“why work doesnt happen at work” by Jason Fried on TEDx

While reading “Remote”, I accidentally found this TEDx talk by one of the authors, Jason Fried. Somehow I’d missed this when it first came out in 2010, so stopped to watch it. I’ve now watched this a few times in a row, found it just as relevant today as it was 4-5 years ago, so am writing this blogpost.

The main highlights for me were:

1) work, like sleep, needs solid uninterrupted time. However, most offices are designed to enable interrupts. Open plan layouts. Phones. Casual walk-by interrupts from managers asking for status. Unneeded meetings. They are not designed for uninterrupted focus time. No-one would intentionally plan to have frequently-interrupted-sleep every night and consider it “good”, so why set up our work environments like this?

2) Many people go into the office for the day, attempting to get a few hours uninterrupted work done, only to spend time reacting to interrupts all day, and then lament at the end of the day that “they didn’t get anything done”! Been there, lived through that. As a manager, he extols people to try things like “no-talking-Thursdays”, just to see if people can actually be more productive.

3) The “where do you go when you really want to get work done” part of his presentation nailed it for me. He’s been asking people this question for years, and the answers tend to fall into three categories:

  • place: “the kitchen”, “the spare room”, “the coffee shop”, …
  • moving object: plane, train, car… the commute
  • time: “somewhere really early or really late at night or on the weekend”

… and he noted that no-one said “the office during office hours”!! The common theme is that people use locations where they can focus, knowing they will not get interrupted. When I need to focus, I know this is true for me also.

All of which leads to his premise that organizing how people work together, with most communication done in a less interruptive way is really important for productivity. Anyone who has been at one of my remoties sessions knows I strongly believe this is true – especially for remoties! He also asked why businesses spend so much money on these counter-productive offices.

Aside: I found his “Facebook and twitter are the modern day smoke breaks” comment quite funny! Maybe thats just my sense of humor. Overall, its a short 15min talk, so instead of your next “facebook/twitter/smokebreak”, grab a coffee and watch this. You’ll be glad you did.

3 thoughts on ““why work doesnt happen at work” by Jason Fried on TEDx”

  1. I don’t know. I get what you’re saying, but while uninterrupted focus is good for productivity, it’s not the only thing that’s important.

    I work in an open-plan environment, and I’d hate to not do so – an important part of my job is simply knowing what’s going on around the office, hearing the conversations, knowing that XYZ is working on ABC. True, I’d get more work done working without distractions – but then, I’d also be spending more time duplicating work done by other people, not knowing that they’d spent several days on a similar problem two weeks earlier, or that they’d been playing with some new library or framework that I might find useful.

    In short, I think that while an open-plan office (and more generally, a disruption-filled environment) can be bad for individual productivity, a lot of that is balanced by gains in collective productivity… that what you call distractions, I regard as valuable communication… awareness of when I can assist others, and others can assist me. You don’t get that sitting in a room behind a closed door.

  2. This site shows a “403 forbidden” error when i try to open it normally.
    If i use a US based proxy, I can open the site.

    Is there some sort of geographic ban? (Im from india)

    1. > 14 Apr 2015 @ 18:04:55 [Edit]
      >> This site shows a “403 forbidden” error when i try to open it normally.
      >> If i use a US based proxy, I can open the site.
      >> Is there some sort of geographic ban? (Im from india)

      hi @mayank;

      I’m not aware of any geographic ban, on either my oduinn.com site, or on the linked video on ted.com. If you are hitting problems accessing my oduinn.com site, let me know your IP address and approx times of connection and I’ll do some investigating here.


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