Updated on 09.17.14

Makers and Managers: How It Can Help Your Career

Trent Hamm

And now for something a little different…

I recently read a fantastic article by Paul Graham entitled Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, in which Graham outlines that people who “make” things run by a much different work schedule than those who “manage” things. A key excerpt:

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.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. 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. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

After reading this and reflecting at length on many of the twists and turns my professional life has seen, I came to realize that the schedule is just one of many professional differences between managers and makers – and the most successful places where I’ve worked have found ways to make these differences work.

First, an aside: the terms “manager” and “maker” themselves deserve some reflection. I think the best way to look at it is this: does the person in question create something wholly new during their time or are they moving resources around? For example, a system administrator fits better in the “manager” category most of the time, while a programmer fits better in the “maker” category. A janitor would actually be a “manager,” while a brochure designer would be a “maker.” Got it?

Let’s walk through some of these, starting with Graham’s point.

Schedules and Multitasking
As Graham observed, makers often must focus on a single task. The challenge of creating something new requires full attention, often for extended periods, and without that full attention, it is incredibly difficult for a maker to do their job.

Managers, on the other hand, are inherent multitaskers, suited to deal with things as they come along. They solve problems as they come and simply focus on the next task that has to get done.

Unsurprisingly, these two butt heads, as Graham notes.

What’s the solution? I like the solution that worked well at one of my previous workplaces. All meetings were to be scheduled on Wednesdays, preferably first thing in the morning. We might have three or four meetings in there, but they were all lined up together so that there would be as little interference as possible with uninterrupted blocks.

Wednesday mornings usually involved one central “all hands” meeting, then several smaller meetings, often pretty informal, with specific groups. We all knew that this is what Wednesday mornings meant, so we planned around it – no seven hour tasks for Wednesdays.

Beyond that, there was a second simple rule: don’t interrupt someone if their door is closed. An open door meant that the person wasn’t bearing down on a problem and you could chat with them freely. A closed door meant “send me an email and don’t expect an immediate response.” This was a useful cue for the manager types and the maker types.

Problems to Be Solved
Managers often focused on problems of people and resources. How do we keep this system running? How do we resolve this personal conflict? Who do we hire for this position?

Makers often focused on creative problems. How do we write this piece of code? How do we make this experiment work? How do we model this phenomenon?

What’s the solution? In effect, it became clear that in the optimal workplace, the managers served the makers. If the managers were doing their jobs well, the makers would be focused on their problems without hindrances.

Another important step in this area is that when great products came from the makers, everyone got credit for it. The system administrator might not have any idea what the solution – or even the problem – was about, but by bringing his skills to bear in solving computer resource issues, he made it possible for that solution to occur and thus deserved some of the credit.

There was a strong culture enforced that you were looked down upon if you didn’t give plenty of credit where it was due.

Managers were often focused on tangibles: people, equipment, and products. Their communication often demonstrated that, as they would describe things entirely in the real world.

Makers were often focused on intangibles: ideas, theories, and potential solutions. Their communication often revolved around these areas, things that might mean very little to the managers.

What’s the solution? Everyone – managers and makers – had very clear and specific concrete goals in mind – the end products. Then, everything was discussed in terms of those products. The managers would think about what resources needed to be applied to get that product. The makers would focus on solving the creative problems that would need to be solved in order to produce the product.

Who would represent the work when talking to others? It depended heavily on the audience. At conferences of peers, it was often the makers who took the stage, as they could talk about the concepts quite well. When pitching the results for more funding, the managers would take the stage, as they were focused on the concrete elements of the results.

Obviously, makers tended to build good connections with other makers and managers tended to build good connections with other managers. That’s not to say that relationships didn’t bridge that gap, but the strongest connections were between makers and between managers, not crossing that gap.

Obviously, both styles of connections are really useful. Makers and managers can bounce ideas off their peers, but crossing that gap can provide really useful insights as well.

What’s the solution? In terms of conferences, makers went to meetings where makers congregated and managers went to meetings where managers congregated. Connecting with peers was the key here.

