Managers v. Makers (And What It Means For Your Schedule)

October 2, 2023

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When I first read about the manager v. maker distinction and what it means for each person’s work schedules, it was a big lightbulb moment for me. Let’s discuss how you can use this framework for your schedule and ensure you’re not imposing, e.g., a manager’s schedule on a maker to the detriment of their ability to do their maker job.

Referenced articles:

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Full Transcript

Episode 22. Manager vs. Maker

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey hey! All right, welcome back! I am really excited to talk about this one today, and it’s a really fun topic in a nerdy way if you like thinking about this stuff, and you’re here, so my guess is you do!

Managers vs. Makers – 0:41

What we’re gonna talk about today is managers versus makers at work, the difference in the type of work, and the difference in the type of schedules needed to support that type of work. Now, this is a distinction I did not come up with. I read about it a couple of years ago in Farnam Street. I’ll link the article below. Then it was also piggybacking on an article written in 2009, I believe, by Paul Graham, and I’ll link to both of those articles in the show notes.

Essentially, what they’re pointing out — which is obvious, but I think sometimes we need someone else to articulate it for it to really crystalize and be something we can grab onto in our own heads. And so, he distinguishes managers versus makers kind of as the following.

Managers are obviously people who are managing other people, and the type of work that they do is more collaborative, team-focused, they’re moving the ball forward on projects, and that’s usually helping eliminate obstacles and not being the chokehold of a going-forward motion on their projects. It’s a lot of people connections. And so, because of that, a lot of the work that they do involves meetings, phone calls, emails, all these collaborative things. They also spend a lot of time putting out fires. It’s actually good for them to be in that firefighting place in the sense that that’s where their judgment is. They’re making sure that, “Okay, we’ve created a great plan but there are obviously going to be obstacles. These priorities are gonna come up. I have the judgment. The company values my judgment,” or whatever organization you work for values your judgment and wants you in the middle of that because they like your judgment of how you’re gonna deal with those fires.

And so, that’s kind of, overall, high level, a manager’s role. And I shouldn’t really say role because I haven’t even touched on the strategy that goes into deciding which projects to take on. There are obviously other components of a manager’s job, but that’s the focus of this article is talking about having that real, collaborative, team-focused approach and what impact that has on the types of tasks and activities that that person does.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the makers. They’re the people — I mean, it’s pretty obvious — who are making and doing that more time-intensive work that’s usually done more solo. That’s, for example, drafting a presentation or drafting briefs or doing research, things like that that you typically do alone. You really need some kind of focus time to do that, a solid period of time to do that, and out of it comes out a work product that usually is then sent on to a manager for their review.

So it’s a very simplified version, but pretty accurate on the whole in terms of what those different roles are. Obviously, some people do combinations of these things, and we’re gonna talk about that, but if you really want to simplify down manager and maker roles, I think it’s a really helpful framework from which we can continue the discussion.

Why Manager vs. Maker Matters – 3:38

So let’s talk about why this matters. I think there are kind of two main places I see as of right now. I’m sure there are more as this develops in my own head and as I continue reading and learning from others, including you if you’d like to send me your thoughts, is, first of all, it matters for the structure of your day.

So, if you are a manager or if you are a maker or if you are a combination of the two, that has an impact on how you should be ideally trying to structure your day and the types of work that you take on. So let’s just talk about this. So I’m really talking about when do you have meetings? When do you hold meetings? How much time are you on email and on phone calls? How much time do you get to protect for focused work? Do you deal with people who just swing by your office? All of that, and your general approach going forward, matters depending on whether you’re a manager, a maker, or a combination of the two.

