Read This If You Hate Meetings

This is the best explanation I have ever read of why I hate meetings so much, and why other people love them. If you are like me, you should save this link and simply forward it to anybody who asks if you’d like to “grab coffee” or “have a quick phone call to pick each other’s brains” or, God forbid, actually go somewhere and sit around a table with a lot of other people and have a proper meeting.

It is written by Paul Graham, and it divides the world into two kinds of people — managers and makers:

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. 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 use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the 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. There’s always something coming on 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.

If this is a topic that interests you at all, you should go read the whole thing. It is very well thought-out and very well written.

Perhaps I say this simply because I agree so strongly with what Graham has written. Sometimes I am on a manager’s schedule. But when I am writing a book — not researching it, but writing — I am a maker. I try also to be a functioning husband and father during those periods, and to pay the important bills, but beyond that I eliminate just about everything. This is hard to do, especially if I’ve been on a manager’s schedule in previous months, during which time I interact with a lot of people who, naturally, come to expect future interactions.

But when the time comes to write, I disappear. I reply to as few e-mails as possible, rarely answer the telephone, and try to turn down every invitation that isn’t vital. When I fail to turn something down I inevitably regret it, and I am guessing the people who invited me regret it as well, for I am distracted and cranky. A book is like a child who never naps, never goes to camp, always needs care and feeding, and whose presence gnaws on you if you dare neglect it.

Having read Paul Graham’s wise words — seriously, go read it already — I feel somewhat less guilty about being such a jerk during my “maker” periods. I have developed a too-complex set of responses and coping mechanisms to protect my writing time, but Graham has given me and everyone like me permission to simplify that mess and see the world as it is: people for whom meetings are their work, and people for whom meetings are a disaster.

That said, I do look forward to this current maker’s period being over (soon!) because I really like a lot of the people that I meet with. Just not when I’m busy being a maker.

I am interested in hearing from both makers and managers on this topic.

(Hat tip: Kottke)

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COMMENTS: 141


  1. Derick says:

    I understand your thinking and I’m sure my father (a software develeoper who hates pointless meetings and the like) would enjoy this, but I think this marginalizes managers too much and makes the “productive hero” image the exclusive property of the direct design position. You know that makers wouldn’t be able to succede without a well-managed company to work within, at least typically, or else companies with no managers would form and blow the rest out of the market. Integrating the complexities of the business world also requires extreme productive enthusiasm; they’re not all just full of hot air.

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  2. Derick says:

    The terms “maker” and “manager” for example seem to imply that managers aren’t producing anything. Which is the same premise a physical laborer would make to you that you’re not a “maker” you’re a “designer” or something.

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  3. Chance says:

    Almost everyone hates a poorly run meeting. Unfortunately, most of the ones I attrend are poorly run. First, determine if a meeting is actually necessary. If other methods of communication are adequete (email, phone, web 2.0) use thopse instead. If a meeting is necessary, write up an agenda, alert attendees to it, and then stick to it. Some tangets are okay, depending on the topic, but for the most part don’t allow the dialog to get too far off topic. Next, make it as short as possible – it should only be just long enough to get the task completed. Finally, make sure everyone understands the next steps – another meeting, individual tasks, no further action, whatever. There should be no confusion on this.

    If more meetings were run like this, fewer people would hate them.

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  4. Eric M. Jones says:

    Here’s the plan: In the corner of the meeting room is a floor to ceiling glass cylinder a foot in diameter. Inside the cylinder is a gentle fall of $100 bills…gently falling like Autumn leaves. This should remind the managers of the cost of the meeting.

    Scott Adams “Dilbert” has already said what has to be said. Somehow the management has become occupied by characters who can’t do anything else. And they have good hair. Narcissistic personality disorders fly right to the top. This is typically, but not entirely, an American-British disease.

    In World War 2, you could drop a dime to the FBI, tell them you saw the boss speaking German on the phone and see these “managers” frog-marched out as industrial saboteurs. Now these frauds just wreck the companies while getting huge bonuses.

    No one travelling on a business trip would be missed if he failed to arrive.
    –Thorstein Veblen

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  5. Fred says:

    Wow, someone has finally validated what I have believed for many years. As a structural engineer who actually sits down, performs calculations and develops construction drawings, I have found that two well scheduled meetings at say 10 AM and 2 PM meeting can essentially destroy my entire day. My productivity falls to perhaps 50% of what it would be with no meetings.

    With cell phones, backberries, etc, things have gotten even worse. I sometime find myself hiding in a small conference room in the office space of a different division of the company, where no one can find me, in order to get things done.

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  6. charles says:

    Poor Eric. What a burden to live with. Sure there are those types…as well as others, people worthy of learning from.

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  7. A. B. says:

    As a business analyst responsible for eliciting requirements for software products, I definitely agree with this viewpoint, and would only add that some people (like me) represent a third type of people, that aren’t neither managers nor “makers”, but rather analysts that design processes, systems, etc.

    For this third kind, I think that meetings are extremely valuable when they occur for the right reasons (typically make decisions that allow the analyst to move forward with their design work). Analysts typically can get work done in smaller chunks of time so they are not as badly affected by a meeting breaking their day in smaller units of free time as makers are.

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  8. Fred says:

    At 1:

    You are correct. As an engineer, I have seen plenty of firms poorly run by engineers who do not understand the importance of managing. However, mangers also need to understand managing engineers, and how their actions affect their employees.

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  9. Kristen says:

    As a research scientist, I really identify with this! During periods of bench work and writing, I’m in maker mode, but the whole process requires collaboration which necessitates a switch to manager mode. One problem that arises is fragmented time; short periods of 5-30 minutes when I’m switching between one mode and the other, and for all intents and purposes, completely ineffective. I’m still trying to solve this problem.

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  10. dreamking says:

    Throwing around such a broad term as ‘maker’ grates my ears and reeks of self-serving narcissism. Why not just call all the people who potentially waste your time, and by implication disrespect your value, Muggles?

    Honest laborers and physical craftsmen would not so easily agree to call writers (English-language or C++) ‘makers’.

    I think everyone is better off not playing EST-inspired definition games. I say this despite being in total agreement that people engaged in design, architecture or writing work often work better in looser-defined blocks of time. I strongly disagree the text you’re directing people to is a good description of this very obvious fact.

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  11. Howard Tayler says:

    I believe the book Peopleware addressed this exact concern thirty years ago. It amazes me that in spite of the increasing prevalence of “makers” in the same office building as “managers” we haven’t internalized this principle.

    I used to work as a manager at Novell. These days I work as a cartoonist for me. The scheduling needs between the two could not be more different, and yes, they’re exactly as Paul Graham (and DeMarco and Lister before him) described.

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  12. Mike says:

    @Derick – I don’t think Graham is implying anything bad about Managers in this (He’s one himself, but hes also a Maker). Managers are needed to organize and run things, just as much as the Makers are needed to make things. This article is just a good explanation of how the two working styles don’t agree very well. As a programmer myself, I try my best to only allow meetings on one day a week, I know that day is going to be shot, but I do need to sync up with management (and other programmers), so it’s a necessary evil. Just last week, I had a day with only 2 1/2 hour meetings, but they were split up so that one was in the middle of the morning and the other was in the middle of the afternoon. I tried, but got nothing productive done that day. It’s just the nature of the beast. But I can also see why the 1-hour chunk meetings that managers work in works well for their style of work (for one, it’s just a more social work where as programming is more solitary)

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  13. sue says:

    totally nails it – writing from a copywriter’s point of view – sometimes you need an entire afternoon to get into a creative writing “groove” – a meeting breaks it up – or you’ve gotten into the groove and have to stop for a meeting.

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  14. Richard Hendricks says:

    Kristen,
    We used to have that problem at my old company. What we did to try and solve it was to agree to only have meetings during part of the day. It was decided that meetings could only be held in the afternoon. This way work could be done in the morning when we were fresh, and before meetings had an opportunity to demotivate anyone.

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  15. Mike says:

    BTW – I have a meeting scheduled in one hour. But I’m reading the Freakonomics blog rather than working because I know I can’t get anything done in that hour.