However, inside the office, there was often a point of having that manager/maker gap crossed. Managers and makers would often have lunch together. The head of the office might be seen having a dinner with a newly hired programmer, and a researcher grinding through an intense project might be eating with a system administrator. Many special projects would involve a maker and a manager working together, too.

What Can You Do?
So, how can you put these ideas to work where you are? I suggest five tactics for making your workplace more useful for everyone (which will not only improve your own standing, but help everyone get more done).

First, make an effort to schedule some big blocks of undisturbed time and make the schedule clear to everyone, even outsiders. Suggest this to everyone in your office. In effect, create some periods where, no matter what, people won’t be disturbed from their work (without an utter emergency). This gives makers time to settle in and managers time to focus on more introverted tasks (and meetings with other managers).

Second, try to bundle meeting times. See if you can find a certain day of the week that’s mostly devoted to meetings and other such interactions. This makes the uninterrupted blocks much easier for everyone to implement.

Third, offer comments that focus primarily on the end product. Don’t worry about what printer goes where (unless you’re the system administrator, in which case you should deal with it on your own) or what algorithm to use (unless you’re a programmer, in which case you should talk about it directly, programmer to programmer). Instead, when you’re meeting together with both managers and makers present, focus on just the product. It’s what you all have in common and it’s what you’re all focused on in the big scheme of things, so focus on that. Take the implementation details elsewhere.

Fourth, keep the product in mind when you’re working, no matter what you’re doing. Almost everything you do has some connection to the end product. Keep that connection in mind – and make that connection clear to everyone. Even things like expense reports have a connection – they help compensation for trips or other activities go to the right place, and those trips and other activities helped the product. If there truly is no connection between your task and the end product, you should be asking why this is happening.

Finally, give lots of credit, always. The artist doesn’t accomplish much if the janitor doesn’t empty the trash. The janitor doesn’t have a job if the artist doesn’t produce. You need each other and you both deserve recognition for making the end product a reality. This doesn’t mean you thank every single person for every single thing, but you never lose by thanking contributors of all kinds whenever you’re talking about your work. The managers make life manageable for the makers and the makers make life for the managers.

Time and time again, I’ve seen that modern workplaces thrive when they do more of these things and waffle when they do less of these things, from my years working for a huge employer to my days working for myself at home. You win – and everyone wins – when everyone realizes they’re really working for the same things – a great product, recognition, and a fat paycheck.

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  1. Shannon says:

    Too long to be useful.

  2. Allen says:

    Great post, Trent. Your finance posts are what keep me coming, and I enjoy the breaks when you deal with cooking (big fan of the batch of breakfast burrito’s). This is even a larger departure, and it really resonated with me. I’m currently transtitioning from a software development position into a sales engineer position, so this is perfect timing, thanks for this! There is an eternal struggle between the makers and managers, with neither side able to understand the other. These are some great tips to grease the wheels of both sides.

  3. J says:

    Aspects of my job fall into both the “manager” and “maker” categories. I am responsible for some projects, which means I must produce documentation, write code, wrote tests and also do some design. These seem like “maker” tasks. The problem comes in when I need to get input from others to make a project progress forward. In that case, I need to put on my “manager” hat and get people together. Usually this means a meeting, generally with other “makers”.

    There are some really good points in the article, though. I think in my organization, anyone (maker OR manager) getting large blocks of time to get anything done is probably a good thing. Managers are often tasked with long-term strategy, planning or investigating improvements to existing business processes. These are not activities that can be done in the space between meetings.

    In addition, as time goes on and either a maker or manager becomes more senior, their time becomes more scarce. For makers, this can evolve into a mentoring, consulting or architect role — which means they will need to be more in the manger role, and for the teams who are seeking their expertise, they will likely need to meet when they can. For managers, a similar situation develops where their time may be so constrained that teams may need to meet when it’s possible.

    I also like the idea of raising the “resolution” for tasks to be completed. This, of course, differs by organization, but most places I’ve worked, weekly is about the best you can possibly get for some maker tasks to get reported on. Trying to force the resolution to daily (or hourly!) can become more headache (aka overhead) than it’s worth to keep up with. This isn’t to say that a maker can do one thing a week, more to say that managers should consider a weekly check-in sufficient to keep up with what’s going on with their people.

