Why You Should Think About Batching Your Schedule, Not Blocking It
Saturday is my favorite day of the week. Well, not all of Saturday…more like Saturday morning from 8 AM to noon. Each week, I eagerly anticipate that time block because it’s four hours of guaranteed, uninterrupted time to work on my projects (like this blog).
And when I say “uninterrupted,” I mean uninterrupted. My fiancé (oh yeah, I got engaged last week, but that’s for a future newsletter) is at her weekly craft fair, my dogs go back to sleep post-walk, my coffee is hot, my phone is silent, and I don’t look at the news. It’s in this vast swath of time, when the world cannot reach me, that I get my best writing done.
My Saturdays weren’t always so untrammeled. Sure, there’d be an occasional morning writing session, but I’d also fill my Saturday mornings with brunches, coffee catch ups, and video game playing. But that changed a few years ago when I discovered the “maker/manager schedule.”
It’s this idea, advanced by Paul Graham of Y Combinator, that there are two ways to break up your day. First…
“The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals….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.”
It’s the kind of schedule your Google calendar likes by default. And there’s nothing wrong with it—it’s totally fine if you spend your day primarily meeting with people, especially other managers. It only becomes a problem when you’re trying to get together with a maker (or if you’re a maker yourself).
“[Makers] 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.”
As a maker myself, I am constantly running up against this frustration. Like at work, someone will schedule an hour-long meeting at 10 AM. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it actually blows the whole morning. How? Because I get in at 9, and knowing that I’m just going to have to stop in an hour, I am disincentivized to start working on a difficult writing project. Then, once the meeting’s over at 11, there’s only an hour until lunch, so once again, I put off starting “real” work until 1. A single morning meeting can set the tone for an entire, unproductive day.
Which makes you wonder…was that meeting really worth it in the first place?
In my improv-world, I have some good news to share. Not only did my Level 2 class fill up, but the Level 5 class that I’d completely written off ended up filling as well. Two weeks ago, I was worried I wouldn’t be teaching any improv. I was proven doubly wrong!
There was one snag with running Level 5, though. No one’s ever written down the curriculum.
In the past, when I was a less talented instructor, this lack of structure would have unknowingly destroyed me. I used to approach every coaching session with an improvisational attitude—I’d figure out the lesson plan ten minutes before class…if I did any planning at all. In the short-term, this laissez-faire approach worked out (which meant I could keep procrastinating with impunity), but it had corrosive long-term effects I’d never noticed.
First, planning right before class each week meant that I could never develop a consistent curriculum. My students were never able spend a few focused weeks mastering a topic, because we were always bouncing around haphazardly based on my fancy that day.
And second, I wasn’t actually saving myself any time in the end. I mean, that’s why I always waited until the day-of to plan my lessons; I didn’t want to sit down on a Saturday and spend two hours mapping out a three-month curriculum. So I did save myself that time, but it was offset by a bigger cost—I spent most of the week stressing about what we’d do in class on Sunday. I’d have this constant nagging feeling in my mind for three or four days—it’d ask “what are you gonna focus on this week? What are you gonna do? What about this exercise?” And then I’d forget the exercise because I wouldn’t write it down, so I’d spend more time trying to remember what I’d forgotten. Eventually, I’d come up with something and scribble it down, but in class, I’d find out my lesson plan was too short (because I didn’t spend enough time thinking it through), so then I’d have to zone out while my students were improvising to brainstorm the next exercise we’d do to fill the time. It was a mess.
Thankfully, my mentor, the great Liz Allen, gently shamed me into getting my shit together. I started planning out my lessons three to six months in advance. Yes, it took up a large chunk of time to think that far ahead, but then, for twelve weeks, I could just review the plan in those five minutes before class and never have to stress. Plus, my students actually started making progress towards specific goals rather than just doing whatever I felt like that day.
So when my director told me the Level 5 curriculum was at my discretion, my first thought was to just show up to class each week and go from there. But Liz’s voice reverberated in my skull—“HAVE A PLAN!” And that’s what I did. I sat down for two hours and mapped out every exercise, every point I wanted to make, and because of that, I noticed a neat pattern I never would have found other. Because I did the upfront work, I think I’m about to teach Level 5 in a totally unique and untested way.
Several years ago, when I was a lonely bachelor fresh out of college, I’d look forward to one weekly event: Stir Fry Sunday. It was the time of the week when I’d cook up a huge wok full of meat, rice, and veggies. Sunday night, I’d eat that for dinner. And because it was just me, I’d also have enough leftovers to eat for dinner every other night of the week, more or less. When I got home from work, I could do whatever I wanted (aka not cook and clean), because dinner was already taken care of. Microwaving for three minutes and cleaning a fork and bowl was the extent of energy I’d have to expend on dinner each night.
My fiancé and I have lived together for three years, and many things have changed since my bachelor days, but not Stir Fry Sunday. Every Sunday night, we make a stir fry (along with several other dishes) and those are our meals for the week. Yes, it takes a huge time investment upfront—in total, we probably spend four to six hours of the weekend making lunches and dinners—but then we never have to waste time thinking about or cooking food for the rest of the week. With some forethought and extra effort upfront, we save time in the long-term and free up our weeknights to actually do the things we want to do.
A maker can’t focus with a morning full of meetings, which is why I so covet and protect my Saturday mornings. But a maker also can’t focus if he’s spending his time worrying about dinner, or improv class, or any other task you could have taken care of with some upfront planning. When you start batching tasks together, you’ll undoubtedly reap the time-saving, stress-reducing, productivity-boosting benefits.
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