Work Smart, Not More: Time Management for Architects
Being an architect is an interesting and creative career.
The work is challenging and interesting. You get to meet all different kinds of people and have an impact on cities and skylines around the world.
It is fascinating, fast-paced work that can be incredibly inspiring and fulfilling.
Being an architect means taking each project as an opportunity to design a unique solution to a unique problem.
But it doesn’t come without its challenges.
One of the major obstacles that most independent or mid-level architects bump into is time management—there is a lot to do all the time, and managing all the smaller, menial tasks can prevent you from focusing on the part of the job you actually enjoy—the creativity.
In this article, we are going to look at 4 solutions to help you free up more time, so you feel less overwhelmed, and can spend more of your working hours doing what you love.
The issue: You feel overwhelmed by the amount of things you have to do, and there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done.
Unless you are working with a large team, or in a large firm, most independent architects do most of the work by themselves.
And there is a lot to do.
It means wearing a lot of different hats: you are part creative, manager, cheerleader, administrator, secretary, building permit expert, safety advisor, head problem solver, building code expert, mediator and construction process advisor.
On a daily basis you are probably doing a handful (if not all) of these tasks:
- Designing: creating plans and designs, from drafting to sketching to finalizing to making amendments
- Coming up with coordination plans: usually for more than one project at a time. This includes figuring out who is going to be doing what and time frames.
- Creating proposals: taking the plans and putting price tags on them, then the back and forth with your clients.
- Meetings: Client meetings, meetings with local authorities, and meeting with contractors, and meeting with your team members or partners. On top of this, there is preparing meeting minutes and writing up reports and feedback.
- Organizing consultants: contacting, hiring, meeting with and acting as a mediator between the client and the contracting team.
- Managing the progress and reporting: advising, problem-solving, check in on statuses, feeding back to the client on where things are, making sure all of the parts of the project are progressing.
- Corresponding: Emailing, texting, calling, and making sure you are in communication with the team and client.
- Hustling new projects: finding new projects, going to networking events, asking for referrals, anything you do to generate more business.
In comparison, when you are working in a large firm, you are responsible for just one small piece of the pie, and when the business hours are up, you grab your coat and leave the office and are done for the day. But if you are not working in a large firm, you probably don’t have that luxury.
And while you may love the work, you may begin to feel like you have to work all the time to be a success.
But burning out can have a drastic effect on your business—you can start making serious, expensive, and potentially dangerous mistakes. Your personal life can get shoved into the back corner with friends and family only getting the scraps of your time and energy. Mental and emotional fatigue can leave you feeling exhausted all the time.
And while you may love the work, having some balance can help you do your work better.
Top 4 Ways to Get More Time and Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed
- Organize your time better by making to-do lists and prioritizing your day with time frames.
- Get some help: Look for ways to automate tasks and processes whenever possible, hire some help for the things that aren’t essential for you to do
- Make sure you choose the right clients (e.g. not clingy, demanding ones)
- Schedule yourself time to recover and recharge
Let’s jump in with some more practical how-tos and finer details.
Solution 1: Get Better at Time Management
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
– H. Jackson Brown
The famous folks in the above quote were pretty spectacular people, but they weren’t superhumans who had the ability to slow down time—they had just as much time in the day as you and me.
But unless you were innately born knowing how to manage your time, picking up some time management skills can help.
Time management doesn’t necessarily mean that you plan out every second of your workday. It simply means getting organized and having a plan so that you don’t try and do too many things at once and tasks don’t get pushed later and later until it is 12 am on a Sunday morning and you are still trying to get a proposal out the door.
Tip 1: Make a To-Do List
Last week, a friend and I were going between two cities. We are both locals, but he, a very late adopter to smartphone technology, has most of the trains, buses, and trams memorized by practice. He knows which routes he has taken before, and assumed they were the best routes available.
I, on the other hand, had a smartphone with a map. As we were standing on the train platform, I quickly pulled up the quickest route.
He scoffed at me and my reliance on the tech and claimed it was not necessary since he already knew the route.
His route ended up taking us an additional hour and forty-five minutes.
Which was not a problem—I had extra time to think about this article: specifically, about to-do lists.
To-do lists are like maps for your brain.
While you probably know vaguely the things you need to do, having a to-do list cuts the time spent figuring out the next step, and gets you there faster.
Having a clear focus and direction for your mind to follow allows you to get more done in less time.
And just like a map, creating a to-do list for your workday can simplify and clarify the direction you need to go.
Start by being clear about what you want.
When making the to-do list concentrate on your objectives.
What do you need to get done today?
Do you have specifical things you want to accomplish?
Are somethings crucial, and other “extras” that would be great to get started?
