Maker’s Schedule (For Managers Too)

The following memo from a department head to staff is an example of how to implement a productive maker’s schedule at your workplace. This approach recommends starting with baby steps, evaluating results and making changes accordingly.

Comic strip from XKCD

Dear Colleagues in the Technology, Project Management and Product Teams,

Executive Summary:1

We are implementing a maker’s schedule starting this Friday May 31st which means developers will have from 12 noon onwards on Fridays to focus exclusively on writing code, with no meetings or other interruptions. (This also applies to other contributors besides developers. For more information, see details below.) The goal of this is to increase productivity, creativity and job satisfaction. This practice is based on science and employed by other successful organizations. We request your understanding, your support, and your help in making Friday afternoons meeting-free.

The Details:

We are implementing a maker’s schedule system starting Friday May 31, 2013. What is it? A maker’s schedule is calendar scheduling system that gives a group of people a continuous multi-hour block of time to focus on their work with minimal productivity diminishing things like distractions, context switching or frequent interruptions.

The word maker in this context often refers to people like software engineers, designers, testers, systems engineers, infrastructure engineers, documentation authors, editors or anyone else making something. What they are making could be software code, documentation or a configured server. It need not even be technical work. Managers also do the work of making: writing a memo, editing a budget spreadsheet or creating a slide presentation, for example.2

The human brain has evolved in a way that creative work, innovation and productivity are maximized when a person is able to focus and work on one task at a time for multiple hours. It takes several minutes, often half an hour or longer to get in the flow state of mind that results in peak performance at work. Hourlong or half-hour long meetings peppered throughout the day with breaks in between supposedly to do productive work result in low quality work, cause stress, and lead to unhappiness.

One way to do better quality work, get more done and be happier in your job is to divide your day into two halves. Get all your meetings, emails and administrative tasks done in the first half and spend the entire second half of the day doing enjoyable creative work that puts you in the flow state of mind. You will leave the office less stressed, more satisfied and happier each day.

If you are interested in learning more about the maker’s schedule concept, the article titled Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham is a good introduction.

Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

Q: Who does this policy apply to?
A: This applies to all makers as listed above, especially all engineers and quality assurance staff, people who spend the majority of their time writing, designing or implementing software code, systems or designs. This also extends to those in management roles who’d like to use this time to do maker’s work.  At this time, we are not applying this policy to employees with special employment contracts like guild or unionized employees.

Q: When will we have maker’s hours?
A: Fridays after 12 noon, i.e. the latter half of all Fridays going forward until further notice.

Q: Does this mean I can go home early on Fridays?
A: No. This is not a summer hours policy. This is meant to be uninterrupted software engineering and development time. It does not change anything about when you are expected to be in the office. The prior agreed upon schedules you have with the company will continue.

Q: Why Fridays and why only Friday afternoons?
A: We analyzed our organization’s current meetings schedule and found that Friday afternoon is the period where there are least meetings and those meetings can be rescheduled with least impact. We are starting the pilot program with Friday afternoons. After some months of evaluating the results, we may extend it, keep it the same or cancel it. Until Further notice, this policy applies only to Friday afternoons.

Q: Does this mean I only get Friday afternoons to write code?
A: No :-) What this means is that we must all do our best to not organize, nor attend meetings on Friday afternoons so that time is exclusively reserved for writing code, building systems and doing other maker’s work. You are expected to do maker’s work every business day and to manage your own schedule to block off enough time to do that on others day the same way you already do.

Q: What about production emergencies? Can I get called into an emergency meeting to deal with a critical production emergency?
A: Yes. Production emergencies qualify among the rare exceptions.

