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In this enlightening article, Paul Graham explains why meetings seriously damage the “maker’s” schedule. Makers are programmers and writers according to him, or those who do their work in chunks of time (morning, afternoon) and not by hours (such as many managers). Academics, at least those I know, are makers too. His point is simple–because makers need blocks of time, such as a morning, to get any real work done, an hour long meeting can make that whole block of the day unproductive. He even suggests that it could make the whole day unproductive due to a “cascading effect”:

If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.

This is so true. First, the empty day for writing is utopia. Second, my days are often so impacted in the way he describes by a meeting. If the meeting is on a day I am not on campus, I further lose time commuting and so on, and am further depressed. Unless I have lots of little things to do, meeting often do ruin a whole day of productively.

Oddly, I had not really thought of my work like this. I have at times tried to do things in hour segments, but then I’ll get rolling writing, and the last thing one wants to do when in this state is stop. Who knows when it will come again. I’ve noticed the impact breaks–like meetings have–but hadn’t gone this far with it–I hadn’t articulated the fact such breaks interfere with how I work.

Paul Graham offers some ideas on how to work with both the maker’s and manager’s schedule–such as after work or late afternoon meetings. Another thing I have found helpful is lunch meetings. We all have to eat and since lunch often is the divided between the morning task and afternoon tasks, it works nicely. This may mean the afternoon tasks begins a bit later, but I still end up with most of my afternoon chunk. Another idea, which many might not like, is early meetings, possibly before work. Or we could just get rid of meetings, but sadly I doubt that would ever work…

What other makers are there out there? Are you a maker?

Thanks to Annette Vee for posting this link on Twitter (twitter.com/advee77).

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