  4. “Do what you do best and let others do the rest.”

    This might be the best post ever written on creating a successful office workflow. Managers should pay close attention, but “makers” can use it to present to management as a way of optimizing their talents and output.

    Personally, I feel multitasking is completely overrated and counter productive to most workers (except managers of course) and leads to an increase in costly mistakes. If managers can be made aware of the need for certain employees to be left alone to do what they need to be done the whole organization profits.

    The company you worked for was very enlightened. Most companies work on the management by disaster method and seem to operate in a state of perpetual crisis. That’s a pure catch 22.

    Having worked heavily in finance over the years, the type of allocation you describe was practically a foriegn language; every employee needed to be on high alert to put out the next fire. Obviously, the financial industry has not been able to save itself with crisis management.

  5. J says:


    “multitasking is completely overrated and counter productive to most workers”

    I completely agree with this statement. Of course, management too often thinks it’s entirely the same thing to assign seven things to be done simultaneously and expect them all to finish at the same time. It’s likely far more effective to assign one (or possibly two) things to get done and end up getting the same work done with higher quality and a lot more time spent “in the zone” of working on the task.

    Context switching might be possible for a machine to do quickly, but it’s certainly not something easy for a human to do. The overhead in switching up is extremely large.

    And, of course, add in things like email, voice mail, IM, text messages, mobile phones and a culture that expects 100% availability all the time, and things just don’t get done as well as they could.

  6. Jayson says:

    Excellent post. Lots of great information on managing your time and setting up other’s expectations. Hopefully I can start working some of this into my own routine.

  7. Tyler says:

    As a “pencil-pusher” in accounting I got a kick out of your comment “even expense reports have a connection.” The point is excellent, virtually every effort is a team effort and therefore all accomplishments should be credited to the team.

  8. Damester says:

    Trent writes:
    “If the managers were doing their jobs well, the makers would be focused on their problems without hindrances.”

    Amen, you hit the nail on the head. If managers really did their jobs, which, to me, is creating and maintaining a workplace that allows people to work easily and without interference to finish assigned and agree upon tasks/deliverables, work would really BE about work. Not politics, personalities and popularity.

    But managers for the most part focus primarily on THEIR deliverables to THEIR bosses. Most do not care about their own workforce and do harm by dictating how staff should work, when, etc. instead of focusing on creating an environment where people, who are competent and professional, can be left to do the work needed to meet their deliverables, on deadline.

    Good managers don’t allow their people to be forced into unrealistic situations (impossible deadlines, those that negatively impact product/service quality and can ultimately fail customers’ needs, expectations)or to be expected to perform in unhealthy (literally), toxic and demeaning environments. They don’t “play” people against each other and departments against each other to curry favor with the big bosses.

    Of course, if you had a company that was structured so that people knew their responsibilities, were left alone to do them, got the resources and cooperation from fellow staffers they needed, they WOULD NOT NEED so many managers, if any at all. So it’s counter-productive for managers to create an environment that could run, essentially, without so many managers, if any at all.

    it’s like companies that have offices all around the world and whose staff, for the most part, could telecommute. But since the managers have to be on site, they make sure that their staff is on site too. Even if the staff could be more productive working from home or somewhere else.

    You can’t be a manager if all your people telecommute and don’t need you standing over top of them every day to “ensure” their productivity. No wonder so many places, including IT-based, still discourage telecommuting, subtly or otherwise.

    This was an intriguing article and shows that you may want to seriously consider expanding beyond your base of writing just on money/frugality/food.

    FYI: A janitor isn’t a manager, he/she creates and maintains a clean space. A janitor is also a maker.

    And if a manager is good, he/she is also a creator and maker: of a productive and healthy workforce and environment.

