Learning to balance a Maker's and Manager's Schedule

Learning to balance a Maker's and Manager's Schedule

One of the hardest things thus far about becoming a manager (managing others and their work) has been learning to balance my maker’s schedule with my manager’s schedule.

Maker Schedule, Manager Schedule

The concept comes from a Paul Graham essay which says:

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’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. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

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.

Paul Graham

I’ve built out a team of three testers (plus myself) who each work embedded on an engineering team for a given business unit. I’m responsible for helping my team understand their respective businesses, contribute meaningfully to the team and their professional development (to name a few things). Then I help maintain and build out automated tests across three teams in two business units. In short, I’m a hands on manager with individual contributor responsibilities dealing with what feels like a split personality.

Operating on the manager’s schedule means having blocks of time on my calendar and showing up is part of the job. Operating on the maker’s schedule means blocks of time represent problems because they interrupt my schedule and ability to establish flow. Each business unit has their own ritual meetings (standup, retrospectives, grooming, etc.) and attending those meetings means getting context into the work each team member is doing.

Paul goes on to say meetings are really disruptive to the maker’s schedule. One meeting can disrupt a whole day. This meant when I stick to the manager’s schedule, I don’t get my individual work done. Unfortunately this was true for a number of months while I figured out how to address the problem.

Finding balance

Paul addressed this by splitting up his day into two parts:

I used to program from dinner till about 3 am every day, because at night no one could interrupt me. Then I’d sleep till about 11 am, and come in and work until dinner on what I called “business stuff.” I never thought of it in these terms, but in effect I had two workdays each day, one on the manager’s schedule and one on the maker’s.

Paul Graham

I want to say it took me about 4 months to get some kind of balance. Recognizing the problem came quick enough but it took a lot longer to change my behavior, such that I didn’t jump into and try to fix problems all the time. Unlike Paul’s quote above, I didn’t really have the ability to split my day up.

First I started looking for days where I could opt out of most if not all meetings. If I couldn’t do this, I looked to stack all the meetings in a given day so there was a clear delineation between manager and maker work. As meetings stabilized I got clarity into the work being done and it was easier to make educated guesses at what meetings to attend vs ignore. This was / is very much trial and error.

Second, I started looking for days where I could have an open calendar, e.g. days where I could dedicate my time to maker work. For example the number of meetings tended to decrease as the week went on. It was pretty easy to move meetings around (like 1:1s) to be earlier in the week, giving me full days with open time.

Finally I created a few meetings of my own. A short “standup” meetings with my team to supplement the information I was missing. This allows me to be a lot more responsive to my team while also being able to jump into other meetings as needed. Also regular meetings with leads of each business to address any longer term problems.

Learning to balance my Maker’s Schedule with my Manager’s Schedule caused a lot of stress and has certainly been one of the harder things about becoming a manager, so far. Hopefully sharing this solution brings a little more calm to your lives.

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Jamie Larson