Why work does not often happen at work – Featuring Jason Fried

Common: Come the end of the day, little can be shown for hours of “work” at the office.

Uncommon: When asked the question, “Where do you go when you really need to get something done?” people do not respond in ways businesses expect. For a boss or company owner, the ideal answer would likely be “work.”  But it seldom is.

This is a fascinating and important observation. There is no doubt about it: The world is changing and it is impacting all arenas of life – especially the way we approach one of our most consuming activities: Our occupation, career, and working life.

In a speech at the revered TED conferences, entrepreneur and author, Jason Fried explores how the idea of “work” and how we should go about it to be most effective and efficient. Below is his speech. I have outlined many of his main points for reference.


3 Responses:

When asked “Where do you go when you really need to get something done?” people often give one of three answers:

  1. A place, location, or room: The porch, deck, kitchen, basement, coffee shop, park, library, etc.
  2. A moving object/environment: Train, Plane, Car
  3. A time: “It doesn’t matter where I am as long as it’s early in hte morning, late at night, or a weekend.”

This place called work:

  • When a company hires employees they expect quality work from them. And many companies assume the most effective way to draw this “work” from them is to bring them together in one place: The office.
  • Companies spend a huge amount of resources to locate, purchase/lease, and furnish  a building to create a structured “work” environment called an “office” yet the team they are creating this space for claim their best work is done outside of the office.
  • When people go to work, they trade in their day for a series of “work moments” – the “work day” does not exist anymore.
  • The office is like a Cuisinart: You walk in and your day is shredded to bits. You may get 5, 10, 15, or maybe 30 minute increments of work before 5pm appears and you realize you have done very little “work.”
  • A series of tasks often divert meaningful work.

What is effected?

  • Productivity, effectiveness, contentment, and creativity is compromised.
  • In creative industries especially (designers, programmers, writers, engineers, thinkers) people need long stretches of uninterrupted time to generate quality ideas and results.
  • Even though the work day is typically 8 hours, most people are lucky to get 1-2 hours of uninterrupted time at the office.


Sleep, a metaphor:

  • Sleep and work are closely related. You cannot get quality sleep in short bursts.
  • Sleep and work are stage/phase based.
  • There are 5 stages of sleep. To get to the “deep,” meaningful stages, you have to first undergo the early ones.  If you are interrupted half way through, you do not pick up where you left off. You must start over.
  • You don’t go to sleep; you go towards sleep – and if you are interrupted you won’t get quality rest.
  • Would you expect someone to sleep well if they were constantly interrupted? Of course not? Then why do we expect people to perform well at work when they are constantly interrupted?

2 types of interruptions:

  • A common excuse managers give: If I can’t see them, how do I know they are working? I can’t let them work from home with distractions such as TV, the internet, the dog, etc.  But these are all voluntary distractions – we must decide to turn on the TV, to check Facebook, etc.
  • At work, most of the distractions are involuntary. Managers often have you believe the most costly distractions are Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, etc. – these are just modern-day “smoke breaks.”
  • The real problems are “M&Ms” – Managers and Meetings.  And these are found primarily in… the office.
  • All the places people cite for being most productive you will not find M&Ms.
  • Meetings are much more disruptive than they are beneficial.  Most meetings do not need to take place.
  • Meetings procreate and lead to more meetings
  • Companies often look at a 1 hour meeting as a 1 hour meeting  – this is only the case if there is one person in the meeting.  If 10 people meet for 1 hour, it is a 10 hour meeting.

3 practical suggestions:

  • How do you get someone to say, “When I really want to get stuff done, I go to the office.”
  • We’ve heard of casual Fridays, but how about No-talk Thursdays? Pick one Thursday per month where employees cannot talk to one another.  Uninterrupted time is the best gift you can give someone at work.
  • Switch from active collaboration (in-person) to passive models of communication such as email, IM, or other tech platforms.  You can close or quit your email, email, etc., but you can’t avoid an in-person distraction in the office.
  • Cancel meetings. Don’t just “move” the meeting; cancel them and never have it. You will find that the most important things always get done in the end.

Who is Jason Fried?

Jason Fried is the co-founder and President of 37signals, the Chicago-based web-application company. He has co-authored all of 37signals’ books, including the upcoming, “Rework,” as well as the ‘minimalist manifesto,’ “Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way to Build a Successful Web Application” He also helps to maintain the company’s popular blog, Signal vs. Noise, and is regularly invited to speak around the world on entrepreneurship, design, management, and software.

Your thoughts?

Unconventional thoughts about work often create many mixed feelings. What your thoughts about Jason’s ideas?  Have personal experiences to share? Please post your comments below.

Stay uncommon,

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