Steve Raymond’s weblog

Maker’s Schedule vs. Manager’s Schedule is a Crock, Just Manage Your Schedule

There is a popular meme (see @sacca and @arrington) going around with people lining up to shout “hurrah!” to Paul Graham’s thoughtful post Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.  You can read it for yourself but the point seems to be that “makers” i.e. web developers or I guess in this case investors have a higher marginal cost to attending a meeting than managers.  This is an oversimplification and a cop out.

First let me state that many many meetings are bad, but that’s mainly because people don’t know how to run meetings.  Good managers learn to minimize the meetings in their organization, and make the meetings that do happen ultra efficient.  I’m not a fan of meetings.  But they happen.

I agree with the thesis of the post – which is that people benefit from having long stretches of uninterrupted work time.  In fact if you attend just about any seminar on time management this is basically what they teach you.  Make sure you have a clear understanding of your priorities and then block time out daily to accomplish the most important tasks.  If your number one priority is to accomplish a job that requires several 4 hour (or 8 hour or 10 hour) blocks of time in the coming week, then just open your calendar and block out the time.  This is called “managing”.  If I am managing someone who is falling behind schedule because they have too many meetings, I will make them open their calendar and go through the meetings one by one and decline the less important ones.   Everyone is happy – meetings just disappeared!

My main problem with the post is the assertion that most powerful people are on a manager’s schedule.  Really?  Who is that?  Most powerful people are work-a-holics who don’t sleep much.  They are on a “managers schedule” during the day, but they are finding blocks of time early in the morning or after the meetings have stopped to be makers.  My first boss ever told me before 6PM is for people, after is for working.  In today’s economy, especially in the tech space, there are no pure managers.  Everyone has making to do.

Seems like Paul’s main problem is that he doesn’t want to work the schedule of these so-called “powerful people”.  No problem there, but lets call it like it is. He needs to go grab coffee with Mark Suster (@msuster), investor by day, uber blogger and maker by night.

The origin of the post is that Paul Graham gets too many “lets grab coffee” requests and feels like he needs to explain his reason for turning down so many requests, but wants to frame it like he has found a better way and distinguish himself from run-of -the-mill managers.

Let’s frame the argument in more reasonable language.  Everyone has a different prioritization for networking – we all agree that even the most makerish coder can benefit by meeting new people once in a while, even if its just on the annual trip to comic con.  Other professionals (like esp. investors) need to assign networking a higher priority.  Some of us can’t possibly meet with everyone who wants to meet with us.  So use your new managing power to block out time for making, and time for meeting according to your own personal prioritization.  My friend Jill who runs a great non-profit in Portland gets a ton of non-directional “lets get coffee” requests and has come up with a rule – she does one such meeting a month.  If you want to grab coffee with Jill you might need to wait 3 or 4 months.  Another strategy that busy people use to good effect is to regularly attend a local meetup so that you can suggest to these people that if they want to grab coffee or a drink then attend the meetup.  Seems like Paul keeps office hours.  Everyone is happy – meetings just disappeared!

But lets drop the “makers vs. managers” characterization.  Just manage to make a little better.

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  • rward

    Great managers are few and far between. Decent managers are more common, but not as common as those who are merely adequate or worse.

    Most managers either will say 'No, you really need to be at this meeting, you can work on the project later and stay late if you need to, forget about your family.' or 'Sorry, we're on the customer/vendor/executive schedule and have to have it at this time, I'm ignoring the blocks on your schedule. If you run out of time today, you can stay late, forget about your family.' This action is not an exception, but rather the rule.

    So when it comes to being on customer schedule or executive schedule, how do you say, “Sorry, but I'm on my schedule, not yours? I have X things to get done today before I go home.”

    If you resist, you're either a primadonna (most likely) or just troublesome and not working for the good of the business. If you acquiesce, you set a precedent.

    I agree that most powerful and/or influential people work two shifts. That's why I probably won't be powerful. I love my work, it's a passion for me, and I do good work. That doesn't mean it's worth missing out on precious time with my children and wife just so someone can move a product 1 day ahead of schedule.

    What about when the kids get to bed? Let's lay out the schedule: Wake at 6:15, work 7A-4P, home at 4:30P. Time with family, dinner, get kids in bed by 7:30 or so, so 8-12P is booked for cleaning up after dinner, doing dishes & laundry, have some time with my wife that does not involve kids yelling, maybe even watch a show on TV if I'm lucky. That leaves about an hour to do personal projects before bedtime at midnight. 6 hours is probably not a healthy amount of sleep, but I'm lucky to get it.

    So, given the above, what do you propose?