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  16. Jim says:

    Meetings are usually a waste of time, especially if the subjects to be discussed are off-tracked! Usually, people (truthful people)abhor going to meetings. Some people are not even involved in some discussions! Meetings are usually a façade, not involving the true feeling of the person speaking them! Usually the company line on subjects that company policy. Managers usually call meetings because they want to be “coddled.” The most important way to communicate, that is receive information and give information is an informal talk to the individual or individuals, it is definitely more useful and truthful.

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  17. DaveyNC says:

    The author, Mr. Graham, is in the IT field it sounds like and so he is almost certainly familiar with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” book and the concept of “Mind like water.” If not, he should check it out. I highly recommend it, as well, particularly for someone who is project-oriented.

    Link here: http://www.davidco.com/

    And here: http://www.davidco.com/video/index.php

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  18. Mark Shocklee says:

    After reading this article and the comments, I feel like the person in the middle of an argument between the angel and devil sitting on my shoulders.
    My angel is encouraging me to say that the article made an unfortunate choice of words. Instead of ‘maker’, it should have been pointed out that programmers, analysts, engineers, and writers spend most of their time doing tasks that require a startup and tear-down period. Managers have the same experience when they write reports or work on presentations. Conversely, tasks that have discrete duration, such as dealing with user accounts, scheduling reports, and changing system parameters are similar to the type of tasks that make up a majority of the managers schedule.
    My devil is encouraging me to ask the managers exactly what they ask me for all the time – what is the ROI on your tasks? How exactly do the tasks that you perform contribute to shareholder value? And you cannot use intangibles to justify the task – I want real dollar values.

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  19. Gary says:

    I’ve been both a Maker and a Manager. I agree that a manager has to set aside time when it’s not disruptive to the maker to attend manager meetings. Part of the communication gap between the two schedules is due, in part, to the fact that the manager has little added value in a makers meeting, so they don’t attend, but a maker can add value to both types of meetings. But the maker may not appreciate that because it’s possibly loosely related or unrelated to their maker activity.

    Also, there are two types of behavior in business (and in life)- scheduled activities and event driven activities. The manager has to deal with both types of activities. The maker is focused soley on a makers scheduled activity and unscheduled events are viewed as disruptive to productivity.

    We an all experience both acitivities in every day life. If I plan and execute a job, like painting the house, it requires planning, preparation, setup, execution, teardown, cleanup, and storage. If I get interrupted at any point in the process, it can be devastating to my productivity for that day. In this case the manager is my wife. If she’s faced with an event activity like the dog is sprayed by a skunk- she wants action immmediately. My maker’s schedule is viewed as a lower priority, regardless of how it impacts my progress.

    If all activities could be planned and executed to a schedule we wouldn’t need managers. Unfortunately, business is not all knowing when schedules are made, so as new information and events occur, the manager has to steer a new course and make adjustments in the work to be sucesssful with the objective. Makers don’t see in the same way.

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  20. Stephen says:

    A simple solution for a maker – block the middle of your day with 2 3-hour blocks of “meetings”. Leave time in the morning and evening (and, if necessary, around lunch) for managers to schedule meetings with you. Thus, you meet while still getting the longer blocks of time when you are not able to mult-process.

    By the way, I agree that maker/manager is perjorative. How about one-track-minds and thought-leaders?

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  21. econobiker says:

    So does this now justify the2 1/2 hour start at 3:00pm Friday afternoon meetings that one of my old employer’s sales force scheduled in order to meet with the entire engineering and development team?

    (and no, there was no free cola, donuts or beer either…just lukewarm coffee)

    Pre-cell phone era so we couldn’t even have our spouses call us to “leave and pick up the children” etc

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  22. Fred Baker says:

    I’m jealous of the people who have time to waste with meetings where none of the participants have the knowledge nor the authority to do anything.

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  23. Mark says:

    Wow I couldn’t agree more. I thought I was the only one. I am a graduate student and my time is spent reading, writing, an computer programming. When I am working and people distract me it irritates me because breaks my concentration. I like to schedule my “work” time in a large uninterrupted block.

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  24. ORS says:

    Well, research has already shown that meetings are often only effective if they are used for information dissemination. If they are used for idea generation or brainstorming, they are actually ineffective, contrary to popular belief. This is because of things like groupthink, time wasted with idle chatter, and so forth.

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  25. KenLee says:

    Thanks! This is very interesting. I am a Manager of an Engineering Department at a small business. I am 3 years out of college and still fighting the migration from a maker’s schedule to a manager’s. I like Graham had unknowingly committed to two work days: manager day, maker night.

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  26. Sbard says:

    This is why when I was still TAing in grad school, that I’d try to get all of my teaching obligations for the same day, figuring that it would be better to just write off one day a week as a total loss of research productivity rather than ruining two or three by having to schedule a teaching lab right in the middle of each.

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  27. Avi Rappoport says:

    a gentle fall of $100 bills…

    #4, Eric M. Jones’ idea is brilliant!

    Some meetings are worth investing in, some are not. A reminder of the true cost would help differentiate those cases.

    Seems very Freakonomical to me.

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  28. Kevin says:

    Nothing is more infuriating, day after day, than the manager who schedules a meeting for an hour, and upon seeing 20 minutes in (and everyone else can see it too) that it is over- the agenda is complete- they find a way to drag it out another 40 minutes for no useful reason. Additionally, these are typically the type of person that enjoy a mirror and consider the self-important droning which takes place during that wasted 40 minutes as words for the ages. But there is a bright side- being a manager myself, I often find myself learning what to do by observing what not to do.

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  29. David Orlowski says:

    It should actually be titled “Read This If You LIKE Meetings.” Those of us who hate them already understand this.

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  30. john newman says:

    Excellent article and link. Even better are the comments! You can tell from them exactly who has actually created something, some physical thing, and who hasn’t.

    Good management does in fact create things by empowering the makers of things, but almost no one who has not actually built an organization to do things can see what is real productivity in both making and management; typically each is annoyed by the other.

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  31. Jennifer says:

    Wow, that was a great article that helped explain why I always feel like meetings are a waste of my time. I’m a graphic designer, a maker amongst others who are on more of a manager schedule. I often have to be reminded there’s a meeting, it takes up an hour of my afternoon and then my productivity is out the door. I can’t get into a project before the meeting and then I don’t have time after to get involved in anything lengthy because it’ll be time to go right at the best point. Thanks for pointing out the difference!

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  32. George says:

    Blend and balance – meetings (aka communication) are necessary and important, as is solo work. What’s more, managers are necessary and important, as are ‘makers’ – I guess its more fun and controversial to set these things in opposition, but to me its more useful to consider and discuss how we maximize balance and effectiveness of each/all.

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  33. Mark S. says:

    In the era of lean operations and reduced office and conference room space the meetings themselves have also been reduced. They have morphed into so called stand up meetings at a bulletin board or similar visual device. These tend to be fairly effective as people don’t like to stand for hours. Typical stand-ups last for 15 min. After the stand-up, people tend to disperse into breakouts to deal with details.

    The tricky part of no meetings vs. too many meetings is the social aspect of getting buy-in. If there has to be a consensus on the path forward, the situation is complex, the issue is contentious and the stakeholders have staked their territory by all other communication means, then a meeting maybe the only way to get ahead. Unfortunately it typically ends up being 3-4 meetings even if there is a good moderator available – it must be human nature that forces us to spend so much time on the non topic aspects so we can feel comfortable when the hard decisions have to be made..

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  34. Brian Kirk says:

    This makes so much sense & wish folks in the Project Management field for example understood this concept. Time is expensive & pulling together people for any period of time with a weak agenda, focus, etc. costs organizations an insane amount of productivity & money!

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  35. misterb says:

    I prefer to evaluate this syndrome as the cost of context switching. I estimate it costs Paul Graham about two hours to change from programming mode to meeting mode.
    But everyone is different. As many of the commenters have noted, it’s not necessarily makers vs managers, as it is fast context switch people vs slow context switch people. And I would note that if you are doing artisanal manual labor, cabinet-building for instance, the context switch time could be at least as long as it is for writing software. To do great carpentry, you also have to work yourself into a particular state of mind.

