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Architects' are bad at managing their time

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Best practice: Managing our working time is just as important as being creative, writes J-J Lorraine

I dearly love the architectural community, I love the beliefs it holds true, the type of person it calls its own, the good it does and the way it wears it’s heart on its sleeve. I love the fact that it works overtime and I love the fact it does so for the most part unpaid. In our collective double helix, it is as much a part of being an architect (read: any vocational career) as RAL 9010 and is ingrained in our culture from day one of architectural study. I for one certainly don’t want anyone in Brussels, Portland Place or anywhere else telling me it’s verboten.

Overtime, however, should be a matter of degree and, more pertinently, a matter of choice.

We like to think that we work longer than our contracted hours because the project we are working on reminds us why we chose to become architects: we believe that extra hour or two will make a difference. In other words, we choose to do it. While this is undoubtedly the case from time to time, the truth is that for many practices, long hours feel like a necessity rather than an option. And therein lies the problem.

Let’s face it: working outside the hours of 7am and 7pm, mistakes get made, errors creep in, future problems lie in wait

Those of us who manage architectural practices have to ask ourselves whether a long hours culture is something we benefit from and therefore wish to continue, or, whether in fact it is wrong to expect our employees to regularly work extra, unpaid hours.

In our practice, occasional late working and, rarely, weekend working does happen. But regular, excessive overtime is not encouraged at all and is seen as bad for morale, bad for health and bad for business. Let’s face it: working outside the hours of 7am and 7pm, mistakes get made, errors creep in; future problems lie in wait.

Read more: AJ Poll reveals 40% of architects working more than 10-hours overtime per week

As I see it, there are three main reasons why architects regularly put in excessive, unpaid overtime.  The first, and most obvious, is that the office, or a particular project, is under-staffed.  This is usually because fees are too low or the practice is unable – or unwilling – to recruit the necessary personnel.

The second reason, which will be familiar to many, is the almost institutionalised belief that architects are expected to work long hours and, after all, everyone else in the office seems to be doing it.

The third reason may be the least obvious to most, and is that we as a profession are simply bad at managing our time. Related to this third point is a kind of  ‘Atlas syndrome’, which tends to pervade our working culture (and may be a hangover from our student years), whereby individuals within a practice shoulder too much of the burden, overstretch themselves and fail to delegate effectively.

The common thread is that all of these things are within our control as architects – a simple fact that too few respect or understand. If we invested the same rigour, discipline and effort in managing our time as we did in ‘being creative’, the profession could and would redress the imbalance.

We must stop blaming others for our failings and put our house in order. As Gustave Flaubert said: ‘Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.’

J-J Lorraine is a director of Morrow + Lorraine Architects

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