Don’t put your creative makers on a manager’s schedule


Why do newly-promoted managers sometimes become obstacles to people with good ideas? Often, they don’t realize that their elevation to management puts them in a different world, with a new way of allocating time that interferes with the productivity of their best employees.


A few years ago, an investor by the name of Paul Graham wrote an article arguing that there are two different kinds of schedules professionals make. In his 2009 post entitled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” he described a shift which takes place when people who have technical or artistic expertise are promoted into managerial positions.


They start attending lots of meetings, tackling one issue after another. Their “manager’s schedules” are marked by sharp switches from one topic to another, in a fairly unplanned, random manner. These schedules are ideal for people whose jobs involve putting out fires.


Unfortunately, managers often forget what it was like to be a “maker.” These employees are the ones who create new things, like computer programs, advertising copy or specialized customer solutions. Their job requires them to exercise creative powers on a daily basis.


By contrast, meetings are their worst enemy. When they are forced to attend them by an organization’s norms, it drags them away from their primary task: making new stuff. It ruins their productivity.


A manager may think that a single one-hour meeting in the middle of the morning or afternoon isn’t too much to ask of makers. However, it actually robs them of their most valuable assets: blocks of uninterrupted time. In their world, this resource allows them to enter the magical, deep state of concentration defined by experts like Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, Anders Ericsson, and Cal Newport.


This is a tragedy that affects every Jamaican company’s productivity. After all, the goal of employing another human being is not merely to keep them busy. Instead, the best managers unleash creative power using the following three approaches.


#1 – Teach individuals how to guard focused time


If you are a manager, your employees may understand what excellent work looks like and how it should be measured, but they probably don’t know where it originates.


First, you need to show them that chasing around doing a manager’s bidding is not enough. (If such behavior happens to be a sad fact of life in your company, then you have a much scarier problem.)


Instead, teach them that working in blocks of focused time ranging from two to four hours is essential to high performance.


At the same time, warn them. The modern office does not support the maker’s needs. Sadly, with modern portable devices, expectations around email responsiveness and open seating plans, it’s designed to maximize distractions. Altogether, they make you less productive.


However, the responsibility to produce results lies with makers, not their circumstances. While many motivated employees compensate by arriving very early, leaving late, telecommuting and working on weekends, holidays, vacations and even sick days, this is not a sustainable strategy. They must learn to cordon off blocks of focused time in the regular working day if they hope to do their job effectively.


#2 – Get work groups involved


As a manager, you also have the power to create policies for your team which support maker time. Simply block out times during the week when meetings are not allowed, such as Monday and Friday from 9am-12pm.


Now, your makers can relax knowing that none of their colleagues will interrupt them during these periods or expect them to undertake non-creative activities. This tactic allows them to be fully focused even when they are outside of blocked-out times because they know that their time-slot for doing great work is already set for the near future.


#3 –  Protect employees from outside intrusions


There’s more. If you are serious about giving makers the time they need, you must buffer them from organizational pressure to disrupt their best work.


This means running interference, making sure that no-one is pulling your employees into meetings which minimize their maker time. If this requires you to approve these gatherings beforehand, do it.


Until you educate the rest of the company on the difference between maker and manager time, you may just have to say “No” several times so that your organization’s most important objectives can be met.


If you use these three approaches you may be able to keep your makers not only productive but fulfilled. I have met many who quit or become deeply resigned because they cannot do their best work. Don’t wait. Intervene early before their frustration builds to the point of no return and you’ll no longer be an obstacle.



Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to

How to correct your company’s vague, cliché-ridden vision statement


Most leaders know how important it is to inspire employees. However, their favorite tool, a corporate vision statement, is fast becoming an artifact of a time when trite clichés used to work. Today, these statements all sound the same so everyone ignores them. Perhaps your company should supplement your own with a “backcasted” matrix developed during its next strategic planning retreat.

When vision statements became popular the intent of its proponents was pure. An organization needed to articulate exactly where it was going if it had a hope of gaining competitive advantage. Without it, stakeholders would act from their personal view of the future. In their pursuit of these mini-visions, they would create chaos.

Perhaps the first vision statements worked because when they were introduced, they were better than nothing. But today, employees need more specificity. Fortunately, backcasting offers executives a rigorous solution.

The term was coined by John Robinson in a 1990 paper. However, our clients know it as “The Merlin Process”, named after the wizard from King Arthur’s court. He claimed to be able to stand in the future and live back to the present. Today, you can use this power in your next planning retreat by following these three steps.

Step 1: The Way to Break Through Cliches

The problem with vision statements is that they are based on very broad ideas. Some try to make them more real by using media such as pictures, videos, drawings and even poetry.

However, you need not go to these lengths. Just pick a planning year far enough in the future to accomplish something big. Then, use it to describe your preferred scenario in not only words, but numbers.

For example, create a 2045 Vision in which company profit is $500 million, ROI is 15% and headcount is 450. When you add to this list of metrics and targets, a clear picture emerges.

As you may know, there is a delicate interplay between such metrics. As your team describes this preferred future state, some hard realities emerge due to the tradeoffs which must be made. For example, a client of ours realized that if it actually reached its long-term revenue goal, the headquarters of the company would have to be moved from the Caribbean to Miami. That was the only way to serve its changed focus on Latin American customers. Everyone refused and the target was reduced.

Detailing such futures takes hard work, yet it’s easy compared to the following required actions.

Step 2: Use the numbers to link your vision of tomorrow to past results

In our strategic planning retreats we ask a small task force to stay late, in order to complete the following exercise. Their job is to connect the output of Step 1 with today’s reality.

We recommend the use of a spreadsheet with rows of key metrics arrayed against columns of years connecting, for example, 2045 back to 2017.

The end result (a “Merlin Chart”) looks like a matrix. But these are not forecasts – they are “backcasts” which start from the future and work their way back.

This matrix is completed by adding projects, interventions, acquisitions and other unique activities at specific times in order to produce the desired end-result. Taken together, they describe a long-term plan.

However, the task force’s first draft is just that – a rough description. It must be verified with a wider audience because initial plans are often changed overnight.

For example, a client team discovered that its dream of having a bi-lingual workforce within 20 years was entirely unrealistic. It had to be scaled back. Another recognized that the owner of the institution was running it into the ground. To ensure its future, it needed new ownership, which it secured several years later.


Step 3: Get immediate buy-in by sharing an imperfect draft

Once the chart is drafted, it’s shared with a much larger team. Now, everyone has an opportunity to examine and suggest changes as they point out errors in judgment, mistaken assumptions, and mathematical inconsistencies. They also dispute where projects have been inserted, delayed or cancelled.

By the end, they have concluded a discussion which builds not only understanding but ownership and trust. The result is more than a windy talk shop, but a series of joint decisions intended to accomplish the vision.

They don’t come lightly. Several nerve-wracking moments ensue as the team drives to consensus. But this is a conversation worth having: it might save your company from destruction as it adjusts to a new technology, competitor or economy.

It may sound corny, but people want to be on a winning team. In this powerful activity lies a secret: it gets staff inspired because it tells a success story from start to finish which every employee understands and supports. It’s a transformation they can get behind with both their hearts and minds.


Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to