In 2009, Paul Graham wrote an article called Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, presenting two different styles or schedules of working. In this article, he elucidated the difficulties makers faced in terms of loss of focus and morale when their schedules were disrupted, mostly by meetings. He also highlighted the conflict between the two schedules that arose when people in command – managers and leaders, did not fully understand the costs of requiring makers to comply with the managers’ style of working. In his article, Graham says that he attempted an explanation of the two schedules in the hope that understanding and accommodating the different workstyles would help leaders to reduce conflicts and help teams thrive.
Today, we’re experiencing a rapid and radical transformation of the workplace. Remote and hybrid modes of working are becoming more acceptable and widely adopted. This modern workplace is built on the foundations of technology-enabled connectedness, mostly in accordance with the managers’ schedules. However, this throws the spotlight on the need to preserve and protect the makers’ schedules. As we stand at the juncture of the workplace of the future, there has never been a more important time to revisit and imbibe Paul Graham’s ideas and adopt workplace practices that can nurture both work styles to flourish.
The maker’s schedule
The maker’s schedule is designed to allow long, uninterrupted slots of focus time spent working on cognitively demanding tasks. This schedule is fundamental to facilitating what Cal Newport calls “deep work”, where an individual is able to dedicate many uninterrupted hours to a core task, essentially getting into a state of flow and performing at peak productivity. In this schedule, any interruption during focus time disturbs the individual’s state of flow.
Picture a day in the life of Jane, a quintessential maker/senior developer at a remote-first and distributed tech company. Her workday starts at 9 AM, she goes through a team check-in, answers some emails, and then goes into a DND mode between 10 AM and 2 PM when she prefers to write code. In this uninterrupted stretch of time, Jane enjoys the uninterrupted quiet, the almost perfect mirroring of the still focus of her mind reflected in her environment and therefore in her work. At this time, she’s in a state of flow – her creativity is abundant, her focus is sharp, her work is impeccable, and when she closes work, she feels completely satisfied.
The manager’s schedule
In contrast, the manager’s schedule is structured to accommodate several meetings. Managers and bosses often view their days as hourly time slots that can be used to run meetings, respond to communication, plan strategies and collaborate with others, etc. Managers, for the most part, do not spend long hours in siloed focus, instead, their productivity is maximized and measured by how much they are able to organize and manage the people reporting to them, often involving voluminous collaborative outreach.
Kat’s workday is a picture of an individual on the manager’s schedule. Kat is Jane’s manager, managing 12 software engineers across three distributed offices. Most of her day is segmented into hour-long meetings, scheduled with scrum calls, team meetings, virtual cross-collaboration meetings with other teams, and executive meetings. Even if she manages to find a window of time for focus work, the consciousness of upcoming engagements preoccupies her the whole day.
The threat to maker’s schedules in the new normal
The new normal of hybrid and remote work operates on the bedrock of virtual meetings and communication since they facilitate all processes from onboarding new talent, strategizing new products, building team cohesion, and ensuring seamless business operations. These virtual meetings are helping amalgamate the vastly different schedules of makers and managers, asking makers to oblige and conform to managers’ schedules.
Unfortunately, meetings scheduled as per managers’ schedules are a threat to makers’ time, productivity, and well-being. Studies show that it takes at least 25 minutes of focussed work for an individual to get into a state of flow following an interruption. Deviating from this state and switching contexts adversely affects the productivity of an individual, sometimes leading to up to a 40% dip in productivity.
In addition to risking a loss in productivity, when makers are made to oblige to an inflexible manager’s schedule and lack time to create, they tend to compensate by adopting unsustainable practices of working post-work hours in order to complete their core tasks. This trend could lead to the problem of employees staying always–on, adversely affecting work-life balance, and creating the risk of burnout.
This is perhaps why makers dread meetings. Anecdotes from engineers, developers, and writers interestingly quote that a stand-up meeting or even a single 30-minute meeting can sometimes break an entire day’s state of flow, even if the meeting was scheduled outside of their focus time. One developer recounted how a no-zoom day on their calendar would instantly put them in a productive mood, while another recollected how having to take a zoom meeting in the middle of the day would completely disturb their focus at other times because they were constantly preoccupied with factors such as meeting agenda, associated preparation, and most importantly remembering to dial-in to the meeting.
Finding Middle Ground
The modern workplace cannot function without thriving virtual communication and collaboration, the same way that it cannot function without makers producing quality work. When engineers are equipped with long, uninterrupted maker’s time, they are more likely to produce quality output, with lesser errors, with more creativity, and lesser missed edge cases. This in turn leads to better productivity for the team as a whole while it enhances the satisfaction and engagement of the individual engineer. It is imperative then that organizations build robust and agile schedules that allow makers their time for deep work so that they can create meaningful work.