Now, obviously, we can’t live in this ideal world where we only deal with things when we want to. But I often think we have more control than we think. And so, just taking a step back and thinking about this stuff and then thinking about, “How do I ideally want to be doing things,” can be really powerful on how you manage your time and how you handle your schedule and your calendar going forward. It won’t be perfect. But if we can take a step back and try and get clear on this stuff, it can have major ripple effects on how we feel about our jobs, how we own our schedules, how we make decisions about them. If you’re a manager and you feel like you’re not supposed to be living in a firefighting place, realizing that’s actually where your value is can be an important shift so that you own it, but then we want to talk about what you do with the rest of your work as well, which we’ll get to.

Makers – 5:31

So I think the easier place to start here is as a maker. If you’re the one doing the drafting of things, the researching, all that kind of stuff, obviously you need actual time during your workday to do that. The tricky part, which we’re gonna talk about is, often, a lot of makers have very meeting-heavy schedules. Because of that, they’re not getting to the main valuable work that they bring to the table. So if you’re a maker and you know you have to do these major drafting projects and things like that, but you are forced into spending four to five to six hours of your workday in meetings, that’s very stressful because you know you’re not getting to the actual making activities. That’s where your value is. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing, and so, you feel like you’re behind because, candidly, you are behind. But through no fault of your own. You’re getting all these meetings on your schedule and that’s a very stressful place to be. You’re feeling behind. You’re not showing up how you want to, and then, of course, those things bleed over into your personal life as well.

So that’s just an important thing that you probably are very fully already aware of is that you need more focused time, and I hope that as we continue through this podcast, you’ll be able to at least frame some of the issues to the people that could help you get that focused time or feel more confidence and ownership in protecting your schedule for that focused time, understanding this framework. I hope it becomes clear, but let’s continue on with the managers because I think it’ll help clarify what’s going on here.

Managers – 7:07

So managers, on the other hand, as we’ve talked about, are typically more interested in meetings, being in email, things like that because that’s where their value is a lot of the time. So they need to be more available to others because that’s, again, part of their job is keeping projects moving forward, helping troubleshoot and problem solve and just keeping everybody moving forward. Now, I do want to say that something I think that is missing from some of those discussions — although, granted, the articles I referenced, it’s been a while since I read them. So I apologize if it is in there. But they also do need to protect time for strategy, and by strategy I mean really getting clear on what is the overarching goal that your department or your organization has right now, and what projects serve that, and what projects are you gonna let go because they don’t serve that?

That’s just a high level, obviously easier said than done, part of this, but that is a manager’s role, in my opinion, is making those calls or at least facilitating those conversations on a higher level because the alternative is you’re trying to do it all, you’re burning out, your team is burning out, and all of that. There are just limits to time and energy for yourself and your team, and we need to clarify what projects are serving the right goals. I talk a lot more about that in episode four on prioritizing, so I’m not gonna keep going on on that, but I just want to point out here that you also, as a manager, still need some focused time, maybe less than a maker, but still some, to ensure that you are having time for that strategizing. Because it is up to you as a leader to advocate on how your team’s energy and time is allocated in light of the organization’s main top goal right now. And so, you just really need some time to sit down and kind of inventory, “What are all the projects we’re working on, and how does that relate to the main business goal that we have?” Do you need some help figuring out what that main business goal is so you can filter projects, things along those lines.

So that’s kind of how a manager would run. You also need to be aware as a manager of how your team is working because if you’re a manager, but you have a team of makers, you have to be very careful not to impose your own schedule preferences and what serves you really well on your team of makers because a manager’s schedule undercuts the maker’s ability to do their job, which I think is kind of pretty clear at this point.

Cal Newport had a great point. He really drove this home for me. Managers often impose what works for them on makers and really undercut the makers’ ability to do it. I’m pretty sure it was Cal Newport who gave an example of this whole open-floor concept in an office setting is such an example of that that’s really hurting makers. What he’s saying is managers love collaboration. That is where a lot of the magic happens for them. But constant collaboration, like having an open-floor concept that is supposed to encourage constant collaboration, actually truly undercuts makers’ abilities to show up and do their jobs. Same with all these meetings, meetings, meetings, I’m sure managers typically crave the protected work, but they don’t often feel like it’s such a waste of their time to be in these meetings, where makers really do because they’re stressed out because they think their real work is back at their desk.

