As every architect knows by now, the profession has a problem with its work culture. Incubated in universities and perpetuated once graduates reach practice, the tendency to overwork is currently the subject of much discussion – but while there may be hints that change is afoot, it’s unlikely to take place overnight. In the meantime, what can a stressed-out architect do to reduce their work hours to something more reasonable? Originally published by ArchSmarter, this post explores how to become a more effective architect – allowing you to win back some of that lost time by maximizing efficiency and minimizing unnecessary work.
“What’s that smudge in the middle of your drawing? Is that part of your concept?” the juror asked me.
“Um… ” I replied as I squinted at the drawing. “I think that’s from my nose. I haven’t slept in like… two days. I konked out while I was coloring,” I answered sheepishly.
“Good for you,” the juror said. “Nothing like an all-nighter to make you feel alive. It’s good practice for when you’re out working in the real world.”
Had I been thinking clearly, I probably should have lectured the juror on the detrimental health impacts of all-nighters, not to mention the inverse relationship between hours worked and actual productivity. As it was, I was lucky enough to stay on my feet and keep myself from drooling.
When I was in architecture school, an all-nighter was a badge of honor. You bragged about it. It showed you were working hard and were grinding it out to get your project done. Sacrificing your health, your other school work and your personal relationships was all part of being an architecture student. Or so we thought.
That kind of personal sacrifice might have helped develop our work ethic but did it teach us how to work effectively? Hardly. There was no room for cleverness or for working smarter. It was all about putting the hours in. Unfortunately for many of us, this attitude toward time has carried over into our professional lives.
What is effectiveness?
Merriam-Webster defines effective as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” Everyone wants their work to produce the desired effect but what makes one person more effective than another? It comes down to time.
Your comparative effectiveness is based on how long it takes you to produce that desired effect. If it takes Mary two hours to review and comment on a set of shop drawings but it takes Tim four hours to do the same task, Mary is twice as effective as Tim. Another, more technical way to look at effectiveness is the amount of value (or desired effect) created per unit of time.
Pulling an all-nighter to get your project done definitely puts you low on the effectiveness chart.
Effectiveness vs efficiency
If effectiveness is all about producing a desired effect, then efficiency comprises the steps we take to get to that effect. Fewer steps equals more efficiency.
It’s possible to be effective but not efficient. In our example above, Tim achieves the desired effect of reviewing the shop drawings but it takes him twice as long as Mary. He’s not efficient in his work.
Likewise, you can be really efficient but if you’re not producing the desired effect, you’re not effective. You could draft up a beautiful corner detail in less than an hour. This drawing is a work of art. The detail is exact. The line weights are perfect. All the text is aligned. You used every trick in the book to produce this detail in record time. However, the design is still evolving and the exterior cladding changed while you were working away. Yes, it only took you an hour, but now that beautiful detail is worthless. You need to start over and re-draft the detail using the new exterior cladding. You were efficient but not that effective.
So how can we make ourselves more effective AND efficient?
Time is our most precious resource. There are only 24 hours in a day. No one gets any more than that. What we do with that time is up to us. In order to be more effective, it’s important to fiercely guard your time and only spend it on what’s really important. One effective way to get more out of your time is to use leverage.
Leverage lets you get more work done with less effort.
Think of leverage like a lever. Using a lever, you can move a large amount of weight with a minimal amount of effort. Leverage is thinking about HOW you’re going to do something as much, if not more, than WHAT you’re going to do. Leverage is working smarter, not harder.
Maximizing your leverage yields the highest impact for your efforts. It gets the biggest bang for your time.
How to be a more effective architect
To be a more effective architect, you need to maximize your leverage. So how do you do this? Here are some suggestions:
Reduce the time required to do your tasks. Break each task into steps and see where you can eliminate steps or reduce friction. This takes more time up-front but will save you tons of time in the long run.
Automate your most tedious tasks. If you need to do the same thing more than three times, you should definitely automate it. Learn to program so you can create your own tools.
Leverage other people’s time. If someone else can do something better and faster than you, give the task to them. This frees you up to do the work that produces more value.
Increase the value of your work. For example, leverage your BIM model to provide additional services to your client. This could include facilities management or data visualization services.
Keep learning and invest in your skills. If you use Revit four hours a day, learning some new features and getting 10% better will increase your efficiency and your effectiveness in the long run. Take a look at these Revit shortcuts for some quick pointers.
Use standard libraries. Do you really need to reinvent the wheel for every project? Invest some time developing a library of standard designs and details. Things like restrooms as well as door and wall details should be standardized. Leverage these assets so you have more time to develop the truly unique parts of your project.
Maximizing your leverage lets you get more done in less time. It’s the lever that lifts the massive boulder. Approach your work with an eye toward leverage and you’ll create more value in less time. This will make you a truly effective architect.