Why Basecamp's CEO wants to create a more mindful, peaceful workplace

Jason Friend is the co-founder and CEO of Basecamp, and a big proponent of working more effectively rather than the long, gruelling hours many companies push for today. 

When we asked him what his #1 piece of business advice was, his answer was in alignment with that philosophy: "Know what you'll say no to." 

Fried is a big believer that 40 hours a week is plenty—if we work effectively. Part of that is having a good grasp of what is essential, and knowing where—and where not—to invest our time.

"I think that’s the hardest thing: knowing what you’ll say no to when it comes to your business because there will be an endless number of opportunities and ideas, and so may things you can do," he told us.

"Getting good at saying no to things that aren’t the right things for your business, or aren’t the right things for you, or aren’t the right things for what you want to do, is a really important skill to develop. It’s a lifelong pursuit to get better at it, but I think it’s very important.

"When you have good boundaries around yes and no, a lot decisions just become much easier."

Fried explained that it comes down to understanding your core values, and having a solid grasp of what your priorities are. That way, when opportunity or temptation arises (as it inevitably will), you can refer to those guidelines to help keep you focused. 

"For example, if there was a customer out there who wanted to pay us a million bucks a year to use Basecamp, but they made us change the product in significant ways for them, we would just say no," Fried explained. "It’s not in our culture to have two separate products: one for one customer, one for everybody else. It’s just not how we want to run the business. It creates a lot of complexity, and it’s not something we want to be. And so that would be a really clear 'no' for me."

Coinciding with Fried's philosophies of worker smarter is creating a more mindful, harmonious workplace. They've even integrated a new function called “Work Can Wait” into their product, which turns off notifications outside of work hours. 

"A big part of what we’re trying to do at Basecamp is create a calmer, more peaceful way to work," Fried explained. "That’s both in our company and in our new product, Basecamp 3. We’re trying to go the opposite way of the industry, which is more notifications, more real time. Everyone’s trying to get ahold of everyone all the time, but really I think it’s a toxic, terrible way to work."

That's a lesson the Basecamp team had to learn the hard way, but Fried is committed to fostering a healthier work environment going forward. 

"We’ve worked that way in the past, and it’s so crazy. It’s unhealthy. We’re now trying to go in the opposite direction by slowing things down, being more deliberate, calming things down, being more peaceful, not interrupting each other. And then you end up having plenty of time to do great work."

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense: if we slow things down to increase our focus, we can free up brain space for problem solving and creativity, and naturally produce better results. While it's still far from a mainstream mindset, hopefully seeing someone as well respected as Fried lead the charge will inspire other leaders to adopt similar points of view.