Jonas Altman

@sfagency

The Maker’s Schedule: Doing Your Best Work

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There are really two types of schedules as it concerns today’s creators. The Maker’s Schedule is defined by uncertainty — it demands sustained periods of uninterrupted work with intense focus. The Manager’s Schedule is characterized by reliability. It generally caters to shorter periods with emphasis on monitoring and controlling. When you try to dance between the two, however, there is a struggle for priority.

In our attention-hoovering world, few can maintain a pure Marker’s Schedule. Like many artists, they suffer from Manager’s Schedule creep — manifested as an endless cycle of meetings, administrative requirements, and other chronic distractions that prevent them from getting on with making. Rest assured there are several hacks that can help you find, and stick, to a schedule that catapults your creativity.

Workmanship of Risk and Certainty

David Pye, a former Professor of Furniture at the Royal College of Art, proposed a style of work known as workmanship of certainty. It alluded to the mass-production process — where a product is developed and cannot be changed (without a lot of heartache and expense). In stark contrast workmanship of uncertainty caters to the ambiguous creative process where achieving a final and precise outcome is continually at risk. This mode of workmanship is generally adopted by artists, designers, scientists, writers, makers and more.

Creators subscribe to the Maker’s Schedule because it places unpredictability at front and centre stage. It helps exploit their full artistic talents and refine their ability to move with dexterity amidst constant change. Cultivating and mastering this fluid way of working has become the key trait that distinguishes prolific makers from the rest of the herd.

Blocking Time

Shallow work is all too familiar and often entails talking or thinking about the work to be done while actually doing very little of it. This style of work flexes your logistical skills and is important for defining scopes of work, dividing labour and coordinating among teams. In the right measures, makers (working solo or within a team) benefit from these inputs. However, this mode of work is much less cognitively demanding than deep work— which requires sustained focus and depends upon unique skills.

In many ways, how you move between the two styles is determined by your self-discipline. If you fail to design and adopt the conditions for doing your best work, it’s likely because you lacked awareness and did not deliberately choose when, where and how to do it.

Time-blocking your day is the hack. Simply group your work into blocks of time, say for example an hour and a half, and bear in mind when it’s optimal to execute a particular activity. You can then shovel all your shallow work into a 90-minute block in the late afternoon. This leaves the entire morning as well as other times of the day free to perform long stretches of focussed work. By experimenting with different schedules and measuring your performance, you will discover what works best for you. The end result is safeguarding your most creative times and ensuring you don’t break your flow.

Deliberately Resting

Deliberate practice is necessary to become better at anything. Likewise, learning how to best manage your time is itself a skill to master. And setting an intention — what you want to have happen — is not reserved for yoga classes. It is just as relevant to your average workday as it is to your entire life.

If you think scheduling leisure time is not a high priority, you’re wrong. Research supports that when you get busy (like real busy), your attention is hijacked. You simply can’t exercise good judgment on how best to spend your time. The net outcome, of course, is that you often end up even busier with increased anxiety. Planning a recess not only boosts creativity as your mind works through problems in the background, ironically, it reduces your feeling of time pressure altogether.

Chance does favour the prepared mind. And as it turns out, a bit of slacking can help you direct your attention to what matters and stay calm amidst the storm.

A New Creative Tax

I met a ghostwriter who has a great job writing articles on behalf of the CEO of a large company. Faced with a long commute each morning to the office, she’s expected to arrive at 9 am. She has to be creative within the confines of a spirit-sapping environment that only values work performed in predictable and traditional ways. Yet it is well known that our circadian rhythms are nuanced and that inspiration does not always strike at regular times or places. Studies have shown that ‘morning people’ are actually better at solving creative problems in the evening. Precisely how and when you do your best work is wholly unique — there is no one size fits all solution.

To help earmark creative time as sacred, I propose a form of creative tax levied against head contractors. Upon establishing a suitable level of trust and the accountability it implies, the parties agree on the circumstances for how you do your best work. The emphasis is placed on the quality of your output, irrespective of where and when you work.

Indeed a few companies like The Gap and the Minnesota Department of Transportation have already adopted this results only work environment (ROWE). But for the majority of companies that are still holding on to an antiquated model, should they violate this new mutually agreed protocol (by pulling you in or interrupting you for unplanned shallow work) they must pay a nominal fine in the form of an employee benefit or charitable contribution. Pretty nifty no? — but the actual tax is less important than what it signifies.

Those who so often place their own time above yours — and in effect drain you of your finite resources of attention — will likely think twice before interrupting and having to account for the tax payable.

Optimising your Performance

The question to ask then is: How do I optimize for creativity? Staying sensitive to both your own rhythms as well as the demands that others continually place on you, can help you decide which schedule to utilize and when. Quite possibly it’s a hybrid Manager and Maker Schedule that may take place on alternate months or weeks or perhaps even within the same day.

Finding the most conducive space (both literally and figuratively) for doing your best creative work will involve experimentation. But it is bound to work wonders in helping you perform better. The real challenge is revising your type of schedule and your time blocks as you, your colleagues, your work and the world around you continues to change.

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