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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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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