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  36. JJ says:

    Well put, I am glad to hear that I am not the only one who cannot effectively switch between intellectually highly demanding task on an hourly basis.

    My only comment is that you might substitute meetings just as well with emails that need to be dealt with to keep things moving along. They similarly disrupt your day. As a result, I am most productive at night and on weekends. Or, if I feel the need to actually complete a piece of work, I may not go to “work” for 3 days in a row and rather get the stuff done at home, with email and phone turned off.

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  37. SP says:

    I am a manager not a maker by your definition and yet I loathe meetings, have never accomplished anything useful as a result of a meeting and fully intend to avoid them forever.

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  38. matthew says:

    As an architect, meeting are invaluable. There is no better means of communication than getting a bunch of folks together with drawings and jamming out ideas. Sure, there is a time to finally say, ‘ok, we gotta go do this’. I supposed the big difference is really whether you are simply having a meeting of people or if you are having a meeting of the minds.

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  39. Gary says:

    If someone below me schedules a meeting, I take a look at their time logs to check their billable hours… There are basically two types of people where I work that schedule meetings. 1) People with too little to do, who want to be entertained. 2) People who are overwhelmed, and need to get some of a manager’s time scheduled so they can get some help on their project without the interruption of constant phone calls and e-mails.

    The type 1′s “burn out” after 18 months. The type 2′s get promoted. Sadly, 7 in 10 new hires is a type 1.

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  40. HCNY1105 says:

    The problem is that, for many managers, it has gotten to a point where they feel as if they are not actually ‘working’ unless they are in a meeting. So they schedule as many meetings as possible, to the detriment of the makers’ productivity.

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  41. MT says:

    Folks, I don’t think Mr. Dubner said anything about one type of worker being preferred to the other or “better” than another. He’s just discussing the differences to explain why you might have an anti-meeting bias.

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  42. Lpierce says:

    I’ve spent my whole life in academic institutions and this explains, in part, some of the dysfunction of these work places. The “managers” are often people split down the middle (teachers who move to admin, for example) and the “makers” are often people who have never had to do any work that required something so mundane as a meeting. Managers who come to higher ed without having worked with makers are dismayed by our behavior – passive aggressive lateness, refusing to come to meetings, acting out IN meetings. A useful prism to help us reflect upon our behavior.

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  43. Jake says:

    Thanks you. Now I know I am normal in not wanting interruptions when I am coding or when doing something creative.

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  44. katherine says:

    There’s a third category: workers.
    If you’re a doctor you can’t just say you’re going to a meeting so the meeting is after work or before work and you don’t get paid for going to it. If nobody got paid for going to meetings I guarantee there would be fewer of them and they’d be a lot better organized.

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  45. J Greene says:

    The most miserable experience of all is when a manager tries to impose a manager’s schedule on a maker and then becomes infuriated because the maker ‘isn’t producing’.

    I left a job working on a project I really believed in because of this.

    The manager wanted the programmers to account for their time in fifteen-minute increments. Staring at the screen because you were thinking was “not being prodcutive”. The manager only wanted to count time when the programmer was actually logged into the server as “work”.

    God help you if you needed eight hours to think something through and update several sections of code that could not be tested until all sections were done. That didn’t count as “work” since you hadn’t logged on, and your pay was docked.

    I got tired of being expected to drop everything THIS INSTANT due to some minor issue that could easily be handled later, because the manager would not acknowledge the bad effect on what I was actually working on.

    I got tired of having to make changes that weren’t in the original specifications that had to be done RIGHT NOW rather than being able to work them into my schedule appropriate to whatever it was I was working on.

    I got tired of constant demands for the program to be “ready” when my efforts to make it ready were being sabotaged.

    I got tired of being cheated out of my pay-I got about 60% of
    what I was promised, and an assistant manager at a fast
    food restaurant makes more than what I was promised.

    Please don’t think I didn’t try to address these things. For instance, I had no problem fixing small issues–you expect to have minor bugs that need fixing.

    What I wanted was to have control over WHEN I handled those things, within reason. I personally find it’s much better to have a list of the little issues and devote a day or so just to that, which frees up the rest of your time for the bigger stuff that actually requires thought.

    The project has yet to launch, and I doubt it will, because the manager just hires new programmers, treats them the same, and wonders why he gets the same result.

    I freelance now. It’s a struggle, but it’s improving. I’ve been getting work through several freelancer sites, but I confess I am avoiding Odesk, which wants to take a screen shot every fifteen minutes to make sure you are actually “working”. Feels too much like that other job.

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  46. Richard Attanasio says:

    I notice that for all the discussion of makers and managers, no one has mentioned what the meeting is for, and who should be there. I have seen so many meetings where upwards of ten people are designing on the fly. I have never understood how anything can get done in this way.

    A manager should understand in sufficient detail what each maker is doing and which other maker(s) need to be kept abreast; a good manager (not an oxymoron I hope) should keep necessary meetings as small as possible, and as short as possible.

    Maybe the uber-manager at an enterprise should require middle management to justify any meeting over four people, in writing, the way they do in some places for business trips.

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  47. Johnny E says:

    Sometimes you need to get together to generate some synergy and/or motivation. The left hand does need to know what the right hand is doing. The managers need to know what’s going on to manage resources and to give direction to maker’s efforts. But full-blown meetings on a regular basis may not be needed to accomplish this. Smaller and shorter specific meetings are probably better for that.

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  48. Paul says:

    I wonder how many people posting on this blog are doing so on company time. While it is convenient to use the occasional meeting as a scapegoat for poor productivity, the truth is that at the end of the day, excuses are still excuses. I am sure a highly motivated employee will have no problem juggling the occasional meeting with a their normal workload, even it the timing of the meeting is slightly inconvenient.

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  49. Clayton says:

    At this point I have held just about every position that exists in a software company from President to code-monkey, and I want to propose something even more radical than the article suggests: NO meetings.

    All products in a software company are documents: source code, scripts, pay checks, purchase orders, contracts, ad copy, human resource policy, whatever. Therefore, in order to thrive in such a company you MUST be able to write. So if you have a question, you should be able to write down the question rather than scheduling a meeting to ask the question. This allows all the addressees to participate at their convenience asynchronously rather than forcing them to all be in the same place at the same time. Considering that a fully-loaded cost for developer time is $125-$150 per person per hour, and interference effects like those listed in the article exist, getting everyone into a room simultaneously is a huge expense.

    I’m certain that I will offend a number of people when I say that people who need meetings are people who don’t have their own thoughts organized, or they mistrust someone they have to work with and need witnesses, or they are dealing with some necessary person who doesn’t have their thoughts organized. Nevertheless, it is the case: if your thoughts are organized then it should be little trouble to write down what you expect to produce, what you need to do it, and your expectations about who will provide what and when, and then to ASK if the addressees agree.

    I really do feel it is that simple.

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  50. Maggie says:

    Yes! I’m a writer who’s always hated meetings — even when the very entertaining Paul Graham was at the table.

    The new agile development environment is lousy with meetings — even if you’re standing up for a scrum, you’re still interrupted.

    Now, reading the Times while on deadline, that’s something that all writers love to do.

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  51. Shari says:

    I am both.

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  52. Abby Tucson, AZ says:

    I had a manager who would call a meeting at the market and we’d sit there talking to all the friends he knew. What on earth was he thinking? I’m not there to be his date. I have things to do. Excuse me. I have to take a meeting.

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  53. John says:

    @ #4 & # 27: I’ve toyed with creating a clock (or an Outlook extension) that would take the actual or blended hourly rate for each attendee and display a real-time running cost of the meeting, with a receipt printed at the end of the meeting for ROI analysis.

    @ #28: I am also annoyed by how the local news programs use drivel to fill their allotted 30 minutes, no matter how slow the news that day. If they made me News Emperor, I would get through the newsworthy items as quickly as possible and show cartoons for any remaining time.

