To be more productive, know which kind of schedule works best for you

Are you more of a maker or a manager?

Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham writes that there are two types of schedule:

  1. Manager’s schedules, used by people in positions of authority, are generally broken up into one-hour intervals.
  2. Maker’s schedules, used by people like computer programmers and writers, who tend to view their time in units of at least half a day.

In an organizational setting, problems can arise when these two types of schedules collide, usually in the form of meetings.

For managers, scheduling a one-hour meeting is merely a practical problem: the challenge is simply finding an open slot in the calendar.

But for makers, an hour is barely enough time to get started, and a single meeting can “blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.”

Graham proposes two solutions to help resolve this conflict:

  1. Schedule office hours, with the participants and time slots agreed on beforehand.
  2. Makers should try to do their work when they are least likely to be interrupted (e.g., very early in the morning or late at night).

My reactions:

The reality in the background of this idea is that we’re not good at multitasking, and that there are negative costs to being interrupted.

That seems true whether you’re a computer programmer or an executive, whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or you work on a team of twenty people. On some level, each of us is both a maker and a manager — even if the proportions vary by person.

One way to navigate this reality is to let the type of activity, and not units of time, govern the structure of your calendar.

If you know you’ll need a few hours to craft a proposal or to make updates to a financial model, then it’s best to block off a chunk of time on your calendar so you can focus on that task.

Or as Graham suggests, if you have several meetings planned, you can schedule structured office hours. (Actually, many people’s calendars are already set up like office hours — just a less deliberate, messier version.)

There are two additional shortcomings of organizing your calendar based more on units of time than on type of activity:

1. Each activity is treated independently when in fact it’s part of a whole: How motivated will you be to write that research report after the two-hour team lunch?

2. It doesn’t account for your energy levels: I find I’m most creative first thing in the morning, so whenever possible I try to organize my day accordingly.

One criticism of the activity-based approach to organizing your calendar might be that it’s a luxury most people can’t afford. It certainly seems easier to implement in a two-person startup than in a global company with 15,000 employees.

But how much of that resistance is due to a lack of imagination?


Thanks for reading!

My name is Cheo (CHAY-oh) and I believe ideas can change the world.

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