Maker Vs. Manager: How I Schedule My Day

Date: Wednesday, January 05, 2011 by GTD Times Staff

A Community Contribution from Erik Hanberg

There’s an idea I’ve read about when it comes to how different kinds of people schedule their day.  It’s maker versus manager.  Like me, many people work as both maker and manager.

Managers tend to schedule in one hour blocks.  There’s usually not a question about whether or not there’s a meeting at 2:00; it’s a question of who that meeting is with.

Makers tend to think in half-day blocks, scheduling three, four, or more hours for a single task.  Writing, coding, creative problem solving, etc., are all done best with a lot of hours put toward them all at once.

I’ve found the same tension in my own schedule as well.  Some of my work makes perfect sense in hour-long segments.  But some of it really needs to be in half-day chunks: building websites really requires at least two hours of solid attention to get anything significant accomplished, and often more.

I’ve gotten much better at scheduling meetings to give me the half-day chunks I want for coding or writing.  Here are some of the ways I’ve balanced it:

  • My first step is to try to pack the meetings together.  If I have the choice, I’d rather have a 1:00 and then a 2:30 and then a 4:00 as opposed to a 10:00, 1:00, and 4:00, which leaves a lot of awkward space in the middle.
  • I try to make busy days busier.  If there are already three meetings on one day, there may as well be five.  I’ll schedule more on that day to try to keep other days free.
  • When there’s no avoiding having a lone meeting on a day, I’ll usually try to schedule it at the end of the day to give me the morning and early afternoon for work.
  • I get up early.  I’ve never been much of a morning person.  I mean, I like mornings once I’m up, but I don’t like the getting up part.  I’m actively working at changing that.  An earlier start means more time.
  • I still often look to nights and weekends for those 4-hour blocks of time. On a recent Saturday night I spent three hours developing out a shopping cart for a client. It’s not an ideal way to spend Saturday night, I suppose, but when things are going well and you’re making progress, there’s a certain flow that you get into, and it can be pretty enjoyable. 

I think these steps have helped give me the open time I need to get projects done while balancing all the meetings I need to attend. 

David Allen’s Getting Things Done system is great for getting work done during those unexpected times that will always develop.  If you schedule yourself with maker vs. manager tasks in mind, you’ll keep those awkward times to a minimum.  And you’ll find you can get more productive use from your day.

12 Responses to “Maker Vs. Manager: How I Schedule My Day”

  1. Zara Lawler says:

    As a musician, I have that same dilemma. I usually think of it as “practice v. business,” but “maker v. manager” is much snappier. I have had some success with packing meetings together and getting up earlier. I find, though, that since practice is something that needs to happen every day, there is a limit to how much business I can fit in any one day and still have time to practice. My New Year’s plan is to try and not accept any morning obligations that are not paid…we’ll see how it goes!

  2. Erik Hanberg says:

    The original discussion of Maker Versus Manager that I know of is here:

    It’s mostly about how managers should deal with makers. But for many people, like myself, they have to inhabit both roles in their jobs, so I thought it was a useful way to think about my schedule.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I appreciated your comments and I think they were absolutely spot on. I’d add another element to the Maker/Manager title..and that would be Thinker. Any project I need to complete…long or short term..goes far more smoothly if there is thinking time factored into the steps in the project. For example, if a project is estimated to take 4 hours, at least 20 minutes is pure strategic thinking about resources, steps, etc. A great thing about thinking is that it can overlap with the mundane and automatic. Some of my best thinking has been done walking to the train for my daily commute.

  4. Leo says:

    Thank you for that write up! I love your idea of scheduling lone meetings at the end of the day and packing a day more in to make it easier on the other days!

  5. Geoff Airey says:

    I don’t have the dilemma you have as I’m pretty much a full time manager in charge of an IT company, I rarely get an hour uninterrupted never mind three.

    I like the article though and some of the principles I follow may help yourself or others:

    I’m also a reluctant riser, but I find the time between when I get in (pre 8) and 9 O’Clock to be really productive.

    I always try to book meetings in the afternoon. I tend to have more energy in the morning so I get more done then.

    I try not to pack my days with meetings, but that’s so I can catch up in between, but then I don’t get the solid blocks of time you get.

    I also tend to only check email three times a day, otherwise I’m sucked into constant replies.

  6. Geoff Airey says:

    In my comment, that should be Pre 8, not a smiley.


  7. Joe says:

    I find that mindfulness of my available energy to be an important scheduling concern.
    I like to do ‘maker’ tasks in the morning when I have what I call ‘fresh’ time and avoid such tasks in the afternoons.
    I tend to re-charge when I am working with others so having meetings and group working sessions in the afternoon is far more productive for me.

  8. Gayle says:

    The words themselves, “maker” and “manager,” really struck me. I am going to think more about MAKING my day as well as managing it. And yes, my intention is to get up earlier as well. One strategy someone passed on was to lie in bed for a few minutes and imagine three things you are really going to enjoy doing or getting done. So far works for me!

  9. David Drake says:

    Here is an interesting article on scheduling time for creative work — much of what the maker schedule is all about!


  10. Keith says:

    This is not a great article or a good advert for GTD and let me tell you why!

    The section on the meetings I agree and I tend to bunch mine together and try to have mornings or afternoons to get my ‘stuff’ done on certain days. The part about I have to work weekends, get up earlier and still work evenings, that doesn’t sound right to me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of that too, but I blame myself and my lack of mastering GTD (and also Tony Schwarz’s work.) I aspire to having more free time and still getting my ‘stuff’ done when I do eventually gain more competence with GTD.

    The second section of this article just said to me, you need to spend even more time on your work to get it done; ergo not a great message or article!

  11. Rebecca says:

    I give a mixed review. It was helpful to think in terms of manager vs maker for scheduling time. But getting up earlier doesn’t make the day longer. At some point you have to look at your areas of responsibility and decide if you are overcommitted.

  12. Stacey says:

    I have the same issues. I have client appt spaces which are 60 or 30 mins, then I have some mobile clients where I have to account for either 90 or 60 mins (for travel) then I have client follow up work which I pencil for an hour but if it goes over this I freak out. Then I have the big tasks like web updates, accounts, newsletters etc which might need 2-3 hour chunks. But then I’m finding my social networking is slipping and replying to client enquiries is getting done ad hoc. I’m an early bird, but I also have to work late for clients after work (I’m a PT) so that means I’m doing 12- 14 hour days which isn’t great – so I’m trying to work out whether I really have too much on my plate or if I’m wasting time somewhere or if my general systems aren’t tight enough which is making each task take longer than it should be. Hmmmmm… today I’m in the office trying to come up with a solution

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