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The author's schedule


Paul Graham introduced the Maker's Schedule and the Manager's Schedule in 2009 http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

I will introduce a third schedule The Author's Schedule. But first a brief intro to the schedules that Graham coined. They are two different ways to structure a working day.

The manager's schedule is for bosses. Their workday is sliced up by multiple appointments. Managers have many responsibilities and they switch what they are doing hourly. Managers spend a lot of time in a reactive mode where they respond to whatever seems most important at the moment. On a Manager's Schedule you are generally available to your team and to external requests. A manager may proactively block off several hours for a single task if needed, but by default the schedule is a day that is fragmented by many different activities.

Graham's other schedule, the maker's schedule, is is for non-managers. For people who make things. The purpose of the maker's schedule is to avoid context switching and to conserve attention. Makers needs extended periods of focus for doing deep work. A maker's schedule is made up of long blocks of time for focusing on a particular tasks. The entire day might be devoted to one activity. When the work is cognitively demanding and complex, you want to avoid interruptions and switching context because each time you loose the thread of thought, it takes time to get back into the flow state.

Paul Graham argues that we need to be deliberate about how we structure and schedule the day. If your job is to make stuff, i.e. not a manager, then adopt a maker's schedule and structure the day so you avoid interruptions.

Let me introduce a third schedule. The Author's Schedule. It is inspired by author Dan Brown. I heard about his work schedule in his master class (masterclass.com).

Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM and writes until 11 AM every morning. His writing is only interrupted by a hourglass to remind him to move and do some squats.

Brown makes no exceptions about his schedule. His identity is a writer. A writer writes every day. Even when visiting his parents in Miami, Dan Brown sets up an office in the laundry room by using an ironing board as a table for his laptop. There he can write uninterrupted.

What makes a person an author is the act of writing. Writing is the most important thing an author does. For authors the writing is their identity and their lifeblood. Therefore many authors are very deliberate about how they schedule their days.

Dan is far from the only one with such a schedule. Many authors and creators structure their days in similar ways.

  • Hemingway used to start writing every morning when the light gets up.
  • Maya Angelou wrote from 7am to 2pm.
  • In his memoir, Isaac Asimov said that he woke at 5am and got to work "as early as I can" and worked "as long as I can."
  • "I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon" Kurt Vonnergut

The exact details of the schedule differ from author to author, but many of them have chosen a regimented writing routine early in the day.

The author's shcedule

My definition of the Author's Schedule

Schedule a substantial work session first thing in the morning dedicated to your core activity, and complete the session before dealing with external distractions.

We can look at the Author's Schedule as a special case of the Maker's Schedule.

The author's schedule is not for everybody. It is not appropriate for employed people because their work is dictated by the employer and employed people have different personal priorities regarding their commitment work than e.g. authors have. Employed people should choose between the schedules proposed by Paul Graham. Either the Maker's schedule or the manager's schedule.

However if you are self-employed, a creator, a student or a startup founder it cold be a good idea to consider the Author's Schedule. It ensures that you get your most important work done first in the morning. Before dealing with the external world. Every single day. This is how you write a book, and it could be a way to build a business or earn a degree.

Imagine finishing today's work session before checking email, and before checking the phone. Imagine how much progress you could in a month if each morning you finished a solid work session when you are at peak energy and productivity. There is a magic feeling when you have done your planned work for the day by noon.

We live in a world of interruptions and temptations. Most of us have external responsibilities and interest. On the Author's Schedule you finish your number one priority before dealing with the external fluff. It bolsters your identity as an author, entrepreneur, composer, or whatever you aspire to. James Clear iterates that each action you take is a vote for the type of person you will become. And completing a work session in the morning is a massive vote to your identity as a creator.

We must also recognize that there are limits to how much productive work a person is able to do in a day. Some experts report that high achievers can manage around 4 hours of focused deep work per day. Others report 6-7 hours. Use it as a guideline for designing the Author's schedule. Aim for a schedule that feels like a stretch, but also something that you believe would be able to sustain over a long period of time. Although I wish to do 12+ hours of deep work per day, a more realistic target for me is 6 hours. I also have other duties and personal aims (like running) to attend to.

Naturally, your day may not alway pan out as scheduled. The world is unpredictable and things happen. I imagine that Dan Brown would consider to stop writing early if there was a medical emergency in the family. A little flexibility is good, but the whole point of the Author's schedule is to have fixed structure in order to avoid negotiating with yourself every morning. Therefore aim for a schedule that you believe you can manage at least 80% of the days.

