The 2 Biggest Reasons Nothing Gets Done At Work

sleeping in work meeting Jason Fried advice

Everyone suddenly seems to be obsessing about productivity these days. While it used to be plain and simple for professionals (Head to work at 9, leave at 5. Mission accomplished.), more and more people are beginning to question workplace norms.

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, gives the best TED Talk challenging current norms in the workplace. He questions the Office-Space-esque repetition and routine that most companies enforce Monday through Friday. Instead, he proposes a single theory that would make any higher-up cringe: managers and meetings ruin productivity.

As a CEO and Founder, Jason Fried is fascinated by workplace culture and what makes companies productive. So he decided to ask various people where they go when they need to get something important done. Their answers varied from things like the kitchen, the coffee shop, the train, the library, the basement, the weekend, etc. But the fascinating thing is that not one person said, “the office.”

Why is that?

“Businesses are spending all this money on this place called the office, and they’re making people go to it all the time – yet people don’t do work in the office. What’s that about?” — Jason Fried

According to Fried, it’s the “M&M’s” fault (managers and meetings), which consistently distract employees. Below are 3 of the main points he makes in the best TED Talk on productivity, Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.

  1. People work best when given large blocks of uninterrupted time.

If you’re lucky enough to have your own office, you can close the door when you really need to get something done. But for most of us, our desks are out in the open, where we can overhear coworker’s calls and get stopped by managers who ask what we’re up to. Throw in bathroom breaks, lunchtime, scheduled meetings, conference calls, and other random happenings, and you’ll find that you actually have little solitude at work.

Professionals (especially creatives like designers, engineers, writers, marketers, etc,) need much more than 15-minute spurts to get quality work done. Creativity involves time and deep thought. Much like with sleep, you can’t be interrupted every hour at work and be expected to truly thrive. Your quality of work, just like your quality of sleep, would be deeply disturbed by constant interruptions.

  1. But don’t interruptions occur outside the office?

Most managers are uncomfortable with the idea of allowing employees to work from home. After all, how do they know you’re not surfing Reddit for 6 of those 8 hours, and why should they pay you if you are?

But Jason Fried distinguishes between 2 types of interruptions: voluntary and involuntary. So deciding to take a break to spy on your ex via Facebook is a voluntary interruption. At work, most interruptions are involuntary, like managers and meetings. Fried views social media as the modern-day smoke break, considering it a harmless activity done between work intervals. Involuntary interruptions, on the other hand, can ruin your flow repeatedly.

  1. Meetings are the worst offender of all.

If you work at an office, you’re probably familiar with meetings. Maybe you tend to nod off, intensely think about how hungry you are, or discreetly text memes to other disinterested coworkers. And while it may not matter much to you (you are on the clock, after all), unengaged employees typically make for weak companies. Plus, most employees want to make a difference and take pride in their work, even if that desire is suppressed/forgotten most of the time.

The main problem with meetings is that there are usually far too many people in attendance. Most issues can be solved in a meeting between two employees, or even a brief conversation between managers. There’s no need for employees who are barely involved to sit through an entire discussion. If 8 people attend a meeting, that’s 8 hours of lost productivity as far as Fried is concerned.


So what should enlightened managers and bored-to-death employees do about this embarrassing office nightmare?

  • No-talk Thursdays – Jason Fried suggests that companies consider having a day where everyone simply shuts up. This is when productivity can really occur.
  • Passive communication – You have to communicate somehow. So replace meetings and face-to-face chatter with quick and to-the-point emails. He also suggests investing in some collaboration software to make communication more efficient.
  • Cancel your meetings – “If you do have a meeting coming up, and you have the power… just cancel it. I don’t mean move it, I mean just erase it from memory,” Fried says.

If you do cancel some meetings, you might be pleasantly surprised to find “urgent” decisions and discussions can actually wait. The world won’t come crashing down without your meeting, and you might even find that the problem works itself out.

Hopefully this provides you, as an employee or manager, with some ideas for ditching arbitrary work routines that actually serve little purpose. Many companies are moving away from traditional practices, and moving toward what actually works as far as motivating employees and increasing overall company success. Check out Jason Fried’s best TED Talk on productivity here, and maybe send it to your boss while you’re at it.


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