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The Manager vs. Creator Schedule: A Tale of Two Timetables

Picture this: I’m lost in a session, designing our ETL architecture, when suddenly the CEO calls, ready for a spur-of-the-moment strategy chat. The tranquil flow of creation meets the whirlwind of management, and it's not always pretty. This stark contrast got me thinking about how vital it is to protect the sacred space of creation, especially for those of us in the tech industry.

Managers and Creators

Before diving into how we've implemented changes at our company, let's demystify what we mean by the manager and creator schedules. The manager's schedule is the epitome of the traditional business rhythm. It's characterized by a series of back-to-back meetings, quick decision-making sessions, and a constant juggling of various administrative tasks. This schedule is ideal for roles that require regular interaction, coordination, and broad oversight of business operations. It's about keeping the company's wheels turning, ensuring that every department is aligned and moving towards common goals.
On the flip side, the creator's schedule is a stark contrast. It's the domain of deep work and concentration, where uninterrupted blocks of time are not a luxury, but a necessity. This schedule is cherished by those who build, create, and innovate – think engineers, developers, writers, and designers. It’s where complex problems are tackled, and innovative solutions are born. In this realm, every interruption is not just a momentary pause but a potential derailment of the creative process. The creator's schedule demands respect for the sanctity of focused time, which is crucial for the intricate and often intense work of creation and development.
Understanding these distinct schedules is crucial because it helps us appreciate the different needs and work styles within a company. It's not about favoring one over the other but recognizing that both are essential in their own right. The challenge, especially for someone in a leadership position like a CTO, is to find a way to bridge these two worlds effectively.

Cultivating 'Quiet Time' for Engineers

The journey to carving out a haven of productivity for our engineering team started with a simple yet powerful tool: the calendar blocker. It’s a commitment to safeguarding deep work periods from the tidal waves of meetings and interruptions.

Implementing Daily Quiet Time

Setting Up a Calendar Blocker: I took the initiative to create a daily calendar blocker and invited all engineering team members to join. This wasn't just a suggestion; it was a clear signal of the importance of this time.
Universal Participation: By having everyone on the engineering team accept this invite, we collectively committed to this quiet time. It’s a pact we made, not just with each other, but with the rest of the company.
Open Communication: I communicated the purpose and importance of this quiet time to other departments. This wasn’t about shutting ourselves off; it was about ensuring focused productivity. At the same time, I opened the door, announcing when everyone can expect us to attend meetings.
Lead by Example: As the CTO, your adherence to this quiet time is non-negotiable. Demonstrate to your team and the rest of the company that when it comes to uninterrupted work, your priorities are clear.
Regular Check-Ins: To balance this focused time, the team agreed to 8 AM standups (at least for a while). These brief meetings were our touchpoint to align, address urgent matters, and then dive into our zones of deep work.

The Results

The introduction of the calendar blocker transformed our work dynamic. Engineers felt that they now had more time to “get work done”. At our next retrospective, we had one pain point less to address. Of course, not everyone was happy with our reduced availability, but if you want to serve others well, you must create room for your work first.

Challenging For Other Executives

From a managerial perspective, this practice required a mindset shift. Everyone in management had to embrace the reality that not every issue requires the immediate attention of the engineering team. Some meetings can, and should, wait. It's about discerning what truly demands immediate attention and what can be scheduled within the confines of our deep work periods.

In Conclusion

The journey of harmonizing the manager and creator schedules has been enlightening, challenging, and ultimately rewarding. By establishing a daily quiet time, enforced with a calendar blocker, we’ve made significant strides toward perfecting this balance. It’s a move that has not only boosted our engineering team’s productivity but also their creativity and job satisfaction.
As a CTO, my primary responsibility is to create an environment where our team can thrive and innovate. If I do this right, the benefits naturally extend to me and the broader company. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that there will be times when emergencies or critical business needs require sacrificing my quiet time. The art lies in knowing when to protect this time fiercely and when to yield for the greater good of the company.
This balancing act is not governed by a set of rigid rules or dictated by other executives. It’s more about trusting my gut to find the right equilibrium. Each decision to protect or relinquish my quiet time is a judgment call, one that considers the immediate needs of the business and the long-term well-being of my team.

Further Reading: Paul Graham's Blog

About The Author

Sebastian is a seasoned CTO and startup founder with a dynamic journey in the tech industry. From building Germany's largest social networks to developing cutting-edge fintech startups, Sebastian has been at the forefront of technological innovation. Now, he has shifted his focus to sharing his extensive knowledge and experience, guiding young leaders on their path to success. Sebastian offers personalized coaching for those looking to enhance their leadership skills and strategic acumen.
For individual coaching sessions, visit cto.berlin/coaching.
If you're interested in engaging Sebastian as a Fractional CTO for more hands-on involvement in your project, learn more at cto.berlin/fractional.