Block off your calendar all days before 12 AM.

Some people are not a "morning person". They experience their best focus at night. Evenings can be magical when things are quiet and the kids are sleeping. Writing during the night is a choice for many authors as well. Maybe we could call it the "Bohemian Schedule"?

On the Author's Schedule you are strict about only doing your intended activity. Whether it be writing or coding. Finish your work session before checking the email and phone. Perhaps also before eating if you are into intermittent fasting.

Consistent effort beats heroic bursts of inspiration in the long run. The author's schedule is a marathon, not a sprint.

We are not fully in control of the creative outcome of work. An author cannot decide when he or she sits down to write, that the chapter will be fantastic. With creative work there is some uncertainty to what the output will be. But we are able to control the input. How much time and effort to put into the work. The author's schedule is a way to make consistent input over months and years. There is no guarantee that the output on a given day will up to your ambition, but when there is a massive and consistent input, it should be no surprise is something good pops out over time.

If you are not there yet, adjust and keep working.


Dan Brown does not eat a breakfast before his 7-hour writing session. I don't know the details of his eating habits.

It appears that some authors eat a breakfast either before or during the writing session. Some are powered by coffee. And others eat after the work session.

Do what works for you.

My take on eating is to skip the breakfast and dive straight to work. We have been brainwashed to believe that we need a breakfast in the morning. This has idea been pushed by food companies for a century. A way to sell more cereals and bread. But physiological we don't need a breakfast in the morning. The body has enough energy to sustain itself for days and weeks without food.

There is an increasing popularity and awareness around intermittent fasting. There are many forms of intermittent fasting. Common ways to practice intermittent fasting is to eat one or two meals per day. That leaves a 14 to 23 hour window where you don't eat. Intermittent fasting has many health benefits including increased mental clarity. The mental clarity comes after the body switches the metabolism from burning sugar (glucose) to burning fat (ketones)*. Evolutionary it makes sense - if you haven't eaten for a while it makes more sense to be alert, than just after a meal.

My experiment

After I heard Dan Brown telling about his work routines on the master class, I realized that it sounded like a great way to schedule my work in order to ensure that I make consistent progress on my most important work. As an independent software developer, my number one activity is programming. And my schedule should reflect it.

Up to then I've been following a "pay myself first" schedule in the morning, where I did meditation, journaling, some reading, exercise, eating,.. and checking email. Even when raising before 6AM, the "paying myself first" activities it tended to drag out to 09:30 - 10 AM. Sure, I got a lot of non-urgent activities done. However that meant that my real work started quite late, and was prone to getting littered with (my own) interruptions.

I started on doing the authors Schedule on 3rd July 2021

At first I did 8x25 min sessions for a few weeks. It went well. I got a lot done and I didn't feel exhausted. Then I progressed to 5x50 min session (~ 5 hours in work mode) for a couple of weeks. Then I attempted something crazy. 1h30 minute sessions. I aimed for four of them that morning. And to my astonishment I managed that as well. That was 6 hours of uninterrupted work before noon! This is what I have stuck with since late July.

Prior to adapting the Author's schedule, getting a solid 30 minute-session of uninterrupted work was a struggle. Now 4x90 minutes it is my default during weekdays.

Nowadays I get up between 4:30 and 5:30 (no alarm clock). I only drink water with some electrolytes (salt and "alkaline minerals"), then within 10-15 minutes of getting out of bed I start working. For the breaks I do get up to move, do 40 squats, and resting for 9min 26 sec (happens to be the setting of my egg timer) in bed/sofa where I close eyes and try to think of nothing. During the breaks I avoid websites and using the phone. I am very strict about not checking the email before the two first sessions are done. Then in the second break, (around 9 AM) I can dip into the priority email if I expect that there is something I should respond to.

For most of my weeks I manage the full 6 hours every day, but occasionally there have been meetings/events/calls that I didn't want to miss.

What about eating? After the 6-hour work session I do an workout session. Either a run, or lifting. Then I eat a breakfast/lunch (around 14 PM). I practice an intermittent fasting routine with one meal on weekdays and two meals in the weekend.

To conclude:

I think it is helpful to have a rigid structure every day: 4x90 min coding, then exercise. Now I don't have to negotiate with my self on what to do all the time.

3+ months into the experiment I think it has overall been a huge boost to my productivity and psychologically it has reinforced my identity as a programmer. I foresee that I will continue on the Author's schedule as my main schedule.