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  54. Vectorius says:

    The choice of words Maker and Manager is dead on. As a Manager, I am micturating my time away, supporting the efforts of Makers, instead of making things myself. When I have the good fortune to work as a maker, an activity that requires vast expanses of uninterrupted time for intense cerebration, I am nevertheless regarded as a manager: changing this perception is like retraining Pavlov’s dogs.

    I would not feel sorry for Managers: we compensate ourselves more than Makers, and we congratulate each other that we are the important ones, because we hire the Makers.

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  55. JJ says:

    In the past when I managed software developers, I would tell them that I wanted to know if they were being interrupted more than twice a day for precisely the reasons that Paul Graham states. Developers need large blocks of time to be truly productive. Interruptions cost them more.

    However, dividing the world into managers and makers hints at the idea that managers produce nothing. I’ve seen many a software project and company fail because they couldn’t manage software projects to successful completion.

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  56. Robert says:

    I am on a makers schedule — otherwise I would right something longer than “here here!”

    No for the afternoon.

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  57. Jen says:

    Clayton # 50 -

    YES!

    I work on a large scale project that is nothing but meetings because people can’t get their heads around things. There is an abosolute lack of trust (and lack of understanding) between the management and the rank and file (furthered on by consultants) and as a result, you can’t do any work unless it is in a meeting. If you do your due diligence, someone will find a pretext to ignore it and do what they want. It’s about control, pure and simple. Nothing worse than the ignorant with control issues.

    Drives me crazy.

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  58. Johnny-o says:

    I find the commenters’ reactions to the terms maker and manager interesting. I don’t see them as perjorative or unequal at all. Makers can produce crap and managers can be good. It’s a useful and alliterative way to refer to something most of us have experienced from one side or the other, or sometimes both. As a project-oriented CPA, I definitely understand the maker mindset, not starting on things that I know I need to get my head deep into when there’s not enough time to go there. The manager in me would prioritize and work on other shorter, lower brainpower tasks instead. I learned a lot about being a good manager as president of my HOA, where running a successful meeting was everything, but getting ready for those meetings took maker time.

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  59. Catherine says:

    Well yes and no. I have mostly been a research scientist, and yes for the most part you need some larger blocks of time to get things done. But I am also probably somewhat ADD and have a hard time doing just one thing for hours at a time. Especially writing. And in the lab, the work tends to be done in spurts of close attention interspersed with waiting for something to finish. It is rare that I spend hours immersed in a single activity, I constantly switch back and forth and/or multitask by reading in the gaps in lab activity etc.

    At the same time, I find meetings very difficult, probably for the same reason of attenuated attention span. If they go on for more than about 90 minutes, tops, I begin to fidget and go nuts.

    I realize that some meetings are necessary to keep everyone on the same page and working toward a goal, but generally speaking I hate them. Just not so much because of the (false, I think) maker/manager duality.

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  60. jnewser says:

    #40 is on target. This described my last manager, who really didn’t have much to do, to a tee. He would periodically mention how “busy” he was because he was stacked up with meetings. The man lived for meetings. He would stop by or call to schedule time to “catch up.” He didn’t appreciate when I would remind him that we “caught up” yesterday or the day before.

    Seriously, without meetings, i don’t know what he would do day-to-day. He was most definitely NOT a maker.

    Additionally, if you were to ask me if he was a micro-manager, I’d respond, “What do you think?”

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  61. Dave D says:

    Suggests that bosses and managers are selected for what they (don’t) do because they possess neural wiring that precludes sustained attention and thinking. For this we pay them 20 to 2000 times more than people who actually do work? Great article. Dave D

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  62. Michael says:

    Concentration is of the essence in creative endeavors. Interruptions destroy creativity.

    Remember Coleridge’s loss of his poem “Xanadu” because he got up from his work and spoke briefly to someone who came to his door. When he sat down again he could not complete his masterpiece.

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  63. John says:

    If you’re a manager, meetings are what you do.

    If you’re a maker, meetings interrupt what you do.

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  64. Geoffrey S. says:

    Having read the first ten comments on this topic, I’m considering never reading blog comments again. Everyone is so convinced of the correctness of their own point of view and antagonistic to the “other side.”

    I think the key is that when managers have hour meetings with managers, everything works. And when makers have half-day meetings with makers, everything works. The conflict arises when the two groups come together with their vastly different expectations. I think it would be wonderful if people took a look at each other’s expectations rather than seeing everyone else as a an obstacle to be overcome.

    And I happen to think that artists, craftsmen, programmers and writers are all Makers. And I think that they understand each other better than some of you suggest.

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  65. letstalk says:

    Very interesting. From my experiences I developed the theory that there are talkers and there are doers. Talkers love meetings upon meetings and they rarely accomplish or contribute anything of meaning. These folks read mail, play with pda’s, go off topic, don’t listen to others and usually repeat and rehash previously decided topics. They kill the time and sap the energy of others. They never do what they say they will do, make excuses unacceptable in elementary school and hate making and sticking with decisions – all talk, no action. Doers hold structured meetings where discussions are focused, tasks are assigned and then they actually do what they agreed to do. They come to the next meeting with concise reports of actions taken, impt. questions, and ideas for moving forward. They listen to others, give thoughtful input and don’t waste their time or the time of others by bloviating about nonsense. Clearly, I am not a big fan of meetings.

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  66. P. says:

    Have been involved in meetings from finance “capital markets” to legal and there’s always the people who can not EVER get to a meeting on time; take 20 minutes to say what could be said in 2; go off on tangents; repeat what has just been said by someone else 5 minutes ago; speak over people etc.

    People just LOVE to hear themselves talk. And BOY can they get to explain away why they haven’t done in the last 6 weeks what they promised they’d do. And still get to keep their jobs. Amazes me everytime.

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  67. DaveyNC says:

    I hate meetings and I hate memos. Early on in my working days, (in the prehistoric pre-internet days) I had been travelling for quite a few days and gurdgingly decided that I needed to commit some items to memos and distribute them. I probably wrote 5 or 6 of them and distributed them all at once.

    My much older manager comes to me the next day, with his copies in hand and a big smile on his face, “Wow, you have really been working!”

    He got fired about 6 months after that. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t understand that when I’m writing memos, I’m not really getting anything done. Same goes for meetings.

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  68. pcnj says:

    I don’t see myself in either of these categories. I am a manager in a sense, because not only am I a “boss” in a way, but I am beholden to the outlook-driven day, as are so many people who have office-based jobs. I actually quite like meetings, because I enjoy coming together with colleagues to accomplish a goal or discuss a topic, and I like the way one can (sometimes) structure the day around one or two meetings, like they are parameters. However, when I am in my own time – which realistically ia 7 hours of each day – I don’t think about “scheduling” myself, I just know there are certain tasks to be done. By the end of today, I have to accomplish X, follow up on Y, and start Z. If a meeting happens in the middle of a productive afternoon, I don’t feel like I’ve been thrown off balance. I don’t know, this essay just doesn’t ring true to me.

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  69. Truthseeker1 says:

    Of course, there are tons of wsated meetings. But some of the complainers, probably want as little to do with people as possible, regardless of setting

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  70. DaveyNC says:

    John @53 triggered a memory for me. Check out the PayScale Meeting Miser: http://www.payscale.com/meeting-miser

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  71. pcnj says:

    I also want to chime in and mention that, while I do dislike poorly run meetings, I rarely walk out of a meeting saying “what a waste of time.” Maybe it’s just because I try to put a lot of energy into meetings, but I always feel like something has been accomplished. People who talk about return on investment, and the $29 hourly salary I just made sitting there, and the loss of person-hours, etc. always seem to me to be grasping at straws to explain why they want to set their own schedules. Maybe productivity can be measured in hour-long chunks and tied to job performance and all that stuff, but in a typical office I don’t think that has any actual, practical effect on the success of the business unless people are really dropping the ball.

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  72. JGunn says:

    Aha! I used to be on a maker’s schedule, but sure enough, I got more managerial responsibilities and had to go on a manager’s schedule. Then if I had to write anything serious, I’d have to do it on the weekend. Now, however, having taken early retirement and moved to consulting, I SHOULD go back to a maker’s schedule, but it’s hard to do that. I get restless and want to interact with other people.

