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6 Essential Time Management Tips for Architects

An insightful article on time management that I came across on archdaily, but was originally published on ArchSmarter. Written by Michael Kilkelly, it highlights simple techniques that could go a long way to help busy, client-focused architects be more productive and make the most of their time. Enjoy

Has this ever happened to you? You get to work and review your to-do list. You’ve got a deadline in a few days and you’re ready to get some stuff done. But before you dive in, you take a quick look at your email. In your inbox you find an email from a client asking for a quick study of one area of the building. “I’ll take care of this right away” you say to yourself. “It shouldn’t take long.”

Five hours, three phone calls and six emails later, you reply back to the client with the information they requested. It’s now early afternoon and you’re ready to get to work. But you take another quick look at your email and see that the client is now asking for you to look at another option. Two hours, one phone call and three emails later, you email back. “Thanks,” they reply. “Let’s just stick to the original option.”

It’s now early evening and you haven’t gotten a single thing done off your to-do list. You still have a deadline in a few days and there’s a stack of drawings next to you just begging to be reviewed. Looks like another late night and vending machine dinner.

How can you avoid a similar fate? Here are 6 essential time management tips for the busy architect.

1. Manage Your Time Proactively

Being proactive with your time means making deliberate choices about what you do and, more importantly, what you don’t do. It means focusing on the important tasks that get results. It’s about using leverage and being effective.

This is the cornerstone of effective time management. Your time belongs to you. It’s a finite resource you need to manage effectively. Don’t let others dictate how you spend it.

This is often easier said than done, especially when your boss or client expects things done yesterday. However, setting expectations and being consistent will give you greater control over your day-to-day and your life in general. Respect your time and others will respect it as well.

2. Limit Distractions

Turn off your email notifications. Seriously, do it right now. Next, close all those tabs on your browser. Lastly, set your phone to vibrate or better yet, turn it off.

Between email, cell phones and social media, there are more ways to connect to people than ever. The problem is, all of these connections can be a huge distraction if you don’t control them.

I’m not saying eliminate them outright. There’s a time and place for all of these technologies. The trick is limiting the distractions so you can get some real work done.

For starters, try checking your email twice a day – once at noontime and again at 4pm. Email is a great communication tool but it’s all too easy to react to email as it comes in to your inbox instead of focusing on the work that needs to get done.

How well do you deal with distractions? Take this short quiz.

3. Single-Task

Multitasking is a myth. The human brain is not designed to do more than one thing at a time. When we’re multitasking, we’re actually shifting context from one task to another. It takes our brain time to do this shift, so it’s actually less efficient to multitask. Studies have shown that it takes longer to do two tasks simultaneously than one at a time.

Multitasking is a hard habit to break. I do it more than I should, and I know better. A good way to break the habit is to limit your distractions (as stated in #2 above). The fewer distractions you have, the more likely you are to complete your task.

The problem is that our digital tools are great at providing distractions. Between the Internet, email and social media, there are all kinds of things begging for your attention. That’s why there’s a burgeoning field of single-purpose digital tools, such as the Hemingwrite.

I’m sure the hand-drafters of old were great single-taskers. With just a pencil, t-square and sheet of paper, there was little to distract you from getting your work done. What we need is a Hemingwrite for BIM.

4. Keep a Time Log

Ever realize it’s Friday and wonder where the week went? Try keeping a time log.

For one week, keep track of everything you do during the work day. You might already track your time in a time sheet but the time log should account for everything you do. And I do mean everything. Spend 10 minutes checking email? Mark it in the log. Talk with a co-worker for 5 minutes in the kitchen? Mark it in the log. Go to the bathroom? Yup, that goes in the log too.

Use a notebook, spreadsheet or even an app like Rescue Time. Rescue Time is great since it logs everything you’re doing on your computer. I just started using it and it’s been really helpful.

Yes, logging every minute is tedious but I assure you, you’ll have a much better picture of what you actually do versus what you think you do. With this data in hand, you can objectively analyse your week and understand where you’re spending your time. The results might be surprising.

5. Design Your Week

We design things at all scales, from the master plan down to the door knob. We might even do some graphic and web design. Why shouldn’t we design our ideal week as well?

At its essence, time management is just a design problem. There are only 168 hours in a week and it’s up to you to get everything to fit. Yes, you’ll need to make trade-offs but that helps you prioritize what’s important to you.

To get started, make a list of all the things you need to do as well as the things you want to do over the course of a typical week. Get really specific with your list. Include things you typically do at work or school as well as things you do in your own time. Be sure to includebreaks and down-time (both in and outside of work). This list is essentially your program document.

Break these items into reasonably sized chunks corresponding to the amount of time they take. Don’t forget to include at least seven hours of sleep (eight is better) and time for exercise and socializing.

Arrange these items to fit within your typical day and week.  This is your bubble diagram. Once you get something that works, hard-line your design using Excel. Michael Hyatt has a great template you can download on his website.

The point of this exercise isn’t to micro-manage every second of the day. Instead, use your design as a guide to make sure you get the important stuff done.

6. Keep Calm and Prioritize

Realize that you’re not going to get it all done. It’s not humanly possible without sacrificing your health or your sanity. Figure out what’s important and make informed choices as to what you can realistically accomplish. Remember, our time is our most precious commodity. If you don’t guard it fiercely, it will slip away before you know it.

So what do you do to better manage your time? What does your ideal week look like? Leave a comment below!


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Beyond just time management, rest days are also important to architects. if your looking for ways you could make your rest day more productive, you should check out this article by health ambition.

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