Productivity

How To Manage Time with people who make stuff

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Paul Graham has a great article on Manager schedules and Maker schedules on his blog. It’s a post I revisit every week as I strive to work out how to balance my management tendencies with the NVM Dev team’s desire to get stuff done.

In a nutshell Paul makes the point that manager schedules tend to be hourly and based around meetings and time slots. Yet makers schedules tend to focus around un-interrupted blocks of time where they can make things.

I see this with myself. When I’m in manager mode I have meetings all scheduled in neat blocks. In maker mode (writing, tinkering with electronics, photography) I like big chunks of time to lose myself in the flow.

Even in my management role I still need to make stuff. So how do I manage time with people who make stuff? How do I balance this as a manager in a growing Dev Team? Well, I’ve not nailed it yet but here are a couple of ideas I’ve been experimenting with.

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Schedule meetings on one or two days a week leaving the rest of the week free

To try and achieve the goal of leaving most of the week free I tried to cram the majority of my meetings with my team on to Monday and Tuesday. It didn’t work.

It didn’t work because it was emotionally draining having back to back meetings all day right at the beginning of the week. It also didn’t work because my work is often emergent. This meant I often had to re-prioritise new work over existing meetings. This had a ripple effect when I canceled a meeting. I would then end up rescheduling a whole host of meetings, thereby blatting my clear week. It happened week after week. There was basically no slack in my work schedule when I crammed meetings together.

About a year ago I also introduced an idea of “no meetings” Thursday to the team which failed miserably. For some reason Thursday’s ended up being the day we had the most meetings on. It didn’t work because we simply had too many meetings.

Since then we’ve reduced the number of meetings but it’s still pretty tricky to find a whole day where it is possible to have zero meetings.

Schedule meetings just for the morning

The next tactic and the one I stuck to for some time was to schedule meetings just for the morning.

This meant that I only had a short period of time in which to get through my 1:1s with my team and deal with other meetings. Of course, I also had no control over when other people booked meetings, but I did start blocking out maker time in my calendar so I could get my work done.

It was pretty tough to get to see everyone as often as I would have liked with just morning meetings. It was reasonably successful, but it was just too rushed. After stand-ups and other work meetings it was a rush to get through 1:1s/meetings/coaching before lunch and that was no good for anyone.

Trying to balance my own time whilst respected that of my team is a perennial challenge and one I don’t think I’ll ever conquer. However, the one that’s mostly working for me now goes a little something like this.

Current scheduling idea

No meetings Monday morning

Who wants a meeting on Monday morning?

For me, Monday mornings are for blasting through tasks to get my mind set on productivity, getting my head back in to the week’s work and looking ahead to see what my calendar looks like. Not for meetings.

No more than three 1:1s in any given day, mostly in the morning

By limiting the number of 1:1s I do during a single day I have the energy for the people I am seeing that day. By limiting them to the morning (where possible) I also don’t interrupt the afternoons very often.

Respect other people’s calendars

If someone’s calendar is looking free for large chunks of time then I respect that time.

I try to book meetings close to an existing meeting, or close to the start or end of the day to cause the least amount of breakage of clear time.

Coach the team on using a calendar event to block out large chunks of time

Adding work to a calendar is a good way of helping to make sure it gets done. I suggest to my team that they add calendar events for work such as exploratory testing, brainstorming and thinking time. The calendar event not only doubles as a schedule of their own work but it also stops others from booking meetings (mostly).

No meetings on Fridays (except coaching sessions)

This gives me the chance to work from home and have an entire day to be in maker mode.

I sometimes do coaching sessions but I try to clear a whole day for making.

No meetings over lunch

Simple one this but lunch breaks are important.

Conclusion

The above helps me to interrupt the team less, get more time for myself to make management stuff and ensure their is ample time for emergent work.

I’m still trying the get the right balance between maker and manager and it’s a tough transition to make, but the important point to make is that it’s not about me. It’s about the team. The team are making stuff and the last thing they need is me booking meetings in the middle of their maker time.