Why I Don’t Schedule Morning Meetings

June 24, 2019

Paul Graham said it best ten years ago:

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.

If you haven’t read that article, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, stop reading this one and head over there right now. I’ll wait.

Designers are creative people. (Duh.) But contrary to what some may think, that creativity doesn’t come from thin air. It requires a mix of the right ingredients: rest, energy, little to no stress, and good chunks of time without interruption. An hour doesn’t cut it. At least not for the intense, deep work often required in the realm of design and development.

To compound things, most creatives do their best, deepest work at specific times of the day. For some it's nights actually. For others, afternoons. And for others still, it's all about the mornings. I fall into this last group.

Mornings, for me, are when I’m the freshest, most clear headed, and have the most energy, especially if I’ve made it to the gym beforehand. So once I get started, it’s relatively easy for me to become super focused and to get into “the zone”. Don't get me wrong, I don't really consider myself a “morning person”. My family of origin and partner would likely gleefully attest to that through stories of a pretty grumpy Angie on various mornings. (I now know that I wouldn't necessarily wake up grumpy, but rather my routine was less than ideal. A topic for another day.) Grumpiness and joking aside, mornings are far better for me than they used to be. My point is that despite them not always being agreeable with me (or vice versa), mornings are when I get my best work done provided I've gotten good rest. Oh, and provided I have a fun or interesting project to work on.

And it’s because of this that I make it a point to not schedule meetings in the mornings. I don't even check my email first thing in the morning (talk about a deep work killer). Anything other than diving straight into my creative work - be it UI design or web development - completely breaks up my day in a way that ends up frustrating me beyond reason. And, for whatever reason, it becomes much more difficult for me to get started and get in the zone again after about 11am or 12pm. It's possible, yes - I've done it - but it's just not as easy.

The afternoon is just not my most productive time and I think my brain is simply hardwired to be at its best in the morning, assuming, of course, that my morning routine isn't drastically disrupted or varied.

As a result of having known this about myself for quite some time, over the last few years, I've gotten really good about protecting that time. I've gotten so good at it, in fact, that it has bitten me in the ass more than a couple times.

I have a few clients that are based on the east coast. Trying to schedule project calls with them is tough. A 1pm call in Portland is a 4pm call in New York. That is not usually ideal for most people. And I can't really blame them. Nor do I really want to speak about something important with someone whose head is practically out the door. Sure, I'm assuming a 5pm closing time, but I'm confident that's a safe assumption.

At least with clients who know me well enough or whom I've worked with for a fair amount of time, there's often some leeway. They know our conversation will be productive, so a conversation with me at 4pm their time isn't the worst thing in the world.

It's more of a problem with prospective clients in a different time zone east of mine. Their mid-day or early afternoon falls right around the time I'm focusing on a project. A time that just doesn't work for me if I have any desire to be productive. I've had folks cancel calls with me because they were able to speak to someone else sooner, regardless of time zone.

One could argue that it's their loss or that they should give everyone a fair chance. I'd probably agree but in the end, that's not up to me. And as much as it pains me to think about potential lost business, doing good work for the clients I do have by scheduling deep work sessions is more important.