I divide my days into the 'maker' and 'manager' schedule to be more efficient as a working mom — here's how it works

  • Melissa Petro is a freelance writer based who lives in New York with her husband and two young children. 
  • She divides her days into ‘maker’ and ‘manager’ time to work more efficiently.
  • Maker time is for deep, creative focus, while manager time is for tasks that require little long-term concentration.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I look back with wonderment at just how much time I had before becoming a parent. Totally oblivious to the luxury, I spent seemingly endless hours going to the gym, getting housework done, spending time with my partner, or just relaxing by myself. I was in shape and relaxed — and impressively productive and accomplished at my career.

In a matter of years, I successfully transitioned from a “real” job into a successful career as a freelancer, matching a respectable salary with hand-chosen teaching and writing gigs. It was a lot of work, but organizing my schedule and fitting it all in felt relatively effortless. 

Then our first kid came along. 

Literally overnight, I went from consummate professional to anxious underachiever. Bumbling from one task to the next, I blew deadlines and turned in substandard assignments. I had less time as a parent, sure, but the fact that I was misusing the time that I did have shook my confidence and filled me with doubt. 

My days felt chaotic and disorganized — until I applied the theory of the maker versus manager schedule

The concept of maker versus manager schedule was introduced in a humble essay over a decade ago by a computer scientist named Paul Graham. According to Graham, there’s a natural difference between the working habits of a manager — that is, a person who works with other people, usually in a supervisory capacity — and a maker, or someone who works independently to produce something creative. 

Managers cut their days into one-hour intervals, easily transitioning from one meeting to the next. But for people who make things, Graham says, an hour is barely enough time to get started. To focus on deep work, Graham contends that a maker needs a half day, at least. 

The maker versus manager schedule is particularly useful for creatives with kids 

Petro with her husband and kids.Melissa Petro

If you work from home and your family is around, you’re very likely to be interrupted throughout the day. There are pediatrician appointments, playdates, a visit from the plumber; you may be tempted to follow up on an Amazon order that never arrived or call off early to drop off your kids’ preschool application. 

Even when my husband is in charge of the kids, it’s a struggle to remain on task. 

Fortunately, many aspects of freelancing — writing pitches, answering emails, invoicing, networking with other writers — allow for a manager’s schedule. It only takes a minute to fire off an email or send a tweet promoting my work — and honestly, the less time I have to overthink it, the better. 

But the actual writing part of being a writer requires significant concentration. I know that if I work on anything important around my family, I’ll be interrupted and struggle to regain focus only to be interrupted again. I won’t produce anything substantive and end up feeling like a failure.  

To avoid squandering my creative time, I divide my week into maker and manager days

When my kids are near — or on days when I schedule meetings with students — I’m on “manager time.” I line up meetings back-to-back, including family business that doesn’t take up too much time, but would be disruptive if I were in the middle of writing. In between appointments, I focus on aspects of my job that require little long-term concentration.

My ‘maker time’ is reserved for when I can dedicate my full attention to the thing I’m working on, days when I have a solid three to four hours without the children, and no meetings scheduled.  

Making time for ‘maker time’ is hard — but I do it, because it’s essential

When you make good use of your manager time, you will naturally create more maker time. There are no time sensitive emails nagging for an answer or random chores weighing on my mind, because I did all that stuff on my manager days. I can turn my phone off and dig in. 

Beyond a reasonable amount of self discipline, it helps to have a dedicated workspace. For the winter, I rented an office from a friend. Last spring, I made an office on the porch. Now that I’m vaccinated, I feel comfortable returning to my spot at the local cafe. 

Let’s be honest, I still blow deadlines. The kids are still frequently screaming in the background while I’m Skyping with a student. I still waste the occasional afternoon trawling Facebook Marketplace or texting back and forth with a friend.

But when this happens, it’s because I let it happen — parenting is no longer an excuse. Most importantly, I no longer feel incompetent and overwhelmed because, when I really need to, I apply what I know about makers and managers, buckle down, and get it done. 

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