I look back with amazement at how much time I had before I became a mother. Completely unimpressed by this luxury, I spent endless hours hitting the gym, doing housework, hanging out with my partner, or just hanging out. I was in shape and relaxed – and impressively productive and successful in my career.
Within a few years I made the transition from a “real” job to a successful freelance career, combining a respectable salary with hand-picked teaching and writing assignments. It was a lot of work, but organizing my schedule and accommodating everything felt relatively effortless.
Then our first child was born.
Literally overnight, I went from being a professional to a fearful failure. I stumbled from one assignment to the next, missed deadlines and delivered substandard work. As a parent, I had less time, of course, but the fact that I was misusing the time I had shook my confidence and sowed doubts.
My days felt chaotic and disorganized
The concept of the maker versus manager scheme was introduced over a decade ago in an unpretentious essay by computer scientist Paul Graham. According to Graham, there is a natural difference between the work habits of a manager – someone who works with other people, usually in a supervisory role – and a maker, someone who works independently to produce something creative.
Managers divide their days into one-hour intervals, making it easy to switch from one meeting to the next. But for people who make things, says Graham, an hour is barely enough time to get started. According to Graham, a maker needs at least half a day to concentrate on the actual work.
The maker-versus-manager schedule is especially useful for creatives with children
If you work from home and your family is nearby, the chances are that you will be interrupted throughout the day. There are pediatrician appointments, appointments to play, a visit from the plumber; you might be tempted to investigate an Amazon order that never arrived or to quit early to hand in government burdens for your kids. Even if my husband takes over the kids, it’s a struggle to stick with it.
Fortunately, many aspects of freelance work – writing pitches, answering emails, billing, networking with others – can be incorporated into a manager’s schedule. It only takes a minute to send an email or fire a tweet promoting my work. And to be honest, the less time I have to think about it, the better.
But the real part of being a writer requires a lot of concentration. I know that when I am working on something important in the presence of my family, I will be interrupted and struggle to focus again – only to be interrupted again. I won’t produce anything substantial and end up feeling like a failure.
When my children are around – or on days when I schedule meetings with students – I am on “managerial time”. I string meetings, including family matters, that don’t take up too long, but that would bother me while I was writing. In between appointments, I focus on aspects of my job that require little long-term focus.
My “maker time”, on the other hand, is reserved for days when I can devote my full attention to the matter. I don’t schedule any meetings on these days and can safely concentrate for three to four hours without the children.
Taking time for “maker time” is difficult – but important
If you use your manager time well, you will of course create more maker time. Then there are no important emails waiting for a reply or any tasks that burden me. I already did all of these things on my managerial days. I can turn off my phone and get into work.
In addition to a reasonable level of self-discipline, it helps to have your own area of work. I rented an office from a friend over the winter. Last spring, I set up an office on the veranda. Now that I’ve been vaccinated, I feel good when I return to my seat at the local coffee shop, which is already open here in New York.
Let’s face it: I still miss deadlines. The kids still scream a lot in the background while I skype with a student. I still waste an afternoon or two browsing the Facebook Marketplace or chatting with a friend.
But if that happens, it’s only because I let it – upbringing is no longer an excuse. Most importantly, I no longer feel incompetent and overwhelmed. Because when I really have to do something, I apply what I know about doers and managers. I kneel in and do it.
This article was translated from English by Steffen Bosse. You can find the original here.