There’s a bit of a paradox when it comes to how we make a schedule in the modern workplace. More and more, our jobs require creativity and innovative thinking. Yet few people take the time to engage in real creative thought during the day.
Instead of long periods of focused time dedicated to tackling big problems, our calendars look like Swiss Cheese. A meeting here and there. A few calls. Some admin tasks and documentation.
But who can “get creative” in a 15-minute slot between their mandatory lunch meeting and the hour-long call with the sales team at 1:30?
If your job is to think up new and innovative ideas, this just doesn’t work. So what does?
How “Makers” and “Managers” schedule their time differently
You can break down the type of work most people do during the day into two categories. There’s moments where we’re managing—either other people, projects, or ourselves. And moments where we’re making—writing docs, designing logos, coding apps, etc…
These two types of work aren’t mutually exclusive. Yet each requires a vastly different approach to your day to be successful.
In a now-famous essay, programmer and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham proposed the two ways to schedule your day based around the type of work you do:
- Manager’s schedule: The typical appointment book style schedule with each day cut up into hour (or less) intervals. As Graham explains “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.”
- Maker’s schedule: People who do more heads-down, creative work, need a schedule with larger units. Usually half a day at a time. As Graham writes: “You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.”
This sounds great in theory. But in reality? It’s a pretty idealistic view of how most people spend their time. As Basecamp founder, Jason Fried, explains:
“People don’t have hours anymore. They might say they work 8–10 hours a day. But they don’t. They work 15 minutes and 20 minutes and 25 minutes and 6 minutes and maybe 45 minutes if they’re lucky. And that just seems broken to me.”
Few of us have the levels of control and autonomy necessary to block out half a day without any calls or meetings. Instead, we spend our days multitasking. We jump back and forth between making and managing just to hit deadlines and meet expectations.
This isn’t to say chasing after a Maker’s schedule is a lost cause. But rather that we need to be strategic about making a schedule that allows for both.
Here’s a few suggestions from people who have found that balance:
Break up your week between Maker and Manager time
When Harrison Harnisch transitioned from an individual contributor to a technical lead at social media company Buffer, his schedule suddenly went from long swathes of time to make, to being filled with managerial problems.
Teams from across the company started looking to him for leadership and help. Not only did he start getting more questions, but they were often asked in a sense of urgency, meaning he needed to shift his focus away from his Maker time and answer them right away.
“Especially when working on projects that span multiple teams, there is a huge amount of context that needs to be formed in your mind before you start solving the problem,” he writes.
“Building context can take hours, only to be lost by a random interruption.”
To find balance between his expectations as a software engineer and as a leader, he decided to split his week up. Some days are focused solely on manager tasks, while others are for heads-down coding.
This way, not only does he set his own expectations about how a day should be treated (i.e. he knows when he’s making and can ignore interruptions and when he needs to be available. But his teammates do as well.
(A visual template is a great way to share your work schedules with your team.)
Finding a balance between making and managing means being open about your daily schedule so that the people that depend on you know what mode you’re in.
And, as Harrison explains, while you won’t always be able to protect your time to make, setting those expectations is an important part of hitting your own deadlines and doing meaningful work.
“It is important to note that deep work time can be interrupted by things that are both urgent and important. Ignoring pager alerts would be bad for everyone! However, treating every question as urgent is likely to do more harm than good.”
Use “office hours” to separate making from managing
If you can’t commit to full days of making each week, another option is to split each day into time for making and managing.
While it sounds simple, the difficulty of this approach is that managing often feels more urgent and can quickly creep into your making time. And, as Graham explains in his essay, even a simple distraction can throw your entire Maker time out the window:
“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.”
At project management software maker, Basecamp, they institute what they call “office hours” for managing and questions.
In the same way a university professor has specific times they’re available, “office hours” are moments during the day when everyone knows you’re available for managing.
As an added bonus, this type of scheduling allows you to power through similar activities while you’re in that “zone” of non-office hours. As bestselling writer and designer Paul Jarvis explains:
“The longer you can focus on a single type of task, the faster you can get it done. So grouping all the writing I have to do into a morning means I can write 5–6 articles in one fell swoop. Perfect. Or I’ll spend a whole day programming websites for clients, which gets my brain into ‘code mode’.”
Again, the key is to set and stick to expectations. Let everyone who needs to know what your schedule is. And then check out and get to making. There’s rarely an emergency that can’t wait until your scheduled office hours.
Create routines as well as rituals for your time
No matter how you make a schedule, there’s always going to be friction when you go from Maker to Manager time (or vice versa). And that friction is where you’re most likely to slip up and accidentally give your time away.
One way to solve this is to use both routines and rituals.
Routines are what we’ve mostly been talking about—setting specific days or times of day where your Maker time is sacred and shouldn’t be touched. On the other hand, rituals are what help you transition away from managing and into Maker mode.
As Brain Picking’s, Maria Popova explains, routine and ritual are really just two sides to the same coin:
“While routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical.”
Think of Maya Angelou, who only wrote in small hotel rooms. Or Jack Kerouac, who made sure to touch the ground nine times before starting his creative work. Or even Beethoven, who counted 60 coffee beans for his daily brew before getting started.
While you don’t have to go to such extremes, some ritual that helps place you in Maker mode is a powerful tool.
How to use RescueTime to discover whether you’re having a “Maker” or a “Manager” day
All of this assumes we’re aware of how we spend our time each day. But as we’ve seen from studying hundreds of millions of hours of working time, few of us are.
As Deep Work author, Cal Newport, writes:
“We spend much of our days on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we are doing with our time. This is a problem.
“It’s difficult to prevent the trivial from creeping into every corner of your schedule if you don’t face, without flinching, your current balance between deep and shallow work, and then adopt the habit of pausing before action and asking, ‘What makes the most sense right now?’”
That sort of reflection is hard to do on your own. But by using RescueTime, you can quickly get insights into how you’re spending your day and even when you’re shifting from Maker to Manager time.
For example, you can look at your “hourly by day” report to see when you’re most likely to do the work you consider “Maker” work.
If you see multiple hours where that work is the largest (or only!) segment, that’s your Maker time. If Maker time is a priority, shoot for seeing that in your charts often.
While if you see time where communication dominates, or there are several activities given equal time throughout the hour, that’s probably not your Maker time.
Here’s an example from RescueTime CEO, Robby Macdonell:
Robby considers ‘Design & Composition’ his Maker time. That includes new product design, writing, and long term planning. And while it’s clear that he gets more of that work done in the afternoons, that time is still littered with communication and other tasks.
Let’s zoom in on one day to make this super clear:
What if you want help protecting your Maker time?
There’s a few ways RescueTime can help you with that.
First, you can create a custom time filter for the days or hours you want to save for making.
(To do this, go to Advanced Filters and then Add a new Time Filter)
Let’s use the example of Buffer’s Harrison Harnisch again. Harrison wanted to reserve Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as Maker time. By setting a time filter on those days between 9am and 5pm, he can check his reports to see if he’s being true to his Maker schedule.
Or, going a step further, he could set RescueTime Alerts to notify him if he’s spent too much time on non-Maker activities during those time periods.
How you make a schedule for your day doesn’t have to be up to other people. And the more control you take over your time to make, the better you’ll feel about the progress you make every single day.
Take a second to look at your own daily patterns. Are you giving yourself enough time to create? Or are you spending all day putting out fires? With a little bit of work it is possible to be both a Maker and a Manager.
How do you protect your “Maker” time each day? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter.