The Maker‘s schedule vs. the Manager‘s schedule

Max Ritter

This morning I found an interesting article from Paul Graham (Co-founder of Y Combinator, a startup accelerator in Mountain View, California) about the Maker‘s schedule vs. the Manager‘s schedule, that was kind of an eye opener for me. Although the article is over 10 years old, it’s still as relevant as ever and described to me what I was not able to put into words on my own for quite a long time.

I’ve always wondered whether it is only me who has a hard time balancing deep flow states during coding/thinking with meetings or virtual coffees. If you are on a manager’s schedule, it totally makes sense to fill the day with as many blocks of 30 minutes meetings as you could, because each single one is an opportunity to meet new people, learn something new or understand an existing concept better with additional input. I have those days on a manager’s schedule from time to time, and I especially enjoy the random surprises you can get when taking time to connect to your network and discuss topics from work related staff to the purpose of the universe.

However, when I am on a maker’s schedule (which is my usual way of working), I try to divide my day into two big parts: the morning and the evening. Then I schedule my meetings around, f. ex. a daily standup in front of the morning block, or having some virtual coffees at the end of my afternoon block. Of course this is not always possible and especially spontaneous meetings that sound important can crush your schedule, but I try to stick to this principle as often as possible. The reason for doing so are for me clearly the hidden context switching costs, that sum up every time you switch from deep work to another task. Research shows it takes an average of 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction because different parts of your brain are activated every time you switch between tasks, even ones as simple as answering a teammate’s question while updating a report or attending a meeting right after another ends.

I hope you found those thoughts and the mentioned article helpful and it supports you to achieve a better balance between being productive and spending time on communication. There is no free lunch, so blocking half-a-day means saying no to other obligations from time-to-time, which in turn may offend the people that wanted to talk to you. But if you can explain to them why you are so careful about your distraction-free time, they hopefully understand that it’s not a disinterist that is behind the decision, but rather a different way of working and a priorization of deep work.