A designer and developer’s productivity can be and is often greatly affected by the schedule and length of meetings. It’s the classic “square peg in a round hole” problem. Anyone who has ever worked on a team with designers and developers has likely seen this phenomenon.
Venture capitalist and developer, Paul Graham explains this as the difference between “maker’s schedule” and “manager’s schedule.” Makers are those who create (e.g., designers, developers, writers, etc.) and managers are essentially everyone else on the project team. According to Graham, the manager’s schedule, on which most companies run, revolves around blocked hour or 30-minute increments where appointments and meetings take place. Generally speaking, most people don’t think about a 3 p.m. meeting until 3 p.m., and once it’s over, it’s over.
It has been done this way for years because for managers, this type of schedule has been tested and proven to be the most efficient way to schedule a day. However, what about makers and more specifically, designers?
The Maker’s Mind
The maker’s mind relies on an uninterrupted supply of attention in order to focus on the task at hand, known as mental inertia.
For example, say you send your designer two meeting invites for tomorrow, one at 10 a.m. and another for 3 p.m. Breaking up his/her day can spell disaster for his/her productivity. He/She (the designer) now has to be aware of the upcoming meeting and whether he/she is prepared for it. It is likely that the upcoming meeting has nothing to do with what he/she is currently working on, thus a work interruption will be almost unavoidable.
Once a meeting has concluded, there is a definite “ramp-up” time (i.e., headphones on, coffee in hand, clicking through design inspiration) in order for the designer to get back to his/her original task. The time exchange rate is not in his/her favor. The 10 a.m. meeting that took 30 minutes out of the manager’s schedule translates to about an hour for the designer. The process repeats itself later that afternoon, around 2:45 P.M., when the meeting notification signals a reminder for the meeting, and also signals the end of that day’s “making.”
Though sympathetic to the plight of makers in arms, I’m not ignorant to why things are the way they are. Having led projects myself, I know the importance of regular status updates and verbal discussions of any challenges that arise. That said, I’ve discovered a few adaptations that can make the makers’ lives a little easier when working with others that may not have the same expectations of time.
Call Early and Often
This probably goes without saying, but no one can see what is going on in your mind until you make it visible to them. Radio silence = lack of productivity. The more often you provide status updates to those that are directly and indirectly affected by your work, the better off you will be.
As mentioned earlier, the more information you provide upfront, the less likely you are to get ill-timed questions, meetings, and/or other similar interruptions. In my opinion, it’s better to be told to lessen communication then to be told that not enough communication is occurring.
The simplest way for me to keep up with this has been to update others as soon as a task is completed. For example, if I’m using an issue tracker , I try to provide as much commentary, context, and additional information as possible to anticipate questions that may arise. At the end of the day, I create a status email chronicling what I’ve completed that day and my plan for the following day.
It is important to remember to avoid conjecture or other opinions when providing this documentation. Having the ability to cite sources, examples, and/or conversations will give your explanation more credibility. I’ve found that for some managers, this level of communication coupled with earned trust means that not all daily stand-up meetings may be required.
This isn’t always feasible, but when possible, it is certainly a win. If nothing else, over-communication gives your team members, especially mangers, confidence in you and provides a reference point when solving other problems.
Prioritized lists have always been a part of any agile or other software development team method. Most teams I’ve been a part of have used some sort of project management or issue tracker software to manage tasks and expectations. As a maker, the better you can keep those globally shared lists updated, the fewer questions you will get, and consequently fewer meetings you will be required to attend. Truth be told, I usually keep my own personal list so that I can prioritize my day. Tools like Clear and Cheddar have been helpful in allowing me to create simple “today” task lists that are uncluttered by the tasks of others or those I plan to work on the following day. Admittedly, this will take a little extra time to set up, but once done can be invaluable.
The 15-minute Rule
Keeping distractions to a minimum is always important for productivity. The same goes for “ramp-up time.” Giving myself a time limit to deal with distractions and go through the necessary ramp-up has proven invaluable. I’ve learned that 15 minutes is a good amount of time to get refocused or solve the occasional small task that may come my way. I know it’s psychological, but limiting it to 15 minutes helps me focus and “get there” quicker so I can prevent derailment. I’ve found my handy “15-minute glass” to be an easy way to keep track of temporary interruptions.
Bringing It All Together
There is no “magic bullet” solution to the disparity of two distinct ways of scheduling one’s day. However, there are ways for makers to work better with managers. Both makers and managers must be flexible and aware of each other’s needs. Being conscious of the disruptiveness of meetings and other requests of designers’ and developers’ time is paramount. With awareness, flexibility, and a strategy even the most disjointed teams can find a way to work together and do great things.
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