My first paying job was a regional sales administrator at Radio Shack. That was the summer of 2000, and about 50% of the job was putting in the hours.
I had set duties involving culling mountains of sales data in Microsoft Excel, and then large expanses of the day set aside for me to resolve customer complaints. I could handle zero to 25 customer complaints during a day.
Mostly, my job was to be there. And that required just one shift.
Today, I’m blessed enough to have more autonomy over my activities. On a given day, I can choose to dig into a new subject, explore and evaluate some risk that I perceive to my stocks, make introductions to new industry contacts, or add complexity to my financial models. But, a large portion of my day also still involves being present — being able to respond to market developments, current events and field answers to client questions.
Thus, like many of us in the information economy, I work a double day.
There are the office hours where I’m present and able to answer questions and perform administrative tasks and respond to news. But my best creative productivity, with long stretches of thinking, modeling and writing, happens after stock market close and sometimes goes well into the night.
Programmer and investor Paul Graham writes a compelling essay about this concept on his blog. The managers, he says, are the ones who can gather for coffee and hold speculative meetings. The makers are the ones who need large, free expanses of time to create. And many of us are in between.
Here’s an excerpt:
I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.
When you’re operating on the manager’s schedule you can do something you’d never want to do on the maker’s: you can have speculative meetings. You can meet someone just to get to know one another. If you have an empty slot in your schedule, why not? Maybe it will turn out you can help one another in some way.
Business people in Silicon Valley (and the whole world, for that matter) have speculative meetings all the time. They’re effectively free if you’re on the manager’s schedule. They’re so common that there’s distinctive language for proposing them: saying that you want to “grab coffee,” for example.
I appreciated his take on scheduling. It’s definitely worth reading the whole essay.
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