SXSW 2010: Why You Aren’t Done Yet

Sunday, March 14, 2010 11:00am
David Heinemeier Hansson, 37signals

Session Description

The deadline is looming, you’ve tweeted how busy you are four times this week, and yet you just can’t get the project wrapped up and out the door. Real artists ship and you want to be a real artist, real bad, but you’re not. Let me show you how to rework that.


You can’t get anything done at work: most working environments are too difficult to get things done because you have too many people who become distractions trying to pull you away from your day. The times at which you get the most amount of things done is before or after people are there.

The one thing you should be worrying about are meetings. They’re usually scheduled in nice little neat chunks for some guy to blabber on and on about things you just do not care about. In most cases meetings are a waste of time for all of those people involved. Sometimes meets are good, such as when you want to fire someone it should be face-to-face. In basics, if you are announcing something with absolutely no emotion involved, then a meeting is not involved. Meetings are really just  what arrogant people call so they have to listen to them.

Most creative work doesn’t fit well with an hour there, two hours there, etc. You need more longer stretches to get things done, because as of right now meetings are the interferences in between.

Hansson decided, working at 37signals, since he couldn’t get anything done he would just stop going to the office and work from home (most of the time). There needs to be an interruption cost. So if you need to interrupt someone it’s $10, and that’ll make them think twice. Think about it this way: if you call a meeting with 10 people who make $25 an hour for an hour class, then you just blew $250 of the companies’ money.

The reason why you’re not getting anything done is because you’re working too hard. Just because you’re pooring more work into the day, it doesn’t mean you’re getting more done. If you’re aiming for creativity then crunching for so many hours are not going to produce those results. Very few creative ideas occur when you’re just crunching data. The best productivity happens slowly without stress.

Don’t be a hero: In most companies if you’re a work-a-holic you’re the hero. Don’t be that guy. Deadlines are ridiculous since someone is just making them up. If you, for instance, pull an all-nighter to make a Friday deadline then you’re going to be burned out that Monday or Tuesday.

Everyone says, “But I have so much work to do, so I cannot do this!” But in reality you still have an 8 hour day, you just use it better.

You’re in over your head: in most cases your boss asks, “when will project X be done?” and thus you answer giving your own deadline. You really have no idea when it’ll be done, and your estimates suck. The sooner you realize your estimates suck the happier you’ll be. You need to stop measuring deadlines as deadlines, and just realize they’re guesses.

You have to take charge: Decisions are progress, so make the decisions and make the call. When you can see on Wednesday you’re not going to get it done, you need to let someone know. Most people don’t do that, and it becomes much more critical by Friday. You can stop it at any moment if you have the courage to do so.

Good enough is fine: Don’t spend so much time working on one thing, just get it done and come back later to polish it up and make it better. This way you can get the entire system completed, and update it later.

Giving up is often one of the best things you can do.

Questions and Answers

What solutions do you have when working from home?
Turn up some loud dance music, use virtual desktops, and get rid of all distractions, mail counters, etc. Check your email only a few times a day.

How do you convince your manager how to do this?
Well, when Hansson worked for a company where they didn’t have this ability he just stopped going to meetings and started working from home. Try to see if you can work from home, and if people are not ok with you doing that then take a “sick day,” work from home, and show them what all you’ve gotten done. Results in productivity are really hard to disprove they worked. Disclaimer: you may get fired.

Are there any big companies which are doing it this way?
No, not really.

More Information


Posted in Geeky, SXSW 2010.

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