Q: What about meetings between makers? For example, between two software engineers.
A: That is a slippery slope. We are strongly discouraging meetings on Friday afternoons in this policy, but we are not the meeting police and are not going to ban all meetings, especially if all the attendees have a strong desire to meet. We trust you to use your best judgement and lean towards not holding meetings on Friday afternoons unless you determine you have a good reason to make an exception to this policy. Our suggestion is this: Pair programming is encouraged. Working sessions are ok, assuming that in the entire working session multiple makers are making something together. However having staff meetings at this time is not a good idea. Nor is it a good time to have your weekly 1-on-1 with your manager. Remember your manager is likely to be using this time to do their own maker’s work. So on the question of can developers hold a meeting with just developers at this time, ask yourself why. What is the meeting for? Is it a working session where each of you will make something together? If yes, that’s likely fine. If not, schedule it for another time.

Q: What should I do when someone invites me to a meeting on Friday afternoon and I plan to observe the maker’s schedule and write code at that time?
A: Please always be respectful, courteous and friendly while declining meetings. Use your discretion and common sense. If the meeting request comes from someone it may not be wise to decline, consult with your boss. In many cases, you can politely, respectfully and nicely point the meeting requester to this policy at http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2013/05/24/makers-schedule-for-managers-too/ and suggest or request another time. Letting your collaborators know about this policy in advance will also help.

  1. Thanks to David Perpich for suggesting this executive summary. []
  2. Since processing email has become such an information overload problem, distraction and waste of time these days, we hesitate to classify doing email as productive maker’s work. If you don’t have the unproductive bad habit of checking your email every 15 minutes and instead you process your email during a few blocks of time a day, you may consider email productive work too. []

What is Leadership?

Victory is not defeating others. Victory is winning others.

The three skills that people in an organization have are leading, managing, and working. Every person has a combination of all three. I refer to a leader as someone who is strongest in leadership, a manager as one who is strongest in management and a worker as one who is strongest in workmanship.

To understand better what leadership is, let us first discuss it in the context of what leadership is not.

Leadership is not equivalent to managing others. A leader manages him/her self while teaching and guiding people to manage themselves and others.

Leadership is different from management in several aspects. While a person can be a good leader as well as a good manager, the two are two different talents. A President & CEO needs to be both a leader and a manager. The Chief Architect can just be a leader. A Project Manager can be just a manager. A programmer can just be a worker. A manager often needs to make others do things, but rarely needs to do those things her/himself. This does not imply that a manager’s role is less significant. The manager does the important work of making the workers successfully do their work.

A manager does not need to be an innovator, but a leader needs to be. A manager follows the rules and makes workers follow the rules. A manager is most effective when things are going according to plan. A leader on the other hand, is equally effective when things are going according to plan or not. A leader rewrites the rules when necessary. A leader guides the manager in coming up with a new plan when needed. A leader often realizes it even before a new plan is needed. A leader is a visionary. A leader imagines great things. The leader formulates a high level plan. The manager creates a detailed plan from that and manages workers to implement using that plan.

To be a leader does not mean being a high and mighty boss. A leader is a servant as much as a commander. A good leader cares about others. A leader must lead others to success. If a leader’s goal was to achieve success only for one’s own self, then I’d call him or her a climber, for one who climbs to success, but not a leader. A leader who does not benefit others serves no purpose in an organization or in society.

Being a leader sometimes requires sacrificing ones own interests for the good of others.

Contrary to some beliefs, a leader should be generally popular and liked. A leader does not do just what the leader thinks is best for others, but what the team decides is best for the team. A leader provides results and enlightenment (as in understanding of those results). If people consistently do not understand what or why the leader is doing, the leader needs to be replaced. A leader realizes that people are intelligent and gives them appropriate credit.

A leader is not merely a teacher. A leader is a student and an instructor.

Leadership is not easy. It is not for everyone. Can anyone become a good leader? Yes. Should everyone become a leader? No. (As an illustration consider the question: Should everyone become a carpenter? No.)

(Note: In his career, the author has been successful and won awards while working at various levels of Programmer, Manager, Regional Director, Vice President and External Consultant. The knowledge presented here is compiled from those experiences and by learning from others. The author does not claim these ideas as original.)