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  73. Elio C says:

    As an effective and experienced Program Manager, I can tell you those in a manager position who understand their key role in effectively and efficiently combining, engineering and sales ideas to launch a product/service has more to win and loose than a direct maker.

    I have guided many direct makers to produce a product within a given time frame and set of standards. Too often I run into makers who DO NOT understand the business side and thus cannot comprehend why they are required to deliver on a given time line.

    The best example of a great manager over a direct maker that I can give you is STEVE JOBS! Without his management style, we would not have iPhone, iMacs, fun and exciting industrial designs in the PC & phone world etc, etc, etc..

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  74. hazbin says:

    My solution is to write from 6 am to 11 am every day. Then turn to the business of business. Works for me.

    But let’s echo the issue of poorly run meetings and meetings that would be better handled through memos. No one should be allowed to call a meeting without it passing through a set of criteria:
    1. Must we meet together? Why?
    2. Is it necessary that we ALL meet? Or can a sub-group handle it? Can’t we just meet to delegate?
    3. What is the product of the meeting? (No meeting should be held that has no product results, even if the product is a set of wild-eyed brainstorms).

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  75. Peter Gibbons says:

    Sheesh! Managers…makers… I guess that means we peons like Peter Gibbons in the movie “Office Space”, (executive or admin assistants, secretaries, etc.) are the real nobodies. Managers have a great deal of autonomy determining what they do and when they do it; so-called ‘makers’ only slightly less so. What about us poor schmucks, uh, assistants who are given a pile of data to enter (quickly and accurately, of course) while simultaneously routing phone calls to both managers and makers (who often do their best to duck them), assisting every client who walks into the office, and completing every other crap job that neither managers nor makers want to be bothered with? What’s interesting, at least in my large organization, is that managers haven’t figured out that it actually would be much more effective to hire someone solely as a receptionist, so that admin assistants won’t make errors with their often extremely detail-oriented tasks, such as tryhing to balance the office budget after managers and makers have returned from another junket, uh, very important conference.

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  76. David Currier says:

    With today’s communication methods, I believe most meetings are useless. I can receive and distribute nearly everything I need to do via email or whatever – the distribution list needs to be precisely chosen, but not overly limited to risk excluding other ideas.

    Otherwise, if the “maker” knows what he’s doing, let him “make”, and let the managers comeup with some new ideas for the makers to make.

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  77. Joseph Locascio says:

    I’m a researcher/computer programmer and I find occasional meetings are useful as needed for a specific purpose. However, “regularly scheduled meetings” are for me usually a terrible idea. You sit there with people asking what will we talk about today? If you’re going to ask such a question, why are you diverting valuable time for such a meeting anyway.

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  78. Pak says:

    This article doesn’t take into account the typical “team lead” position. Plenty of meetings during the day to report to “chart level managers” while programming a night to actually deliver the product. I hate explaining things to manager and to have them give me a “solution” for me, that “solution” of course being completely off the mark and useless.

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  79. emr says:

    Here are my observations about meetings:

    If you are running it, have an agenda ahead of time. Else you should die in a horribly firey car crash.

    If you are attending it, have your questions written down ahead of time and don’t interrupt to make jokes, toot your horn, or put down the newbie/minority/old guy/new guy/female/your ex. Otherwise, you should be strapped naked to a fire ant mound and coated with honey.

    If one person in the meeting puts his hands on his head and leans back while talking, you have lost control of the meeting. That person will bloviate until the meeting is over. If his feet are on the table, forget it… think the heat death of the universe. Find a way to shut him up. That’s why they made you a manager. Use your much vaunted “people skills”.

    If people take turns talking at your meetings, make sure to change the order of who talks from meeting to meeting, because you will get 30 minutes from the guy with his hands on his head, 5 minutes each from three other people and none from the quiet genius who has the actual answer to the problem.

    People who interrupt other people’s status meetings need to be discouraged from doing so. I suggest being hung upside down and dipped into the evaporation tanks of the nearest sewage treatment plant.

    If you have seven people and one person always, always, always shows up 10 minutes late, make a practice of buying six donuts. (If you don’t get why, take a minute and think about it.)

    If you finish your agenda items and there is still time left, let people go back to work. You don’t have to fill the hour. Trust me.

    Finally: If there is no reason to have a meeting other than, “Gee, we always have them at this time.”, cancel it.

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  80. John says:

    Managers do so make things. They make meetings.

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  81. Eric M. Jones says:

    ISO-9001 Implementation Manager speaking to engineer at a project review…: “So where did you get the idea? Our procedure says the idea has to come from 1) a customer, 2) a sales person, 3) upper management, or 4) another division.”

    Engineer, obviously miffed: “I pulled it out of my butt, Okay!?”

    Teamwork: ” A lot of people doing exactly what I say.”
    (Marketing exec., Citrix Corp.)

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  82. Hell's Kitchen Guy says:

    Best thing about working from home: No meetings. I get so much more done than I ever did working in an office. Not to mention having to pretend like I cared about co-worker’s children, illnesses, vacations, etc.

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  83. enoriverbend says:

    @Eric:
    “Somehow the management has become occupied by characters who can’t do anything else. And they have good hair. Narcissistic personality disorders fly right to the top. This is typically, but not entirely, an American-British disease.”

    One visit to the E.U. HQ should disabuse you of that last notion. Or the U.N. for that matter.

    Or any government office almost anywhere (I’m sure there must be an exception…)

    Or any big multinational corp that I can think of offhand.

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  84. blue92 says:

    48: “I am sure a highly motivated employee will have no problem juggling the occasional meeting with a their normal workload, even it the timing of the meeting is slightly inconvenient.”

    As with anything, it’s a matter of environment and degrees — of what’s expected given the circumstances. There is an upper limit to juggling before balls are dropped, and it does depend on the skill of the juggler. Managers are best-served by adapting to their employees where reasonable. A “highly motivated employee” will tend to lose their motivation for work if they feel they are constantly interrupted… and will eventually become “highly motivated” to look for work elsewhere. Since the cost of replacing workers falls on the company, the good manager will accommodate if possible.

    Creative problem-solving for highly complex tasks requires a great deal of focus, especially when there’s something new and different with nearly every one. Maintenance is one thing; full-bore creation is something else entirely. It’s the difference between fixing a dozen leaky faucets and plumbing an entire house. Interruptions of the thought process in the latter tend to be like hard reboots — you often have to ramp up to speed again.

    Combine useless meetings with unrealistic planning and inflexible deadlines, and the inevitable result is a deficient product. Some may derisively call the imposition of reality an “excuse”, and it’s true that people will play the blame game to their own ends, but one does have to watch for the plank in one’s own eye.

    A previous poster made the important point of considering the return on investment for a manager. Coordination of effort is an important task and, like 911 service, it can be difficult to quantify the value. Ideally employees should work independently on sufficiently defined tasks and managers should be respond quickly and competently… but only poke their heads in when necessary. Some employees need to be shepherded closely; others not so much.

    In sum, it’s all a Goldilocks problem.

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  85. GoBollywood! says:

    I’m always surprised at the amount of narcissitic tripe that Paul Graham manages to pass off as “insightful”.

    Very gratifying to see the number of commentors on this post who’ve seen right through the BS!

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  86. Joe says:

    I’ve long felt the same way — I divided the world into “process” people and “product” people. Some of us just revel in the process, our jobs depend on the process. Others are all about the product — at the end of the day, we want to just make something with our time, even if it is simply a decision.

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  87. Sarah says:

    Dear Stephen,

    I can’t remember if you’re the journalist of economist of the pairing of Stephen’s from your book, < >.

    I feel that I agree with you very much. I can exist in both realms, which is why journalism and academia (as a social scientist) have both been fields I’ve been attracted to.

    Ultimately, I think I’m realizing (by trial and error) that academia might be a better fit. It builds in more time to be a “maker” and will more easily fit in with my personal life, for now.

    Life is not a series of binaries, unless they are infinite binaries which create chaos and fractals and such (thinking of this is both too profound and headache-producing to interest my pedestrian mind; I prefer n’s that are either infinite and theoretical or finite and real. Give me mathematics or give me social science, but DON’T give me theoretical physics! Please!)

