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Manager vs. maker

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I am a big believer in making things. 

That could be writing a blog post, recording a podcast, coding an app, designing a building, making something tangible, or whatever. It is the act of creating something. And it’s one of the reasons I love what I do. At the end of the day, I have had a hand in (hopefully) creating something awesome that didn’t exist before.

I don’t think everyone feels this way but, for me, when I don’t block time to “make things” I can sometimes feel antsy. I need time to do creative things. It makes me feel like I’m being productive. It makes me feel like I’m producing output, as opposed to just sitting in meetings and making sure everything is on track. Maybe that’s the architect in me.

Paul Graham describes these two mindsets as that of a manager and that of a maker. And in a great essay published in 2009, he talks about how different these two people’s schedules can be. Below is a longish excerpt that I think you’ll find valuable for life and business.

“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.

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.”

This really resonates with me. It’s a great reminder, regardless of which schedule you’re currently on. Because even if you’re firmly ensconced in one of the two camps, chances are you work with people in the other one. And understanding where they’re coming from is important.

Paul then goes on to talk about speculative business meetings in his essay. These are the “let’s grab coffee” meetings. They’re costly if you’re on the maker’s schedule, but they’re expected if you’re on the manager’s schedule. I have learned to cap these throughout the week. They can easily overwhelm a calendar.

The big takeaway for me after reading Paul’s essay is that – if you make things – you have to be draconian about blocking time for that. I completely agree that even one meeting can derail an ambitious make session. So I am going to work harder at doing just that.

Would you consider yourself to be a manager, maker, or both? I aspire to be both.

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