How to Schedule Creative Work

In a previous post, I wrote about managing energy instead of time. This article addresses how we can schedule our day to maximize our creative work.

Maker and Manager Schedules

Paul Graham is a programmer, writer, venture capitalist, and extremely smart with degrees in philosophy and computer science from Cornell and Harvard. After reading his 2009 Article, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”, I began to realize that energy wasn’t the only consideration when viewing my work and schedule.

In his article, Graham asserts that those who manage and those who make (create) view time and schedules differently. A manager’s schedule is a series of hour, half-an-hour, and sometimes even 15 minute time blocks. Such a schedule works well for a manager because meetings can easily fit within those time blocks.

Someone who creates (a maker) needs a different schedule, because creativity takes time and concentration. Most creatives need large blocks of time to create. Graham suggests a half day at least and a full day if possible.

The creative process cannot be divided up into hour long segments. Creatives who get into the ‘flow’ of the creative process don’t want to have to stop to attend a meeting. Such interruptions not only break their sense of flow, but bring their work to a complete stop.

A Ruined Day

Graham shared how morning meetings ruin his whole day. Managers reading his comment may not understand his point. Given their ability to do their work in hour time blocks, they may not see the necessity of having a full day free of distractions. The makers understand completely. When writing about afternoon meetings, Graham comments, “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…[A meeting] doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.”

Having a meeting in the morning, or really, at any point during the creative process moves you from being a maker to a manager, creating tension. Even though the meeting might not be for another four hours, which seems like a long time, just having the appointment in mind and trying to remember it, takes mental and, perhaps, emotional energy. Such energy is important for the creative process, whether painting, writing, or creating a Power Point presentation.

A Maker in a Manager’s Court

After reading Graham’s article, I realize that I am a maker living in a manager’s world. You may feel the same. There are some pastors who are definitely more manager than maker. They can spend all day at the office taking calls, meeting people, and having important meetings. After such a day, they feel like they’ve accomplished much. They may not understand the maker pastor’s need to get out of the office in order to get work done.

In the past, I felt guilty for wanting to ‘hide out’ for a day or two while I worked on sermons, sermon series, articles, blog posts, or some other creative endeavor. I’d hear the more managerial types talk about pastors who were “never” in their office as if that equated to those pastors not working hard.

I believe I work much harder outside of the office than I do in the office. Creative work is hard. I get frustrated with the notion that work only happens in the office and those who spend less time in the office are working less, or even worse, shirking their responsibilities.

Time is not all the same. Not all work is the same. Creative work is hard work. For the maker, Graham writes, “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.” Yes! Hard work requires time. In order to be truly creative, time is required and an hour here or an hour there simply doesn’t cut it.

Give me a day without interruption and I feel like I’ve accomplished much. Such a day doesn’t happen by accident.

My Solution to Maximize Creative Work

As a pastor I don’t have the luxury of living by a pure maker’s schedule for creative work. Meetings, administration, phone calls, and other managerial work are required. In the past, I would allow my creative work to be interrupted by manager work. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be sure if I had accomplished anything. Sermons, articles, and other work felt unfinished and I felt defeated.

My solution for creative work has been to use a combination of maker and manager schedules, along with a concept called Time Blocking. I schedule one day a week as a study day. I set this day aside for creative work and study. For this one day I use a maker schedule and attempt to limit distractions. Two mornings a week, since my energy is highest in the morning, I use Time Blocking to focus on sermon prep which, for me, requires focus and concentration.

In the office, I operate by a manager schedule and focus on less creative work. I’ll make phone calls, meet with people, process emails, do paperwork, and other Manager type work. Since I have time set aside to do creative work, I can do manager work with full concentration.

I would rather have more maker days than manager days, but I’ll take what I can get. No profession is perfect, so we must each discover, determine, and follow the system that works best for us.

No Guilt. Only Results

In the past, I’ve felt guilty about not wanting to go into the office and now I know why. Knowing about maker and manager roles helps me structure my week so I can get my work done and feel good about it.

Thanks to Graham and his insight into different schedules, approaches, and types of work (maker, manager), I can be more focused on my work and less guilty about my schedule.

I hope a maker/manager scheduling system helps you too!

Action Steps

  • Take a look at Graham’s article.
  • Categorize your tasks as “Maker” or “Manager”.
  • Experiment with Time Blocking
  • Create a schedule that enables you to get your work done and feel good about it.

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