Why Are Maker Schedules So Rare?April 5th, 2017 · 37 comments
A Tale of Two Schedules
In 2009, tech investor Paul Graham published an influential essay titled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” In this piece, he argued that the best types of schedules for people who makes things are different than the best schedules for those who manage things.
As Graham elaborates:
“The manager’s schedule is…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…”
“…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.”
He then delivers the key conclusion: “When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster.”
Though Graham doesn’t mention it specifically in the essay, we might add that the need to keep up with an inbox or chat channel can be equally disastrous to a maker. The constant context switching, as we now know from research, also prevents the maker’s brain from fully engaging the creative task at hand.
In the years since this essay was published, it has spread widely. The (slightly modified) terms maker schedule and manager schedule are well-known, and most people who deal with both types of workers agree that Graham is speaking the truth: if you want someone to make something valuable, they’ll be most effective if you let them work in long, uninterrupted chunks.
But here’s the thing: almost no organizations support maker schedules.
The reasons for this reality are straightforward: (a) distractions like constant messaging and frequent meetings are often convenient in the moment for the person instigating them; (b) most organizations place no barriers around such behaviors; (c) without these barriers, convenience will almost always win.
To me, the more interesting question is what an organization could do if they decided they were ready to support Graham’s maker schedule concept. Here are two ideas off the top of my head; one moderate, and the other more extreme…
- Moderate Option: Dual Schedules. A straightforward strategy is to have makers switch back and forth between maker and manager schedules. For example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday might be maker days: you cannot schedule meetings with makers on these days, and emails sent to them will be held by the server until the day is over. A special phone number is provided for emergencies. The other two days are manager days, and the expectation is that the maker will be checking inboxes constantly and is willing to fill every hour with meetings. I call this a moderate option because it doesn’t change a culture that forces makers to also act like managers (for the sake of convenience), it just grants them enough reprieve to get valuable things done on a regular basis.
- Extreme Option: The Maker Firewall. A more aggressive approach is to declare a stark split between makers and managers. To enforce this split you need a strong barrier between the two worker types. My suggestion is to eliminate any general way for people to contact a maker: no email address, no slack handle, no phone. Instead, each maker is assigned a manager. All communication to and from the maker go through that manager. (The exception, of course, is that makers working in teams have ways to communicate within their team.) The manager handles all incoming requests, and in return brings to the makers each day a schedule of what they should be working on — otherwise leaving them to put their head down and craft valuable things. I call this an extreme option as it would require substantial shifts in an organization’s structure and how it operates. (I suspect, however, that it would also lead maker-centric organizations to become much more profitable, especially in sectors like tech, where the value of 10x code is massive.)
The above options are just speculation, but their motivation is important. I think Paul Graham is 100% right in his analysis of the different types of schedules, and in an increasingly competitive knowledge economy, the role of makers are more important than ever before (as most other knowledge activities are vulnerable to automation and outsourcing). There are, in other words, big advantages lurking for those organizations brave enough to take Graham’s analysis seriously.