The 6-Hour Maker-Manager Work Day

by Venkat on April 30, 2012

There are some ideas that keep popping up. They’re like Rome. All roads lead there, and you end up finding different viewpoints for the idea depending on the path you take.

The Maker-Schedule/Manager Schedule idea from Paul Graham is one such. It may be his most fertile idea.

Once you get used to thinking of work-tempo management around the idea of two fundamental frequencies (4 hour maker upcycles and 1 hour manager upcycles) you have a  framework for analyzing many different types of creative class work. One conclusion I’ve reached is that if you do both kinds of work, you’ll end up working 6-hour days. Here’s why.

The industrial era workforce (laborers and supervisors) invented the 12-hour day, which later got negotiated down to the 8-hour day. It was a limit set primarily by raw energy levels. Even supervisors were basically in very physical roles. Only business owners did what we would recognize today as creative-class work: letter-writing, working with ledgers, meetings, blueprints, and so forth.

The late industrial age achieved a clean division between the two basic types of creative-class work: making and managing. As Graham’s original essay points out, the workplace until the 90s was designed around manager schedules because they had the power and arranged schedules to suit themselves. There was enough slack that the maker-inefficiency was absorbed without fatal impact on profits.

When the entrepreneurial era started, the tables were turned. Manager schedules started adapting to maker schedules. Meetings came under attack. The idea of “Office Hours” grew. A subset of the maker-manager workgroup (which doesn’t specify size or relative proportions of the two archetypes) emerged: hacker-hustler, generally used to refer to a minimalist, balanced two-person maker-manager team.

In the hacker-hustler mode of entrepreneurial work, the hustler sees his/her job primarily as carrying out an offensive campaign in the marketplace and a defensive campaign to protect the hacker from disruptions to his/her schedule. Keep the money flowing, keep the meetings minimal.

But now, even this is not enough. It is increasingly hard to find great hacker-hustler pairings that create a lot of impact. So a lot of people try to do both. You have hackers trying to pinch-hit at hustling, and hustlers trying to pinch-hit at hacking.

These mixed schedules are very hard to develop and maintain in a disciplined way.

Having experienced all three (pure maker, pure manager and mixed), I’ve concluded, based on anecdotal evidence, that a pure maker on average, can sustain 8-hour workdays indefinitely, provided there is no managerial interference. Pure managers can generally sustain 12-hour days for long periods (this is because many meetings allow you to relax instead of being “on”).

But a mixed maker+manager schedule seems to hit its ceiling at about 6 hours. This is often a 3-2-1 pattern. A 3-hour session of maker-work, a 2-hour block of messy mixed work (such as email), and a 1-hour meeting.

If you are forced to do both kinds of work, try to break them out by entire days. If you cannot, and end up with a lot of 6-hour mixed days, you’ll be somewhere between 75% to 50% as productive as on pure-mode days.

Alex Ragus May 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm

So how do you go about billing these 6-hour days? Are your “deep-focus” hours more expensive than your others?

Venkat May 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm

🙂 that’s a tough one.

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