Does Working Long Hours Make You A Better Architect?

Since we are just entering a new year the concepts of goals, productivity and resolutions are on everyone's mind.

So dust off your screen from the holidays and check out if long hours are the answer to becoming a great architect. 

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First let's define what is a "better architect". Is it being more productive? Regularly promoted? Highly paid? Produces excellent design solutions?

Usually all of these characteristics tend to flow together. If you are a skilled designer you are likely to be compensated and promoted accordingly. So if being good at your job leads to fame and fortune, is productivity the key to excellence?

Often the idea of productivity contrasts with the design world. The word "productive" congers up images of a production line stamping out widgets as fast as possible.

Here is the basic definition of productive:
1. producing or able to produce large amounts of goods, crops, or other commodities.

Hmmm, doesn't really sound like a dream job does it?. 

As you can see the definition and the general public view of being productive revolves around the idea of production. It is all about quantity over quality. Obviously architecture has deadlines like every profession. However, the architecture school culture leans toward the idea that if there is an hour left, it should be used.


Does rushing to the last minute create a better product?'

Does pulling all nighters result in a more refined product?

There is the psychological benefit to working up to the last minute. "Well I couldn't do any more since I ran out of time". The belief is you will have fewer regrets in the future when you know there was nothing more to be done.

Speaking from personal experience, working long hours for years on end can be very draining, both physically and mentally. Just because you are logging the hours does not necessarily translate to a superior final design.

Is it Friday yet?

Can you get more done in a focused 8-hour day versus a meandering 12-hour day. What about a 6-hour day?

Sweden recently announced that they are shifting to a 6-hour work day. Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus explained the reasoning.

"I think the 8-hour work day is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for 8 hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work." 

To cope with the significant cut in working hours, Feldt says staff are asked to stay off social media and other distractions while at work and meetings are kept to a minimum. "My impression now is that it is easier to focus more intensely on the work that needs to be done and you have the stamina to do it and still have energy left when leaving the office."

While I could go on to debate the health effects or lack of work life balance, the purpose of my article is to focus on the quality of the final work. 

Office Culture

Many employees at "starchitect" offices often pride themselves on putting in all nighters and late nights for years on end. While this may be the culture, does staying until midnight achieve consistent results? I am not speaking about the occasional long day but rather the consistent 60+ hour weeks.

Personally I found that while I was able to get work done, it wasn't really much more than I could have done in a traditional 8-hour day. When you are are tired and mentally exhausted the creative process is much more labor intensive.

This creates a vicious cycle. I am tired so I work slower, so I get less done, so I have to work more which makes me tired.

"We architects are artists"

No one can tell an artist how something should be done. Architecture design is certainly a complex task with many moving parts and is filled with inefficiencies like any other profession. 

According to a survey, 69% of the people surveyed said they waste time at work every single day. 

Most people (34%) said they routinely waste 30 minutes or less each day while on the clock. Nearly one-quarter (24%) said they waste between 30-60 minutes daily, with 11% claiming they spend several hours per day wasting time on non work-related items on a daily basis. 

The trend in recent years seems to be longer hours, especially for salaried workers. I believe this is not because of an increase in workload but rather the increase in distracting apps, websites and social media sites. 

My generation of "millennials" seems to get the most criticism for this distracted work ethic. However, there is a belief amongst my peers our that work and personal lives are becoming one. This concept was covered in a recent article, Is Work Becoming The New Church?

They see work as an extension of themselves and their lives in general. They are much more likely to socialise and build relationships with their colleagues – seeing them as part of their family, often when family can live hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Working hours seem to be increasing, this is especially true for white collar workers (architects included). While we are still in the early stages of research on the topic, the issue seems to be more about staying focused than a result of increased workload. 

Why does architecture have long hours?

Looking back on my architecture school experience, it really created a model for timewasting. An open, collaborative space with a group of mostly friends. While this is great and is a fun time, chatting for hours rarely gets much done.

This culture ultimately carries on into the professional world. Some may argue that there just isn't enough hours in the day, usually it is a case of misdirected focus and lack of planning. 

Is pure design talent the key?

There is some truth to the fact that some people have a natural eye for design. However, it is a muscle that can be developed, it just takes more "effort" for some than others. 

I don't believe great architects are born but rather through years of consistent, focused work can develop the skills and connections required to succeed. This is why long hours are often associated with younger architects. Not only do they feel the need to "prove themselves" but also they haven't seen many of the design problems before. Therefore they need to learn each solution for the first time.

What can be done?

Without getting into too much detail on how to be more productive (perhaps for a future post) there are a few things your can do to try and minimize your hours. 

1. Come in early

This may sound completely counterintuitive but many people, myself included, can get more done before the rest of the office is in and the phone starts ringing. Also, working out an hour early departure time with your supervisor would be ideal for this situation.

2. Turn off email pop ups

This can be very distracting. Having the urge to stop what you are doing to answer emails can be quite unproductive. I usually try to only check email once an hour or less if possible. 

3. Put your phone away

You can check it at lunch or after work. Just like the email pop ups, the countless notifications on your phone will easily eat up your day.

4. Make a to-do list

Create a list of tasks for yourself each morning. This will help keep you on track and give you a sense of accomplishment when you can check each one off. 

Final thoughts

Depending on your office culture it may be near impossible to change your working hours. However, a simple rule to keep in mind is to work while you are at work. The office isn't a country club or your living room, treating it as such will only hurt your career in the long term.

There is nothing wrong with working hard when required, just don't make it your lifestyle. 

If you are looking for an architecture job change... checkout The Complete Package which includes further reading on applications, interview preparation and questions:

See also my posts on:

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Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.