Architect's Knowledge ResourceDocuments
By Enoch Sears, AIA
A young boy was given a pitcher full of candies. He grasped as many as he could possibly hold, but when he tried to pull out his hand, he was prevented from doing so by the neck of the pitcher. Unwilling to lose his candies, and yet unable to withdraw his hand, he burst into tears and bitterly lamented his disappointment. A bystander said to him, “Be satisfied with half the quantity, and you will readily draw out your hand.”
The moral of the story: don’t try to do too much at once.
Do you ever feel like the child with your hand in the pitcher? Multitasking is one of the greatest enemies of “getting stuff done.”
The American Psychological Association has documented that “Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity…[David Meyer PhD] has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.”
And yet as firm owners and residential architects we need to wear many hats and complete many different tasks throughout the day just to keep the projects flowing and the lights on. Often it seems like doing 10 things at once is the only option for survival.
You are given 24 hours of time every day. No more and no less. Make the most of each and every day.
Here are 7 tried-and-true tips for reducing the clutter in your life and “getting stuff done” so you can focus on living a great life and let your business run itself. Implementing just one of these tactics can save you an hour every day.
1. Focus on what matters
After all is said and done, do you know which tasks are most important for your business? Which tasks help you get closer to your “big picture” goals?
If you haven’t taken the time to make a 1 year, 2 year, 5 year, and 10 year plan, do so now. As Stephen Covey famously taught, “begin with the end in mind.” Remember, we usually overestimate what we can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what we can accomplish in two years. Make big goals.
Do at least one task each day that takes you a step closer to those goals.
2. Forward march!
Just as ancient way-farers used charts and the constellations to navigate the mighty seas and discover exotic lands in far-flung places, you too should have a plan for how you will get from here to there. If you followed step one above, you have plan and know exactly what you need to do to get there.
Before every day (either the night before or in the early morning), figure out the 1 or 2 tasks that are a priority to move your business forward. Write them down. The next day you know what your priorities are and you can avoid distractions. This is the number one tactic that has moved the needle in my business.
3. First things first
Tim Ferriss, author of the popular productivity guide “The Four Hour Work Week,” says you should plan to get your “1 or 2” items (from step 2 above) done first thing in the morning. After you’ve conquered those tasks you can move on to lesser tasks with a feeling of accomplishment.
As Mark Twain wrote, “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”
Do the hard things first. Kill procrastination.
There are many ways to eliminate distractions in the morning. You can have a no-phone or closed door policy before lunch.
You can use technology. Two apps that can eliminate distractions are RescueTime and FocusatWill.com. RescueTime shuts off email and internet access for predetermined amounts of time. Focus@Will plays your choice of music for your focused productivity sessions.
4. Delegate or outsource
Don’t do everything yourself. This should be rule number one. Even if you are not a business owner, try to make sure that the right task is delegated to the right person. For example, if you are the business owner, you should not be filling out long and tedious applications.
If you don’t have the workload to justify a full-time employee, look for a contract worker who is willing to work remotely, or put an ad in your local Craigslist for a part-time admin.
I’ve had luck finding contract workers via Odesk.com. Other outsourcing sites are Elance.com and Archability.com (architecture specific). The key is to test out candidates with small tasks until you have built a relationships of trust. Then you can feel confident making them a permanent part of the team. Reclaim hours each week by outsourcing and delegating effectively.
5. Copy Ron and the Mermaid
Not having repeatable systems in place is the number one mistake of small architecture firms. Your business and projects should continue to run smoothly when you are not there. Even if you are not planning to sell your business, you should run it like you intend to hand it off someday - so that any other person could step in and quickly take over. Franchises, such as McDonald’s (Ron) and Starbucks (the Mermaid) have made systemization into a science. Now your firm doesn’t need to become McDonald's, but it does need to have systems that automate repeatable tasks.
For example, do you have a phone script that your employees or receptionist can use when a new project lead comes in? This is a topic that we recently discussed in the “Agile Architect” LinkedIn Group here: http://bit.ly/17pL1op. Fellow CRAN member Dawn Zuber of Studio Z Architecture shared her process for documenting new leads by filling out an online form that automatically feeds into an online database.
6. Tame the email beast
Answering emails and responding to the constant interruption of email can quickly eat up your day. Here are two strategies for taming the email beast.
First, turn off notifications and set a time each day to go through and respond to emails. If you are hesitant to do this because you are always responding to the latest fire, find a way to minimize the "fires."
Second, if you use Gmail you can use a great online app called “The Email Game” to quickly sort through email. If you use a desktop client like Outlook, make sure you have good email filters in place to organize and categorize your email. David Allen, productivity guru and author of “Getting Things Done,” has a free downloadable PDF that outlines how to get to “inbox zero” nirvana. You can get it here https://secure.davidco.com/store/catalog/GETTING-EMAIL-UNDER-CONTROL--p-16377.php
7. Just say no
Successful architects are defined as much by the opportunities they pass up as the opportunities they take on. You have a “to-do” list. It is also important to have a list of things you will not do. It is hard to say no, especially when there is perceived benefit, like a new project inquiry for instance. But saying yes to every opportunity that comes your way is a sure track to business overwhelm.
Analyze every opportunity that comes across your desk and answer this one question: Does this tie into the long term strategy of my business? Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities that aren’t a good fit.
Architecture is a complex profession and running a business is a full-time job. I encourage you to take just one item from this article that you are not doing and implement it today. The world needs your best effort, skills and talents as an architect to craft the built environment and leave a legacy to those who follow. Don’t let the business get you down.
Enoch B. Sears, AIA is a speaker, consultant and author who focuses on marketing for architects with a particular emphasis on digital tools including web marketing and social media. He has spoken nationally and internationally on how architects can leverage marketing to land their ideal commissions, get more clients in the door, and improve the bottom line. He talks with successful architects and innovative marketers on the weekly interview show "Business of Architecture" which is available on iTunes and YouTube. His book "Social Media for Architects" is available as a free download at BusinessofArchitecture.com.