one thing, really really well

Today’s theme is something on the premise of doing one thing really really well. I’m not sure if this is popping on my head as I’m getting older, but I’ve always felt that it’s inspiring to see people do specific specialties on a different level. It may not be necessarily in their regular jobs. It can be a hobby or a craft in which they’re ardently passionately into. As I get older, I am having a realization that too much multitasking actually kills us from the inside. Hopping between several things at the same time takes away the soul from any activity. I was lately reading a Zen book on minimalist philosophies and one of the aspects that the author touched upon was on being present in what we do. While eating, for example, it’s a different experience when we enjoy every morsel and munch it relishing every bit of it. We won’t get this feeling when we scroll our phones while eating, for instance.

Tim Denning writes on his piece The Power of Doing Only One Thing on bringing about focus and improvement with this practice.

Doing one thing gives you extreme focus. This focus can be channeled towards tasks that lead to mastery instead of trying to dabble in lots of unrelated passions. Focus is how you reach states of flow and achieve results that look impossible.

Doing one thing causes you to focus and practice more. Through this process, you can see your failures, areas of improvement, and areas that you’re good at. This form of reflection gives you real-time feedback that can further compound your results.

Similar resonating thoughts were read from Carl Newport in his book Deep Work

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate. Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. We now know from decades of research in both psychology and neuroscience that the state of mental strain that accompanies deep work is also necessary to improve your abilities.”

“Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tends to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. In an age of network tools, in other words, knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative — constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction.”

– Cal Newport , Deep Work

To complement this, I’d highly encourage you to skim through a recent write up where we talked about Maker’s time.

Maker’s time

When you read something that absolutely resonates with what we have to express, that’s an aha moment. Now, I’m in such a pleasant disposition after reading a good essay and I thought of putting down my thoughts on it. Lately, I came across some very interesting essays by Paul Graham. I know that in this world of lesser attention spans, most of us are reluctant to use our time for long format reads. But let me tell you, these are very insightful. One of the essays that I’d like to specifically mention here goes with the title: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s schedule

In this essay, he outlines the schedule of two types of people – Makers and Managers. ” Maker ” refers to somebody who’s engaged in creative work. “Makers” can be painters, musicians, technical engineers, programmers, writers, etc. The other type of schedule is of the “Manager” who’s in some cases “bosses” or somebody who’s on manager schedule.
He writes it really well in articulating the kind of “mindset” that makers and managers work. Makers and Manager both work in different frames of minds and have different concepts of conceiving time. He explains it in the context of having meetings by explaining how time is considered from the point of view of a maker and a manager. He explains this point as below

“Maker’s Time” Visual Stories

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.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. 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.

Quoted from “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”, Essay by Paul Graham

You see, he absolutely nails it on the point on explaining this aspect. Managers on handling the logistics and time frames of activities of makers often consider and use time differently. Makers (Examples- painters, musicians, technical engineers, programmers, writers, etc) on the other hand require deep engagement in their work and normally work on a different frame of mind requiring content creation / technical problem solving, etc. The day for managers are divided into pieces for meetings, calls, follow up emails, and other administrative tasks. Makers are looking for large portions of uninterrupted and unscheduled time to do any sort of creative work they’re engaged in. He explains this difference in the context of meetings as a good example that’s relatable to a lot of people.

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.
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.

Quoted from “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”, Essay by Paul Graham

I’m sure that he has a very broad understanding such that he’s able to understand the difference very clearly. He further writes

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.
Each type of schedule works fine by itself. Problems arise when they meet. Since most powerful people operate on the manager’s schedule, they’re in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency if they want to. But the smarter ones restrain themselves if they know that some of the people working for them need long chunks of time to work in.

Quoted from “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”, Essay by Paul Graham

The essay glides over to other aspects on advising startups and other companies to have a more understanding work culture by educating people on the difference in which makers and managers work. One thing he points out in the later part of the essay is that “When you’re operating on the manager’s schedule you can do something you’d never want to do on the maker’s: you can have speculative meetings. You can meet someone just to get to know one another. If you have an empty slot in your schedule, why not? Maybe it will turn out you can help one another in some way“. He jokingly refers to the distinctive language of “grab a coffee” commonly used as a means of proposing these speculative meetings.
These speculative meetings cost terribly for a maker in terms of his time. The fine thin line between blowing our schedules and offending people is the way to steer the way ahead. It’s a very narrow line and often I find that makers are often the ones willing to compromise.

I would technically fall in the category of a maker by its description. I’m a mechanical design engineer by profession. I work on concept designing of engineering products, develop structural calculations to back up an engineering concept & its engineering intent and use, working with teams to develop sketches and engineering drawings sufficient for prototyping a product and also work extensively on costing a product & obviously this includes costing a lot of its internal sub-assemblies. Often at times, I do engage in engineering simulations to evaluate the efficiency of a designed component without prototyping or manufacturing. I can absolutely relate when the essay speaks of the way the maker outlines his time of efficient work. Of course, a maker would definitely get questions like “When do you think you can finish this? , “When would you get this done? “, ” At what date you can complete this work?” etc. A cohesive understanding of all parties and being considerate, understanding, and gentle is what matters in achieving a common goal. You may be falling into either one of these types and probably this could give some insight on the frame of mind in which time is conceived by different people. I hope you found this interesting. Happy to know your thoughts.

Some of my other articles that I’d like to link here if you’d like to skim through
Small Businesses – Lines of Thought
Instilling Compassionate Prudence

If you love to stay updated on new stuff here, you can subscribe here