Work = 1/3 Life #Architalks

Three-day weekends with no particular plans are the best!  I didn’t clean out the garage like I planned. But I feel refreshed and revived. Burnout averted!

Note: The following is how (the-about-to-burnout) I was going to start this post about work/life.

Whoever came up with a 40-hour workweek, or particularly an 8-5 work schedule, had no responsibilities other than to one’s self, no kids nor a commute, but was a single-minded workaholic who was cutting the rest of us a lot of slack! There are, after all, 168 hours in a week, and man only needs 8 hours a day to be fully functional, which gives you a whopping 72 hours to live the rest of your life! Put yourselves to some use people! Now, if you want to start talking about US GDP in comparison to France’s (35 hour work week), talk to the hand.

Now that that is out of my system, let’s engage in some productive talk.

Busy bees My husband and I both have full-time jobs and we have 2 young kids.  Weekdays are long and hectic; weekends are filled with play-dates, kid's birthday parties, gymnastics classes, laundry, grocery shopping, tidying house, ... you know, stuff of life, just like everybody else.  Did I mention, I write a blog and pursue some other interests that can eat up as much time as I give it.   Needless to say, we have very busy lives.

That's a good week.  When one of us is out of town or someone falls sick, all hell breaks lose.

I've been feeling more and more overwhelmed lately.  There are things on my to-do-list that I just can't seem to cross off.  It's September already, for Christ's sake.  Some things have been on the list since January.  I tell my husband it's because I am super-busy while I am at work. You know, normal business hours when you call to make a doctor’s appointment, or take your car in for service!

I lead the architecture department at an architect-led design-build company.  We have 7 projects in various stages of construction and 5 projects in different phases of architecture.  60% of my time is spent doing CA (Construction Administration – responding to RFI's (request for information) from builders, reviewing shop drawings, project schedule meetings, change orders, etc.), 40% managing the architectural team and our deliverables, including writing specifications.

By the end of the day, I suffer from “decision fatigue”. When my husband asks me what we should do about dinner, it’s often “I don’t care - anything”.

Is it really that bad? For this post, I did a little exercise.  I chalked down my week.  (I had a little help from my 5 year old.)  Sure, each work day is pretty intense.  But, it’s not so bad when you consider the week as a whole.   There's some semblance of a balance between work, sleep, and rest of life.

Work life tally, and by The Perfect Day I mean a day when everything goes according to plan

Then why does it feel so overwhelming?

Because, the truth is there are very few perfect days, when everything goes according to plan.   My kids spend an exorbitant 10 hours each work day away from home.  Theyeat more crap than I care to admit.  We recently moved and are yet to meet our neighbors. I ignore my health.  My relationships hang by a thread.

This is the reality of my modern-day work-life, and it sucks.

Like it or not, work spills over into life. If not literally, then figuratively. If you had a bad day at work, it spoils your evening.  Stress is tangible. For better or for worse, my work affects my being.

Work-life integration    Increasingly the concept of work-life integration is taking over the traditional idea of a balance between the two.  Many industries and companies recognize that work and life are not two separate things. Not in a globalized economy, not in this day of smart phones and wi-fi connectivity.

Certainly, for most architects, work is life and it’s our life’s work.

For example: I visit starchitect designed buildings that are up to 2 hours away from my vacation destination.  I take pictures of interesting architectural details while I'm not at work.  I jot down project to-do lists at 3am when I wake up for no apparent reason.  I agonize over small things that only perfectionists care about.

So I have to ask - Why have architecture firms not embraced a flexible work schedule to allow work life integration?

Every architecture office I have worked at has had a very defined work schedule; right down to the specific time that employees are allowed to take their lunch break!  It is not just in the employee manual, it is strictly enforced.  8-5pm; 12-1pm lunch.  And while the 5pm often blurs to 6 or 8pm, the other time stamps are sacred!

I say this to my friends who work for tech companies and other businesses and they laugh.  They say "I could never work like that". I have worked like that for so many years now, to me, it is normal. They think I’m too industrious. They don’t get into work till 10am. S l a c k e r s ! To be fair, I know these folks work 50-80 hours a week – just not at their office desk.

My husband has a pretty flexible work schedule.  Thankfully!  He picks up a lot of my slack. I think it’s safe to say he does more than his share of the household and parental duties. (Thank you dear!)

If our son gets sick at daycare and needs to be taken to the doctor in the middle of the day, he does not have to be apologetic about it to his boss.  If our daughter's class has a parent reading session, he can make himself available from 8:40-9:00am. Me? I have to calculate - If I volunteer for next week's reading, I will get to work by 9:15am, which means I am -1.25 hours for the day; I can work through lunch and stay till 5:15 and it'll be fine; as long as I don't have a project meeting; I should email everyone; and hope to God there's not bad traffic in the evening or else I'll be late to pick up my son.

U n n e c e s s a r y   s t r e s s !

I could check email before the reading, which is what I do when I get into work anyway! But, negotiating a flexible work schedule for myself would be unfair to the rest of the company.

Work-life separation But the status quo is not fair to my husband. His flexible work schedule comes at a price.  He has to work some evenings after the kids go to bed or when he is on-call, he gets paged in the middle of the night.  He may not work 8-5pm, but he works more than 40 hours a week.  There is little work-life separation.

On the other hand, I do. Whatever doesn’t get done by the end of the work day will have to wait till the next day. There is an inordinate number of emails to read and respond to, each requiring me to open up at least 4 different drawings. The definition of “getting your work done” is very vague.

You have to Choose: And therein lies the conundrum. Would you rather work on a schedule and not have to think about work when you are out of the office, or would you prefer that work hours are flexible but be on email alert?

But before you choose the former, consider this: Peak hour urban grid-lock Are we going to keep building more 10 lane highways to accommodate millions of urbanites who all have to be at work at 8am and leave at 5pm.  If you think that you just need to live closer to your work, consider that every time you change jobs or your office location changes, you will be uprooting your kids from their school/friends/environment, not to mention upsetting your partner’s commute to work. Living close to work is a reality for few and luxury for many.

Or are we going to embrace a flexible work schedule and integrate work and life?

Choose to be the architect of your own life and design it to be the best life it can be.



This post is part of the #Architalks series.  Aptly, for labor day, the topic was Work/Life. Read about how other architects handle work and life - click links below.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch) Work Life

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson) Work | Life - Different Letters, Same Word

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch) Work / Life : Life / Work

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM) Work/Life...What an Architect Does

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols) The One Secret to Work - Life Balance

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti) work | life :: dance

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect) Living an Integrated Life as a Small Firm Architect

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC) #ArchiTalks: Work/life...attempts

Collier Ward - Thousand Story Studio (@collier1960) Work/Life

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect) what makes you giggle? #architalks

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect) Turning Work Off

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome) Work/Life -- A Merger

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project (@miss32percent) Work Life Fit: A New Focus for Blurred Lines

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel) Work Life

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA) Architalks: Imbalanced and uninterrupted

Amy Kalar - ArchiMom (@AmyKalar) ArchiTalks #12: Balance is a Verb.

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX) I Just Can’t Do This Anymore

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC) An Architect's House

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA) Brady Ernst - Family Man Since 08/01/2015

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz) Father, Husband, Architect - typically in that order

Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1) On Work: Life Balance – Cattywampus is as Good as it Gets

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w) midnight in the garden of [life] and [work]

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist) Work Life Balance: Architecture and Babies - 5 Hints for Expecting Parents

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept) Work is Life

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent) studio / life

Lindsey Rhoden - SPARC Design (@sparcdesignpc) Work Life Balance: A Photo Essay

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell) Work / Life