It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by David Hansson and Jason Fried [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by David Hansson and Jason Fried. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Worksheet: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

The modern workplace is sick. It’s chaotic. It’s noisy and distracting. The book offers a way on how to design your company differently, less stressful, and more profitable. David Hansson and Jason Fried show us how to structure a calm company. A less busy place where people will actually enjoy visiting.

The Core Idea:

To stop celebrating crazy at work. To stop squeezing your employees for doing more work for less time. To start giving people the needed, uninterrupted time so they can do their job. Also, to build a company that has values and it’s comfortable with having enough – clients, profit, goals.


  • Your company too is a product. So, make sure you build a great product (company).
  • Don’t set goals for the sake of setting goals. Simply do great work continuously.
  • Cleanse multitasking and replace it with unfractured working hours were people can focus on what truly matters.

5 Key Lessons from It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work:

Lesson #1: Your Company Is A Product

Even if you have a great product, if your company sucks, you’ll soon have a stinking product.

Everything in the book revolves around the idea that your company is a product. That every company is a product. And it makes a lot of sense. Since the people inside the company are the ones creating the actual product, or service, you should focus on making your company the best product ever.

And how do you improve a product? You revise and you update. Improve what’s already available and try to make it better than the previous version. You ask questions to clarify what’s missing or what’s broken and you apply fixes.

If your organization is standing still and operates by some outdated principles or values, it will soon start to rot. Like a lot of old institutions that are obsessed with paper and bureaucracy.

Above all, your company should be useful to others. But not only to your customers, but it should also consider the desires of the people working inside.

“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.” David Hansson and Jason Fried

Lesson #2: Don’t Compare and Don’t Set Goals

Do you really want to dominate the market? Do you really want to crush your competitors? Do you really need to watch their every move, hire experts to predict their possible future step, and sweat on the decisions so you can always be ahead?

Or, you can just keep doing great work. Keep doing what you do best and be careless about others and their businesses. Initially, you’ll probably have to observe your opponents but after a while, your expertise will be enough to keep your existing clients satisfied and eventually gain some more. All of this, without having to go to a fortune teller for advice on your future actions.

The same casual concept can be applied when it’s time to set goals for your company, by simply not setting goals.

Goals are so 90’s. You have a meeting with the board and you all fight until you finally put a grandiose figure as a goal for the upcoming quarter. Eventually, you don’t land near the desired number and you blame something else.

By not setting goals you free your mind from the pointless pursuit for more so you can have enough time to focus on what’s truly important – being more effective, making your products more useful, making customers and employees happy.

“Because let’s face it: Goals are fake. Nearly all of them are artificial targets set for the sake of setting targets. These made-up numbers then function as a source of unnecessary stress until they’re either achieved or abandoned. And when that happens, you’re supposed to pick new ones and start stressing again. Nothing ever stops at the quarterly win.” David Hansson and Jason Fried

Lesson #3: Defend Your Time

As the authors state in the book, “Companies love to protect. They protect their brand with trademarks and lawsuits. They protect their data and trade secrets with rules, policies, and NDAs. They protect their money with budgets, CFOs, and investments. They guard so many things, but all too often they fail to protect what’s both most vulnerable and most precious: their employees’ time and attention.”

Our working days are composed of eight full hours. During that time, all of our actions should be towards moving the company closer to the goals set by the management, i.e. make a profit. That’s what should happen on paper. But in reality, things are far so simple.

Instead of giving their employees the time they need to do their job, a lot of firms waste it with pointless meetings, chat rooms, and grandiose projects that never see the light of day.

The best way to slice one hour is like this: 1 x 60 = 60. This means that the hour was completely uninterrupted. This means that you actually did something productive.

But often our working hours look like this: 20 + 5 + 15 + 10 + 5 + 5 = 60. In translation, fractured hours. If you’re addicted to multitasking, all of your hours are looking like uneven chopped pieces of meat. That’s why you probably often stay after work, to finish your work.

The best way to get more done, though, without having to regularly stay hours after your workday is to remove the distractions and protect your time.

“It’s no wonder people are coming up short and are working longer hours, late nights, and weekends to make it up. Where else can they find the uninterrupted time? It’s sad to think that some people crave a commute because it’s the only time during the day they have to themselves.” David Hansson and Jason Fried

Lesson #4: Ask Difficult Questions

If you’re managing a team, a company, don’t throw sand in the eyes of your employees by telling them that your door is always open for them. If you really want people to share what’s bothering them, you need to ask them, in person. Not by sending an email and including stuff like “feel free to ask if you have questions” and hope that they won’t have such.

Most people are too shy and too afraid to share what’s bothering them. But not only. They won’t do it because they probably don’t yet trust you. Every employee knows that people who raise issues are not so well accepted by the boss. Why on earth would they risk their job?