And so, you just have to be careful and aware as a manager not to impose what works for collaborative-you super well on your team of makers who need more alone time to do their high-value work. Not only, if you do that, are you stressing out your team of makers, but you’re actually undercutting your whole team’s ability to perform and do their job in service of the organization that you’re working for. So just something to be really aware of. Again, I know this can be simpler than it sounds, but I do think that articulating it in the ways that this Farnam article did, that Cal Newport has, is so valuable because it helps really crystallize some of this stuff so that we can really run with it from here.

Blended Roles – 11:19

Now, when you have a blended role where you’re a manager, but you also are still responsible for some making, it’s obviously more nuanced. We just have to be a little bit more flexible with it here, but it’s still worth being aware of because you still have the different parts of your job and you need to kind of take a step back and say, “At least during this next month,” or two months or whatever, “I need to really lean into the manager part of my role, so I need my schedule to reflect that and be more available for the meetings, for the email, for whatever it might be to help that run forward because of these projects we have on tap, and then after that I’m going to shift and really protect more of my focused time for that maker role.” So, again, even though it doesn’t have to even be consistent all the time, just taking a step back and being intentional about it will help you kind of see, “How am I gonna make this realistic?” and then own it and not be constantly frustrated by being pulled in all these different directions that you kind of feel a little lost in and stressed out by. If you can take a step back and try to come up with some clarity around, “What is this season I’m in right now, what kind of allocation of my time needs to go to manager versus maker,” and then work to have your schedule reflect that, I think you’ll feel a lot more empowered and in control of your time even if it doesn’t work fully perfectly.

I love focusing on this stuff, and we do a lot of this in The Bright Method program because what we do there is, first, we get clear on what are all the things that we’re spending our time on, and once they’re visual in front of you, you’re better able to see, “Okay, there are my more manager ones. These are my more maker ones,” and then you’re better able to question, “Where is the place that I’m adding the most value, and how do I protect more time for that, and then let me see, given the realities of the limits of my time and energy, if that high-value stuff is taking up X amount of time in my calendar–.” I’m gonna use an example because it’s easier.

If you’re a manager, and you’re like, “Okay, I actually realize that I spend five hours a day in meetings and also putting out fires, but that’s actually where I should be spending my time, then you need to also then look at the rest of your work, and if you’re also trying to do five hours of making activities, that’s when you can kind of say, “Okay, this obviously can’t work. I can’t do ten hours of work straight in a workday all the time, and so, given that the more managerial parts are where my value is, how am I going to get some of the rest of this stuff off my plate?” We talk about this a lot more, but it’s really important to realize if your value is in the fires and the meetings, then instead of trying to constantly get out of those, which I think we as a culture understandably want to do, is actually realizing, “Okay, no, actually that is where my company wants me, that is where my value is, but that means I’ve got to get rid of some of this other maker, more focused work.” So we talk about delegating, but if there’s no one to delegate, then we need to eliminate some of it. We just do. And so, those are a lot of the conversations we have.

In addition, if you are a pure maker or majority maker and your calendar is dominated by meetings, then we talk about how are we best going to get you out of some of these. It’s even come down to having conversations with a superior, a boss and showing them your calendar and being like, “These are all the meetings I’m in, and this is why I’m not able to get to XYZ projects,” and really clarifying with specificity what time you are not able to give to specific projects where you could be if you were able to give that time to specific projects, and therefore why you need to get out of certain meetings in light of that. That’s just an example, but hopefully it helps you see the utility of this manager/maker distinction and how it can help you articulate to the people that can give you more support or help alleviate your workload, why you need the support you need with specifics because you’re using The Bright Method, so you have everything more visually laid out in front of you, so you’re more empowered to use the specifics in those conversations which are definitely more effective, versus just going in and saying, “I’m overwhelmed.” That really helps you get where you want to go, get the relief that you want, and usually in a way that you want because you propose things that involve keeping the projects you want to keep and getting the projects you don’t want off your plate and things along those lines.

