Yesterday I came across a very insightful blog post about what is probably the main source of unneccesary time wasting in enterprises: the clash between people on a maker's schedule versus those on a manager's schedule. (Paul Graham is a partner in Y Combinator, a funder of very early-stage startups.)
What is the big idea? There are 2 fundamentally different time schedules that people can work on. The clash between these two causes a lot of wasted time and frustration:
  • A maker is someone that needs to produce/design an endproduct. For a maker, meetings are a disasterous disruption of creativity. They fragment the day, making him/her postpone starting a major new piece of work because "the morning's gone anyway".
  • A manager's day is divided into 60 minutes slots in which meetings can be scheduled. Meetings are a great way to get updates on the progress of things (put all designers in a room and let them present), or meetings are great to expand your network ("let's grab a coffee").
Although people in power are usually on a manager's schedule, it is not neccessarily so that a maker is someone in a subordinate role. Anyone doing creative or problem solving work (designers, engineers, architects, yes even management consultants) is likely to be on a maker's schedule.
Why does it interest me? Since breaking away from big corporate environments half a decade ago I have been given a great deal of freedom to design my own work practices. To my surprise I have noticed how it is possible to improve productivity dramatically without relying on the leverage of a large number of more junior people working for you. I often get feedback from clients that they outsource presentation/strategy work to me because "you can isolate a piece of quiet time to get things done".
What can designers on a maker's schedule learn from it? I am on a maker schedule, here are some of the things I (try to) do to get the maximum out of a work day:
  1. Listen to your brain and figure out at what times of the day you are most productive. Do not agree to disruptions during your most productive time. (Recommended book: "Brain Rules"). Don't let others book time into your calendar automatically.
  2. Don't be afraid to suggest a phone call instead of a meeting. One on one discussions to exchange smaller comments on a presentation or a model can often be done without leaving the office, fighting your way through traffic jams, find parking, get a coffee.
  3. Plan meetings when you need them. When you need a decision. When you need input from many, many people (efficient to do it in one go). When you need to do a creative brainstorm in front of a white board. Forget about update meetings.
  4. Get tempted into distractions like email, Twitter, or admin when you feel your creative energy is dropping. Take a small walk, make a phone call before diving back in.
  5. Stress kills creativity. Avoid deadline stress by negotiating longer times for a project you need, and explain why. Teach clients (or your boss) about the creative process. Budget "alone time", to get "off the grid" as Garr Reynolds would put it.
  6. Switch between projects if you feel you are stuck on one, don't try to push it.