Warming Up to the Manager’s Schedule

In Paul Graham’s 2009 blog post “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” he explains why programmers dislike meetings so much. As a technical cofounder who no longer codes, it has been a long transition to the manager’s schedule. Every few months I do freak out, cancel everything for a week, and settle in to make something — just to keep me sane. Otherwise, my making time is really reserved for the weekends which give me long unstructured bands of time to work with.

Here’s what my calendar looks like this week:

I know a lot of founders who are going through this transition right now, and you’d be amazed by how torturous it is for them to make the switch. As PG explains further in his post:

“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.”

If you look at my calendar you’ll see there is quite a bit of time-boxing going on, especially near the end of this week as we approach the end of Q1 and our upcoming board meeting. That’s because I use an AI assistant powered by Clara Labs to help manage my external calendar, and have an underlying timebox structure that looks like this:

I don’t know why it took me this long in my career to enforce these time boxes on myself, but it has made a big difference in terms of how at peace I feel with the way my time gets spent. I think I might shift to specific themes for the internal chunks of each day, but I’m not quite there yet.

Weekends are my maker’s schedule time. Even *having* a meeting on the weekend, of any kind, is an exception. PG explains this feeling as well:

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.

Just because you’ve become a founder CEO or other manager in your startup doesn’t mean this sensitive maker part of yourself has to be hidden away. It’s important, at the inimitable Keith Rabois advised us, to make sure you schedule reflects your goals. You’ll see for example that I have taken YC’s “office hours” approach and most of my day Wednesday is a series of 1:1s with my direct reports, with a break for company-wide lunch with a customer thrown in.

Another thing I do is ask my cofounders to help me cull my calendar. What you can’t see from these screenshots is that my weekdays are schedule pretty fully for about 3 weeks out. Sometimes, I just get overwhelmed and worry that I have over-committed. This is when I ask Andy and Kevin to sit down with me and help me figure out what to cut, move, delegate, etc. At first I felt like I really should be able to do this as CEO… I mean, I help my employees prioritize their own time, so why can’t I do this for myself. I’ve since found that having a more objective 3rd party help out here is worthwhile, and a great way to leverage the trust I have with my cofounders.

There are good things that come from the manager’s schedule though too, and I think it is important to take advantage of this. PG again:

When you’re operating on the manager’s schedule you can do something you’d never want to do on the maker’s: you can have speculative meetings. You can meet someone just to get to know one another. If you have an empty slot in your schedule, why not? Maybe it will turn out you can help one another in some way.
Business people in Silicon Valley (and the whole world, for that matter) have speculative meetings all the time. They’re effectively free if you’re on the manager’s schedule. They’re so common that there’s distinctive language for proposing them: saying that you want to “grab coffee,” for example.
Speculative meetings are terribly costly if you’re on the maker’s schedule, though. Which puts us in something of a bind. Everyone assumes that, like other investors, we run on the manager’s schedule. So they introduce us to someone they think we ought to meet, or send us an email proposing we grab coffee. At this point we have two options, neither of them good: we can meet with them, and lose half a day’s work; or we can try to avoid meeting them, and probably offend them.

So yes, speculative meetings are easy to have but that also means it is very easy to sign up for a lot of these coffees and then feel at the end of the week like you accomplished very little. That’s why I have someone on my team who is a professional “grab coffee” person, and it is Nick Frost. Nick runs our newsletter, and is the gatekeeper for all speculative opportunities at Mattermark. Before I am going to “grab coffee” I am going to vet things with him and together we pick and choose what opportunities to go after.


I hope you find this helpful, and as you continue your own journey to a more organized calendar, satisfying work life and founder zen please tweet to me with what you learn at @DanielleMorrill so I can learn too!