All right, so before we move into the second point, know that if this is a real lightbulb moment for you like it was for me, and if you want more help teasing all this out and really getting my support in helping you understand the distinctions in your work and how to have those conversations and what specifics to raise and things along those lines, I would love to help out, but you can find more information at www.kellynolan.com/bright. Okay, onto the next point!

Makers Become Managers who are Still Making – 16:17

The other point I want to make is really for new managers, and it’s related to what we’re talking about, but I really want to hammer this home. Often, when people are promoted to a manager role or they have it happen more naturally, like you’re in a law firm, and you’re a junior associate and become more of a senior associate, a lot of companies just add manager tasks on top of already full-time maker jobs. And I don’t know if companies are intentionally doing that, if that’s what’s expected, or that’s just what we interpret as being expected. It’s hard to know because so many industries don’t actually train people when they’re making the managers on what a manager does and how to do it. Definitely not in law. There’s no discussion around that. So there’s confusion of, “I’ve spent my whole career getting here by making, for the most part, and getting rewarded for that, and suddenly I’m a manager, and now I know that I need to manage people, but I don’t know how to do that, and I also don’t know what that means in terms of the making things I used to do.”

So there’s a lot of confusion there that’s understandable and not great. But for whatever reason, that is what’s happening. Makers become managers who are still spending a lot of time making, and the problem that we kind of touched on already is there’s not time to do all of that. You had a full-time maker job. Now you have a presumably full-time manager job on top of that, and so, just kind of smushing those two together does not work. They cannot be crammed into your calendar, and it doesn’t mean that you’re failing as a manager if you’re struggling to do that. It’s just an impossible workload, and I think having the distinction of, “Now I’m a manager and these are manager tasks,” on top of makers can help you balance those in your own calendar and probably have to advocate for more support in that maker role-type work to get more of that off your plate in light of becoming a manager.

It also just might help you internally make that connection so that you feel more empowered to get more of that maker stuff off your plate because now you can see more, “Okay, these are manager tasks that I need to be working on, and they made me a manager. I need to have time protected to do that.” They might not fully recognize that. Again, I always go back to law because it’s my background. I think that the whole project management elements of cases and that kind of work was never fully acknowledged when I was practicing law and just how much time it takes, and so, you might have to really advocate for yourself that this is how these cases run on track is the project and case management of it, and now that I’m in that role, whether you’re a junior mid-level associate running that or a senior associate running that or even a young partner running it, really being able to articulate, “This is the amount of time this takes. I need to protect time for that. I need to get more support on the making side of this, so that we have more support on people doing research and things like that, so that I can be really running the case in addition to some of the maker role tasks.”

I’ll also say that I know that, for some people, when they look around for who they’re gonna delegate to, there’s no one to delegate to, so they feel stuck with it, and I just want to point out that if you’re tapped out and there’s no one to share work with, then you have to have less projects and recurring tasks on your plate, period. Like, period. And so, that, again, is where you have conversations with, “I’m now managing. I still have a full maker workload on my plate. I don’t have time to do both. If we can’t get me support with someone else who I can delegate work to, we have to reduce the number of projects we’re having.”

Again, I know I’m a broken record, but The Bright Method helps you have that conversation with specifics and come up with proposals because now you feel a lot more clear on all the work on your plate and equipped with the specifics to have that conversation. So I just want you to know that that’s available to you as an option. These things can be tough pills to swallow. I think confronting reality is really hard, but it’s still worth it because there’s a quote out there that’s something like, “If you argue with reality, reality always wins.” And so, we need to embrace it and have conversations in light of that to get where we need to go. I talked about this in episode four, but even if you don’t get the response you want from work, it is very valuable to understand that you’re not going to get the support and the response that you want from work because whether or not you can leave this moment, it really helps you stop killing yourself for a job that’s not going to help you.