  9. Wayward says:

    This article really does resonate. I’m the only person in our company dedicated solely to our website production and I’ve gone from being a “manager” in the design/development phases, to being a “maker” once the site was operable. I was handed the “manager” tasks again in June, and I know the budgeting pieces are coming my way in August—and I think I’m finally finding the balance between manager and maker. It’s been an adjustment. Most of my meetings seem to fall on Wednesdays, so I’ve just made Wednesday my check-in, follow-up, and training day. Anything that crops up during the other days of the week goes into a file for me to deal with on Wednesday, unless, of course, it’s urgent.

  10. Moot says:

    I am in the interesting position of being both a Maker and a Manager. I am a software developer, but I also am the lead developer of a small team. Not only do I have my own projects to “make”, but I also have to “manage” the productivity of the other developers.

    I maintain an open issue list and assign each issue an estimated duration, or how long it should take. Being a developer myself, I have insight into defining these estimates which a non-developer manager might not. And you know what? Some things really should take no more than an hour, even factoring in wind-up time and accounting for the occasional bump in the road. Not every bit of work is like writing the Next Great Application, requiring weeks or months of intense concentration.

    When my people spend “units of half a day at least” on small bug fixes or modifications (and it does happen), I get very frustrated. I don’t like to micromanage, but when our rolling backlog of “estimated time to complete everything” averages around 30 days per developer, we don’t have that kind time to waste.

  11. Susan says:

    Here is an interesting book for you to review. It’s entitled Teach with Your Strengths and it is based on research by Gallup. As part of the book you take an on-line survey which uses your responses to determine your top 5 out of 34 strengths. Essentially when we try to work on our weaknesses, those things at best become mediocre. By focussing on those natural areas of strength and improving them, those areas become excellent. We still need to mediate our weaknesses but focussing on them is not entirely productive. I am an educator but it speaks to my management and inter-personal style. I see those times when I use my strengths at home or at church. While it was beneficial to read about my own strengths, it is more useful/revealing to know the strengths of my co-workers so that their stregths can be use to more projects ahead, etc.

  12. J (5)–“It’s likely far more effective to assign one (or possibly two) things to get done and end up getting the same work done with higher quality and a lot more time spent “in the zone” of working on the task.” OK, we’re playing dualing quotes here, but a good point is a good point and well worth repeating.

    Time spent “in the zone”, I think that’s a lost realization in business. Does anyone agree that we’ve seen a dulling of the lines between management and staff (including makers)?

    Management has a crisis, and it’s everone’s crisis–“stop what ever else you’re working on!” (Which itself then ironically is the beginning of the next crisis!)

    I think this is largely caused by the slavish devotion to real time delivery. You can and should have that in some businesses, but it’s being attempted in areas where it really isn’t doable, but the public has come to expect it.

    Real time may be great for us as consumers, but as workers, it’s keeping our backs against the wall, and we’re often working off balance. Not many people can thrive in that environment, not for long at any rate.

  13. George says:

    If you think being “in the zone” is lost in business, you ought to try working for government!

  14. Amy says:

    It’s my opinion that the single biggest thing makers can do to enhance their career prospects is learn how to better recover from interruptions.

    Seriously, being available for interruptions is often a huge part of a path to success. Developing a reputation as helpful and knowledgeable means interrupting your own work to answer coworker questions. Being a mentor also requires being accessible and interruptible. Dealing calmly with crises, responding to changing priorities, serving clients (internal or external), managing up…all of these work best when you can be responsive, and all of these are part of being a leader – at any level.

    Two things I’ve learned are crucial. First, there’s no reason you can’t handle a few minute interruption without losing the zone. For me, this is something that just took practice, but now I can put that mental state on hold for a couple of minutes to answer a coworker question, have a quick IM conversation, or fire off an urgent email response, so long as it’s relatively brainless.

    Second, where and how you leave off can make a huge difference for getting back into the zone. I find that just after a natural stopping point is best. So if you’re writing, and have just finished a document section, write the first paragraph of the next section and then take a break. When you come back, there’s a bit of information to get you back in your mindset, but not enough to be overwhelming. As a result, I can be virtually as productive in two hourlong intervals as in one two hour interval.

    Finally, as someone who is both a maker and manager, changing my productivity schedule was huge. I used to plan my major work for late morning and mid afternoon – early mornings were for waking up, lunch was for socializing, and late afternoon was for planning the evening.

