The Manager's Schedule vs. the Maker's Schedule

This is one of the most enlightening articles I’ve ever read on the subject of time management. It puts words to a dilemma that I think many people (including myself) have felt keenly, but haven’t quite been able to put our finger on. Here’s the core idea:

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.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

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.

He then goes on to give some helpful thoughts toward a solution at the end — both in terms of enabling managers and makers to be in sync and in terms of helping those who need to (and want to!) function in the realms of both manager and maker.

(HT: Josh Sowin)

  • Raymond Gunawan

    I absolutely agree with the remark about meetings blowing half of a maker’s day.

    I’m a software development team lead; I do programing and team-management. My manager schedules a meeting everyday at 3pm, where usually I’m usually “in the programmer’s productive zone” after lunch. After the meeting, usually there is no chance of me doing anything really significant.

    The same goes with meetings with my team mates. I’m eliminating status report meeting by having it in the chat room that we have, so that people can post their status whenever they come in. That has helped quite a bit.

  • Bryce

    Interesting article. As a pastor, I have to operate on both types of schedules. This makes a lot of sense of my scheduling frustrations.

  • John

    This is a brilliant summary of a huge trouble I’ve had as a “maker” with professional life. It’s run by “managers” who have no clue or care for a maker’s schedule. They set clueless goals for us to meet, make us jump through pointless hoops just so we can be “managed” and interrupt our peak creativity times by meetings which are unfruitful.

    Thanks for sharing, and if you’re a manager, please take some time pondering who under your leadership could be helped by your sensitivity to, and implementation of, this information.

  • myrna rae

    Halleluja! Someone finally gets ‘it’!
    I’m a ‘maker’ in the true sense of the word; visit my website and you will fully understand. In additon to developing new products, I am also a writer. People just don’t get it that when a write sets out to do their ‘job’ the ‘orchestration’ required is beyond amazing: Every nuance, syllable and more goes into the ‘dance’ and if you are not careful, it can become a catastrophic failure, not a success. There is no middle of the road where these two are concerned.
    Myrna Rae

  • Justin White

    Wow! I found this because I was wondering the origin of the phrase “What kind of maker’s schedule are you running here?” used on an episode of Doctor Who – but I find it extremely enlightening!

    I’m a self-employed video game designer – and I’ve often found that interruptions like you describe cause me to lose so much time because I have a hard time getting back into the groove afterwards. I never even thought of it as a schedule in half-day chunks – but that’s essentially what it is!