Why programmers hate meetings

(This is from Edition 34 of The Upleveler, our weekly smartletter)


Paul Graham, entrepreneur and co-creator of Y-Combinator, a seed capital firm, wrote in a famous 2009 essay:

"There are two types of schedule, which I'll call the manager's schedule and the maker's schedule. The manager's schedule is for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it's merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you're done."

Graham says that most makers (programmers, writers and other such people who produce things) dislike meetings because:

 “They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.

When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. [...]

For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.”

If you want to lead the self-led, you should know this

More and more smart people are demanding autonomy in the way they work, and the environment that encourages a pursuit of excellence. People who lead them need to know that makers need large blocks of time to do their best work, and that even a seemingly small interruption leaves a large impact crater on their time and energy. 

Here are a few things makers and managers should do to get the best out of both kinds of schedules:

  1. Watch out for fragmentation in schedules. Batch together meetings & interactions such that larger blocks of time are available to makers.

  2. Manager's schedules can be more flexible. So find out when your makers would like to have meetings, instead of imposing your schedules on them.

  3. Everyone, manager or maker, needs time to think, reflect, and work on ideas. Put slots for these in the calendar first.

  4. Figure out how to make meetings more effective. For managers, it could be devising ways to collect information asynchronously. For makers, it could be getting better at articulating progress of a project, especially in written formats. 

Paul Graham is someone in a space where the manager's schedule is the norm, but runs a company that uses the maker's schedule. (We at CTQ also are heavily biased towards the maker's schedule because the autonomy of deciding when to work on what task is a huge factor in our productivity.)

So read up his essay and think about what you might change about the way you work. It can unlock time for your team, make them feel more intrinsically motivated, and produce better outcomes.

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