Across The Board

Updates, inspiration, and musings from the folks behind Trello.

Maker vs. Manager: How To Schedule For Your Productivity Style

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Are you a manager or are you a maker? Or are you both? Maybe it depends on the day of the week or maybe it depends on your mood, but knowing which hat you’re wearing can make or break your ability to get what you need done for the day.

What’s the big deal? Well, being able to identify your role, even if it’s temporary, will allow you to properly schedule your day for maximum productivity. A simple way to think of your role is maker vs. manager. Makers are individual contributors with a specific skillset: designers, developers, writers, etc. Managers coordinate projects, manage teams, develop their direct reports, and make sure their team is moving forward.

Each of these distinct designations require a different type of schedule. Optimizing for the wrong schedule can mean an annoying day of unending meetings when you really need to be heads down, or a lonely day trying to do work when really you need to be connecting with others on your team. Let’s dig into what makes each of these schedule types unique.

The Maker’s Schedule

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The maker’s schedule is comprised of long stretches of uninterrupted time. I repeat:

  • Long: You should be able to block out however much time you need to get “in the zone.” Research shows it takes as long as 30 minutes for makers to hit that sweet spot of flow where things really start to happen.
  • Uninterrupted: This is the key. No Slack...really, no Slack. No phone notifications.  Nothing but the sheer pleasure of a cup of coffee and an empty screen.
  • Stretches: You may need more than one in a day. For some people the key is something like the Pomodoro technique which drives you through multiple short stretches of time delegated to certain tasks.

When you have standup meetings, status update meetings, every conceivable meeting in your day, the reality is you will not get what you need done. Even one meeting in a stretch of otherwise uninterrupted time can be a disaster, since it will take you another 30 minutes to get into your flow.

The Manager’s Schedule

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The manager’s scheduled is comprised of meetings. Preparing for meetings, scheduling meetings, rescheduling meetings, having meetings, and debriefing meetings…oh my!

Whether it’s one-on-ones with direct reports, or status update meetings, the job of a manager is to, well, manage. That means knowing what is going on with their team, the broader company, and removing blockers from team members to make sure projects are moving forward and hitting company goals.

From a scheduling perspective, this means lots of face time (whether it’s in person or virtual doesn’t particularly matter) and lots of hopefully short but well-run meetings.  Your calendar should allow for these types of interactions.

The Hybrid Schedule

Sometimes, your job may be a maker, and sometimes your job may be a manager. Understanding what role you are playing is critical for communicating with your team on what to expect from you that day.

Like most things concerning teamwork, communication is key. In fact, you should over-communicate your schedule (especially if you are remote) to set yourself up for a successful and productive workday. Remember, you hold the key to your own productivity.

Calendar Woes

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Once you’ve identified your role and understand how to lay out your time to be successful, the next step is to tackle your calendar. This is where most people self sabotage because they don’t plan ahead.

If you’re in maker mode:

  • Block out your calendar for long stretches of uninterrupted time.
  • Let your team know you won’t be in Slack during certain time blocks.
  • Remove other distractions like phone notifications.

If you’re in a company where people schedule meetings by sharing calendars, it will be crucial to write things like “No Meetings Please” in pockets of time directly on your calendar.

On my team, we’ve established that Tuesday and Thursday are Maker Days. We try not to schedule meetings on those days, especially with people in primarily “maker” roles. Sometimes, however, this rule gets broken if there is an urgent need to meet.

Everyone is aware that things can change quickly, but they also know that if a meeting is not “urgent,” then it can wait.

If you’re in manager mode:

  • Figure out your best cadence for meetings. Some managers like to have all of their 1:1 meetings with direct reports on the same day each week. For others this is too many meetings. Some keep afternoons open for meetings.
  • Communicate your schedule to your team. Some managers allow employees to grab empty slots on a shared calendar. Others can just mention in Slack, “Hey, I have office hours this PM if anyone wants to meet,” etc. Whatever schedule you decide, make sure people who may want time with you know it.
  • Be mindful. It’s important to be understanding of others on your team who may follow a totally different schedule, especially the makers. If you’re pinging them on Slack when they’re in maker mode, they may feel the need to respond to their boss right away and break their flow. Try to use asynchronous tools like Trello to ask non-urgent questions.

Maker vs. Manager: Use The Tools

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Everyone seems to have strong feelings about calendar tools (au revoir Sunrise!), but not using tools correctly can be a giant waste of time for makers and managers alike. Here are some tips I’ve found to be super useful in streamlining my calendar use:

  • Stick to one calendar tool. Syncing between products tends to be an issue, so try to find a calendar you like (whether it’s Fantastical, Google Calendar, etc) and use it religiously.
  • Allow your team to schedule meetings on your calendar. Scheduling meeting back and forth is the ultimate waste of time, so why not share your calendar and allow team members to schedule time with you when it’s convenient for them. If I’m trying to schedule a meeting with multiple team members, I just pull up all of their calendars in Google Calendar, and find a convenient slot without bugging anyone.
  • As mentioned before, communicate on your calendar. If you’re following a Maker Day schedule, mark it clearly on your calendar with “No Meetings” or “Open for Meetings,” etc. This way if everyone is scheduling meetings, they won’t get set for a time you’d like to save for focused work.
  • Use Calendly for external meetings. As a manager, you likely get a lot of requests for external meetings. For the ones you select to take, a calendar scheduling tool like Calendly can greatly reduce the absurdly complex process of figuring out a time to talk. These tools allow individuals to choose times that are best for them and reschedule without bugging you. This is a dream automation that saves so much time, and optimizes for convenience for both parties.

This may seem like overkill, but getting a good calendar process down and identifying the maker vs. manager schedule will change your life and increase your productivity. Because who doesn’t want more time?

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