Scheduled Unproductivity

There's a classic blog post by Paul Graham titled Maker's Schedule, Manager's schedule. If you've never read about this concept, I suggest you do it. It's a very good framework for understanding two fundamentally different ways of working. The whole article is about the intersection of these two types of schedules and how to deal with it. Here are some the highlights:

About the manager'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. Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. 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.

About the maker's schedule:

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. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.

One solution Paul suggests to deal with the manager's schedule conflicting the maker's schedule is office hours. It's funny because it obviously reminds you of school. Profs have office hours. Well, it makes sense. Schools are supposed to be filled with students on a maker's schedule. 

How do we manage to advise so many startups on the maker’s schedule? By using the classic device for simulating the manager’s schedule within the maker’s: office hours. Several times a week I set aside a chunk of time to meet founders we’ve funded. These chunks of time are at the end of my working day, and I wrote a signup program that ensures all the appointments within a given set of office hours are clustered at the end.

Paul writes this about speculative meetings. Or coffee dates. Which I love to do. Both because I'm curious and because I love trying new coffee spots.

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.

This week, I schedule all my meetings Friday. That way I know that Friday won't be productive. But at least it's scheduled unproductivity. It's not always possible

I'm a strategist and I like to schedule days in chunks. One big thing in the morning. One big thing in the afternoon. Sometimes, nothing happens for an hour, and everything happens in the next 15 minutes. Scheduling in chunks of 3hr+ is the only way for me to achieve anything.

I think it's good to be aware of this concept. If you're on a maker's schedule, try to protect yourself from people on the manager's schedule. Otherwise, you'll feel unsatisfied at work. If you're on the manager's schedule, think about it when you book 15m meetings with a creative/tech person at 10h15 in the morning. Assume you always take 3hr of their time.