I’m not sure if I’m the best person to talk about studio/life balance, but I certainly have experience. Not the kind of experience that makes me an expert on how to achieve a great balance, but I’ve been on the dark-side where I have contemplated quitting architecture school as I felt so consumed. I felt there was zero balance in my life, and everything starts to feel the effect of this imbalance. I know why I don’t have that balance, and I have some ideas of achieving a more well-rounded life however it’s one of those things where I do need to work at it. I’ve heard architects and classmates talk about their schedule during university, and I am envious to say the least. What is a studio/life balance? Fair question if you’re an architecture student, as many of us feel trapped in our course. To put it simply, it means you aren’t spending 18 hours a day in the studio or studying in general. Let’s bust out some mathematics to help with this whole ‘balance’ thing, there are 24 hours in a day, correct? If you divide 24 by 3, you get 8. In the ideal world that means we would get, each day, 8 hours of study, 8 hours of life and 8 hours of sleep. Or as I’m dubbing, the 8/8/8 ratio, it’s this balance between studio and life we should all be aiming for. Last year outside of studio I had my role as Deakin University SONA Representative, was in the process of starting up a new society at university, family commitments and my job as a contract draftsman for Green Precast (working at ‘home’ mainly). This was quite a lot to balance and in the end aspects of the my life starting to feel the effects of this, which included failing three subjects throughout the year, stress to the point of wanting to quit the course, anxiety, missing family events and I did miss deadlines for work. These were quite significant, but I got through the year and feel like I am able to ‘preach’ the importance of having a good studio/life balance.
Andrew Maynard, from Andrew Maynard Architects and author of a popular article ‘work/life/work balance‘, said once (and I’m paraphrasing) “I would start working at 9am and I’d finish up before 6pm so I could watch The Simpsons and play video games of a night“. A tutor who I have had numerous discussions with, Sok, said during his last year he would focus from about 8am to 6pm, then relax and sleep of an evening. They aren’t alone in being examples in achieving this balance, I’m sure you have a classmate or three who seems to leave the studio at 5pm every afternoon and you’re there until 1am. Perhaps you thought they aren’t as dedicated as you, I mean you are in the studio into the early morning slaving away at your amazing studio project…
There’s this belief, which I did held last year, that if you weren’t working on your design every waking minute you aren’t dedicated. How could someone be dedicated to the craft of architecture if they spend the weekend surfing? The students who do leave the studio at reasonable times can be just as much, or even more, dedicated then your little team of studio-mates. Maybe those who leave early or takes the weekend off spend more quality time on their project, and not just clocking up hours up for the sake of bragging.
Studios which are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, are they responsible for the determent of the studio/life balance? Sometimes it’s easy for a student to over-stay in the studio, there’s been times when I’ve looked at the time and realised it’s 2am. You can’t achieve balance in your life if you spend your entire day, and night at the university, it’s plain and simple. One thing you need to realise, the time you’re spending in the studio is being taken away elsewhere in your life. Honestly, I’m guilty of this also, have you seriously spent 14 hours straight in the studio, working? I’ve spent 14 hours in the studio, easy, but I wasn’t working the whole time and I suspect it’s the same with you. I would often watch a couple YouTube clips, browse Facebook, chat to others, read an article or two, complain about studio on Twitter, browse Facebook and find other little things to do to distract myself from the work-at-hand.
Why do we tend to spend so much in the studio? Everyone has different reasons, so why did I spend so much time in the studio last year? Two reasons, poor time management and I was a perfectionist. I would be lazy about an assignment or project until the due date was too close, and would then spend all day and night trying to make up for weeks lost. If I had adopted a similar approach to Andrew and Sok, worked hard from 9am to 5pm, it clearly wouldn’t have happened. Many students cry that the workload is too intense in architecture, but in reality it isn’t. It only seems like that as we have poor time management skills and we try so hard to be perfect in our projects.
I use to think being a perfectionist was a good thing, but it really isn’t. A project will never be perfect, and tutors don’t expect the perfect project. I would spend a lot of time working out bathroom layouts, structure connection details and ensuring the entire project is modeled on the computer, thinking the project required it. Guess what, it didn’t? If your architectural idea is about light and volume, why are you spending time on toilet layouts? Don’t worry if the layout isn’t perfect, that isn’t the focus of your project. Sometimes this requires you to plan ahead, maybe even reverse engineer your project, but if you’re never going to see that steel beam connection detail or the backside of your project, why spend hours designing and modeling it? However because we strive for this, we end up spending a lot more time than required on projects, which impacts the ‘life’ aspect.
What can you do to achieve a better balance? That’s the million-dollar question, and I like to think it’s a simple answer to which I’ll deliver once I get paid a million-dollars…….
Okay since no one has sent me a million-dollars, I may as well tell you. You need to manage your time. It comes down to that studio/life/sleep ratio. Imagine if you focused for eight-hours on studio, and I mean really focus. No checking Facebook for prolonged periods of time, no watching 20 minute YouTube clips, no chatting on the phone for an hour. Then spend eight hours doing what you enjoy doing. Then at the end of the day, you can sleep for eight hours. You could even adopt a 6/10/8 ratio if you are really focused on studio. The point is, your time management is critical in achieving this, as you only have 24 hours a day. If you are really great with managing your time, you could even reach a point where you won’t need to work on studio or study during weekends.
