Does this happen to you?
I’ll be having a very productive day working on a big project. Then I’ll go to lunch around 1pm. I’ll be back at my desk and ready to work again by 1:30pm.
But I’ll look at my calendar and see that I have a meeting at 2pm. So I won’t re-start working on my big project, because by the time I got in the flow, a half hour would definitely be up. I’ll do some work emails.
At 2pm I’ll go to the meeting. The meeting will be exhausting and boring and throughout it I will find it hard to focus as people seem to talk for the sake of talking. Finally, at 3:30 I’ll be back at my desk.
I’ll start to dig back into my project, when maybe an hour later, someone will innocently ask me if I could meet for five minutes. Inside my head, there will be a mushroom cloud, followed by a blinding white flash of despair.
In the post, Graham divides the professional world into two classes.
He says there are the “makers” and the “managers.” Managers are the people who run the show. They are the bosses. Makers are the doers, the producers, the creators; they include coders, writers, designers, engineers.
Graham says that the reason maker’s hate meeting so much is that “meetings cost them more.”
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.
Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. 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.
When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.
For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.
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. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.
Each type of schedule works fine by itself. Problems arise when they meet. Since most powerful people operate on the manager’s schedule, they’re in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency if they want to. But the smarter ones restrain themselves, if they know that some of the people working for them need long chunks of time to work in.
Graham’s solution for this problem is for makers to set up office hours. Graham says he runs on a “maker’s schedule” and has set aside several hours at the end of every day for people to meet with him.
“Because they come at the end of my day these meetings are never an interruption. (Unless their working day ends at the same time as mine, the meeting presumably interrupts theirs, but since they made the appointment it must be worth it to them.) During busy periods, office hours sometimes get long enough that they compress the day, but they never interrupt it.”
Office hours are worth trying, probably, but they have their own problems.
Infamously, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer used to have office hours back when she was at Google, and had to approve every user-interface change that went live on the site. The office hours infuriated people because the line out her office door would extend far down the hall. People would be waiting on couches forever.
Another problem with office hours is: good luck telling a demanding boss to wait till your “office hours.”
One solution that works for me is to surrender a whole day every week to meetings, and schedule as many as you can for that day.