Once you have a clear idea about what your objectives are for the day, write out all the tasks you need to do to get yourself there.
We thrive on progression, patterns, and predictability—if you want to work quickly and efficiently, build yourself sequence of steps that you can latch on to and follow.
Do your best to keep your to-do list manageable for today.
If you add 50 tasks to your to-do list, you’re going to feel overwhelmed and stuck easily, and it will end up being a bit useless.
Think short batches of achievable tasks rather than vague, difficult to achieve tasks. This will help you stay focused on the task at hand and accomplish them.
I’d suggest starting with 5 major priorities per day.
- Work on the redesign for Jack and Jill’s Gastropub
- Make revisions to the design and proposal for the St.Jean Medical Center
- Meet with Paul and Marie (client and contractor) about progress and site changes
- Come up with possible solutions for the elevation height issues in Solutia College
- Contact Jim, Kerry, and Steff about working on the Lee’s new property.
Then add additional smaller tasks that you can do quickly in between bigger tasks
- Send the invoice for the Oswalk Fitness Centre
- Check and respond to emails
- Ask Martin for any new leads for potential projects
- Send a report to Marie after the meeting with her and Paul.
These smaller tasks should be things you can easily knock off in between the bigger tasks.
Tip 2: Prioritize and Add Time Frames
Once you’ve put down everything you want to do, prioritize what order you need to do them in, and estimate how long you want to spend on the task.
How you break that time up is up to you: you could clarify what time of day you would like to work on that task (e.g. Between 11 am to 12 pm) or the amount of time you’d like to spend on it (e.g. 1 hour).
Watch out for distractions and stick to the time frames
For example: you were supposed to send an email which should have taken less than 10 minutes, but then you ended up spending an additional 50 minutes trying to find a source for a specific material a client mentioned, and you’ve just spent a huge chunk of your valuable time on it, pushing back all your other tasks… so now you have to work an hour later than you planned.
Do this 3 or 4 times in a day, and suddenly it’s well into the evening and you are exhausted, wondering what happened to your day.
If it is not super urgent to find that material (or someone else could do that for you, we’ll talk more about that next) put it on a to-do list for tomorrow, or the day after, and add it as one of the smaller tasks you’ll do in between the more important tasks.
Solution 2: Offload Some of the Work
When looking at your to-do lists—do you notice that there are some tasks that eat up a lot of time, but are not necessarily related to being an architect?
The things that have really nothing to do with designing or problem solving, but the extra tasks you have to do to keep your business running.
Here is a radical idea: how about you don’t do them?
It might feel like getting a friend to do your homework, but the truth is, if you want to scale and free up your time—you are going to need help somewhere down the line.
Tip 1: Look for Ways to Automate Tasks
Figure out how to automate your processes wherever possible.
Finding tools that will free up your time will create more space for you to focus on the creative side of your business.
Thanks to the internet, modern tools and technologies have made automating many parts of your architecture business possible and easy to do.
But what do we mean by automation?
Automations are online robotic tools (aka “software”) that make your job easier by doing tasks for you.
They help you free up a lot of time in your workday, while reducing the risk of human error.
Find out what is eating up the majority of your online time by conducting a productivity audit. Use RescueTime to help you figure out which sites you are mostly on, and the amount of time you are on them.
While many of these tools are free, some of them have monthly or annual subscriptions. While these might seem like a useless expense upfront—actually they can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run.
Many of the suggested tool below will shave minutes off your day, which might not seem like a lot, and might not seem like something worth paying for.
But let’s look an example.
Let’s solely focus how much time you spend emailing each day.
Now, project proposals and emailing clients about very specific tasks and queries aside—a lot of time is spent on emails related to:
- Planning meetings: arranging meetings, going back and forth trying to find a time that works for everyone.
- Pitching and answering questions: Writing pitches or answering the same questions from potential clients
- Following up with potential clients: Emailing potential clients to ask if they are still interested in working on a project together.
- Contracts: Chasing up unsigned contracts
These types of emails are small and necessary—and could easily add up to an hour of your time every day.
Now, if you were to automate each of these small but persistent emailing tasks, you could shave that hour down to 10-15 minutes, leaving you with 45 extra minutes in a day.
Ah, but 45 minutes doesn’t seem like a ton of time does it?
Well, let’s think about it this way.
If you save 45 minutes a day, that’s a little more than 3.5 extra hours a week.
Or about 15 extra hours a month.
Or about 180 hrs in a year.
Say your hourly rate is $65/hr.
That would be $11.7K by the end of the year.
Still think we are talking about small numbers here?
The point is that these little numbers start adding up over time, and can end up making a big difference on both your time and your bottom line.
