Maker Mindset vs. Manager Mindset


As creatives, we are often stereotyped as disorganized, undisciplined, idealistic and/or absent minded. That we can only work when struck by the mythical creative spark we are all chasing. And while that may be the case for some artist types, most of us prefer to challenge the status quo when it comes to cultivating creativity. 

For me, one of the most valuable tools I learned from my career as a multi-hyphenated creator is the Maker Mindset vs. the Manager Mindset. It’s a framework that helps me manage my own mindset AND it’s a tool to better understand how to work with clients and co-workers. 

The concept of the Maker Mindset vs. Manager Mindset stems from an article written by Paul Graham over a decade ago. Graham is a programmer, writer and investor, widely known for being one of the founding members of Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s premiere startup incubator. Through his work in and with hundreds of startup teams, he noticed a clear difference between makers’ and managers’ schedules. 

Makers, according to Graham, are people who make things, i.e. engineers, graphic designers, writers, etc. Managers, on the other hand, are executives, coordinators and sales teams to name a few. Both types of jobs / people approach time and projects differently. A maker works best in long, uninterrupted chunks of time, while a manager typically works in hour blocks with lots of context switching. 

So how do we apply this difference in time management / scheduling to our own mindset? Whether you work for a company or you are self-employed with clients or products, it’s crucial to understand when / how to produce your best work. That’s where the manager and maker mindsets come in. 

Maker Mindset 

Let’s start with the mindset that comes most intuitively to creatives, the Maker Mindset. Doing creative work, whether it’s writing code or designing graphics, takes intense focus. It takes brainstorming, research, drafting, collaboration and more often than not revisions. It’s a long labor of love that can and will take hours, if not days or weeks to complete. This means, when you have a maker mindset, interruptions can throw off your whole day, not just your creative flow. 

Manager Mindset

If you have a manager mindset, or a role in management, you’re probably less focused on the creation process and more in tune with execution, deliverables and problem-solving. By nature, manager minds use their skills to see the best path forward with the least amount of friction. Sometimes that comes in the form of decision making, other times as deadline or guidance. But it always comes in the form of constant check-ins, status updates and meetings that keep your calendar booked all day. 

How to Apply Your Maker Mindset & Manager Mindset

These mindsets are not binary, but most people identify closely with one mindset over the other. Just because you have a maker mindset, doesn’t mean you don’t use your manager mindset too. For example, if you are a writer, you probably identify as a maker mind. But more likely than not, your day is spent switching between doing your craft and doing tasks like email, pitching and expense reports. Conversely, if you are a project manager, most of your day is spent moving projects forward, but some of your time is doing tasks like creating budgets and strategies. 

Whether you are a creator for a company or you’re a creative that sells your work or services, understanding how to manage your mind and calendar is the key. 

Protect Your Creative Flow √

It doesn’t matter if you’re an early riser or a night owl, whenever you do the best creative work is the time you must protect. Need 3 hour blocks of time to accomplish meaningful work? Block your calendar, turn off your notifications and limit your distractions. 

Identify Manager Minded Tasks √

Even when you are a maker you still have tasks like email, proposals, meetings and analysis. Block your calendar and batch these tasks. If you don’t want to interrupt your creative flow, block time each day to have meetings, send emails and do other manger minded tasks. 

Understand Who You Work With √

Everyone works with a mix of makers and managers. Even if they don’t go by those titles, when you start to pay attention, it’s easy to identify your co-workers or clients mindsets. Are they looking to brainstorm and create together? Or do they want a status update? Armed with this information, you can set expectations, schedules and meetings accordingly. 

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