I was pointed to Paul Graham’s post about programmers running on a separate schedule than other people. Programmers run on the “maker’s schedule” and prefer to work in large chunks of time, with units of at least half a day. Others, particularly their bosses, operate on the “manager’s schedule” and have things defined into hour-long chunks. Interactions between the two typically cause friction:

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.

This is bullshit.

I’m not attacking Graham; he is merely pointing out the problem and explaining how he responds: by placing managers on the maker’s schedule. But this mentality is held by too many programmers, each of whom strokes his or her ego by running on a special schedule and taking advantage of the night, while the inferior mortals sleep.

Come on people, wake up (seriously, it’s 11 am already). This is not an issue of inability; it is an issue of discipline. I admit that interruptions are hard to recover from, and that a ten hour block is more productive than five two-hour blocks. But wasting an entire afternoon because you have an appointment at 3 is childish. Programmers get into a mode of thinking where they believe that the work they do is somehow more intense and more specialized than that of others. “I’m going to strap myself down and work for twenty hours,” they say, “because this is serious business. You can’t just scoot into your chair and tippy-tap for a few hours. You could really hurt yourself.” Again, bullshit.

I had the pleasure of attending Eric Ries’ presentation on The Lean Startup. Among the huge wealth of insight he had to share, one particular anecdote stuck with me. His company had traced the root of a particular problem to insufficient training procedures for new hires. Upon speaking to a manager about this, the manager explained that he agreed the problem was there but that he had so much to do he couldn’t possibly devote several days to setting up a training program. Ries suggested that the manager take one hour right then to do whatever he would have done for the first hour of establishing the training program. The manager retorted by highlighting the absurdity of this response, but Ries persisted, and off he went. The result of his hour of work was the creation of a new wiki page with a dozen bullet points stating some things that were good to know. This turns out to be reasonably useful, and more importantly, a subsequent hour of work the next week could expand this and get a lot more done.

I know it doesn’t always apply, but it’s commendable and inspiring. At work the next week, I found myself with 2 hours before a lunchtime meeting. I could have putzed around the internet for a couple of hours and saved my productivity to increase momentum in the afternoon, but I didn’t do that. Instead, I set up a quick database table and enabled logins on the website. After lunch I had a few minutes before a phone call, so I enabled logouts on the website. Rinse and repeat, you’ve got a social networking site by supper.

My point here is that anybody can be productive in any amount of time. It’s difficult, sure, and requires discipline. But productivity feels great, and it makes you far more flexible as a worker. It’s comparable to the sensation of waking up early to exercise and realizing how much time you had been wasting by sleeping past lunch. If you haven’t experienced this yet, I highly recommend it as well.