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they’re just not on our schedule August 4, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Management, Wasting Time.
Tags: , , , , ,

Paul Graham is known for writing extremely intelligent articles about the way we use technology. Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule is one such piece. Here are some highlights:

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

Very accurate. But here’s where it gets messy for those of us who design, develop, and create:

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.

That last paragraph is key for me. In fact, last Friday I had just such an occurrence. Now, first of all, it was Friday, and no one really wants to work on Friday unless there’s a deadline coming up at the end of the day. Secondly, I finished a medium-sized project in the morning and was feeling pleased with myself. But after lunch — which technically ended at 1 p.m. — I didn’t feel like starting anything or working on anything because I had a meeting at 2:30. It wasn’t a big meeting — me, someone from corporate, and someone from sales, talking about a new project — and it turned out to only take 20 minutes, but it really ate into my afternoon productivity. Such as it was.

Those of us on the maker’s schedule are willing to compromise. We know we have to have some number of meetings. All we ask from those on the manager’s schedule is that they understand the cost.

That’s where it all falls down, especially if managers have forgotten what it’s like to create. None of the managers at CorporateSpeak have created anything long-term in a while — the manager’s schedule doesn’t screw you up too badly if you just have to knock something together that’s going to last a day or two and be forgotten. But the Two-Year-Old holds meetings left and right, often slapdash “let’s meet in 15 minutes” gatherings that create more work for everyone, and the director of creative services — who should know this stuff — holds several meetings a week as well. (She’s better than most, though, and doesn’t tend to interrupt her creative staff without good reason.) My ex-boss was a maker trying to transition to a manager’s schedule, and he found it impossible to reconcile the two.

Managers just aren’t on the same schedule as the rest of us. We — the creators — have always felt that way, but now we have a good explanation. I wonder if I can get away with sending this to other people in the building… specifically the managers.

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1. pockets of time « corporatespeak - September 2, 2009

[…] like this post about the Paul Graham article that discussed manager scheduling versus maker scheduling — managers can do meetings whenever they want, because they only exist to approve, […]

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