    Now, I know that late morning and mid-afternoon are also when I’m most likely to get questions, emergencies, meetings…interruptions in short… because that’s when everyone else is cranking, so I try to sit down and make myself do one important piece of work first thing in the morning before I catch up on blogs, respond to my email, find out what my coworkers did last night, and so on, and a second late in the afternoon when most people are starting to wind down. I’m an evening person, so I usually try to get in an uninterrupted hour in the morning, and two or three in the evening for my “making”. The other stuff still happens…it just happens at different times.

    Now that I manage people as well…on the one hand, I’m sympathetic to the challenges of getting into the zone, but on the other…the reality of business is interruptions, and I think many people on at least some occasions use them as an excuse for not putting forth their best effort.

  15. cookie says:

    Great post that is relevant to both corporate and independent workers. I will have to make the time to read the original article. I’ve never thought of this approach to productivity, but it’s quite relevant considering that my group had an entire meeting today about improving efficiency of meetings! Our managers complain about meetings that don’t start and end on time, but don’t see the bigger picture of whether or not a work day broken up by meetings can be a productive day.

  16. guinness416 says:

    Fantastic comment, Amy. Jibes wit my own experience also (but far better written than I could have managed!)

  17. Doug says:

    I frequently grapple with the question of how to find a company that aims for this type of environment. As a manager interviewing candidates I’ve found that very few people ask questions that probe these aspects of being an employee. Yet they are more important to longevity than the technical points du jour that consume many interviews.

  18. Lenore says:

    I wish I would have read this post while I was still working. As a “maker” with Bipolar Disorder (which often feels like Attention Deficit Disorder in the manic phase), I really should have been blocking off half a day for creative projects and planning. When I did my few managerial tasks or scheduled meetings, I could have put them at the beginning or ending of the day or around lunch.

    Oh well. Coulda…woulda…shoulda. Now I stay home and write blog replies at six in the morning because I can’t sleep even though I’ve been awake for 20 hours. Then in a few days, I’ll probably crash and sleep for 20 hours in a row. Folks with mental health don’t know how good they’ve got it. Anything you can do to reduce stress,increase productivity and keep plugging along at work is worth trying. Trent, you may have saved someone’s job by sharing this concept.

  19. J says:

    @Moot — Have you taken a step back and thought about the methodology you are using to develop your software? It sounds like you fix bugs when they come up and then make more features.

    Where I work, we have been using a lot of the philosophy from Toyota (The Toyota Way, you can read about it on Wikipedia or pick up a book) applied to software development. When a defect is found, the source of the defect is tracked down and eliminated — meaning not only the code itself is modified, the process that allowed such a defect to get introduced is eliminated, as well.

    We have been working on this program for a few years now, and the results are simply stunning. We have something like 80-90% of our development teams working with zero bug counts, and the remaining 10% are rapidly approaching zero. New features introduce far fewer bugs than before, since we spend more time on requirements and design work and less time on coding. We also do far more comprehensive testing.

    This process does, of course, require buy-in from management (not to mention the ability to stay the course), but from our situation, it’s been great. Releases go out on time with ever-increasing quality, features are delivered on time and the overall stress level is consistently lower in the organization. Also, customers know the product is a quality product — so they still purchase it, even in difficult economic times.

  20. I think that if nothing else, knowing which you type you are, manager or maker, will help to provide some clarity as to the situations and environments you might flourish in. I’ve never seen it described in such simple terms, but it helps to explain why some people thrive in fast paced environments while other fold.

    It isn’t that one is better than the other, but that they’re different functions, each being productive in it’s own way. Getting into your groove, to the degree it might be possible, could reduce a lot of stress and improve your performance.

    Also, I do think age plays a part here. Multi tasking is easier when you’re young (generally) but as you get older you begin to realize the value of concentration.

    I’m seeing myself as more of a maker/reluctant manager, and it should help sort things out going forward.

  21. Anna says:

    As a self-employed person I am both maker and manager. With a few minor changes in language, this article is highly relevant and useful to anyone in my position.

