Makers and Managers: Two Schedules, Two Mindsets

Makers and Managers

In this post, we’re going to talk about how to balance creative work with managerial work. This is a particularly useful topic for bloggers, small business owners, and other content creators, as we need to both create excellent content and handle the website, keep track of accounting, and do other piecemeal management tasks. This balancing act is one that we all face on a daily basis.

The idea is pretty universal, but we’ll specifically draw inspiration from two sources:

  1. A particularly good essay by Paul Graham, a computer scientist, venture capitalist, and co-founder of the early-stage startup fund Y Combinator. Graham, along with others at Y Combinator, are largely responsible for the current startup accelerator renaissance. Y Combinator has funded many well-known companies, including Reddit, AirBnb, Dropbox, and Uber.

    Titled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”, the essay explores the difficulties of mixing meetings with getting creative work done.

  2. “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” a book by author Mason Currey. The premise of this book is deceptively simple: it’s a listing of the daily habits of famous artists, writers, and other creative people. The contents are fascinating; we learn that Truman Capote refused to work on Fridays, Nikola Tesla worked every day from noon to midnight, and that basically everyone loves coffee.

    While most of these individuals were eventually able to pursue their craft full-time, none started out successful. Some, like Franz Kafka, spent their whole lives working a (non-creative) day job. As such, it’s useful to learn from their work methods.

  3. Two Schedules, Two Mindsets

    The idea is simple. There are two basic types of work: creative work and managerial work. Each of these types of work prefers a particular schedule. In his essay, Graham calls these the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule.

    The manager’s schedule is designed around the traditional hourly appointment book. Every task fits into a specific time slot. Whether it’s doing the accounting, optimizing your Google AdWords account, or just having a basic meeting with your employees, every task is disparate and has a specific beginning and ending time.

    The problem with the manager’s schedule is that it’s difficult to do really great creative work under arbitrary time requirements. While you can most certainly write quality content in one-hour time slots, you’ll probably find (like many creators do, myself included) that your best work comes from an uninterrupted stretch of focused work.

    That’s where the maker’s schedule comes in. Unlike the manager’s schedule, the maker’s schedule is not hourly-based. Instead, the idea is to work with much longer, less defined periods of time – as in four hours, or even half a day.

    “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.”
    – Paul Graham

    A Compromise

    The difficulty, of course, is that we can’t simply operate on one schedule. As a MailPoet user, you’re most likely running a blog, small business or other organization entirely on your own. It’d be nice to spend all day writing and let someone else handle the financials, but unfortunately most of us don’t have that luxury. We’ve got to both create the content and do the marketing, business management, accounting, and all that other stuff.

    The solution? Divide your day into clear time blocks.

    Darwin’s Schedule of the Fittest

    Charles Darwin’s routine offers an interesting, if rigid, plan to imitate. Darwin would wake up, go for a brief walk, then work for 90 minutes. Then, he’d take a break to read the mail and spend time with his wife. Following this, he’d put in another 90 minutes of work, then take another break to read the mail. He repeated this pattern all day, every day, for nearly 40 years (!).

    A Less Darwinist Approach: Three Simple Time Slots

    Personally, I like simplicity and I like to work in periods of time longer than 90 minutes. As such, I recommend structuring your day around meals:

    • Morning (after waking up and before lunch)
    • Afternoon (after lunch and before dinner)
    • Evening (after dinner and before bed)

    Each of these time slots is roughly 4 hours long, which is plenty of time to accommodate both schedules. It’s important to stay consistent; that is, try to follow the same schedule regularly. I am a morning person and as such like to get the most important things (creating good content) done first.

    As a result, I tend to operate on a maker’s schedule from breakfast until lunch, eat (and recover from) lunch, do managerial work in the afternoon, and then go back to creative work after dinner (if time permits!)

    Morning or Night?

    Finally, the single most important question to ask yourself is, When do you do your best work? If you’re a morning person, you’re in good company. According to Daily Rituals, about a third of the most notable artists and writers in history got up before 7 a.m. If you prefer working at night, don’t fret – plenty of successful people were up all night (including Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.)

    Ultimately, you need to experiment and figure out what works best for you. What are your best methods for mixing creative and administrative tasks? Let us know in the comments!