Managers and leaders must adopt practices and processes that preserve and optimize maker time for their team members. Here are some opportunities for managers to define a successful middle ground:
Leaders and managers can start by improving the quality of their existing meetings using data. Audit and identify which meetings are necessary and which individuals are necessary for those meetings. Make agendas compulsory and encourage early sharing of agendas so that all attendees can be well-prepared to contribute productively. Emphasize hybrid meeting etiquettes, taking people’s locations, time zones, and work-life balance into consideration. Most importantly, when a meeting involves a maker, scheduling meetings at either the very beginning or the very end of a workday can help reduce the cognitive stress that is brought on by the consciousness of meetings. Similarly, use data to identify the least productive time slots for teams that can be used as collaborative work slots. Another great opportunity is to identify complete meeting free days so that makers have less fragmented time and more focus time throughout the day.
Better async work
Asynchronous work allows employees to design focus time and deep work into their schedules while mindfully allocating time for collaborative work and other communication commitments. Async work mandates lesser intrusions and immediate-response requests by making delayed response as default. This will define the culture of the team as respectful of the makers’ work model while also encouraging makers to dedicate time for teamwork.
Enable focus time and deep work
Creative work and productive work happen at different hours, in different manners, and can take many different expressions. Managers should stay cognizant of their teams’ working styles and personalities and allow flexibility to accommodate the different work modes. Particularly when working with makers, allocating and communicating individual focus time slots that suit the makers’ workstyle can help teammates focus their attention on their tasks.
Prioritize productivity over presenteeism
Several makers often go long periods of time focusing on one project. This tendency to engage in focussed work can cause a maker’s efforts to go unnoticed, especially in the remote workplace. Managers should build a robust practice of visibility in the hybrid and remote workplace that will counteract this pitfall and encourage employees to focus on productivity without being preoccupied with the need to project presenteeism.
Metrics as a diagnostic tool
For software engineers, the quality of code and the speed at which they produce code are leading indicators of productivity, and for good quality code, engineers need optimized maker’s time. Managers can use the data from their team’s calendar and meeting metrics to gain invaluable insight into their team’s focus time, maker’s time, and collab time.
Data can help managers measure how much time their team members are able to spend on focused work without being interrupted by communication requests from tools like email or internal messaging. Data can provide an insight into the breakdown between focus time and collab time, presenting an opportunity to schedule collab time without risking maker’s time. Visibility into meeting metrics can help managers reduce the burden of frequent, or long, or ad-hoc meetings, adding to the available maker’s time. As leading industry benchmarks indicate, highly productive engineering teams are able to provide 70% of the workday as maker’s time to their individual contributors. It is imperative that managers stay cognizant of their team’s maker’s time, since only what is measured can be managed.
Work analytics for the Future of Work
Work and collaboration analytics can help managers and leaders get an elevated and complete viewpoint of the work environment in which employees collaborate. Analytics of how teams connect, communicate, and collaborate can help managers build a robust schedule of deep work for makers, and thereby improve employee engagement, performance, well-being, and productivity.
Focus time follows the Pomodoro technique of balancing focussed work with slots for breaks. In practice, when an engineer has blocks of time, with short interruptions, potentially interruptions such as stand-up meetings, or urgent Slack requests, we identify these blocks of time as available for focus work.
However, focus time differs from maker’s time since the latter is characterized by absolutely no fragmentation in time and lasts longer than two hours, often extending into several hours at a stretch. This extended period of maker time promotes a better quality of work since developers achieve and maintain a steady state of flow, with lower chances of missing edge cases leading to lesser bugs and cleaner code. This long stretch of time also makes way for uninterrupted thought, creativity, and ideas.
Hatica helps improve makers’ time by tracking the extent of interruptions teammates are subject to due to meetings, communication, and collaboration requests. In reality, many managers are able to promote allocation of focus time for their teammates by promoting time chunks that are not spent in meetings but still allowing short interruptions or context switches. However, managers are often unable to optimize makers’ time, that is, large blocks of time that are completely uninterrupted. Identifying interruptions can help managers gauge how much makers’ time their team members get. These insights can paint a factual picture of maker time and interruptions trends, allowing managers to identify and fix interruption issues thereby optimizing maker time.
As the workplace undergoes a phenomenal transformation towards a distributed, remote, and hybrid work model, managers should accommodate the maker’s schedule in the new normal, leveraging data and adopting technology and processes to facilitate better ways of working for everyone.
💡 Hatica’s work analytics platform equips engineering managers with data about their team’s available makers’ time and provides visibility into factors that fragment makers’ time such as meeting and communication load.