If you didn’t know better, you’d think Jason Fried is more of a slacker than a CEO.
Fried chooses to do less, not more. He doesn’t set goals. He’ll get back to you whenever. And most importantly, he doesn’t work more than 40 hours a week, and he doesn’t want his employees to either.
Despite this — or rather, he would say, because of it — Fried has run a very profitable and growing business for two decades.
He cofounded Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals), which offers a web-based project management tool that lets all team members see the same information, documents, deadlines, assignments and updates. It helps dispense with unwieldy email chains, interruptions and status update meetings.
Fried, who just had his second child, also has found the time to write a few critically acclaimed books.
The latest is called “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work,” which The Economist said is “the best thing on management published this year.”
In it, he and coauthor David Heinemeier Hansson, also a Basecamp cofounder, call BS on workaholic managers and owners, even if they pay lip service to their employees’ need to have a life.
“Workaholism is a contagious disease. You can’t stop the spread if you’re the one bringing it into the office,” they write.
They reject the concept of company as “family” and the rallying cry of “whatever it takes” for anything other than a true work emergency.
CNN asked Fried about his work philosophy and what family life has taught him about business.
What do you say to business owners who worry that adopting your approach would just mean they’d get beaten by the competition?
I’d say why would you think that? I’d say if you’re not getting enough sleep, enough rest, and enough perspective from other things in your life besides work, you’ll just be beating yourself.
If the only way to beat the competition is to outwork them, well there are only 24 hours in the day anyway. If you can work them all, so can someone else.
The competition doesn’t beat you, and you don’t beat them, by working more hours or forgoing more sleep. You do well by making smart decisions, being strategic about what you say yes and no to, and understanding your customer better than anyone else.
Treating people well, keeping employees happy, and creating an environment where people can do their best work is yet another thing you’re in control of that’ll help you do well.
Plenty of people have worked themselves to the bone with nothing to show for it. It’s not more work that’ll get you ahead, it’s the right work on the right things the right way.
What penalty is there for someone who works too many hours at Basecamp?
There’s no formal penalty, but we’ll kindly remind them that no one expects, or wants them to be putting in more than 40 hours a week.
We’ll ask them why they feel like they need to put in more hours than that and then help them remove the nonessential things from their day so they don’t feel like they have to work longer than they should.
There’s nothing in anyone’s best interest in working longer than necessary, and an 8-hour day is plenty of time to do great work.
Who offered you the most helpful advice on business and life?
I listen to a lot of people, absorb a lot of things, and am influenced by all sorts of approaches. But as far as business goes, my father’s advice is the best I’ve ever gotten: “No one went broke taking a profit.”
I’ve held this close to my chest and make sure Basecamp, my company, has been profitable since our first year. Next year marks our 20th year in business — all 19 so far have been profitable.
What has marriage and parenthood taught you about work?
That eight hours is plenty of time for work! That life outside of work is incredibly rich and rewarding. Why would I ever want to squander that kind of time to put in another unnecessary hour at the office?
Being a parent is also the best crash course on time management and figuring out what’s truly important in life.
What do you know today that you wish you knew in your 20s?
That most things you worry about aren’t worth worrying about.
How many hours of sleep do you get?
Right now between seven and eight. I aim for eight, but we just had our second baby so nights are a bit tough at the moment.
The book “Why We Sleep” has really impressed upon me that sleep is the most important thing you can do to improve every aspect of your life. I highly recommend reading it.
How much vacation do you take a year?
About three weeks in total. But over the summer months (May through September) everyone at Basecamp works four-day weeks, so we all have three-day weekends for a few months. So add those days in as well and we all get an extra dose of time off.
What’s your favorite podcast and why?
Currently, “The Peter Attia Drive”. I’ve always been fascinated with medicine. I really enjoy his take on things, his clarity, the brilliant guests he has on, and how out of my depth it all is.