Jason Fried’s “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work”

I briefly visited this notion of why people can’t work at work 2.5 years ago. At the time I explored 5 keys to more successful meetings and the idea that alone time was important for the workplace.

After reading Jason Fried’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times in which he advocates for 4-day work weeks, I re-visited his TEDxMidwest talk (embedded below) describing why the office isn’t a good place to work.

I suspect the reason this video resonates so much with me is that external noise is debilitating for me when I’m trying to read, write, or think strategically. And that external noise is the reason I often try to get to work early and leave late – despite the fact that I abhor phony workaholics.

After the embed, I’ve extracted some of his key insights.

On where work actually gets done:
“When I ask people — and I’ve been asking people this question for about 10 years — I ask them, “Where do you go when you really need to get something done?” I’ll hear things like, the porch, the deck, the kitchen. I’ll hear things like an extra room in the house, the basement, the coffee shop, the library. And then you’ll hear things like the train, a plane, a car — so, the commute. And then you’ll hear people say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as it’s really early in the morning or really late at night or on the weekends.” You almost never hear someone say the office. But 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.”

On the reality of the modern day workplace:
“You look back on your day, and you’re like, I got nothing done today. I was at work. I sat at my desk. I used my expensive computer. I used the software they told me to use. I went to these meetings I was asked to go to. I did these conference calls. I did all this stuff. But I didn’t actually do anything. I just did tasks. I didn’t actually get meaningful work done.”

On the idea that sleep and work are closely related:
“If you’re interrupted and woken up, you have to start again. So you have to go back a few phases and start again. And what ends up happening — sometimes you might have days like this where you wake up at eight in the morning, or seven in the morning, or whenever you get up, and you’re like, man, I didn’t really sleep very well. I did the sleep thing — I went to bed, I laid down — but I didn’t really sleep. People say you go to sleep, but you really don’t go to sleep, you go towards sleep. It just takes a while. You’ve got to go through these phases and stuff, and if you’re interrupted, you don’t sleep well. So how do we expect — does anyone here expect someone to sleep well if they’re interrupted all night? I don’t think anyone would say yes. Why do we expect people to work well if they’re being interrupted all day at the office? How can we possibly expect people to do their job if they’re going to the office to be interrupted?”

On the two biggest distractions, managers and meetings:
“Managers are basically people whose job it is to interrupt people. That’s pretty much what managers are for. They’re for interrupting people. They don’t really do the work, so they have to make sure everyone else is doing the work, which is an interruption.”

“…meetings are just toxic, terrible, poisonous things during the day at work. So they go into a meeting room, they get together, and they talk about stuff that doesn’t really matter usually. Because meetings aren’t work. Meetings are places to go to talk about things you’re supposed to be doing later.”

“But meetings also procreate. So one meeting tends to lead to another meeting and tends to lead to another meeting. There’s often too many people in the meetings, and they’re very, very expensive to the organization. Companies often think of a one-hour meeting as a one-hour meeting, but that’s not true, unless there’s only one person in that meeting. If there are 10 people in the meeting, it’s a 10-hour meeting; it’s not a one-hour meeting. It’s 10 hours of productivity taken from the rest of the organization to have this one one-hour meeting, which probably should have been handled by two or three people talking for a few minutes.”

On potential solutions:
“Another thing you can try is switching from active communication and collaboration, which is like face-to-face stuff, tapping people on the shoulder, saying hi to them, having meetings, and replace that with more passive models of communication, using things like email and instant messaging, or collaboration products — things like that.”

What’s your office environment like? Where (or when) do you get your best work done? What solutions have you found that work for you?


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