Think before you meet

Years ago I began working as a system administrator, then programmer. In 2000 I worked remotely 90% of the time. From my home office I could do almost everything I needed to do, but it was in this situation that I began to struggle with intense frustration related to interruptions. I began analyzing my situation and discovered that each interruption (e.g., phone call, meeting, pop-in) took me at least 20 minutes to recover from. That is, if I could ever return to the previous task that day.

One day I realized that one of the people causing a significant number of these was my wife. She loved to pop-in on me to say she loved me or ask me a question. All good things; things that I have given her to right to do. But I realized that it was causing me stress, but the reason was complex. I expressed it this way to her, "Honey, you are my favorite person on Earth. No one is as desirable to me as you. This also means that there is no one on Earth as distracting as you. When you walk by my office and wave, you have my attention. It should be that way, that's a superpower that you have. I need to ask you to use your power carefully. I've discovered that even your 30 second thoughtful reminders of love take me about 20 minutes to recover from. I love you and I give you permission to interrupt me, but I ask you to use this wisely because it will cost emotionally." For my wife this fell into the category of "understanding her husband better". For me it was a way to preserve my happy thoughts toward my wife. She has spent the last ten years showing much wisdom in her use of her power.

I also discovered that meetings fell into the "interruptions" category as well. Of course, being a manager, meetings are part of life. There's no way to avoid them. But how could I limit their affect on my schedule, and blood pressure? For years I practiced "defensive scheduling" where I would block out large chunks of the day for project work (e.g., analysis, research, writing/programming, etc). This worked o.k. but never really seemed to solve the problem completely.

I chocked this up to being a task-oriented person, which is true. But it turns out it's more than that. In his July 2009 blog post entitled, "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule", Paul Graham describes two different kinds of work schedule. The entire article resonated with me but this quote really caught my attention.

For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

Not only am I task-oriented but I operate on the maker's schedule in a managers world. So many things make sense after reading this article. A couple of helpful take aways include:

  • the awareness that there are these two types of modes
  • it can help for a maker to schedule meetings at the end of the day so they compress the day rather than interrupt it
  • it can help for a maker living living in a manager world to split the day into maker and manager sections, perhaps even using late night hours for maker activities

So, I'll be adding these concepts to the tactics I use to cope as a maker in a managers world.