In his latest essay, Paul Graham describes the difference between what he calls the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule. Makers–the writers, coders, designers, editors, creative types–need half or whole days to produce anything that solves complicated problems. Managers schedule out their workdays in hour-long blocks. When managers schedule makers into midday meetings, they kill creative productivity in real but not-obvious ways. Graham considers himself a maker, and describes why meetings are the enemy of creativity:
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.
This resonates with me deeply.
As a freelancer, I get lots of requests to “grab coffee” (as Graham describes) with folks who are just interested in seeing if working together is a possibility. Whenever that happens, my heart sinks. If I’m on deadline or deep in a programming project, grabbing coffee midday with someone I don’t know and might not have any good business reason to talk to changes the tenor of the entire day. When I can, I usually I turn down these types of speculative meetings because the costs are too high–but I always feel bad about it, and never know how to word my response. (Generally I say, “Sorry I’m just too busy.”)
But the fact is that creative types do have to go to meetings. If you can control when those meetings happen, Graham suggests putting aside end-of-day office hours, which don’t split the day in half. I’d add that breakfast or early morning coffee meetings are also a good alternative.
Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule [Paul Graham]