Learning new skills is the best thing you can do as a student or graduate. Skill-building isn’t just about taking a new course or trying something well outside of your comfort zone. Learning new skills can be as tough as breaking bad habits, but there are certain steps you can take in order to make it easier on yourself.
Architecture students already have a number of skills as we have various interests such as photography, art, interior design or even film and media. Studying architecture can be a bit like a mish-mash of these skills along with, of course, designing spaces. But the way we learn about designing spaces is through an iterative process as well as studying architectural styles or construction methods.
Over time, skills can also lead to alternative career paths if you end up being really good and can actually open up a lot of prospects when job-searching. For example, if you’re applying for a graduate role and you have the degree and other certifications, something that helps you stand out can be your extra skills. Since creating this blog, I’ve had to learn new skills like social media managing and content creation as well as blog / copywriting. These skills made me a more valuable candidate for my employer because I was able to do that extra something.
Of course, the way we learn new skills is an individual process. Some people pick things up easily and others take their time with it. The best thing about learning a new skill is that you don’t have to be perfect at a skill and attaining a similar level to perfection can take a whole lifetime. Instead of aiming for perfection, we need to question ourselves and ask what is the way we learn best?
Thinking back to exams and tests, learning is usually done in increments with some kind of curriculum or notes. But a skill can be anything from playing an instrument to doing your monthly accounting. Often, a hobby can also turn into a skill – but more on that later.
Habits → Skills
The first way of learning a new skill is to make it a habit.
These can also develop into skills if that is your goal. For example, sketching 1 a day in the mid-afternoon can be a habit that you set for yourself. Obviously, there is no real trick or secret to how long it takes to develop this habit and transform it into a skill.
One thing that can help is to ‘make it easy’. A concept derived from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Making it easy means simplifying the habit so that you just can’t say no. Instead of ‘draw a sketch of an architectural building and add fine detailing, shadows and some colour’ just re-phrase or break it down to ‘draw a sketch for 15 minutes’. This gives you a clear time goal without any restrictions within the skill.
Once you turn your habits into skills, you can then use this to your advantage and showcase them in your portfolio. Hand-drawing is a valuable skill in architecture and the fact that you have practiced it over time also means that you can show some of your work in your portfolio.
Over time, doing this daily or weekly, chances are you’ll get better at it – after all, practice makes perfect. Often you don’t even realise what kinds of habits you have till you try to make some new ones. One thing that helps when creating new habits is to latch them on to your existing ones. If you have a routine, it could be useful to fit new habits into your routine such as after lunch or before you do your workout routine.
Skills and habits can also turn into systems & workflows. Systems are a set of habits put together and over time. Systems are so important in the way we work and the kinds of things we spend our time on. This systems mindset is something that helps you in the long-term with time management and skill-building.
Learning a new skill doesn’t need to be time-pressured because skills don’t have a clear limit. However, giving yourself a time-based goal can be a good thing to start off with. An important part of learning new things is to manage your time well. You can start off with something small like using a Pomodoro timer or scheduling time in your calendar.
It can be difficult to manage your time when you have many other things going on at once but in your spare time, learning a new skill can be a fun and exciting thing to do. The way you manage your time should be to plan time for new skills around everything else. Starting small like just trying something new for 5 minutes is a great way to go.
How is this helpful when learning a new skill? By taking control of your time you can dedicate blocks of time in your week that you dedicate to a new skill. Learning a language or architectural illustration – whatever the skill is, that’s up to you. But you just need to make some time for it. Architecture students might be scowling right now – you barely have enough time to submit your design projects on time and I’m telling you that you need a new skill?
But, if you think about it in a smart way, the skills you’re already laving to learn can also be the thing you do in a bit more depth. For example, I wanted to get really good at simple clay renders in Vray both from 3DS Max and Sketchup. I wasn’t looking to create realistic renders or get too caught up with lighting and shadows – I just wanted to know how to do clay renders as efficiently as possible.
