Maker vs. Manager:
How to unlock your L&D team’s full productivity

Posted by Liesl Christle - March 12, 2024


Throughout the day our jobs consist of tasks and to do's that dictate how we focus our time and energy. There are the team meetings, the graphics to create, the one-on-one with that SME, the module to storyboard, etc. All competing with the ding of a chat message, the ping of another email, or the titillating chimes of a Teams call coming through (perfect example - in the process of writing this blog for RS, I may have three Slack conversations currently running).

Most people in L&D can catalogue their day with any combination of these things. For example, in my role here at Reflection Software, my day typically consists of thirty minutes to an hour block of time dedicated to project team meetings, client calls, project reviews, etc. A question or an email may interrupt these blocks of time, but it's relatively easy for me to flip between these tasks. So, when one of my developers came to me and said they were struggling with the number of meetings I was plugging them into - I didn't get it.

I didn't get it because I never realized that I function on a "manager's" schedule versus a "maker's" schedule.

This may be a familiar concept to some, but it wasn't for me until I came across this essay by Paul Graham. He writes "There are two types of schedules…The manager's schedule is for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one-hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour. […] When you're operating on a 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. Plus, you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. Because there's always something coming in 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. For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another, it changes the mode in which you work."

It's a lengthy quote but it perfectly illustrates the differences between someone whose work benefits or is defined by smaller work efforts (managers) and those who need longer stretches of time to create (makers). He goes on to say "Each type of schedule works fine by itself. Problems arise when they meet."


Maker vs. Manager: For Your Team

Back to my conversation with my developer - in my mind, the multitude of meetings were necessary. It provided context and information that, I believed, would create more efficiency and make the project(s) more successful. Instead, it was doing the opposite; it was creating interruptions that were hard to come back from. In the end, it was costing the project more than adding to it.

You're probably thinking "But that's what a job is - nobody can commit copious amounts of time to one task." And - yes - much of the working world operates on a managers' schedule. Paul Graham even acknowledges that most companies and employees function on a manager's schedule, but goes on to say "the smarter ones restrain themselves, if they know some of the people working for them need long chunks of time to work in." Here's some ideas of what that could look like for you and your teams

3 Ideas for Your Team

  • Set office hours - one of the suggestions that Paul Graham makes is to simulate the manager's schedule within the maker's by setting office hours. During these chunks of time, scheduled throughout the week, I would meet with our developers and development teams to discuss projects, address questions, etc.
  • Add creativity to your culture and timelines – the prevailing culture of constant rush and exhaustion is leaving little room to think innovatively and transformative. Author Steven Kotler recommends setting a deadline just far enough into the future so that long periods of "non-time" (time for daydreaming, innovating, etc.) can be built into the schedule.
  • Creative project management – invest in a project tracker app or framework that houses things like status updates, project guidelines, task assignments and due dates, etc. This can help establish expectations and boundaries to support your team, as well as be a place where project information can be quickly shared (potentially eliminating the need for another meeting!).


Maker vs. Manager: For You

While at the top of this blog I identified as a "manager," I think in the L&D space we can agree that many of us are also all makers and need to create space to make. You may feel hesitant to step into that maker role because it doesn't look or feel as productive as a manager schedule. In a reflection on this same article, Emily P. Freeman shared a similar sentiment - "I'm hesitant to let go of a long check off to-do list in exchange for the one or two items that will require more of my attention, more of my focus, and maybe even more of my gifting, but might not give me as much instant gratification at the end of the day."

One of the things that I didn't realize was the cost that not making has on my own work and progress - what type of manager, client-partner, leader would I be if I granted myself some space to set maker's hours?

3 Ideas for You

  • Name where you are at - Freeman goes on to share her solutions for shifting her mindset back to that of a maker, one of which is to name where you are at. Where specifically do you feel stuck? What do you want your days to look like? She states that naming helps discern where we're going, even in something as small and somewhat mundane as our daily schedule.
  • Make time for "disconnected quiet" - This Inc article shares that while building in habits of journaling or nature walks is great, "science is just as clear that you also need plenty of 'non-time' in your routine. If you crowd your days with every healthy habit out there, you're unlikely to get enough of it." These blocks of "disconnected quiet" can have a profound effect on our thinking and creativity, having time to see the big picture or to allow for innovation.
  • Create the right mood - Both Freeman and Kotler agree that finding time for gratitude and mindfulness creates the right mindset for heightened creativity. Intentional reflection allows you to see what is really going on, what you may really need, as well as get the creativity needed to untangle the complicated.


Balancing these two schedules can seem tricky but it can pay off in dividends for your team’s productivity and morale. You might be surprised by the quality of your maker’s work and the speed at which they can accomplish things when their productivity isn’t being interrupted so frequently! Likewise, you might notice how much more empowered your managers feel by the level of focus and participation they receive when they set fewer, more intentional meetings. And when you’re sitting in both roles, you’ll likely enjoy the reduced stress and the confidence you gain in juggling your daily schedule when you ask yourself, “what role do I need to be in today and how do I need to structure my time to wear that hat?”

I can still remember the joy I had walking into the developer’s office and saying, “I get it now.” Understanding that our team ebbs and flows between the two schedules creates an opportunity for conversations and processes that support both the making and the managing of our clients’ requests.

Topics: eLearning, training and development, leadership and development

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