July 28, 2009
Finally -- Someone Understands the Tyranny of Meetings!
Posted by Christine Hurt

Via FreakonomicsPaul Graham explains why meetings are no big deal to some people (managers) but a complete time-suck for others (makers):

Managers: There are two types of schedule, which I'll call the manager's schedule and the maker's schedule. The manager's schedule is for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour. When you use time that way, it's merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you're done.

Makers: But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started. When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it. For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I'm sure that for a law professor in the summer, this resonates well for us! Great, 10:30 a.m. meeting? My day is shot. I'm trying to also apply this to law practice.  I remember that senior associates and partners hated long meetings, whereas I didn't really care.  I think there the distinction is that senior folks go home when their work is done, so the longer an afternoon meeting is, the longer a senior attorney has to stay at work.  But as a junior attorney, I always had work.  If that were my rule, I would have never gone home.  So I usually stayed late no matter what.  A lengthy meeting, especially one where I did very little of the talking, was sort of time when the billing was easier.

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