Just as with my 10 Commandments of Working From Home post, I wrote this as a way to explore my thoughts and hold myself accountable. I don’t know if anything here will resonate with anyone else. I plan to do a retrospective on this post at a later time and evaluate how I’m doing.
Those interested but unfamiliar with the concept of the maker’s and manager’s schedule, should checkout Paul Graham’s post on the topic:Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule
As a developer and someone who has always worked on the maker’s schedule, the idea of breaking up my day into individual hour long blocks and switching to the manager’s schedule has been the most intimidating thing about transitioning to my new role as account manager at Bocoup.
Not because of all the meetings, but because I wasn’t really sure how to remain productive; and I feared that being off the maker’s schedule for too long could inhibit my ability to support the team.
At first, I believed there might be a way to stay on the maker’s schedule despite my new role being a management one in which I’d be attending and organizing all kinds of meetings everyday. Greg Smith and Brian Abent warned me that this was probably not possible.
They were absolutely right. It took less than one day in the role to realize my initial idea was completely outrageous. There was no way to retain even a shred of the maker’s schedule when managing multiple teams, projects, and customer relationships.
But what if I moved the goal post?
Re-imagining the manager’s schedule
Once I realized some kind of modified maker’s schedule was impossible, I spent time thinking about potential side effects of the manager’s schedule, and came up with a list of things I wanted to avoid.
- The impulse to bounce from task to task or “fire to fire” as dictated by the ring of a phone or the receipt of an email; and more importantly, the tendency to pass this hyper-activity and lack of focus on to the rest of a team.
- Needing to be “always on” in order to feel productive. Losing personal/professional life balance.
- Thinking the only way to ensure proper communication is including everyone in every meeting.
- Scheduling meetings “for a whole hour just in case” as a way to pad out one’s schedule and avoid potential conflicts instead of effectively time boxing meetings.
- Conflating being “busy” with being effective, productive, or supportive.
The urge to constantly check email whether through a mobile device or on a computer is something that makes us feel productive, like “we’re getting out ahead of problems”, but is that true?
In my view there are three kinds of email transactions we deal with on a daily basis:
Reactive: Replying to an existing email on some particular issue forces us to recall lots of information about overall context along with the nuances of an individual’s personality and motives; this takes more cognitive bandwidth than one might expect.
Try replying to a string of reactive emails then going directly into a meeting without feeling a hit to your attention span.
Promissory: Sending a new email as a means of starting a dialog is essentially a contract promising one’s time and attention when the other party responds. This is future cognitive debt.
Static Information: Emails that do not require anyone to respond and usually don’t take too much of a cognitive toll, unless the information being communicated is complex in nature and must be carefully worded or read. These emails are dangerous because they can be irritating to the receivers if the frequency of them isn’t tempered.
I try to work through my inbox in a strategic way that reduces the tax on my overall productivity and attention span based on what type of email it is and how much time I have available.
Always Connected and Auto-Sync
It’s well established that frequent interruptions are toxic to a programmer’s productivity and overall happiness. For this reason I’ve always avoided having my phone on auto-sync and as a rule don’t use it for work email or calendaring.
This is a practice I feel capable of continuing at least in some capacity. My colleague Bob Holt suggested that sharing the calendar with my personal email account using view only permissions would offer the majority of the benefits without the baggage of full “always-on” connectivity. For now, I’m getting by without doing this, but it’s a compromise I could live with.
My current system for staying on top of my schedule involves reviewing the day’s calendar about 30 minutes after starting work and tomorrow’s before going home.
I’m still figuring out what this looks like in different situations, and how best to go about achieving it for myself, but one thing has become clear to me from exposure to various management styles, the key is: seriously listening and caring about people. The trick is doing it all the time no matter what external pressures or forces are present.
Being Straightforward and Honest
Avoid weasel words and niceties. Trying to be “nice” is not being respectful, as far as I’m concerned it’s the opposite. “Beating around the bush” is confusing and doesn’t give people the chance to effectively advocate on behalf of their ideas. More importantly, it increases the risk that people will have different takeaways from the same conversation.
I believe people are more than capable of defending their ideas if provided with the proper venue and opportunity to do so.
Don’t Encourage Ass Covering Activities
This one isn’t about assigning blame, it’s the opposite. Everyone makes mistakes, but unless mistakes are explored honestly and openly, it’s very difficult to avoid them in the future.
Maybe someone accidentally overwrote the production database. First and foremost, this shouldn’t really be a problem because proper backup and restore procedures are in place (right!?). However if we don’t understand why this happened we can’t fix it. Maybe it’s because the deployment process required someone to be SSH’d into multiple machines and they copy and pasted a command onto the wrong box.
No one on the team should feel like they’re going to be embarrassed or shamed for making a mistake. Mistakes are often an indicator that processes and support structures need to be improved, and rarely due to incompetence or malice.
Behaviors That Help
Here, in no particular order are behaviors that have helped me remain semi-productive:
- I don’t check my email until I’ve been at work for at least an hour.
- I avoid checking emails/messages while in other meetings.
- I try to avoid back-to-back meetings. If I have more than 10 minutes between meetings, I time box the excess and check my email. If I have less than 10 minutes I DO NOT check my email. Instead I try to decompress from the previous meeting and review notes for the upcoming one.
- I try to take good notes. My notes tend to be things I think might help the team or clips of conversations that convey motives and priorities.
- I heavily lean on filters and colored labels for email.
- I bookend the work day by reviewing my calendar.