So outside of my normal studio time, I would practice rendering. I wouldn’t touch or change the design but simply watch some tutorials and go through some trial and error till I got to a point where I felt I’ve become decent at this skill. Now, I can create clay renders with ease because I know the ins and outs and the kinds of setting you need. It’s a small skill but can help with my future workflow. Sometimes we get a bit caught up in what’s on our plate that we push aside any ‘new’ skills because they don’t take that kind of priority.
That’s fine too, but if you’re choosing your skills carefully, you should lean towards skills that are related to the kind of job you want to be doing or your industry. Architectural illustration is something I enjoy and want to do but I find that since it’s not a priority for me right now, I tend to push it aside even if I schedule it into my calendar. Instead, I’m going to set myself a challenge to complete 3 mini-projects over the next 6 months – sounds simple right?
Like I mentioned before, practice makes perfect (but not always). You’re not striving for perfection here but instead, you want to get to a place where you’re comfortable with the skill. After 18 months of blog writing, I see it as a skill because I can plan and write really efficiently, having a habit of weekly writing, creating my own system and workflow around the process to ensure it is streamlined, but I still don’t feel as if it is a ‘perfect’ skill. I have a lot more to learn about storytelling or copywriting.
As long as you keep practicising the skill, it should benefit you in all aspects. Just the fact that I had social media and content creating skills set me apart from other candidates. The same can be said if you’re an avid model maker or if you have experience with clients because you’ve freelanced previously. But these skills cannot be learnt without practice.
It’s often said that you should have a hobby that you do to help you relax or one that is just fun with no outcome or goal. Oftentimes, this ends up being something you didn’t even know could be useful later on in life. My experience creating posters and flyers for the family business meant I knew the basics of design which in turn helped me with creating social media posts. Who would’ve thought?!
No matter how much you practice, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, chances are you will just drop it and it will be the kind of skill you tried once and never picked up again – which in my opinion, if not practiced to a certain level – can just be a waste of time. So, let’s say you’ve got the mindset down, you’re pumped to make a new habit and you have also been able to manage your time well, how can you actually start with your new skill?
- Make sure you have any tools or equipment you need beforehand; I find that making an investment in things like a drawing tablet or some exercise equipment makes me do the thing otherwise it’s a waste of money!
- Ask your friends what kinds of things they are doing. Maybe you’ll find something that you want to try and that way you can have someone else for accountability or support.
- Take it easy. Don’t pressurise yourself into learning this new skill. A different approach or environment could also be good to try out if you’re stuck in the same place all the time.
When is the best time to learn a new skill?
Honestly, never. You can learn a new skill at all stages of life, it really depends on what it is you want to do and whether you’re in the kind of situation where it’s feasible to do so. Working a 9-5 and managing this blog, I don’t really have time for anything new but I am building on my current skills. I’m self-teaching myself how to edit audio and video clips as well as designing a website that is more interactive and useful for you guys.
I recently came across a Reddit post that directed me to the video below. It was nothing eye-opening but many of the parts really clicked in my head. We architects are so attuned to taking care of every fine detail (because we have to) and I’m the kind of person that feels like if I’m not learning a new skill or doing something productive, I’m just wasting time.
But that shouldn’t really be the case. This ‘toxic productivity echo chamber’ may be something we’ve built for ourselves but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many skills you’ve learnt if you’re burnt out all the time. If you are thinking of learning a new skill, don’t do it to keep up with others around you, do it for the enjoyment of learning! You can be just as productive with the correct time management and giving time to self-care whilst doing incremental work on your skills and habits.
I recently went on the Pride Road Architect podcast where I spoke about skill building and things graduates can be doing when applying for jobs. Check out the episode here:
Let me know in the comments below what kind of skill you’re learning or would like to learn. Don’t leave it for next month, next year, try and do just a little bit and see how it goes!