You Can’t Book Me

I’ve long been a fan of David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder and CTO of Basecamp. Though I don’t use his product, I do read his books because they tend to argue for a sane, slow, and steady approach to work and productivity. His latest book, in that sense, is utterly “on brand.” It’s called It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.

Today I’m going to highlight an excerpt from one of Hansson’s recent interviews (published by a company called Owl Labs) because it cuts against an approach to calendaring that I’ve been advocating over the past few years. I encourage people to be efficient — and respectful of one another’s time — by using “youcanbookme” type applications, polling software, or transparent calendars to schedule meetings. I’ve argued that such practices eliminate frustration for the people being invited to meetings. Hansson, on the contrary, prefers to leave the frustration in the process. In particular, he wants the people calling meetings to have to work to build those meetings into people’s schedules. In his words:

One of our strategies for protecting people’s time is by skipping the game of calendar Tetris at Basecamp. At most companies, calendars are shared and open, so every employee sees each others’ schedules and set meetings during their colleagues’ open blocks of time. When everyone’s time is available in that way, it’s hard for people to plan their days around doing their best work, and instead, they get pulled into meetings. We want coordination and taking other people’s time to be manual, annoying, and difficult.

Here’s how we do it: If you’re trying to coordinate a meeting between four people, there’s no technology to help you do it. You have to contact each person individually and ask if they can meet during your proposed time. And if someone says no, you have to keep going back and forth with everyone to find a time that works. In short, it’s a pain in the ass. Because you can’t see everyone else’s calendar, you’re forced to do this manual song and dance to set a meeting, and that’s exactly how we like it, because people won’t go through that inconvenience unless they really need to hold a meeting. The policy also helps communicate that that open space on someone’s calendar doesn’t make them available for wasting time. The default policy is that open space on someone’s calendar means they’re working, which in most cases, is a better use of time than a meeting.

Take the frustration out or leave it in? Most of us would quickly say, “take it out!” In the eyes of a workplace designer (i.e., boss) with as keen an eye as Hansson’s, frustration itself becomes another tool to serve company mission. I’m going to chew on that thought for a while.

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