  • Jason

    You didn't get it. Graham is writing specifically from a computer programmer's perspective (his principal audience). If you've ever programmed (or done something that taps your intellectual capacity significantly), then I doubt you'd be as dismissive.

  • http://youarekillingme.net steveray

    Jason – why are you hating on me on my personal blog? :)

    I was a programmer right out of college, and have been an individual contributor/maker many times (still am). And negotiating a 75 page contract or creating a decent sales presentation – even managing people well – are also tasks that non “makers” need to find uninterrupted blocks of solo time to tackle.

    I don't think I was being dismissive at all. I was challenging the notion that only “makers” face scheduling dilemmas. We all face the same types of challenges when managing our time, and its not constructive to pretend otherwise.

  • http://youarekillingme.net steveray

    Its a great comment rward. I think the core issue you are outlining is that all organizations face constraints that they need to manage to, and often times the constraints that determine what trade-offs are made skew towards the fire drill type.

    Without knowing a lot of specifics I'd suggest that you use every opportunity at your disposal to communicate your need to control your own schedule and maintain working blocks of time. Do you have a list of specific goals that you and your manager are jointly managing to? Do you have a mechanism for letting him know how his actions are effecting your productivity? If not, start there.

    From the outline of your day I'd say you are a man that is already pretty good at prioritizing your life. You have a job you are good at, a family that you spend time with, and are engaged in some personal projects. Most could probably learn from you!

  • http://youarekillingme.net steveray

    Jason – why are you hating on me on my personal blog? :)

    I was a programmer right out of college, and have been an individual contributor/maker many times (still am). And negotiating a 75 page contract or creating a decent sales presentation – even managing people well – are also tasks that non “makers” need to find uninterrupted blocks of solo time to tackle.

    I don't think I was being dismissive at all. I was challenging the notion that only “makers” face scheduling dilemmas. We all face the same types of challenges when managing our time, and its not constructive to pretend otherwise.

  • http://youarekillingme.net steveray

    Its a great comment rward. I think the core issue you are outlining is that all organizations face constraints that they need to manage to, and often times the constraints that determine what trade-offs are made skew towards the fire drill type.

    Without knowing a lot of specifics I'd suggest that you use every opportunity at your disposal to communicate your need to control your own schedule and maintain working blocks of time. Do you have a list of specific goals that you and your manager are jointly managing to? Do you have a mechanism for letting him know how his actions are effecting your productivity? If not, start there.

    From the outline of your day I'd say you are a man that is already pretty good at prioritizing your life. You have a job you are good at, a family that you spend time with, and are engaged in some personal projects. Most could probably learn from you!

  • bsaunders

    “We all face the same types of challenges when managing our time, and its not constructive to pretend otherwise.”

    I think you’re missing something, though I hear your criticism of the tone of Graham’s post. I say this because I have colleagues (whom I enjoy working with and who complement me fantastically) who say the same thing, and who don’t get it when I say what Graham does.

    You say you “were” a programmer. I gather from that that you were not particularly satisfied with such a solitary type of career. Managing people, interacting with others in groups, etc., is part of the core of the work you do. You’re good at it, it feels meaningful to you, it’s how you contribute. If someone gave you a million bucks free and clear, you probably would not go sit in a cabin in Maine writing poetry. That would feel empty.

    Take away the labels. Some of us “makers” really do find 99% of the satisfaction and meaning we need on our work benches. We could tinker with our inventions, our writing, whatever, have someone else sell it, and socialize at the end of the workday without feeling any sense of loss of “teamwork.”

    Maybe I’m projecting onto Graham, but I think the reason his essay reached the meme level is not really about “scheduling priorities.” It’s about living in a culture where the standard dose of socializing *in work* is higher than the maximum dose one would want.

  • http://youarekillingme.net steveray

    thanks for such a great comment on an old post. Your insight is correct, I do enjoy the social aspect of work and I guess I’m pretty good at it. Now that I run a company I have actually had to get used to the fact that I can sign up for even fewer personal deliverables because my schedule is full of meetings and is very fluid.

    I fully appreciate the fact that there are those for whom the work bench itself is where the satisfaction comes from – I have a few of those types in my company now, and it will help to maintain an understanding of their different needs etc.

  • JohnB

    “Seems like Paul’s main problem is that he doesn’t want to work the schedule of these so-called “powerful people”.”

    It seems to me that you misunderstood the point of Paul Graham’s post and loaded it with your own biases. Unless you know Paul (I don’t, btw) that seems like a bit of a stretch.

    “The origin of the post is that Paul Graham gets too many “lets grab coffee” requests and feels like he needs to explain his reason for turning down so many requests, but wants to frame it like he has found a better way and distinguish himself from run-of -the-mill managers.”

    I doubt that was the “origin” of his post. He certainly doesn’t make that claim.