Punch ‘time management skills’ into Google, not literally as I don’t want you blaming me for a broken computer, and you’ll come across 175,000,000 hits. There’s plenty of information, tools, tips and guides on how to manage your time, but I thought I’d brainstorm some ideas. If you’re like me, you may struggle to concentrate for hours on end and your mind wanders. A good little trick is to set a timer for 15-20 minutes and shut everything down except what you need, and no you don’t need Facebook open. You focus and work for 15 minutes, then spend 5 minutes to wandering, then go again for 15 minutes. While in an hour you’re only focusing for 3/4 of it, it is a much more productive 45 minutes. As lame as it sounds, writing to-do lists and then priortise is a huge benefit in managing your time. You can write down a hundred things to do in a day but the key is to priortise. What’s more important, diagrams for your studio project due two weeks away or finding references for your essay due one week away? That’s something only you can answer, but when you start to realise what is important, it becomes easier to know where to allocate your energy.
What are we meant to do with the ‘life’ part of the balance, and how important is it? You should pursue your hobbies, spend time with friends and family, read books, lay around the house in your underwear, do whatever you enjoy doing. For me, I enjoy going to guest lectures by architects, attending Open Houses, conferences, exhibitions and other student events. I enjoy blogging, Instagramming and pretending I can do graphic design. While these are heavily architecture-based, it’s what I enjoy doing. If it so happens you enjoy working on your studio, work on it even if it’s ‘life’ section. I know that contradicts with what I’ve been saying but believe it or not, sometimes we enjoy studio. Our mindset plays a huge role in this balancing act, have you been in the studio at 4am, stressed? It isn’t enjoyable is it? We want to go home, we want to be anywhere but there. I have been in the studio at 2am, and enjoyed the work I was doing. I wasn’t stressed, I had a movie playing in the background, with a mate, and it had a whole different atmosphere, or vibe about it and didn’t feel like a burden nor did I feel like leaving or not wanting to be there. I was quite productive for that ‘session’, and if you can be in that state-of-mind, sometimes it doesn’t matter if you are in the studio a bit longer than 8 hours. When that mindset switches to negative thoughts, that’s when we know the balance is off and you need to regain it.
Having balance is critical to a happy life, and that shouldn’t be surprising. If you can spend 7 hours in the studio, then you can spend a couple hours skateboarding, then watch a movie, eat dinner and sleep for eight hours, you are going to feel better both physically and mentally. Imagine going to a family function but you’re stressing about university and you feel guilty about being there, or worse you don’t attend as you feel the need to in the studio. You miss out on family time, laughter, moments and possibly free food and drinks (if your family understand you are a poor architecture student like mine). It’s important to be happy in our lives, and I found it difficult to be happy when I’ve spent the last four days in the studio, sleeping on couches hoping not to be kicked out by security, eating McDonalds at 3am, drinking litres of RedBull, stressing about the work and feel so overwhelmed I feel guilty napping, watching a video or chatting to a friend. This can happen if you don’t try and balance your life, and I understand circumstances change which can upset balance. You could even be balanced for 11 weeks, but that during that 12th week there’s a medical emergency that throws the balance out, or find yourself needing to spend more time on your studio project.
It’s hard to find the balance, studio/life is just a broad generalisation It should be more studio/other subjects/friends/family/work/sleep/sport/hobbies, and whatever else you have going on in your world. Then there are the little things that add up time wise such as cooking, washing oneself, eliminating waste and such. There is a lot to balance for students, and for many young people starting university, living away from home, sometimes the balance is more on the ‘life’ aspect. You may socialise too much, party too hard, watch too many movies and drink a lot a beer, and your studies suffer. This studio/life balance isn’t some excuse to leave the studio early and get drunk every night, or as a way to convince yourself you can start your essay (which is due Wednesday) on Monday as it’s Friday night. You need to be balanced, which does mean you shouldn’t be neglecting studies for too much ‘life’, and as bleak as it does sound I like to think you are at university to get an education and it’s hard to achieve that if you don’t study.
Next year I start my Masters, back to being a full-time student. I plan on adopting Andrew and Sok’s 9-5 approach, with the goal of 0 all-nighters. I hope to gain something I haven’t had in a while, and that is a balanced life. I no longer want to be THAT architecture student in the studio at 3am stressing about a 10am deadline when at 2am I was watching cat videos on Youtube. I no longer want to be THAT architecture student who boasts about the number of all-nighters pulled in the semester. I no longer want to be THAT architecture student doesn’t enjoy life. I want to be THAT architecture student who can do all the things that has been put to the side in the past because there is balance between studio and life,
This post is my first in the #ArchiTalks series, which Bob Borson from Life of an Architect selects a theme and a group of us (architects (student in my case) who also blog) all post on the same day. This month’s theme is Work/Life Balance, however I thought I’d approach it from the architecture student side of things and focus on the Studio/Life balance. To read what the other bloggers wrote on the theme, follow the links below…
Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
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
Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel)
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Collier Ward – Thousand Story Studio (@collier1960)
Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
what makes you giggle? #architalks
Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Turning It 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)
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
Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
midnight in the garden of [life] and [work]
Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Work = 1/3 Life
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
Lindsey Rhoden – SPARC Design (@sparcdesignpc)
Work Life Balance: A Photo Essay
Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Work / Life