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Customer routine vs creator routine » Portal Insights
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This text is a free translation of the classic “Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule”, by Paul Graham. To read the original version (in English), click here.

One of the reasons programmers don't like meetings is that they are in a different type of organization than other people. Meetings have more burden on them.

There are two types of organizations, which I will call Manager's Routine It is Creator's Routine. The manager's routine is for bosses. It is embodied in traditional calendars, where each day is a one-hour interval. You can block off multiple hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour.


When you use your time this way, it's a practical problem to have a meeting with someone. Find a free space in your schedule, make an appointment with the person and you're done.

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The most powerful people are in the manager's routine. It's the command routine. But there is another way to use your time that is common for people who create things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of at least half a day.

You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.

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When you're operating in the creator's routine, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can ruin an entire afternoon by dividing your time slot into chunks that are too small to be truly productive.


Plus, you still have to remember to go to the meeting. This is not a problem for those who are in the manager's routine. There is always something coming in the next hour, the only question is “what?” But when someone is in the creator's routine and has a meeting, they need to think about it.

For someone in the creator's routine, having a meeting is creating an exception. It's not simply switching from one task to another, it's changing the way you work.

Sometimes I think a meeting can affect an entire day. A meeting usually ruins half the day by breaking either your morning or your afternoon. But, in addition, sometimes a snowball effect happens. If I know my afternoon isn't going to be as productive, I'm slightly less inclined to do something ambitious in the morning.

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I know this may seem far-fetched, but if you are a breeder, think about your own case. Doesn't your creative spirit grow when you have a whole day dedicated to work, without extra commitments? Well, that means your spirit gets proportionally smaller when you have other things to do.


Ambitious projects are, by definition, close to the limit of their technical capabilities. A small decrease in your morale is enough to put an end to these projects.

A disastrous encounter between routines

Each type of organization is good on its own. The problems start when they meet.

Because the most powerful people operate in the manager's routine, they are in a position to pair with whoever they want, whenever they want. But the smartest ones limit themselves if they know that the people working for them need long periods to develop something solid.

Our case is a little different. Almost all investors, including all the VCs I know, operate in the manager's routine. But Y Combinators work by following the creator's routine. Rtm, Trevor and I work like this, and Jessica does too, largely in part because she stayed in sync with our rhythm.


How do we manage so many startups in the creator's routine? Using a classic application to simulate the manager's routine with that of the creator: office hours.

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How office hours help organize a creator’s routine

Many times a week I set aside a few hours to meet with the creators we fund. These chunks of time are at the end of my work day and I make sure these meetings are always grouped together at the end of the productive day.

Because they're at the end of my day, these meetings are never an interruption (unless these creators have a workday similar to mine, meetings are never an interruption, but since they've scheduled it, it should be valid for them too ).

During busy periods, office hours get long enough to compress my day, but they never interrupt it.


When we were working on our own startup back in the 90s, I developed another way to cheat the day split. I used to schedule from dinner until 3 am every day because during the night no one could interrupt me. Then I would sleep until around 11 am and work until dinner time on what I called “business stuff”.

I never thought of it in those terms, but in effect I had two different working days: one in the manager's routine and one in the creator's routine.

Speculative meetings in the manager's routine

When you're operating in the manager's routine, you can do something you could never even dream of in the creator's: you can have speculative meetings. In other words, you can meet a person just to get to know them better.

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If you have empty space on your grid, why not? Maybe things will come and you can help each other later in some way.


Business people in Silicon Valley (and around the world in general) have speculative meetings all the time. They are effectively free if you are in the manager routine. They are so common that there is even a different language to propose them: saying you want to have a cup of coffee, for example.

Speculative meetings are terrible if you're in the breeder's rut, however. This is somewhat limiting. Everyone assumes that, like other investors, we are also in the manager's routine.

So they introduce us to people they believe are constructive, or they send an email wanting to arrange a coffee date.

At this point, you have two options, and neither is good: you can meet with them and waste half your workday or you can try to avoid them and probably offend them.


Conclusion on the manager's routine and the creator's routine

Until recently we were not clear in our minds about the origin of the problem. We just took it for granted that we had to either ruin our productive day or offend people. But now that I realize what's going on, maybe I have a third option: write something explaining both types of routine.

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Perhaps eventually, if the conflict between the manager's routine and the creator's routine is better studied, it will become less of an issue.

We at Creator Routine are willing to compromise. We know we need a certain number of meetings. All we ask of people in the manager's day-to-day life is that they understand the cost.

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Customer routine vs creator routine » Portal Insights

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Customer routine vs creator routine » Portal Insights

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