Here are some automation tools that can help you with your architecture business:
- Track time, generate invoices, and manage your payroll: TSheets, Harvest, or InvoiceNinja
- For bookkeeping, tracking your costs, and income: use FreshBooks, Bench, Brightbook, or Wave
- Managing expenses: Expensify
- Planning meetings: arranging meetings and calls, going back and forth trying to find a time that works for everyone with ScheduleOnce, Doodley, Calendly, YouCanBookMe, or Join.Me
- Pitching and answering questions: Writing pitches or answering the same questions from potential clients with 17hats
- Following up with potential clients: Emailing potential clients to ask if they are still interested in working on a project together or staying top-of-mind with past clients with newsletters. Use with ActiveCampaign, MailChimp, or Hubspot
- Contracts: Chasing up unsigned contracts Shake or HelloSign
- Stay organized when managing multiple projects: assign different jobs, feedback on projects, and make sure your team(s) are all on the same page with Trello, Basecamp, or Asana
- Scheduling and generating social media posts: Buffer, Hootsuite, or MeetEdgar
- Generate daily report pdf with ArchiSnapper (Hey! That’s us!)
- Project management software: Monograph, Synergy or Workflow Max
- Make bidding and proposals easier: figure out budget, make quick amendments with SmartBid or CoConstruct
- Quick tools specifically for designing: Architect’s Formulator
- Create, collaborate on, and share documents: Google Drive, Google Docs, or Dropbox
2 Additional Automation Tools That Will Save You Time:
- Make sure your writing is on point: Grammarly
- Encourage your automations work together: Zapier or IFTTT
Specifically for architects who are often on the road, check this article on how to get the most out of your iPhone or iPad to save hours every week “11 Ways to Make Your iPhone or iPad Your Best Construction Tool”
Have a need that isn’t on this list?
While there aren’t automation tools for everything, there is a chance someone has created something that can help.
Try Googling your specific need with “[name-of-need] + automation” and see if there is something already out there which can help.
Also, make sure you check out our previous article “9 Great Apps for Architects That Will Save You Time”
Now, while there are dozens of automations out there, sometimes you will still get caught doing tasks that eat up a lot of your time and there is no automation for—or ones that need a little more creativity and skill to help you manage.
With these kinds of tasks, consider hiring outside help.
Tip 2: Hire Some Help
Carve out more time and space to advance and grow your business by creating repeatable processes.
Then hire others to do those processes for you.
You might need to hire a virtual assistant, someone to help you generate leads for new work, or a bookkeeper.
Look at what tasks take up most of your non-creative time, and what could potentially be handled by someone else.
For example, maybe you are not great at bookkeeping, and you spend 3 or 4 hours a week trying to balance your books, eating up a lot of precious time you could be spending creating a design for a new client.
Hire someone to help with all the work that’s not essential for you to be doing.
They don’t need to be full-time, or even part-time. You don’t even need someone to do it every day, just enough to make your job easier and allow you to focus on the areas you’re more skilled in, and that will have a higher payoff for you.
1. Hire The Right People
You want someone who’s capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through. When you find these people, it frees up the rest of your team to work more and manage less.
How can you be sure you are hiring the right person?
- Hire people on a referral basis. It works in your favour to know that they have had success with someone you trust.
- Do a paid test. See what they can do by paying them for a one-off project before you hire them on for an on-going project
- Agree to a trial period. This will help both you and the person you are hiring figure out if you are compatible before agreeing to any long term working relationship.
Make sure you take time in the interview process to select the right people who are able to manage tasks without too much hand-holding—however, how to hire the right person will depend heavily on what you are hiring them for.
For example, the process you go through to hire a long-term bookkeeper might be quite different from hiring a designer to help you create a Pitchbook PDF.
Regardless, make sure you have very clear expectations right off the bat—you know what you want to hire them for and you can express that to them in a straightforward way.
2. Be Clear About Your Expectations and Deadlines
In the same way that you probably find it difficult to work with a client who doesn’t know what they want, chances are that whoever you hire to help you will feel the same about you if you are not clear.
Make sure you know exactly what you are hiring them for, and what you expect them to do in that role.
Secondly, be clear on timing and deadlines.
Have a tight turnaround? Make sure this is ultraclear and discuss it with them. If they are not working exclusively for you, they may have other clients or projects going on that conflict or limit their availability.
Be sure to ask if your timeline is realistic and how confident they are about meeting your deadlines.
Also, support staff with experience in the field you are hiring them for can help you estimate the timing of a project if you’re not sure how long it should take.
Avoid changing the parameters, and adding too much to their plate initially.
See what they can do first, the continue to add to and improve your processes together over time.
