated in the morning and now need to stay late to finish what I actually need to finish. Other times it’s because I over promise and now I have to work over hours to finish want I promised. Which brings me to my next topic.
- Say NO. I’m a people pleaser, if people ask me to do something, more often than not I’ll say yes without hesitation. Without reflecting on the time it will take me. And it might no be only the small thing people are asking you — is everything that comes attached. It’s ok to say no and prioritise your time.
- Office hours. This idea is actually “stolen” from academia 😋 The idea that the experts have a designated time where people can ask questions. This way they can provide guidance without jeopardising their time.
- Vacations! And vacation means, away from everything — email, chats.This is something that should be cultivated in every workplace. Create the habit of not contacting people to small meetings. Whatever it is, it probably can wait.
I don’t think there’s anything ground braking in this book, however it shows that it is possible for some company to work without it being a “crazy at work”. Some pieces of advice they give can’t me applied to every company or workplace but it is a good reminder that the wellbeing of employees should be a priority — this will eventually lead to better results. It was a good read for me to remind myself of good and healthy practices for myself, and to be mindful of other people’s time.
As a final note, it would be nice that see some feedback of the people that actually works at Basecamp. We have several examples on how the authors try to cultivate a good work environment but the book lacks the feedback of the actual employees, or even people that left the company.
This is my humble review. What resonates with me might not resonate with you. So I would advise you to read the book! 😄