Maker vs manager — which gets your vote?

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Have you ever thought about the world being divided along maker vs manager lines? It’s a useful metaphor — one that gives you tips about your own time management…

If I ask you whether you’re a maker or a manager, do you know what I mean?

But you know the difference between cats and dogs, right? (I’ll talk more about this idea in just a moment.)

The whole concept of maker vs manager dates back to an essay written by computer programmer Paul Graham in 2009. In it, he described how “makers” — writers, artists, carpenters and chefs, among others — need the freedom of time to be able to create.

They can’t just create for an hour and then go on to other work. They need  S  P  A  C  E  around themselves to do it.

Managers, on the other hand, run their days by meetings. They rush from one meeting to the next, often in 30-minute or 60-minute intervals, talking to people and responding to needs on-the-go.

Here’s how Graham describes the problem for makers:

“A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But, in addition, there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning.

“I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t.”

I have worked with many people who need to be part-time makers and part-time managers. But trying to do both jobs at the same time only creates stress. The average maker has eight meetings a week. (Although, of course, the average manager has more — 12.)

But now let’s talk about cats vs dogs.

I picked up this idea from a delightful post by the team at Sanctus Coaching. Here’s how they put it:

“Dogs are the Managers… They get their energy from people and activities. They’re almost always down for a walk and talk, will drop whatever they’re doing for a new ball and a scritch behind the ears, and are at their most active during daylight hours.

“Cats on the other hand get the zoomies at 2am. These are your Makers. Come at them with an unwelcome scritch and too much stimulation and they’ll make it violently clear they don’t appreciate it. They have limited patience for most humans but will sit in a box for 8-, 9-, 10-hour stints perfectly happy in their own little world.

“Dogs are activity and people led. Cats are vibe led, preferring to conserve energy and invest large chunks of time in stalking pigeons, sleeping, and being cute.”

So, if you’re a dog who wants to pick up some of the cat vibe — or if you’re a cat, struggling to fit into a dog-led world, here are three pieces of advice for you:

1-Do your most important work (creating, making) FIRST.

Do it right after getting up, before other people start demanding your time and attention, and before you do anything else. Most especially, do it before you check email or read the news. Email and the news can wait. Your creative work shouldn’t have to. Author Stephen Covey described this as doing the important before the urgent. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but adopting this principle will help you create more readily and more often. (And, yes, I know many cats are night people, but if you wait until nighttime, you may be too tired. If you want to work late at night, think of it as something EXTRA. Develop the habit of doing your first bit of creative work in the morning.)

2-Don’t feel there is no value in working for small amounts of time.

I don’t buy the argument that you need half a day to make something that’s worthwhile. If you require a minimum of four hours to do anything, you’re limiting your opportunities. Instead, just do as much as you can in the time you have. If you can write for only 15 minutes, you might get 300 words. That’s to your benefit, right? Even if you can write only 30 words in 15 minutes, that’s still better than zero words.

3-Too much time can be just as daunting as too little.

When I was at university many decades ago, I used to be the person who told myself I needed four hours to get any work done. I’d take myself out to campus, certain that was the day I was going to accomplish something substantial. But walking through the Student Union Building, on my way to my carrel, I’d inevitably run into friends and stop for coffee. Before I knew it, my four hours had turned into three. Then the book I needed at the library would be unavailable, and I had only two hours remaining. Then it was time for me to get a snack, and guess what? I ran into more friends in the cafeteria. Before I knew it, my four-hour window was gone, and I felt overwhelmed by guilt.

It’s better to spend a little bit of time creating every day than it is to spend a lot of time creating irregularly.

Just be sure to protect those precious minutes by putting them first.


My video podcast last week described how to find your writing voice. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Is it useful to think of maker vs manager work schedules? How can you use this concept to help yourself plan better? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by the end of the day today, April 30/24, I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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