    Thank you for the thought-provoking discussion.

    Sarah in NY

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  88. Chas says:

    The managers’ meetings cited in this article are at least ostensibly productive ones. As a programmer I went to far too many totally unproductive ones. The shining example of the unproductive meeting is the periodic status meeting. In order to justify her/himself, the manager presides at a table where the programmers in a round robin recite their statuses on the projects they’re working on, projects I know nothing about and don’t interface with. In theory I should know a little about them, but nobody has bothered to inform me of their premises and so all the reports are totally meaningless to me. This should be done by the manager one-on-one with each programmer, and actually is, but the manager must also showcase her activity this way so she can write it up for her manager. A depressing and universal complete waste of an hour or an hour and a half.

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  89. laura says:

    Amen!!!

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  90. JD says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not in technology but in finance and am in a position where I’m in a senior management role, however my job is about making investment decisions and I like to sit down and analyze markets/companies for several hours. Just like programmers, I need to get into a groove and an hour here and there is useless. So what I’ve done is gotten the rest of my senior team to agree to pack all of our internal meetings onto Mondays, and I only schedule meetings with outside people for either early morning or late in the afternoon if I can. That way I can have long uninterrupted periods to do best what I get paid to do – make money for our investors.

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  91. Ike says:

    I was sorry to see so many anti-meeting comments. I don’t attend that many meetings that waste time. I’m meeting new people, getting new ideas, accomplishing something (sometimes something that can only be done glacially). If I’m not doing one of those, I leave (I’m a manager, and find “speculative meetings”– which Graham http://bit.ly/W6KQG — describes to be some of my best ones.

    Graham didn’t say he didn’t want any meetings. He said “Those of us on the maker’s schedule are willing to compromise. We know we have to have some number of meetings.” He wants better meetings.

    Here are some things you can do to make better meetings
    1- If there’s not an agenda, create one. At the end of the meeting, say something like “would someone be willing to create an agenda for the next meeting? Might it be possible to mail it out before hand?”
    2- See if you can have a clock in plain view. A laptop can be turned into a large digital clock with some softwares (minuteur can do this with countdowns).
    You can buy one with your own money for just a few dollars. Prop it somewhere prominent.
    3- End a meeting with a review of who promised to do what by when (“action items” at one company I worked at where geeks were taught meeting skills, and mastered them).
    4- If people are Overdeciding or Micromanaging, suggest “could we leave the details of that up to xx and discuss what they come up with?”.

    My experience is that folks appreciate comments like these. I only wish it didn’t take 25 years for me to learn to make them.

    But the central dig of many comments– that we don’t need meetings- isjust plain wrong. We need to have better meetings, and we need to have more of them.

    We are moving into a world where we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Or sooner. In order to do that, we need to meet, and talk, and negotiate that, in order to figure out how to do it.

    That is, to refer to David Brooks column today, http://bit.ly/4s9f4w if we care about our children.

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  92. Mark says:

    Although I am in the position of a manager, I work more like a maker. Sitting above my desk is a framed caligraphy sign:
    “Q: Why is the world doomed?

    A: MEETINGS!”

    But to get around being interupted, I schedule meetings back to back 1st thing in the morning, and once I hit 10am – begin scheduling them for the next day. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to come in and meet at 7am. I DO NOT meet after midday (unless it’s with someone from the lofty heights above who cannot be dissobeyed) and I DO NOT have meetings on Fridays, ever.

    Seems to work for me.

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  93. Arian says:

    As a college student I find myself put in between the position of a manager and maker all the time. Its a skill one needs to develop. Add to this that I am an economics and computer science double major and you can only imagine the pressure I am constantly under during my semesters. As the economist research paper and thesis paper meetings are always asked of me and as the computer scientist programming assignments are due at the end of every week. So choosing between the two positions is a question I am posed with everyday and which one I decide on depends on the priority of the particular assignment. I can only hope this experience will help me in my future, because it is the only thing I see as being completely worth the work in the end.

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  94. Bob says:

    Don’t put up with bad meetings. Bring work to do.

    Make it look like you’re taking notes, but really, be working on one of those problems that you need to kick around inside your head.

    Once you learn how to use the otherwise wasted meeting time for productive (to you at least) ends, you won’t hate them as much, and you’ll get more work done.

    (I think to discuss this further, we should all huddle in the conference room at 10:00 tomorrow morning)

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  95. Ike says:

    Some of the comments mentioned these two great books
    1- Peopleware, by Tom Demarco http://bit.ly/lETh8
    and
    2- The Mythical Man-Month, by Frederick Brooks http://bit.ly/4tKPt4

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  96. Dr Manak says:

    Part of the sensitivity I see from some people in this blog is that our society tends to value “managers” more than “makers” even though many “makers” have to attend years of higher education and have specialized training that many of our management class do not have – in addition many managers justify their existence by sitting in meetings and adding “value” – why can’t makers get paid more than “managers” like in professional sports (players vs the coaching staff)? I remember sitting in a 4 hour meeting with 15 people, however only two of the people in the meeting had actually worked on the project the meeting was to discuss the results of – talk about the collapse of the american economy due to a parasitic management class….

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  97. sarah says:

    I am a busy physician who is sometimes forced to go to meetings in the middle of my workday. It is absolutely true that the meeting is disruptive to my workflow above and beyond the actual time I spend there. But the way I think of it is this: Meetings are relatively time inefficient, but they truly waste time when all anyone has to do is show up. If expectations are higher, it’s more productive. If I am assigned to research and/or speak about something at a meeting, I am on point and I get a lot more out of it.

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  98. Peggy Love says:

    Amen.

    Now back to revising the introduction to my book, since tomorrow will be interrupted by a Task Force meeting.

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  99. stanroc says:

    WIsh you had some economics in your column.

    From microecomic theory, you plot the value and cost of mangement. Management level should be set at teh point that the cost of $1 of management provides $1 more of profit. All processes in making the product should maximize profit. The owners should want to maximize profits to the level of the value of their tiem and potilitcal power. Maximizing profitibility maximizes social weil.

    Clearly, the management system that has evolved is nowhere near this point. Management theory as taught in economic/business classes does not sensitize people to
    these facts.

    Why?

    Well, I posit that larger business entities achieve economies through scale, and lose economies through managemen tinefficiencies.

    I;ve seen this in the last 2 ywears when I moved from a very large smokestack form to a very petit firm.

    You really have to scramble at the small firm, and there is minimal management, compared to a massive analytical infrastructure and management structure at a large firm.

    The od, larger busunes was also a “money machine” that required little real market agressiveness to survive, until the product suddenly became obsolete.

    The “money machines” further addtionla increases in management load on the system.

    These are the facts…

    What is sad is the lack of owner (major stockholders) interest in extracting significant larger revenues by driving towards more efficient management.

    StanRoc.

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  100. Joe says:

    As a pastor I am both. Creating sermon, hymns, services. But committee meetings, visitations and people just dropping into my office “for a chat” means I get interrupted. But, for me, striving to balance the both seems crucial.

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  101. Paul says:

    “The poor are prevented from thinking by the discipline of others, the rich by their own.”
    Adorno

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  102. mich says:

    I manage an operational unit for my firm and also am supposed to come up with new ideas for expanding our reach and assisting our clients…manager and maker all in one. And it ain’t easy. Every time I start with theorizing and developing ideas for new operations or procedural methodologies, I am invariably interrupted by someone who needs guidance with operations. I have to shut my door and be a hermit, but my staff hates that as much as I do. I haven’t found a good way to do both efficiently and effectively.

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  103. JKL says:

    I’m terribly jealous of bloggers who have, perhaps, one part-time housekeeper railing against the pointlessness of meetings. What joy it would be to be in his slippers and PJs every morning instead of trying to accomplish something through the coordination of 4,780 other people, all of whom need to subordinate egos and personal agendas to the common cause. Yes, meetings can be poorly designed and excruciating, but what do you suppose would happen if Dubner took off his bathrobe, put down his double mocha and switched places with someone expected to produce something tangible using hundreds of major subcontractors? I’ll betcha the first time his organization fell a week behind schedule, he’d …… ta da! … call a meeting!

