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Time Management Strategies to Increase Your Architecture Firm’s Profitability
Learn best time management strategies to help you make the most of your time so you deliver quality work and boost profitability.
275 years ago, in his essay “Advice to a Young Tradesman,” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Time is money”. This phrase is no less relevant today than in Mr. Franklin’s day. Time is even more precious in our fast-paced digital world where business profitability hinges on effective time management. We are constantly bombarded with information and distractions, and focusing and staying productive can be impossible.
While I can’t promise that being focused and productive will increase profitability, I can guarantee that you will be unprofitable if you are neither focused nor productive.
Speaking of time, but from a different perspective, a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I particularly resonate with is, “The wisest use of time is to waste it on something worthwhile." As architects, our passion lies in creation, and naturally, we want to spend more of our time doing what we love. This underscores the importance of being efficient and productive in other areas, especially when considering metrics like billable hours which directly correlate with profitability.
Time management is crucial in any profession, but it's particularly vital in the realm of architecture, where projects often involve intricate planning, coordination with various stakeholders, and strict deadlines. Boosting profitability is not just about getting more work but also about working smarter.
Track Realization Rate Over Utilization for Time Management
One of the most common key performance indicators (KPIs) firms watch is employee utilization. In my humble opinion, this doesn’t clearly show how well your staff uses their time. It simply reflects the percentage of their time spent on projects. Just because you have an employee who looks like they are working hard doesn’t mean their time is bringing in revenue. I always caution my clients to focus more deeply on the more revealing KPI of Realization rather than Utilization. Software like BQE CORE has business intelligence tools that yield each employee’s realization rate. This is the only genuine factor that tells you if their time management strategies are effective.
Time Tracking Strategies
For the rest of you not interested in metrics like KPIs, here are some time management strategies that every employee in every firm could benefit from:
Use the Eisenhower Box to prioritize and help you focus on what truly matters. The Eisenhower Box, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, is a time management tool that helps you prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance.
Categorize tasks into:
Urgent and Important
These are tasks that require immediate attention and often come with consequences if not completed promptly. Examples include pressing deadlines or emergencies. Such tasks should be addressed immediately.
Not Urgent but Important
These tasks don’t have immediate deadlines, but they are vital for long-term success and personal growth. Activities like strategic planning, relationship-building, and skill development fall into this category. Allocate dedicated time to these to prevent them from becoming urgent.
Urgent but Not Important
These are tasks that seem to demand immediate attention but don’t necessarily contribute significantly to your goals. They might include some emails or phone calls. Consider delegating these tasks or setting specific times to address them.
Neither Urgent nor Important
These tasks are the low-priority ones that can often be distractions. They might include trivial interruptions or time-consuming activities that don’t offer much value. It's best to minimize or even eliminate these tasks from your schedule.
Allocate specific blocks of time for different activities and block them in your calendar. This will ensure you have uninterrupted periods to dive deep into design work (or whatever you find valuable) while setting aside time for other essential tasks such as meetings, administration, etc.
My calendar is regularly blocked, week after week, with the tasks I know are essential. For example, every Friday, I have an hour blocked starting at 3 p.m. to review our firm’s payables. Every Monday at 9 a.m., I review my to-do list for the day and the week. On and on.
Use software automation tools designed for A/E firms to streamline workflows. This includes the software tools for your deliverables (CAD/BIM, etc.) and tools like BQE CORE that handle task management, project management, resource allocation, budgeting, and accounting. The software will allow you to track progress and deadlines and increase your profit margin and cash flow.
Technology like BQE CORE serves as centralized platforms, intertwining task management, project coordination, resource allocation, budgeting, bookkeeping, and accounting. Such integration negates the need for hopping between multiple platforms, thus saving considerable time. Plus, with real-time progress tracking and deadline reminders, architects can stay ahead of their schedules, efficiently allocate their time, and preemptively address any potential bottlenecks.
The automated and streamlined processes reduce the time spent on manual data entries, calculations, and error rectifications. By integrating these high-value software tools, A/E firms can redirect their focus from administrative tasks to core competencies, making the most of every minute. In an industry where time is often equated with money, embracing technology translates to enhanced time management, ensuring projects are completed within desired timeframes, and firms remain at the forefront of their domain.
Set Clear Milestones
Breaking down tasks into milestones can provide more precise direction and make the process more manageable. Nothing enhances focus like seeing an upcoming milestone and realizing you are unprepared.
By fragmenting larger tasks or projects into smaller, achievable milestones, you create a systematic roadmap that paints a clearer picture of the task at hand. This structured approach ensures that a daunting project becomes a series of more digestible steps.