    #1 Shannon: I must respectfully disagree with you; this post was exactly as long as it needed to be to get all the relevant points across. Just look at the appreciative comments that follow.

  22. Walter Daniels says:

    I was a computer expert (consultant), and Network Operations manager, in various forms for nearly ten years, in both academia and two State agencies. I found this article fit my experiences well. When I had to write programs, or do some of the voluminous reading necessary, I had to be in Maker mode. Less so when reading, but very much in programming work.
    I had to give up programming work after I was hit by a car and couldn’t concentrate that deeply any more. I can’t speak for others, but for me, programming is like building a 3-D puzzle in my head. I have to see where everything fits, and how it works together, to “build” it. It was also the same way when I wrote documentation, or training manuals. Of course there I had to “be the user.”
    I had to see the program from the viewpoint of the end user, so I could explain it properly, and show how to use it. It’s difficult to do this, if you’re being interrupted on a regular basis. Made more difficult when dealing with “Technological idiots.”
    A good manager knows his or her strengths, as well as weaknesses. If they confuse weakness with strength, it destroys their function as well those trying to work under them. Especially if they believe that they know more about something than the real experts do. In these cases, the manager destroys the effectiveness of the maker, by setting unrealistic goals, or telling users they can have things that can’t be done.
    The description of the “Toyota way,” is a good model for any process. Something “going wrong” in my experience, is never a “one time happening.” Something caused it, and will continue to cause problems until fixed. It can only get worse, not better. Whether the problem is personality types, managerial processes, or programming processes, it needs to be fixed. Looked at properly, a company, or any other organization, is the same as a computer program in operation. Something is “input,” operated on (managed), and “output” is created. It doesn’t matter if the system produces physical output, or non material effects, it’s all similar.

  23. Carmen says:

    I found this to be a very interesting model to look through. It gave me a lot to think about as a manager-type.

  24. Amy says:

    The constant downsizing of our Fortune 500 Co’s workforce has made us all so darn busy and so involved with everything that it’s a miracle to find any hour on any day when the key people needed in a meeting can all meet, let alone planning all that for Wednesdays. I agree that learning to deal with interruptions is the only way to get anything done, and even that is hopeless some days.

    Frankly our managers and our makers are both in short supply and we operate on crisis most days. Throw in some metrics and govt regulation and, well, I can’t imagine this business environment ever being calm and productive or conforming to any productivity improvement efforts–though we do try. We are constantly preached at to be transformative and agile, but some days there just aren’t enough hours to get it all done, no matter your work philosophy/style.

    I like the theory but haven’t found it to mesh w/reality very often.

  25. Howard says:

    There is a lesson for managers here. At my very first job I worked my way up from minimum wage to assistant manager. I was swinging a mop when the manager walked up, took it from me and handed to an employee who was standing there. He took me aside and said; “Never do a task when you have an hourly paid employee just standing there, your job as a manager is to see that they have a job to do.” That one little lesson has stuck with me and shaped how I manage people.

    As a manager you provide the resources to the makers and assign the overall goal, then step back and let them do their job. If you can minimize disruptions you will have happier more productive makers.

    Now I’ve been both a maker and a manager and throughout most of my working life I’ve been both at the same time. I can see a clearer delineation if you work in an office within a corporate structure as I have. However if you work in the field you often wear both hats.

    Repair and maintenance work for example often involves meetings and time management. There are customers to meet with and jobs to schedule. You’re definitely a manager in this respect. Now when it comes down to the actual task at hand you’re a maker. You may be making an unclogged drain, mowed lawn, leak patch in a HVAC unit, painted wall, part replacement, equipment installation, clean window, carpet or toilet. Regardless the goal for the manager of these hybrid maker/ managers is the same, provide the resources, assign the overall goal then let them do their job.

    Makers and managers are actually two legs of a three legged stool the last being the “producers” or salespeople and sometimes you are all three a maker/manager/producer. But that’s another story.

    In reference to the article I will point out that janitors in the truest sense are makers. As a janitor you are making a toilet clean not having a meeting with it.

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