Daniel W. Drezner

Reason #7,845 why I will never be secretary of state

Via Andrew Sullivan, this Paul Graham essay on the difference between managers and makers captures an essential truth about why academics are both bad managers and bad at being managed. Graham is writing about computer programmers, but his observations are generalizable to most of the creative class:  There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call ...

Via Andrew Sullivan, this Paul Graham essay on the difference between managers and makers captures an essential truth about why academics are both bad managers and bad at being managed. Graham is writing about computer programmers, but his observations are generalizable to most of the creative class: 

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.

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.

I think the problem might even be worse than Graham suggests. Speaking personally, the hardest part of any research project is at the beginning stages. I’m trying to figure out my precise argument, and the ways in which I can prove/falsify it empirically. While I’m sure there are people who can do that part of the job with a snap of their fingers, it takes me friggin’ forever.  And any interruption — not actual meetings, but even responding to e-mail about setting up a meeting — usually derails my train of thought. 

[What about blogging?–ed.  Nope, that’s different — that tends to happen more organically.  In fact, if I get a thought that seems blog-worthy, the act of blogging itself will clear it from my brain and allow me to focus on the primary task at hand.] 

Readers — does this ring true?

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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