We’re almost two full months into 2016. I don’t know about you but that optimistic rush from from the New Year is starting to peter out.
I always begin the year with fire in my belly to get big things done. I’ve got a to-do list as long as my arm. I want to launch a bunch of new courses. I want to write a book. I want to design great projects for great clients.
The problem is that the real world has a way of interfering with those goals. There are deadlines to finish and bills to pay. All that time I thought I’d have is taken up with things I didn’t anticipate like snow days, sick kids, and unexpected out-of-town trips.
How about you? Feeling the same way?
It’s that time of the year when you need to look at how you’re working and make adjustments so you can crush those goals. With that in mind, here are 5 ways you can pull yourself out of the winter doldrums and work smarter this year.
1. Design Your Work
We’re architects. We design things for a living. We use a rigorous process to synthesize multiple requirements into a holistic solution that best satisfies the functional and aesthetic criteria of the problem, whether it’s a master plan, a house, a wall section, or a roof detail.
But what about designing your work? Can you apply that same process to how you approach your own work. Turns out you can. As with any design problem, you need to first determine the end goals for the project. How will you know when you’ve succeeded? Will you have won a design award? Delivered a net-zero building on-time and on-budget? Earned a promotion?
Once you’ve established the goals, apply the 80 – 20 method to determine which activities will get you those results. Focus relentlessly on those high-value activities and ignore everything else. If something won’t get you closer to your goal, ignore or delegate it. It may seem counter-intuitive but the amount of effort required is not directly related to the end result.
Another method to try is to outline your process from start to finish (mind maps are great for this). See where you can eliminate or reduce the number of steps. Make the process as efficient as possible. Create checklists for each step of the process to ensure nothing gets missed or overlooked.
Lastly, look at your week and determine your blocks of time. Mark out any non-negotiable meetings or appointments. Group the remaining time as 1 – 2 hour blocks of work. Schedule these in your calendar. Plan realistic goals for each block. Be sure to take a break when you complete a block. You earned it.
2. Focus Your Time
Time is our most precious resource. Everyone gets 168 hours a week. No more, no less. Make sure every hour counts.
One key to effective time management is to be proactive, not reactive, with your time. Plan out what you’ll be working on for each hour of the week. Design your week, with blocks of time set aside to work on your high value activities. Yes, emergencies come up but account for that by scheduling only 80% of your time. This leaves you with a margin to account for unexpected events or appointments.
Also, try working less, not more. In architecture school, we were praised for putting in the time and pulling all-nighters. Turns out this is counter-productive. More time definitely does not equal better results, especially after you’ve already put in 50 hours. By working less, you need to focus on what’s absolutely important. There’s no time for anything else.
3. Manage Your Information
We are flooded with information every day. It’s estimated that today we receive five times as much information per day as we did in 1986! Some of this information is critical, most if it isn’t. So how can we determine what to pay attention to and what to ignore?
First, remove all the clutter from your work environment. All those old drawing sets and magazines will only distract you. Clearing your desk has a way of clearing your mind. Put only what you need to do your current task on your desk.
Next, turn off your email, Slack, and social media notifications. You don’t need to know every status update right when they happen. Schedule time to check your email and your social media. Don’t let it distract you from getting real work done.
Look at your schedule and try to minimize the number of meetings you’re attending. For each meeting, ask if it’s required. Could an email or phone call achieve the desired result. If you determine that it is required, make sure there is an agenda and stick to it. Reiterate the purpose of the meeting at the beginning so things stay on track. Also, try a standing meeting or a walking meeting to keep it to a reasonable length.
Lastly, don’t read your email, process it. Setup folders for all of your projects and use filters to send your email into the appropriate folder. Expecting an email from your client? No need to dig through your inbox. Just check to see if there’s a new email in that folder.
4. Know Your Tools
What tools (software or otherwise) do you use on a regular basis? Make a list of every tool you use on a daily or weekly basis. For each tool, ask yourself, “Is this the best tool for the task?” If you’re not sure, do some research to see if there are other tools that would do the job better.
If you’re using the best tool for the task (or you can’t easily change to a new one), learn how to customize the software to work better for you. Tweak the interface, add icons for you most used tools and learn the keyboard shortcuts (or create your own). Saving a few seconds every hour adds up quickly. By the end of the year, you’ll have earned yourself a few extra days.
Do you REALLY know how to use all your tools? If you can’t answer “Hell yes!” then get some training. There are a lot of options both online or in-person. A little bit of training goes a long way. Even learning one new trick can save you lots of time over the course of a year. Check out YouTube, Lynda.com, or sign-up for ArchSmarter updates to learn about our online training workshops.
5. Automate Your Tasks
Work lazy. I mean REALLY lazy. If you need to do a particular task more than five times a week, find a way to automate it or better yet, outsource it so you can move on to other things. Outsourcing can as simple as having someone else in your firm do the task or you can use an outside resource, like Fancy Hands. I’ve used Fancy Hands to do all kinds of tasks like research to proofreading.
Use templates whenever possible. We all have emails that we send out on a regular basis. Rather than writing a new one each time, save one as a template that you can edit and resend when needed. Same goes for all other office standard documents. If you send out a document more than once, create a template. Need some templates for your firm? Check out Eric Reinholdt’s Architect + Entrepreneur Startup Toolkit (affiliate link). I use these templates in my own practice.
This last one is a big one but it will pay huge dividends throughout your career. Learn how to program. No really, I mean it. I’m a huge advocate for architects learning to program. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about it. Learning to program will help you think more systematically and make you seriously more productive. Not sure where to get started? Here are some good resources. If you want to learn how to program Revit, check out my online course, Mastering Revit Macros.
One Last Thing
It’s not all about the work. Remember to take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Eat well. Take breaks. It’s a marathon, after all, not a sprint. Take care of your most valuable asset, you!