Each milestone serves as a checkpoint, allowing you to evaluate performance, adjust strategies if needed, and celebrate small wins along the way. Celebrating these milestones can boost morale and motivation, reinforcing the drive to push forward to the next objective.
Recognize the tasks that do not require your unique skill set and delegate them to your team members. This could be routine administrative tasks, basic drafting, etc. Think about your “highest and best use” and always delegate to others those things that don’t fit within your wheelhouse.
If you're a business owner running a small firm, consider hiring or training junior architects or assistants to handle these. You can most likely make more money by spending some money so other people (often better qualified than you), can do those tasks that either don’t inspire you or provide value.
Many of you think you can do two things simultaneously, like reading your email while attending a meeting. Trust me, it’s not working. While it might seem efficient, studies have shown that multitasking can reduce productivity.
In the digital age, where we're surrounded by a multitude of screens and notifications, it's tempting to believe that we can efficiently juggle multiple tasks at once, like skimming through emails during a meeting.
However, our brains are not wired for true simultaneous processing of complex tasks. When we believe we're multitasking, we're often just rapidly switching between tasks. This constant task-switching consumes mental energy and, over time, can lead to cognitive fatigue. Each switch might only take a fraction of a second, but these seconds add up, eating into our valuable time and reducing overall efficiency.
Research has consistently shown that multitasking can compromise the quality of our work. By splitting our attention, we're more prone to errors and less likely to retain information.
The bottom line is you need to focus on one thing at a time. You’re welcome.
Set aside time each week to review the progress of projects. This helps in identifying potential bottlenecks early on.
This goes back to the Time Blocking point earlier. Put 15-30 minutes (depending on complexity), for each project you run on the calendar. The same time every week. Keep this sacrosanct. No other meetings should interfere or supersede it.
Create a workspace where you can concentrate. This might mean setting office hours, having a dedicated office space, or using noise-canceling headphones. Put your electronic devices on Do-Not-Disturb and turn off all notifications during this time period.
Use apps to automate this so (for example), every day for 2 hours between 10 am and 12 pm you can work without anyone or anything interrupting you.
Clear communication with clients, contractors, and other stakeholders can prevent misunderstandings, often leading to time-consuming revisions or disputes. Proper communications do so many positive things.
Don’t rattle off an email and hit send without focusing on the message and the tone. Otherwise, you’ll be spending much more time in triage afterward.
Sometimes, delays arise from clients making late or continuous changes. Educating them about the architectural process and setting clear boundaries on changes that need to come in on time can help. A few minutes of careful education will save you hours later on.
Setting aside time at the beginning of a project to guide clients through the workflow, stages of design, and the potential implications of late changes can be invaluable. This not only sets clear expectations but also fosters a sense of collaboration and mutual respect. By understanding the challenges and constraints architects face, clients are more likely to respect boundaries and timelines.
Group similar tasks together. For example, set specific times in the day or week for checking emails, making phone calls, or doing administrative tasks.
Batching also proves invaluable when working on larger projects. By clustering related tasks, you can immerse yourself in a particular aspect of the project, capitalizing on the momentum you gain as you move from one related task to the next. This deep-dive approach minimizes the time lost in recalibrating your mindset with each new task.
Setting a deadline for yourself can create a sense of urgency even if one isn't provided. Architects have been trained to work right up to the deadline.
If given an extra day, you’ll probably spend more time finessing something that would otherwise have been fine. If you don’t have the discipline, create internal processes that put deadlines a certain number of hours or days before they are genuinely needed.
The field of architecture is ever-evolving. Dedicate time to learn about new materials, technologies, and methodologies. This can help in speeding up future projects and staying ahead of competitors.
Optimize your Workspace
A well-organized workspace can enhance productivity. Ensure that all materials and tools are easily accessible. Apply the same skills we use when designing for our clients and apply them to your own environment.
Plus continual learning also extends beyond merely keeping up with industry advancements. It fosters a mindset of curiosity and adaptability. By regularly challenging oneself to explore new horizons, architects cultivate a resilience to change and an ability to approach problems from fresh perspectives.
It seems counterintuitive, but taking short breaks during the day can boost productivity and creativity. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique, where you work intensely for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break, can be effective. This can also work wonders for your work-life balance.
Eliminate Time-Sucking Work with BQE CORE
Remember, the ultimate goal of time management is not just to be busy but to be effective. By making the most of your time, you can deliver higher quality work, satisfy more clients, and ultimately, boost profitability.
Now that you know a few of the top strategies for time management, take your knowledge a step further with our webinar that teaches you just how to eliminate time consuming work.
Eliminating Time-Sucking Work: Transformative Business Automation Technologies Beyond CAD & BIM
Now available on-demand.