If you really want to know what’s wrong, you should be actually ready to hear it. This can be done only by asking questions, difficult questions. Stuff like: “How is the workload?”; “What do you think we can improve in the way we communicate?”; “Are you afraid of anything at work?”; “Is there anything you worked on recently that you wish to go through together?”

Maybe people won’t share everything from your first conversation. Even after the 10th conversation. But after a while, they’ll trust you and share with you. The question is: Are you ready to really hear what your employees have to say about you?

“If the boss really wants to know what’s going on, the answer is embarrassingly obvious: They have to ask! Not vague, self-congratulatory bullshit questions like ‘What can we do even better?’ but the hard ones like ‘What’s something nobody dares to talk about?’ or ‘Are you afraid of anything at work?'” David Hansson and Jason Fried

Lesson #5: Startups Are Easy

A legion of people, calling themselves entrepreneurs are starting businesses on a daily basis. They’re “crushing it” in the beginning. They don’t sleep, skip meals, use life hacks, time hacks, all sorts of hacks until they launch a product that will “dominate” the market. When the product is finally out there, they think it’s over. They think that the heavy lifting is in the past. Except, it’s not.

Starting a podcast, setting up a website, opening a restaurant, doing whatever venture you desire, is relatively hard in the beginning, yes. However, things don’t get easier over time. They tend to get even harder. More employees, salaries, budgets, new projects, personalities, bureaucracy, all these things pile up and it’s inevitably harder while you’re still in business. But that’s not even the main reason companies bankrupt.

The main reason businesses bust, it’s because people who found them don’t start with the intention to keep this operating in the long-term. They push to the max in the beginning, but they never consider that business, in order to thrive, requires quite a lot of maintenance work.

We can relate running a business with staying in a good shape: You can push yourself to lose a few pounds, but if your future actions are not in line with your desired body weight, you’ll quickly end up overweight, again.

If you really want to start a business, you need to think more about staying in business.

“You can absolutely run a great business without a single goal. You don’t need something fake to do something real. And if you must have a goal, how about just staying in business? Or serving your customers well? Or being a delightful place to work? Just because these goals are harder to quantify does not make them any less important.” David Hansson and Jason Fried

Actionable Notes:

  • Time-box your projects: Getting lost in a certain project, losing track of time is something common. Prevent this by deciding how long a project will take initially – for example, “I’ll work on this for 2 weeks, not more.” This will not only help you ship sooner, but also prompt you to be more focused on the task at hand.
  • Create interruption-free zones: If your office is advocating for transparency – glass doors and stuff – no wonder you don’t have enough time to do your job. If you work for yourself, designate a place where you’ll only work. Something like an HQ for your creative projects – no social media and texting allowed. If you have a 9 to 5 job, and if you’re constantly interrupted in the office, you probably have to talk with your boss.
  • Have less to do: Too often we want everything. We spend an awful amount of time trying to put 100 features in our new projects. But this is not practical, nor easy to be executed. Get comfortable with the word enough – enough features, enough staff, enough clients. By doing so, you’ll have less to do, thus be more focused and more productive.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

Everything nowadays is happening so fast. Thanks to machine learning algorithms and the exponential growth of technology, businesses thrive like never before.

And while new updates, features, and products – that are supposedly making our lives better – are shipped faster than the number of rockets Elon Musk launches into orbit. People end up working more hours than before.

We no longer categorize work as simply work, we add “crazy”; “insane”; “exhausting”; “stressful.” But since you have to pay the bills, you don’t have the luxury to question this chaotic lifestyle. Fortunately, there are people who aren’t ignorant. The founders at Basecamp have something to say about this trending way of running a company.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work is a book every business owner should read. It’s a manifestation for a calmer company. For a peaceful way to do business. David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried share what they’ve learned after running their business for nearly 20 years. And what they share it’s not something you’ll usually see/read.

My personal takeaway from the book is that if you really want to stay in business, you need to focus on doing fewer things but better.

Notable Quotes:

“You can play with your kids and still be a successful entrepreneur. You can have a hobby. You can take care of yourself physically. You can read a book. You can watch a silly movie with your partner. You can take the time to cook a proper meal. You can go for a long walk. You can dare to be completely ordinary every now and then.” David Hansson and Jason Fried

“Eight people in a room for an hour doesn’t cost one hour, it costs eight hours.” David Hansson and Jason Fried

“When you start to think about your company as a product, all sorts of new possibilities for improvements emerge. When you realize the way you work is malleable, you can start molding something new, something better.” David Hansson and Jason Fried

“A business is a collection of choices. Every day is a new chance to make a new choice, a different choice.” David Hansson and Jason Fried

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