[Updated November 2014]
When I did my degree I NEVER pulled an all nighter. I NEVER worked beyond 6pm (well maybe once!). And I RARELY worked on weekends. I decided to treat the degree like a job. I would go to uni early, go to lectures, and essentially do a 8am-5pm day of uni work. This meant my evenings and weekends were always completely free. It probably sounds boring, but it worked. I got a first, and I still had a life! It is difficult being an architecture student, when your mates studying the easy courses never seem to have to do any work. Well, you chose it, so you have to get over that. If you can get into a good working day routine, not only will you give yourself a good balance between uni work and fun, but you will also be more prepared for working life when you leave uni.
People say that as an architecture student you are expected to pull all nighters. I’m not convinced by this. If you plan your workload, read the brief, and work hard, this shouldn’t be necessary. Nor should it be encouraged, as it then becomes acceptable in the workplace, and believe me, you don’t want to be stuck in the office all night long because it is ‘expected’.
Work smarter not harder.
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1. Make note of the important stuff.
I’m a list fan myself. But whichever way you want to do it you need to be clear in your mind what is important and what is not. With uni work timescales and deadlines are always key, make sure you don’t leave things until the last minute. Everyone says it, everyone laughs about it, but if you give yourself time, the work you produce will be 10 times better. Once you have figured out what is important and timescales, then you can plan how and when you are going to get things done.
2. Plan your days – roughly speaking
This one will work differently for everyone. You can either make yourself a ‘Today Plan’ where you plan out by priority the things you need to get done today. Then anything you don’t complete rolls on to the next day and so on. Other people like to allot time to a task, using a calendar block out time to do various tasks/assignments. Don’t just focus on completing one assignment at a time, it is best to dip in and out of each one you have on the go (a chunk of hours at a time), this way you won’t get so bored of doing one project but also, you won’t be leaving anything until the last minute.
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3. Consider the weight of your assignments.
Your assignments will all be worth different amounts of credits, or different percentages towards final grades. It is VITAL that you take note of this. There is absolutely no point spending hours and hours on an assignment that is only worth 5% of the entire module, while leaving a weighty 40% assignment until two days before the deadline. Really take a long hard look at how much your assignment is worth and plan the time you will spend on it accordingly.
4. Break it Down
Sitting down at the start of the day with a mammoth assignment ahead of you can be daunting and doesn’t always lead to a productive day. Sometimes it can help to break down the assignment or task into smaller items to be completed one at a time. By checking these off a list, you get a sense of achievement that you are getting closer to your goal, and allowing yourself to be more focused.
5. Do the hardest thing first.
It is so easy to put off the difficult things till last. Worse still, the difficult things usually take the longest. We are all masters at putting things off! Give yourself a priority task for the day, the one thing that has to get done no matter what, and follow that with a need to do task. These things are priorities and must be done before anything else. The rest of your tasks for the day will fall behind these priority tasks.
6. Tidy Workspace
If you are surrounded by clutter, you will be easily distracted. Try to work in an environment that will help you to stay focused.
7. Back away from the social!
It is easy to spend hours of distracted fun on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube. Simply put, this is a waste of time. If you have set out to specifically achieve certain goals that don’t include any social networking then stay away from those sites whilst you are working on assignments etc.
8. Write it down
If you are working on an assignment and your mind keeps wandering to a different module or assignment then just write down your ideas and get back to the task in hand.
9. Avoid Perfection
As architects and creatives, striving for perfection is often our downfall. It is important to learn when to stop. This balance is a difficult one, but important to find what works for you. If you get through 90% of an assignment in 10 hours, but then you another 10 hours to get it to 100% – you need to ask yourself if it is really worth it. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but there comes a point in a project where the time you input is not relative to the outcome/grades you will receive. If everyone completed every project to perfection, not much would get done. You need to become a good judge of what is close enough to perfection, without seriously reducing your productivity.
If you are carrying out a task that is taking hours and hours, you need to stop and ask yourself if it is worth it, or should you move on. This ties in with point no. 3 – consider the weight of your assignments. By tying these two together, your productivity should really soar.
10. Take breaks/have fun.
If you spend too much time absorbed in your work, sometimes you can loose sight of the end result you are aiming for. Make sure you take breaks from your work, not just hourly, but on the weekend for example, really step away and empty your head so that you can start with a fresh approach on Monday.
11. Don’t let yourself get distracted.
I often find if I have my emails open and emails keep on pinging into my inbox I am constantly back and forth checking them, and following them up or replying. The best way to be productive when working at your computer is to close down your emails, and check them say, every couple of hours. That way, you are allocating time to look at your emails and won’t have any immediate distractions while you are working. If you are working in a busy studio, sometimes it’s best to keep yourself plugged in to your music so you don’t get distracted by whats going on around you.
12. Monitor your time
If you keep track of the time things take you to do, not only will it be useful for you to know when you approach a similar task in the future, but it will also enable you to analyse where your efforts are being spent wisely. You will also become very aware of the things you do that is wasting time and proving to be unproductive.
13. Get some sleep.
You work best when you have had some sleep, you will be far more productive. So get out of the studio, go to bed, come back tomorrow and do a better job.
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