"Makers" Schedule

Another great essay by Paul Graham. This time about keeping control of your schedule to ensure large chunks of uninterruped time. Paul can sometimes wear programmer-colored glasses and this essay is no exception. I completely agree that programmers are one group that often needs uninterupted time, but they are not alone in any way. Even Paul's bogeyman -- "managers" -- often need uninterrupted time to focus on problems of strategy or operation (or any other type of problem or goal). There are LOTS of ways to do this. Paul mentions office hours as a way to consolidate and shorten meetings. We've been doing that for product counsel legal advice for years now and I highly recommend the "office hours" approach. In a large organization, it can also have big benefits in terms of reminding people that maybe they should drop in to ask your advice on something as long as you consistently schedule the office hours and hold them in visible locations (our preferred room was a glass walled room on a busy walkway in the center of campus).

Some other things I have heard tried:
  • Meeting Mondays (or no meeting Thursdays): The important thing here is that you designate certain days as acceptable for meetings and others as not throughout the company. The fewer exceptions, the more likely this will work.
  • Meeting with yourself: My calendar at Google was world-writeable within Google. That meant that if I wanted uninterrupted time, I had to schedule it. One way to do "no meeting Thursdays" is to just schedule yourself for an all day meeting with yourself on Thursday.
  • Retreats: Being in a physically different place as well as being "booked" for uninterrupted time can be amazingly productive. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, two other programmers turned managers like Paul, to regular extended retreats to think.
I'm sure there are many more ideas along these lines and I'll try to update this post with links as I come across them.
Update: David Weinberger on office hours.


certified career coach said...

As a programmer-turned-manager, I've experienced firsthand the need for uninterrupted time to focus on strategy and operations. One technique we've implemented successfully in our organization is the concept of "meeting Mondays," where we consolidate meetings on specific days to free up the rest of the week for uninterrupted work. Additionally, scheduling retreats in a different location has proven to be incredibly productive for me and my team, following in the footsteps of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. Overall, finding ways to protect large chunks of uninterrupted time is crucial for both programmers and managers alike.

pre listing inspection said...

Just implemented the "no meeting Thursdays" at my startup after being inspired by your post, and the results were immediate and transformative. It's refreshing to see the intersection of programming and management advice. Also, loved the anecdote about Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos—gave me ideas for my next team retreat!