Should You Interrupt?

Some processes can be interrupted and restarted at little-to-no cost, while others suffer greatly from interruption.

For example, if you cook a steak halfway, let it return to room temperature, and then finish cooking it, either the outer layers will be overdone and dried, or the middle will still be raw, or both.

Gratuitous picture of steak, taken by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

On the other hand, if you’re making a stew, feel free to stop and restart–it’ll be just fine.

This is the core of the distinction drawn by Paul Graham¬†between the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule. Makers–writers, programmers, designers–need long uninterrupted stretches of time to do productive work. Managers, on the other hand, work in much smaller chunks of attention–sending emails, scheduling meetings, going to meetings–and so interruptions (such as meetings) have virtually no cost to them.

A third example is the difference between running for distance and lifting weights. At the gym, runners are scornful of the people standing around between sets chatting. That’s because running 2 5ks is not the same–is much easier–than running a 10k. But taking a 5 minute break between sets is not all that much worse than taking a 2 minute break. (Though as with all nutrition and exercise guidelines, I’m sure there’s a huge amount of disagreement.)

I can’t decide if there are many other things in the world that break down along these lines, but either way I would like a word to capture the distinction. Suggestions?

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