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  104. ML says:

    Have naturally gravitated towards the manager day, maker night schedule for over 20 years now. During which time I’ve worked at physics research, internet search engines, and electronic design automation. So the efficacy of the method seems remarkably independent of the specific type of endeavor.

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  105. natal says:

    shareholders trust the boss that pays maker’s salary to satisfy the boss either through real work or just sitting in a meeting to show loyalty and opportunity for him to show who is in charge… Why do I care as long as he is happy and understand that nothing can be done or slow thing if he keeps meeting and meeting….

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  106. Chris says:

    The solution might be to have lunch meetings? verybody’s got to eat lunch, and how intensely occupied with your creative “making” when you really need to be stoking up the glucose levels for the afternoon’s work anyways?

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  107. Makarand says:

    You hit it ! I am CTO for a moderately sized technology company, but at heart a programmer too. In addition to having to do meetings, I love to program myself, and look forward to do that as a spot of “happy time” in my day. Not being able to do so for an extended period can leave me feeling a little frustrated.

    This is something I consider to be an essential part of my work – to be able to keep at the bleeding edge of technology.

    I do enjoy my “manager” role too though, and striking a balance between the two is always a tough job.

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  108. ZW says:

    Wow! This is right on the mark! This captures the pain of trying to carry out a serious scientific research program while teaching 150 students, about 20% of whom require special favors, accommodations, or attention; evaluating applications and interviewing prospective faculty every semester; serving on committees; showing up on occasional weekends to meet with prospective students; advising 50-60 students, with full responsibility for any errors they may make in fulfilling complex University (not just departmental) requirements; caring for an aging and disabled parent; and having to defend oneself from the attacks of hostile administrators.

    Maybe it’s time to rethink our use of scientists. We need some free half days too.

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  109. Wendy Morris says:

    As a lawyer who creates a lot of documents, I can totally relate to this. When I am designing an estate plan or a complex contract, I am much more productive in longer uninterrupted periods of time rather than stopping and starting. Therefore, I try to group my client consultations into other blocks of time.

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  110. Peter says:

    I like this article.
    Can someone write one to explain why I hate billing by the hour when I’m doing office work?

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  111. Reader says:

    I’m reminded of a book called “Neanderthals at Work.” It divided employees into three categories.

    “Rebels” were the free spirits. “Believers” were “makers” without the rebelliousness of rebels, individuals who cared the most about the process, not the business. “Competitors” were the bosses.

    The “manager’s” schedule reminds me of multitasking — effective if you don’t need to really concentrate or think deeply. But I also agree that the manager/maker distinction is a bit simplistic and unnecessarily insulting to bosses.

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  112. Tim says:

    Makers work; managers…don’t

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  113. JT Riordan says:

    From the quality of these “deep thoughts” I can only assume that Jack Handey picked up a ghost-writing assignment. There’s nothing new in this article. It was written multiple times during past software booms.

    I’ve worked at a number of “maker”-centric companies over the past 25 years. I was both “maker” and “manager” over that period, sometimes at the same time. Here’s what I saw:
    * A few genuinely brilliant people doing exceptional work.
    * Some pretty good people who would have done decent work whether they were in suits or jeans.
    * A lot of faker-makers doing bad work, and precious little of that, but protected by the aura of being a creative.
    * A lot of work on the wrong feature or product, and an unwillingness to admit it, because, hey man, this is MY masterpiece. Instead of understanding that they’re working on a cooperative enterprise, the makers got to operate under the delusion that they were Mozarts or Rembrants or James Joyces.
    * A lot very underappreciated work by by both managers and more mature “makers” to connect the dots and clean up after the people whose delicate creative juices couldn’t be interrupted by meetings (or any other kind of accountability).

    Yeah, meetings can be a waste, but like many other aspects of life, you have to tolerate some waste to be present when the good stuff happens. The alternative is to create a bogus class that can spend the rest of its lives in adolescence, spitting in Daddy’s eye while expecting Daddy to deliver the car keys on demand.

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  114. Francois says:

    I think this is waaay too simplistic. I don’t think of myself as a manager or maker. I am a thinker, a producer, a problem solver and a service provider. I need to have good relationships with my customers and coworkers, and sometimes meetings are very necessary to make that happen, even as I chafe at the small talk and posturing. I truly don’t think you are going to gain insight into this issue by dividing the world into two camps. I find people that monopolize meetings and make them longer than necessary are no more annoying than people whose impatient body language and facial expressions imply that their time is more important than others’. If I can’t afford a long meeting, I just go into it saying, “Can we make sure we all stay on topic because I am going to fall behind if we run long.” It’s amazing what a little honesty and kindness can do, as opposed to labeling.

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  115. hank says:

    Pre-cell phone era so we couldn’t even have our spouses call us to “leave and pick up the children” etc
    - econobiker
    ———————————————————————————-

    Wait a second. I know this isn’t the topic here but this fascinates me. I’m a freelancer at home so I don’t work in an office. Do you mean to tell me that your wife/husband can call you at work to tell you to pick up the kids and you can just leave?? And everybody accepts that? What about the people who don’t have kids? What about unmarried people? Who can they get a call from that would make it acceptable for them to pick up in the middle of a meeting and leave? Do children trump everything?

    I knew I shoulda had kids.

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  116. Audrey says:

    Having clients throws a wrench into the works — they are the “managers” in that situation, but without them you don’t have a job.

    I see some companies where there are so many meetings that makers only have one hour slots, and consequently everyone does their work in meetings — they know their day will be destroyed so if they need to get something done they schedule a meeting to do it.

    Sitting in a meeting to do something that any one of us could do better alone at a desk is crazy-making. All in the name of collaboration.

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  117. ekaus says:

    This paper completely rings true for me! I work in an IT business and from an economic perspective am perplexed at how managers justify meetings for staff, including contractors that earn $100 + an hour. When you organise whole team meetings for HR reasons or, god forbid, “team bonding”, do the outcomes really generate $1000-$2000 for that one hour? I doubt it…

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  118. Molly says:

    I’m a lowly PhD student, so I’m pretty sure that means I’m a maker. I used to subscibe to Graham’s view- that I couldn’t do any ‘serious’ work, like writing articles or programming, if I didn’t have a huge block of time in my day. Then I read a book that completely blew that myth out of the water- ‘How to Write a Lot’ by Paul Silvia. The idea that vast swaths of time are needed to complete makers’ tasks is a self-perpetuated myth– at least for the work I do, which includes both writing and programming, I can accomplish a lot in a two-hour block. I never would have attempted to work in two-hour intervals had Silvia not exposed the false logic behind my compulsion to avoid difficult tasks unless I had the whole day to work on them. Just try it!

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  119. Mojo Bone says:

    I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a meeting that wasn’t a waste of time, with the possible exception of a few sales meetings that really could be more properly described as pep rallies. I doubt that many contributors here can really comprehend the deep and abiding hatred that retail employees hold for managers, a class of person that exists solely for the purpose of having meetings. It is my long-considered opinion that any company should have only one manager, and everybody that isn’t her/him had better justify their ROI.

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  120. Devika says:

    Great post! Graham is right on about the manager/maker meeting problem. As a writer/editor/maker, I’ve found that AA is the only meeting I ever look forward!

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  121. Harvey Wachtel says:

    David Orlowski (#29) got it right on.

    Does anyone remember the 1995 book titled “Stop Setting Goals If You’d Rather Solve Problems”? I didn’t get that much out of the book, but the title really clarified another big difference between programmer-types and manager-types. Nothing (besides meetings) drives me crazier than status reports asking me what percentage of a project I’ve completed. Problem solvers don’t work that way. You usually don’t know how much work is involved until you’ve finished. And problem-solving really requires uninterrupted concentration.

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  122. Eric M. Jones says:

    First–(The controversial bit) Men and women are different. Women typically seek consensus. Meetings are good for consensus builders. A lot of “Team Building” is very matriarchical in nature.

