Meet Your Maker: How To Host Meaningful Meetings For Non-Managers

How makers can reduce the amount of meetings on their calendar

Raise your hand if you feel like you spend so much time in meetings talking about work, that you never end up actually getting any work done: 🙌

We all bring our individual style to the way we work. But most work days can actually fall into two distinct categories: Makers and Managers. These two “ways to work” dictate a lot about how a typical day is structured, what kind of working environment the person needs, and, importantly, how meetings should be structured.

What’s The Difference Between Makers And Managers?

The concept of makers and managers was first popularized by computer scientist Paul Graham, who thought it fit to call out the difference in structure needed for people who are in management positions versus people who are, primarily, individual contributors:

  • A maker’s schedule is comprised of long, uninterrupted time for creation and dialing into the elusive “zone,” otherwise known as deep work. Common “maker” professions include coders, writers, and designers, to name a few. Makers feel frustrated when their calendars fill up with syncs, stand-ups, and calls because these meetings are often extraneous to the results they need to deliver as part of their job.

  • The manager’s schedule, however, involves a lot of communication and coordination between people: Sorting out priorities with other managers and stakeholders, understanding budget constraints, and making sure timelines and workloads are appropriate. Managers embrace meetings, because it’s their job to strategize and synthesize information and decisions to the makers on their team.

With such differences in a typical workday, it’s easy for makers and managers to butt heads over their approach to meetings and communication.

The Meaning Of Meetings

It’s important for managers to be cognizant of the working styles of the makers on their team. It’s common for managers, who are accustomed to back-to-back meetings, to over schedule their direct reports with well-intentioned planning meetings, sync ups, and strategy sessions. Before they realize it, makers find themselves in excessive meetings every day that break up their flow and distract them from much-needed long stretches of no interruptions.

On the flip side, managers need status updates, input, and feedback on the work being done to do their jobs properly. Without being proactive via meetings to get this information, team communication breakdown is at risk.

To paint a picture of a problematic schedule, let’s break down how little meetings here and there can lead to a week where no deep work gets done:

Monday

  • 10 a.m. Say a maker has a Monday morning standup with their manager and the rest of their team, where everyone talks about what they’re working on this week. Sounds reasonable.
  • 1 p.m. But then later that afternoon the maker has a different meeting to talk about long-term quarterly planning, where they are assigned time-sensitive tasks to complete so that management can plan for the next quarter.
  • 2:30 - 3:30 p.m. This time is spent completing the aforementioned time-sensitive tasks.
  • 4 p.m. Standing weekly 1:1 meeting between maker and manager.

Tuesday

Tuesday rolls around and the maker is looking forward to getting some of the work done they said they would complete in Monday’s standup meeting.

  • 10:30 - 11:30 a.m. But wait—they suddenly notice that they have an hour-long morning meeting with another colleague who wants to “pick their brain” about the processes in place on their team.
  • 1 p.m. Then they see there is an afternoon meeting to kickoff a campaign. It’s worth noting that the maker is not a primary stakeholder in this campaign; they’re really just there because they’ve been on the team for a while and people value their opinion.
  • 3:05 p.m. After that, the maker’s manager sends them a message with a few clarifying questions on their quarterly planning work they had done on Monday, which requires a quick meeting to resolve.
  • 4 p.m. The monthly all-company staff meeting rounds out the day.

Wednesday

  • 10 a.m. It’s time for another team standup, and the maker realizes they have gotten absolutely nothing done from their Monday checklist. Yeesh.

See the pattern here? Keen to be involved in the team planning but without taking control of their calendars, makers run the risk of getting caught in a manager schedule when they have a maker to-do list.

What To Do

Effective ways to combat meeting fatique

Fret not: The vicious cycle needn’t continue. There are a few best practices that managers and makers alike can use to combat meeting fatigue and lost productivity.

Advice For Managers

As a manager, think of yourself as the guardian of your team’s time. For the makers on your team, you are the protector of the valuable uninterrupted stretches they need to go heads down and get stuff done. Pretend that poop is raining down from the sky, and you are the umbrella that protects your makers from unnecessary crap falling on their heads. 💩☂️    

This means that if there are meetings where you can speak on their behalf, you should attend instead. You should also be thoughtful about how many standing meetings you have with your team per week, and ensure the agenda is timely and relevant. This helps ensure your time is used more efficiently, as well.

Here are a few best practices that can help managers be mindful of a maker’s time:

  • Team Sync: Host one weekly meeting with the entire team. This meeting should be high level and relevant to everyone attending.
  • Check-In: Have a weekly 1:1 check in with each maker on your team. Use this time to understand what they plan to work on that week, and learn if there are any potential blockers. For example, if they tell you they are receiving requests for one-off meetings from other teams, talk about whether those are meetings you can attend for the maker instead. Some of these meetings may even be something you can encourage the maker to decline entirely.  
  • Batch: Try to plan for both of these two meetings to fall on the same day, thus giving the maker more deep work days entirely devoid of meetings. Also, instead of scheduling one-off meetings for separate agenda items, prepare ahead to instead include those discussions in standing meetings (see below section on Structure).
  • Allow Autonomy: By only requiring the maker’s time for two meetings a week, a personal one and a team one, they then have more time to decide whether they want to take some of the one-off meeting invitations they’re receiving.
  • Structure: Setting a structure and agenda to each and every meeting is key for an efficient use of time. Making that structure and agenda open to team input makes that time relevant and valuable. Provide a place meeting attendees can access any time and add agenda items to make the process democratic—plus then no one forgets what they wanted to talk about! A great way to keep meeting agendas organized and open to the entire team is with a meeting Trello board.

Advice For Makers

For makers, it’s important to take an active role in managing your time. You are the one that knows the ins and outs of how you work best, and it is up to you to communicate that to your manager.

Here are a few tips for taking back your focus time:

  • Be Proactive: Block off entire Maker days. Make these times clearly visible on your calendar for anyone trying to schedule a meeting with you. If someone proposes a meeting with you on your Maker day, feel empowered to decline and request a new time on a non-Maker day. Take control of your calendar.
  • Adopt A Manager Mindset: It’s important to remember that Makers and Managers are not always black and white terms. Sometimes your to-do list will require you to assume a manager schedule, too! If that’s the case, try to push those manager-esque responsibilities into one day of your week. Knowing ahead of time that at least one day will not be focused on heads down work can help you better plan your week.
  • Embrace meetings (when needed): Lengthy convos in chat or desk drive-bys are also time sucks. Cut down on those unscheduled distractions by being fully engaged and “manager-esque” in the meetings you do attend. Keep detailed notes and questions that you plan to ask others during those valuable syncs.
  • Host office hours. Allot specific time on your calendar during which the team knows they can ping you or attend an open meeting to ask non-urgent questions or requests instead of taking those here and there over chat or in casual convos.

Whether you’re a Maker or a Manager, one thing holds true: Your time is important. You have expectations and deadlines to uphold and it’s important for you to manage your time in order to complete everything on your plate. Having empathy and understanding the workday demands of your teammates is the first step towards a happy, healthy, get-er-done approach towards productivity and work satisfaction.

 Good or bad, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello) or write in to support@trello.com.

Next: Tweak These 5-Minute Productivity Tricks To Make Your Workdays More Organized

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