blocks of time

Paul Graham wrote an insightful post recently talking about the differences between a Manager’s schedule and a Maker’s schedule. The basic idea is that managers divide their days into one hour blocks. So meetings can be fit into available one hour blocks. So can administration. If managers are lucky, when they have a bigger job to get done, sometimes they can clump a few hours to create a block of time. When you organise your time this way, the cost of adding an activity into an available one hour block is pretty low.

Graham contrasts this with the Maker’s schedule. To create things, people usually need big chunks of time. If your job revolves around making things (programmer, writer, artist), then you usually end up with large blocks of unscheduled time, which are necessary to get things done. From this perspective, meetings are a very bad thing, because they usually end up blowing half a day. You have to remember that you have a meeting, and actively thinking about things makes it hard to start a project when you know you’ll need to drop it for a meeting.

So here’s the issue:

Each type of schedule works fine by itself. Problems arise when they meet. Since most powerful people operate on the manager’s schedule, they’re in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency if they want to. But the smarter ones restrain themselves, if they know that some of the people working for them need long chunks of time to work in.

I think this is exactly right – at least, it rings true for me. A couple of important points follow from this. The first is that if you have a job that entails both managing and making (like being an academic!) – you have think very carefully about how you schedule things. Most academics end up using a Manager’s schedule, then they try to do their research in the remaining short blocks of available time. This is really hard. So first, I think that those of us with hybrid jobs would benefit from thinking more like Makers. Graham’s solution to the meeting problem for Makers is to use the idea of Office Hours, where you specifically set aside a block of time each week for manager-type tasks.

The second point is the one Graham raises at the end of the quote. If you and your firm are going to be innovative, then someone probably needs to be on a Maker’s schedule. And if you’re managing an innovative firm, you have to give your Makers (including yourself!) the space to run on a Maker’s schedule. This is the kind of relatively simple thing that is easy to overlook, but which often becomes a substantial barrier to innovation.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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3 thoughts on “blocks of time

  1. I tend to pack everything together. I do nothing but teach all day Monday, and I do my best to pack my meetings into a particular day. This frees up large blocks of time to work on projects from start to finish. I’m a big fan of uninterrupted silence for hours (or days) on end to work through problems from start to finish. Now if I could just shake this email/iPhone/web/facebook/Twitter addiction, I might actually be able to do it more often!

  2. It’s the meeting packing that I have to get better at. Hard to control though… And I’m of no help at all when it comes to internet addiction issues!

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