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Maker vs. Manager

In 2009 a computer scientist named Paul Graham wrote an essay called “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

Graham explained that employees in the modern workforce are often expected to work in two different “modes” throughout the day: maker and manager.

"Maker" mode is when employees are engaged in difficult, cognitively demanding tasks for the purpose of generating new ideas and creating new products. "Manager" mode is when employees bounce between meetings, phone calls, and emails for the purpose of keeping others informed and maintaining daily operations.

The problem - Graham argues - is constantly shifting between maker and manager is difficult. To effectively generate new ideas and create new products, staff need sustained periods of uninterrupted time. Unfortunately, today's workers are conditioned to immediately respond to every request crossing their desk.

This scenario is far too familiar for school leaders. Those who begin the day determined to analyze student data or draft a faculty presentation quickly abandon those projects in favor of handling student discipline and teacher requests.

While there is nothing wrong with the manager role, school leaders cannot neglect their maker duties. In short: Managers keep the school afloat. Makers push the school forward.

So how can school leaders balance the maker and manager schedule?

Graham suggests employees divide the workday into two parts: "One on the manager's schedule and one on the maker's.”

"Easy for a computer programmer to say," you may be thinking. "The school schedule is unpredictable!"

While their calendar may not be as flexible as a programmer, school leaders severely underestimate the level to which they control their daily schedule.


Before we go any further let's complete a quick science lesson.

Each of us has an individual chronotype determined by our natural rhythm of waking and sleeping. This pattern of circadian rhythms influences our physiology and psychology - meaning time of day has a significant impact on our mental performance and mood.

Our chronotype determines whether we are a "morning bird" or "night owl." Approximately 75% of humans - myself included - are morning birds. The other 25% are night owls.

Regardless of morning bird or night owl status, all humans have three distinct parts to their day:

Peak: Energy levels and mood are optimal

Trough: Energy levels and mood deteriorate

Rebound: Energy levels and mood recover

Morning birds follow the pattern of peak (morning), trough (midday), rebound (late afternoon) while night owls follow the pattern of recovery (morning), trough (midday), peak (late afternoon).

The trick for high productivity involves matching our DNA to the type of work we complete during the day. In theory, morning birds should complete their complex work - maker work - in the morning and leave their straightforward work - manager work - for the afternoon. Alternately, night owls should begin with easier work in the morning and save difficult work for later in the day.

To summarize, morning birds should be makers in the morning and managers in the afternoon. Alternately, night owls should be managers in the morning and makers in the afternoon.


Given my early bird standing I have crafted a daily schedule that allows me to take advantage of this natural sequence.

My secretary and I are intentional about scheduling cognitively demanding tasks in the morning and filling my afternoon with procedural duties.

Morning work examples include facilitating administrative and 1:1 meetings, long-range planning, preparing for meetings, and tackling large projects. Sample afternoon tasks include returning emails and phone calls, building walkthroughs, writing personal notes, and completing paperwork.

To be clear, alignment of the "maker in the morning, manager in the afternoon" schedule depends greatly on the schedules of other employees. In many instances we schedule far enough in advance to reserve an ideal time slot. But other times we make do with what is available.

At home it becomes much easier to ensure my schedule matches my mental state. Upon waking my mind is recharged and focused - the perfect time for writing, projects, and other creative tasks. By afternoon my mind is scrambled so I transition to reading, social media posting, and other leisurely activities.

While not every schedule allows for this strategic use of time, school leaders with foresight find they can build a calendar that matches their inherent productivity preferences.


One more idea to consider before ending the maker schedule, manager schedule discussion.

If you are in the early bird majority, don't forget some of your staff are likely to be night owls. Often, there is a tendency for early birds to label night owls as "lazy" and "sluggish" when in reality these individuals cannot control their biological processes.

School leaders should make an effort to understand their employees' unique cognitive differences and encourage employees to create a schedule matching those productivity patterns.

Whether employees are makers in the morning or makers in the afternoon should not matter.

What matters is employees complete their job at a high level before the day is done.



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