I love that Taylor Swift quote. I’m gonna butcher it, but it’s like, “Putting someone first only works if you’re in their top five.” And I feel like sometimes you have those conversations, and you realize, “Oh, I am not in this company’s top five,” not necessarily of employees, but just of priorities of what they’re going to prioritize, if I’m not one of the top people and also above profits and their own salaries and things like that, then I’m not gonna put you as number one anymore. I think that can be a really powerful thing to realize, even if it doesn’t give you that immediate relief that we’re looking for.

Recap – 21:42

So I just want to wrap this up by really recapping what we talked about. I know that there isn’t totally a tactical takeaway in this in the way that I normally like my podcast episodes to have, but it was such a valuable lightbulb moment, it was such a valuable framework for me to understand the types of work and the type of schedules coming out, so I just thought it was really worth sharing. We use this framework as, not a major part of The Bright Method, but a big part of The Bright Method when parsing tasks and where your time is going and how you want to make adjustments so that you feel more like you understand your schedule, where you understand where you want your time to go, if you need to be flexible or make decisions between competing activities, you have this framework to use to clarify where is your value. And so, there’s something to this that’s really interesting to me that was worth sharing.

So, in short, we have makers, and we have managers, and we often have combinations of the two. We have different types of tasks that go into each, and because of that, we have different ideal schedules that serve each of them. Managers tend to need and find value in more of the collaborative work, like the meetings, the emails, things along those lines. They still need strategy time so that they are helping their team use their time and energy more effectively, but on the whole, they’re more open to meetings and collaboration because of that manager need to really move the ball forward. Where makers on the other hand, need time alone to do the actual making. We just have to be aware of that so that if you’re a maker you protect that focused time for the actual work, the actual making.

If you’re not getting that time right now, hopefully you’ve heard things in here that can help you advocate for why you need it and why your value requires alone time. You can even address head on to your manager that you completely understand why they have a more collaborative approach but you, as a maker, need this focused time, and being constantly interrupted by meetings and phone calls and emails with a very quick turnaround expectation is really actually undercutting your ability to show up and add value in the ways that you do within your company.

Managers get to embrace that more collaborative nature but understand that if you’re in five hours of meetings a day, you also can’t do five plus hours of that making work each day. And so, you need to have some tough decisions with yourself or people above you on, “How am I going to delegate or eliminate some of this maker work so that I can get some of that off my plate?” You also, as a manager, want to be very careful all the time about not imposing a manager schedule on your team of makers because you’re going to really stress them out and also undercut their ability to do their jobs. If you’re a combination person, you’ve got to use your smarts on what is the best timeline to look at for you right now, but for the next two months, which role are you gonna lean in on and allocation of time (60/40 or 80/20 or 100/0 for a period of time, whatever it’s gonna be), and then own your schedule in light of that.

With all of this, as always, with everything I teach, we have to have some flexibility. It’s never gonna go perfectly to plan, but I do think we have more control than we want to, and to be able to draw boundaries, we first need to know where those boundaries should be. And so, my hope is that this helps you on that front.

I also want to give those people who are newer managers the language, whether it’s just in their heads to help themselves structure their time or to communicate with people around them about the types of tasks that they have, that they can’t just add a whole manager job on top of an already full-time maker job, and if that’s you, how you might want to have discussions around that. Again, even just in your head, because sometimes having the clarity that this framework brings can help you just have that aha moment of, “This is where I need my time to be going. This is where I need it not to be going,” and then make those decisions for yourself.

All right! Well, I hope you got some good nuggets out of that. I truly would love to hear what you think about this and how it plays out in your own career. If you want to send me a message on Instagram, feel free. If you’d rather shoot me an email at ke***@ke********.com, I would really love it! I really love hearing how these concepts help you clarify the issues but then also how they play out in your own life. If you think a friend would enjoy this, please send them this episode. I really appreciate it, and I’ll catch you in the next one!

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