    Second–Projects don’t get done by teams and consensus, they get done by leaders who inspire, command and point in a direction, or by champions who have their support. This was driven home to me by a (male) boss who wanted me “on board” with his plan for remodeling a workspace. I was not, but I told him I would enthusiastically supervise the work (and did) because I was “on board” with him being the boss and I was fine with it. But I was mystified by his continued determination to convince me of the rightness of his idea….and I just didn’t see how my agreement was required. I was perfectly happy taking orders. Later I learned that his management style was unusual for a male leader.

    Third–Don’t ever confuse “Project Management” (an engineering-accounting task) with leadership (a psychological task at worst and a spiritual calling at best). I have known leaders who could, in ten minutes, raise my IQ by ten points and get me to give up sleeping and eating to work on the project.

    Fourth–Yeh, yeh, yeh….I feel your pain. Managers and Makers are both important and I am sure there is much cross-over. People who publish here are generally more thoughtful and introspective and don’t represent the clueless managment and makers we have all seen. I could tell you stories….

    (My use of the terms “men” and “women” stands for commonly observed behaviours frequently, but not always, linked to the physical characteristics. Call them Mars and Venus if you like.)

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  123. Curtis says:

    To me, it’s all about the design. So many meetings are created to tap such a small part of our overall intelligence that they quickly become numbing. The first question to ask is, “Why meet?” If you don’t have an answer, or it isn’t compelling, then don’t. Then figure out what you want from your meeting. What do you want people who attend to walk away with? Understanding? Agreement? Some kind of product? Then align the processes you use with those desired outcomes. I don’t agree that meetings are only useful if they are used for information dissemination. In fact, I know from experience that is NOT true. Information dissemination often is more effectively done through the use of email and social media. Generating ideas and building agreements can be accomplished through the savvy use of process tools. If you are interested in learning more about these, check out http://www.interactioninstitute.org.

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  124. MS says:

    Spot on Eric! Within a short span of time at work, I observed that women make excellent managers with some male colleagues make them stronger!

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  125. Colleen says:

    Thank you. I kept saying “exactly” out loud as I read this.

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  126. Kimota94 says:

    It’s really sad to me that people find it so hard to time slice. I was a programmer for about 15 years, and I’ve written two books (working on a third)… both activities of which I could perform with a TV on or with noisy co-workers in the next cube. The reason? I seem to be able to get “in the zone” (as they say) extremely quickly (usually within a minute) whenever I want to. I’ve heard employees of mine say that it takes them AT LEAST half an hour to do so, which is why having a meeting scheduled in the morning and another in the afternoon “wrecks their entire day.” I’m not questioning what they’re saying… I just think it’s unfortunate that so many people require so much time to ramp up like that. But since it does, it behooves management to understand that, and act accordingly.

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  127. Francois says:

    Hank 116, yes, children do trump everything. If they didn’t, humanity would have died off a long time ago. Yes, even when you know it’s the worst possible timing and is going to make people angry and cause problems for you, if you get a call that your child needs you, you really do have to go.

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  128. harriet says:

    Francois 128, as one who has had to pick up the slack for these helicopter parents who race out the door every time their little darling has a hangnail I have a hard time feeling philosophical about their role in the human race. The selfish entitlement of these parents would be a bit easier to swallow if even one of them expressed a hair of contrition or at least acknowledged that they don’t deserve to be paid for the work they didn’t do.

    Your baby’s in the school play? My babe’s in the hot tub. Can I leave work, too?

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  129. Mark S. says:

    Re #123: It has more to do with the “culture” of the industry than the characteristics of individuals.
    In investment banking its everyone for him/herself, in healthcare there has to be a consensus or people get hurt and lawsuits get filed. If someone is a poor fit for the prevailing industry culture they move on sooner or later.

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  130. Jac says:

    I am a manager. I have a weekly meeting, at 10AM no less. I hate it. I hate EVEN more that I can tell that my people hate it cause they can’t hide in on their faces for 45minutes.

    If someone ever comes up with a better plan…I’m in, all in.

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  131. RM says:

    I’ve worked in Silicon Valley for 20 years, both as a individual contributor (maker) and a manager. The difference between the two is that being a manager, attending meetings IS my job. As a maker however, my job is to write code. Since I’m paid a salary (vs. hourly), I’m not compensated for attending meetings. If the meeting lasts one hour, i have to spend an extra hour at work to get the job done. This is Silicon Valley. We don’t punch out at 5pm.

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  132. Karen says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I’m a web designer, and this is exactly the way it goes for me, too. If I don’t have at least a 3 hour block of uninterupted time, I feel like there’s no point in even starting anything.

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  133. Michele says:

    I was a manager/maker for several years: manager of a large and busy production team during business hours, maker/writer after everybody else left for the day. Writing during business hours was only possible when I locked the door, shut off e-mail and let all the calls go to v-mail.

    Had I read this article and its source, I would never have taken the job!

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  134. Business Cards Land says:

    This is so true. The difference is huge and I wish more managers realized this. Meetings are the biggest waste of time in the 21st century.

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  135. Francois says:

    Oh for Pete’s sake Harriet, I’m not talking about trivialities. There are plenty of non-child related reasons we back each other up at work– most recently, for me, it was a co-worker out for six weeks with a triathlon-related injury, and last year it was a boss with a drug addiction…children aren’t the only cause of people missing work, or meetings. Big world, lighten up.

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  136. YX says:

    #1
    “You know that makers wouldn’t be able to succede without a well-managed company to work within, at least typically, or else companies with no managers would form and blow the rest out of the market.”

    Which makes sense if there is no incentive to become manager, which is not true (less work, more pay)

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  137. bene says:

    This leaves out the initial reason anyone had meetings in the first place – what are the makers making?

    If you are a maker ok with a manager telling you what to make and when, then no problem. But if you want any say in what you’re making, you have to go to meetings. The main reason makers turn into managers is that they realize their manager does not have a good sense of what to make and they have to go to the clients, acct managers, vps, etc. themselves.

    These articles suggest meetings are just arbitrary and grow out of a personality type or how much time people have instead of necessity.

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  138. Rob says:

    I don’t think it’s particularly pejorative to classify people as Makers and Managers; being a Maker often implies a lower salary, for one thing. I suppose the point of the definition of a Maker is that without their skills, nothing happens; no product occurs. A Manager is there to track time and facilitate communication (is it done yet? Why not?) Whereas the buck stops with the Maker; he/she has no-one to blame. This definition applies to (the actually pejorative) “honest labourers” and web designers alike.

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  139. Liv says:

    I work for the “manager” type, and as one of his aides I spend the majority of my time working on nothing BUT his calendar – I have been working very hard at maximizing my boss’s productivity and considering different strategies to that end. Fortunately, he is hard working and is able to do his “maker” activities at night, not unlike the comments from KenLee and Graham. I now generally hate meetings whether they are my own or my boss’s, as either one takes huge chunks out of the day. I prefer phone calls, or better: emails. Phone calls are best but with emails I can keep track of conversations about various projects and stay on the ball with whatever I am doing.

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  140. Camille Jolley says:

    I’m a high school teacher, and as such have both “manager” and “maker” schedules. Now if I could only get my principal and department heads to not schedule meetings during my “maker” time….

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  141. Johnny says:

    Hey, I love this article because I can’t stand meetings. I’ve read Paul’s article before too.

    What is really frustrating, is that someone wants to have a meeting, but they refuse to send an email. What do you all want to have meetings about? Do you have questions? What are they? Are you able to write those questions in an email? Exactly.

    I can handle everything over email.

    I don’t require well managed companies to make money, I deal solely on my computer, and I can manage as many workers as I need through elance, and never have to meet with them once or talk to them on the phone. I don’t even need workers anymore, free lancing people online is the way to do it. I manage a mutli million dollar operation without having to leave my keyboard. The things I actually have to physically do, I hire someone I know, and I control their business related actions via email, their job is to check their email and communicate with me via text. I do not require anything but text to run my business.

    I’m all for talking a little business when I’m out socializing though, but scheduling a physical meeting for a time in the future is not for me.

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