In the beginning, there were tasks you completed and tasks you didn’t, and that was about the scope of it. Then came calendars – powerful tools for organizing the day, where your appointments were managed and your work-life scheduled. Soon, they grew too full, with meeting after meeting leaving too few time slots for real focus. Our schedules became chaotic, and with that, productivity was slowly and painfully eroded!
But it doesn’t have to be that way! We each have different rhythms and roles, and all hats can be worn by a single person if managed correctly. It’s about organizing your time based on these patterns and fitting your calendar to your work rather than your work to your calendar.
Managers and Makers: Different Roles, Different Rhythms
When we talk about different “roles” in the context of scheduling, we are referring to the Maker’s Schedule and Manager’s Schedule, laid out in an influential piece by Paul Graham more than a decade ago. Here, we explore what they mean and how they can help you schedule more effectively.
The Manager’s Schedule
The Manager’s Schedule is what most people would picture when they imagine a business calendar. Each day is chopped up into hour-long chunks; these chunks are then filled with various tasks, meetings, and more. Sure, if you know that a task is going to take some time, you can block out a few hours, but it will still be part of that hour-by-hour schedule.
This is ideal for one-on-one and team meetings since you just find a slot and you’re ready to go. However, it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to focusing on more significant tasks.
The Maker’s Schedule
The Maker’s Schedule divides a person’s time up into chunks of at least half a day. These long work periods allow a person to deep dive into what they are doing and focus properly, providing an uninterrupted time slot for longer tasks.
This is great for tasks such as writing or coding, according to Graham. However, when on a Maker’s Schedule, a single hour-long meeting in the afternoon can throw the whole day out the window.
While you can try to shoehorn people into one or the other of these schedule types, most companies will require a mix of the two. This means that Managers will be clashing with Makers and vice versa as they try to get through their respective workdays. What’s more, it is increasingly common that individuals, especially freelancers, will take on each role’s elements. They won’t be a Manager or a Maker; they will be both.
These mixed responsibilities can be fantastic for a more dynamic work environment. Still, if people’s time isn’t managed correctly, they can end up switching and mixing tasks, which is ultimately counterproductive. You will have meetings scattered throughout your week, with larger periods of focus padded around. This leaves no space to slot in a meeting for business development nor the focus to complete bigger tasks.
Task Switching vs Task Mixing for Productivity
Task Switching is when you move between tasks. Task Mixing is moving between different types of tasks. Both result in reduced productivity and performance, but only one can be managed by you!
You are almost certainly familiar with the feeling of having to get your head out of one task and into the next – getting back into the zone – when switching between what you’re doing. This is the penalty to your productivity that’s incurred when Task Switching. There is no way to avoid this if you have to work on multiple tasks.
On the other hand, Task Mixing is the penalty incurred when trying to go from one task type to another task type (e.g., from presenting a paper to quietly reading). You’ll already be suffering the effects of switching, but these will be exacerbated by how different the tasks are. They require entirely different levels of focus, skills, and energy, so the time it takes to re-adjust to work is longer.
The key is to batch tasks. Batching tasks is putting similar tasks together to minimize Task Mixing’s impact while recognizing that Task Switching will always be a problem. Many of us may pride ourselves on the ability to manage a busy and varied calendar. However, to think that through practice, we can switch, mix, and stumble through different tasks all day without a hit on our productivity and performance would be short-sighted. Yes, practice will help, but it can’t completely eliminate the problems this kind of messy workflow creates.
So how do you balance a Manager’s and Maker’s schedule while batching tasks to minimize mixing? The answer is a staggered calendar.
What is the Staggered Calendar Technique?
The staggered calendar technique is a way to batch your tasks (and the tasks of your team) in a more logical and organized way. Yes, you could just pick a day to have all those meetings and another on which you only file paperwork, but come on, we can do better than that.
A staggered calendar involves scheduling tasks in layers of one-on-ones, team meetings, and full-focus days for a functioning shared calendar that keeps all team members doing what they do best.
How to Use the Staggered Calendar Technique
Using staggered calendars is relatively simple. For example, if you are the editor of a team of two writers, you could schedule individual meetings with each of them on a Monday morning. This would be a Manager’s Schedule for half the day, chopping up your morning, and that of the writers, into meeting slots and then leaving the second half of the day for “making”—no mixing.
This would enable any potential problems to be relayed to the writers first thing in the week and allow them to get to their Maker’s Schedule of deep-focus for the remaining days.
You would then do the same on Tuesday, giving over the morning to meet your manager (in this case, the publisher) to pass on important information in a “waterfall” of work. The publisher may stick to a full-time Manager’s Schedule, but now they’ve got everything they need, it won’t clash with the Maker’s schedules of the rest of the team.
Example of a Staggered Calendar
If we look purely at the meeting commitments just mentioned, you can see clearly how a staggered calendar works. This simple structure allows for information to be passed along the chain in a logical and efficient manner, ensuring everyone knows where they stand at the beginning of the week and that there is ample time to really focus on more demanding tasks.
Meeting w/ Editor
Meeting w/ Jo.
Meeting w/ Writer 2
Meeting w/ Publisher
Meeting w/ Editor
By combining high-level schedule types with the knowledge of switching and mixing, you can plan out a workflow that will keep people focused, productive, and doing what they do best. What’s more, this staggered calendar allows for a waterfall of information to flow through the company, improving communication and stopping problems blocking progress.