3. Make Sure it is Cost Efficient
How do you know when it is time to hire some help? And how to avoid high overheads?
You might find yourself going overboard and hiring a team of support staff too quickly to do tasks that won’t actually add to your bottom line.
As a good rule of thumb, you should look at investing in help that will have a significant return on your investment.
Say you hire a designer to help create a Portfolio PDF for you that you could send to new clients to show them the quality of your work. You pay them $500 for a few hours of work. Over the next few weeks, you get 3 new clients after sending them the portfolio, which results in a sizeable boost to your bottom line—then hiring the designer was well worth the cost.
Say each week it takes you 4 to 5 hours to manage your finances. At the end of the month, this could easily add up to 20 extra hours in a month. Say you hire a bookkeeper who costs you $400 per month, but with the 20 hours you are not tied up doing your finances, you can take on a new client and have earned an extra $4K—you’ve just made 10x the amount you spent on the bookkeeper, and got to focus on the work you actually enjoy.
These are simplistic and straightforward examples, but serve to demonstrate how to think about making sure you get a return on your investment.
Solution 3: Choose the Right Clients
Low-quality clients can have a massive impact on your ability to manage your time.
Instead of grabbing any job that is put on the table—make sure you spend a moment to vet your clients and make sure that you will be able to work with them.
If you end up with a client who is ultra-demanding, needs a lot of handholding, is constantly pushing the envelope, or has no etiquette when it comes to late night and weekend calls—you could end up spending double or triple your time on them, but with minimal benefit for you or your business.
Watch Out for Clients Who:
- Are stingy right off the bat. This does not bode well for you as the architect, their goal is to minimise costs, and not to maximise output value. Watch out for clients who immediately try to negotiate a lower fee or try to add things on to the original scope for free. If they are too preoccupied with the cost, quality will not be their top priority, and this spells trouble for you. Read more here: “Architects, Contractors, Engineers: double your hourly rate. NOW”
- They call you outside office hours. Chances are they probably have very little respect for your time. Find out if there is a valid reason (perhaps it is not possible for them to contact you during their work hours for a specific reason). If not, chances are that they are going to continue this behaviour, which could mean you will be on call for the entire project.
- Ask for a lot of “extras” or changing the scope very early in. They might start asking you to add additional things that were not in the original request or set extra parameters, or even extra project pieces. Use your intuition here, but beware as it can set a precedent that can end up being very time-consuming.
- Are clingy. If you have a potential client who sends several emails within an hour and seems to get irritated when you don’t respond right away, or who are requesting an excessive amount of meetings or have constant input on everything you do— they will probably end up being a handful as you continue on.
- Are not sure about what they want or keep changing their minds. Without a clear vision for the project, there is a good chance that they will be disappointed with the work you deliver. You will get a lot of revision requests, meaning a lot more back and forth than with a client who is ultra-clear about what they need and want.
- Express that they have had trouble with other architects or vendors. This should be a major red flag. You want to work with people who have good relationships with the people they’ve worked in the past. If they are telling you a story about what a [fill in derogatory phrase] their last architect was—your guard should immediately go up. Find out exactly why they opted to end that relationship and seek out a new one.
While there are no hard and fast rules per se for figuring out who is a good, profitable client, versus who will end up costing you time and will be a headache to boot—trust your gut.
Make sure you pay attention to early warning signs, and if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to end the relationship.
Solution 4: Give Yourself Time to Recover and Recharge
Lastly, always make sure you take some time off per week to recharge, recovery, and reward yourself.
If you are on the go all the time, you will eventually burn out. Ultimately making you less effective and harming your business.
You’ll burn out.
You need to take the time to power your battery back up to 100%.
Think of it like working a muscle—if you push and push and push a muscle, eventually you’ll end up with an injury. All great athletes know that recovery time is a must. If you want to play the long game, take the time to recover.
If you are working at 110% all week long, make sure you schedule one day a week that you don’t work at all.
Go out for dinner with friends, get a massage, get some tickets to a game or a theatre performance.
Make sure you are putting time aside each week to have some fun and release the stress that has been building up.
It’s a simple hack that will keep you from feeling overtired, frustrated, overwhelmed, and discouraged.
Running your own architecture business can be stressful. There is a lot to do, and it can sometimes feel like there is not enough time to do it all.
But instead of trying to work more, work smarter.
Prioritize your day with to-do lists and stick to time frames.
Hire outside help for the tasks that are not 100% necessary for you to do, and automate processes whenever possible.
Lastly, make sure you are taking the time to recharge, recover and rest. Rewarding yourself will keep you sane and happy—which will help you avoid burnout and exhaustion, is ultimately benefiting your business in the long run.