On Tuesdays, Moveline has a no-meeting policy. The 9 members of the online moving service’s product team dedicate the entire day to creating. The only obligation is the obligation to concentrate on projects. Tuesdays are “Maker Days.”
“Maker Day is a day where the goal is for people to be productive with a big problem they are trying to solve,” Moveline co-founder and Chief Product Officer Kelly Eidson explained to Fast Company. “People in the [product] team can work wherever they want and don’t have to be accessible to anyone but themselves.” The rest of the company respects the rule and avoids scheduling meetings or emailing the product people on Tuesdays.
Eidson got the idea after she finished her stint at the New York-based incubator TechStars. The program involved a lot of meetings, which were helpful in getting Moveline off the ground and securing funding, but deterred Moveline’s engineers (and founders) from their creative roots. “We wanted to find a way to create the culture that people in the company who are doing problem solving or creative work needed to have enough space to do their work,” Eidson explained.
Maker Day creates that kind of room, at least in theory. Eidson can’t quite quantify the success of the initiative, which has existed for almost two years, but claims that on Tuesdays email volume goes down, and productivity goes up. And on Wednesdays, the company ships a lot of product, she said. Such as? “It’s kind of hard to come up with an example off the top of my head because it’s become so common that I don’t really notice it anymore,” she said.
In any case, employees clearly like Maker Day:
(Eidson assures us that most employees don’t abuse Maker Day freedom.)
Many studies have shown that multitasking kills productivity and is incredibly inefficient. Dedicating a day to one task certainly makes concentrating easier.
“When I’m working, my ability to solve a problem is dependent on the mental capacity I can afford it. Finding a maintainable, scalable solution to a difficult problem does not happen hour to hour. It happens when I can afford the space to think the issue all the way through,” wrote Russell Matney, an engineer at Moveline, describing the company-wide policy in a blog post.
Maker Day provides employees greater mental capacity than, say, letting employees work from home once a week. The real benefit is the standardization of the practice across an entire department. “The product team has been able to synchronize those days,” explained Eidson. “It’s not that people get to pick a day, it’s that everybody is doing it on the same day.” Even if an individual decides to unplug for the day, the possibility that a coworker might need something important from them and could call on them at any second is a distraction. “The anxiety that I might be interrupted is just as disruptive as being interrupted,” added Eidson.
Plus, at times, it might be difficult for employees to justify their isolation, when coworkers might be counting on their skills for their own tasks. “Most people understand that context switching is bad, but another team may still have valid demands on your time,” explained Craig Kerstiens, an engineer at Heroku, a cloud-based app building platform and another company that practices Maker Day. The beauty of Maker Day is that the entire company agrees upon a chunk of time to not demand anything of each other.
Only in extreme cases will a member of the product team at Moveline interrupt their process for a meeting. But the bar for such Tuesday meetings is set pretty high since meetings for creative people can ruin an entire day, as YCombinator founder Paul Graham, an advocate of maker’s schedules, explained in a 2009 blog post. “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,” he writes.
While Eidson and other Maker Day proponents have implemented the day for engineers, it’s easy to see how it could be helpful in other creative fields. As a journalist, I think it would be useful. Fellow journalist Brigid Schulte had more success at work when she divided her time into blocks and avoided multitasking. Distractions are detrimental for anyone working on a project–not just engineers.
It’s important for individual companies to think carefully about which day of the week it wants to designate a Maker Day. For a time, Moveline experimented with Thursday Maker Days, but that didn’t quite work out. “By the end of the week there is a bunch of other stuff that would pile up on your to-do list,” explained Eidson. Moveline eventually settled on Tuesday as its Maker Day because people are still fresh after the weekend, but need Monday to get their upcoming week organized. Asana, a scheduling-tech company founded by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, picked Wednesday for its “no meeting” days. Heroku picked Thursday.
A successful Maker day is all about finding whatever day best works for your organization and sticking to it. Over time, it will pay off. “Whether you’re in the early stages of bootstrapping a company or at a large company of thousands of engineers, one of the best practices anyone can put into place is dedicated quality time for engineers to produce code,” Kerstiens writes. “Maker’s Day is a fantastic way to ensure this happens on a weekly basis.”