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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Switch between projects if you feel you are stuck on one, don't try to push it.