Have you ever felt that in one hour you accomplished more than you usually do in a whole day? Did you ever check your email just for a minute and found yourself completely lost to what you were doing before?
If so, you are probably working on something that is called maker’s time.
Understanding it can help you to not only be more productive but also to end up having more free time which is increasingly hard to find in modern world. So, what exactly is maker’s time?
A maker’s job is to create some form of tangible value. It is a very broad category and includes everyone from writers, artists, carpenters down to web designers and software developers. If you do most of your job designing, creating or thinking, you probably fall into the category of a maker.
To make anything a significant amount of time is required. Having the right schedule can be crucial in making that work efficient. A typical maker’s schedule usually consists of long blocks of time (sometimes even a whole day) reserved on specific tasks. That is because most efficient state of producing is reached in something called ‘deep work’. Working in that state can lead to results that are better by orders of magnitude. But how can we define deep work?
Deep work is the ability to focus on a cognitively demanding task without any distractions. It pushes your cognitive abilities to their limit and improves your skill. Committing to deep work creates new value and it is difficult to replicate. According to Cal Newport, if you spend enough time in a state of obsessive shallowness you can end up permanently damaging your ability to perform deep work. He has also called it the superpower of the 21st century.
When you switch from one task to another, some of the attention subconsciously stays on the original task and makes it harder to fully focus on the new task. That attention slag gets especially large if the work you were doing on the original task was not specific and was of low intensity.
According to Sophie Leroy: “People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task, and the more intense the residue, the worse the performance.” To produce at your peak performance, you need to work for extended periods on a single task with no distractions and full concentration.
There are various methods that can help you achieve deep work. Timeboxing can help you keep track of your deep work progress and also help your brain enter the deep work state by putting a fixed deadline to your work. Turning off notifications is useful for avoiding distractions and keeping yourself in the deep work state. Also, cutting out passive digital interaction (such as scrolling through social media) can help establishing it as a distraction rather than a reward.
All that being said, achieving deep work on a consistent basis is hard. One of the ways of accomplishing that is to follow Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) developed by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Hulin.
Those rules are:
You should identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours. They should be ambitious and complicated by nature to help your brain transition into the deep work state. According to David Brooks: "If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”
There are two types of metrics used in 4DX, lag measure and lead measure. You can look on lag measures as the things you are ultimately trying to accomplish. This can be anything from a specific project to acquiring a new skill. Lead measures assess new behaviour that will lead to success on the lag measures. They improve the behaviour that you control directly and can be achieved in small steps but will have positive impact on your long-term goals as well.
For example, if you are a programmer, lag measure can be defined as progress on the project you are currently working on. Your lead measure in that example could be something as number of deep work hours. Those are hours fully dedicated to work, without any distractions and unplanned breaks.
Scoreboard is a place where you keep track of your progress. It is used as a visual reminder of your goals and lead measures.
In the example used above, your scoreboard can be a piece of paper with numbers at the top indicating the week number of the year. Below each number you write one ‘x’ each time you complete one hour of deep work that week. That way you can easily see your progress throughout the year and can try out different methods to improve that number.
Four disciplines of execution advocate for creating a cadence of accountability in maintaining your progress. That is much easier to achieve when you are working in a team rather than by yourself. When working by yourself there is no social pressure and no support network for when things don’t go as planned.
For that reason, four disciplines of execution suggest for people holding each other accountable inside a team. That team should have weekly meetings to review the results of the scoreboard and update it accordingly. Each will be held accountable to follow through on the actions that will help the team advance the lead measures
A manager’s job is to manage other people and systems. Their expertise in a given field can have huge impact on the whole company in just a few minutes of actual work. They typically divide their workday into tiny slots. Those slots are mostly used for meetings, emails or calls. As such, having meetings is a normal part of their work and it doesn’t affect their productivity for that day. Working under that schedule seems natural to them and they can often book meetings in the middle of the workday which can upset people who work under maker’s schedule.
People that work on manager’s schedule are usually in a position of power and make everyone else conform to their schedule. But more experienced ones don’t do that because they are aware of the problems it might cause to people working under them. A meeting in the middle of the day can break the maker’s schedule in such a way that nothing valuable ends up being produced.
One of the common solutions to resolving the problem in differing schedules is to simulate manager’s schedule within maker’s schedule with office hours. You set aside few hours each day at the beginning or the end of the workday during which people can set up an appointment with you. That way, if you have a meeting, it will come at the edge of your workday and won’t interrupt any of your important work.
Protecting maker’s time is one of the most important problems in modern workplaces. Having properly defined work timeslots for workers can help them achieve deep work state and produce much better and faster. Also, it is important that workers are aware of that skill and make proper steps towards improving it.
Perhaps eventually, if more people become aware of this issue and it is more widely understood, it will become less of a problem.