04.10

How to Stop Procrastinating on Design Work

The most common myth of procrastinating is that people work better when they are in a time pressured situation having procrastinated previously. This is a very egotistical thing we have told ourself to make our brains feel better.

From personal experience, I’ve faced procrastination less than a handful of times during the academic year throughout my undergraduate degree. Often faced with a blank page, I found myself out of ideas, feeling like I whatever I was going to do needed to be perfect. But where does procrastination come from?

🐵 Instant Gratification Monkey

As Tim Urban describes in his TED Talk ‘Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator’, the rational decision maker inside our brains can often get overtaken by the Instant Gratification Monkey during procrastination. At this point, every sensible decision goes out the window and the Gratification Monkey takes over.

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate — Wait But Why
from Wait but Why by Tim Urban

The Monkey wants things that are easy and fun. But there is a good balance between finding the line between enjoying what you are doing and still being able to manage your responsibilities in life.

One of the reasons why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Breaking it down into little parts and then focusing on one thing at a time. If you still feel swamped, then break it down even further. After doing so, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “I might as well just do it now and cross it off my list!”.

Deconstructing a Task

When or if a task feels too vague or overburdening, all you have to do is deconstruct it piece by piece until you get a collection of tasks that are easily achievable in under an hour.

e.g. Finish Pages for Crit

This can be divided into 3 sections. First, what does ‘finish’ mean exactly? It means completing a task you have already started – so have you really started it?

  • Think about the deadline of the task, how much time you have and realistically how much of that time will be spent working (account for eating and getting proper sleep)
  • Then if you realise you haven’t actually started anything, rephrase to ‘Start…’

The next one is ‘pages’. This is obviously too vague for a portfolio. Think about the minimum viable submission for this task. What are the absolute essentials you must need in order to not fail? List these out in order of priority.

  • Now you can rephrase according to your timeline. Start page X on XX date / time

Repeat this process for the rest of the pages, being completely realistic of the contents and time taken to complete. If one page is going to take more than an hour, split it into 2 chunks instead, labelling one as start and one as finish.

🔨 Action Trumps Everything

The most common advice I end up giving to students and young designers is to just get started with whatever your goals and aims in life are. Many people want to start a blog or a side hustle but get too bogged down with the bigger details which in turn, delays the action itself. Then, they end up procrastinating.

It’s quite similar when thinking about smaller tasks and day-to-day activities. You might hear of procrastination going hand in hand with motivation. In a video titled ‘The Drawing Advice that Changed my Life’, Cam Walker describes inspiration as a direct result of action. In fact, he also suggests that ‘Action comes before motivation, not the other way round’.

When thinking of action as the catalyst, trigger or initial stepping stone, you can start to understand that in order to actually find your inner creativity, inspiration or motivation, you first need to start doing the thing.

For architecture students, this can be as simple as starting to draw or sketch a building in order to understand the way it works or its architectural style. This small action can then start to trigger a set of responses and ideas which then breaks your so-called procrastination and lets you get started.

Thinking can be used as a form of procrastination. Thinking about stuff is not equivalent to doing it, it’s the complete opposite of it.

Low Value Work

The next hurdle when thinking about procrastination is whether the action you are taking is meaningful. Doing low-value work or work that isn’t a priority and won’t give you any long-term benefits might also be seen as a form of procrastination. There really isn’t any credit in completing smaller tasks that are easier if you’re putting off the bigger tasks that have weight.

Overcoming this can be pretty difficult (but not impossible). I like to use a system called the Eisenhower Matrix (as pictured below). The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple system that helps you sort and organise your tasks and complete them according to its level of priority. Seems easy right?

[image]

However, when organising tasks, we can sometimes subconciously overestimate or underestimate a task. In which case, keeping the number of tasks to a limit of 10 per day can help to not overburden yourself.

With the Eisenhower Matrix, you can clearly identify the tasks that are important and urgent. In order to stop yourself from slipping into the low value work i.e. the important but not urgent or the urgent but not important, try to get some friction in between yourself and those tasks so you don’t default to them when you start getting bored.

Changing your environment

It’s inevitable that after a couple of hours or pomodoro blocks, you start to get bored or your energy dissipates slowly. Unless you’re studying for an exam or you’ve got a deadline coming up soon, deep work doesn’t need to be an everyday thing.

I find that as soon as I start getting distracted or my work slows down, I need a break and a change of environment. Luckily, I can just take my laptop or switch to my iPad and sit on the sofa instead which isn’t as formal and demanding as sitting on a desk. If you’re doing design work, you could just switch it up and do some drawing for a while. This allows you to keep going rather than totally giving up and procrastinating for the rest of the day.

The wrong kind of action can lead to low-value work

Breaks

Speaking of changing environments, don’t forget about taking breaks! A break (no matter how short or long) is so underrated. For some, they may be percieved as a weakness or waste of time but there is literal scientific evidence that you simple don’t do your best work when you’re tired, stressed and physically exhausted. This is also why doing all-nighters really isn’t the glorified, cultural activity that determines how dedicated you are to the craft.

So what if you’re not a morning person? There is no rule that you have to make yourself stay up late just to do work. If you’re better suited to rest throughout the day and then get to work during later hours, go for it. Just don’t get pressured into situations that can be avoided with a little bit of careful planning.

If you don’t have breaks, your brain will find the reason to rebel against the system.

The Monthly Method

The reality is that no amount of scheduling, time-blocking or forced work will actually stop you from procrastinating. However, figuring out what works for you and then forming habits and routines as a result, may in fact lead you to surprising and beneficial results.

Think about it this way. If all you do is work, design or create, your brain barely has any shut off time to actually take a moment to recharge and do nothing. Treating our minds as a machine, something that will need a break so as to not overload, or a pause in the amount of use, will allow for rejuvenated energy to take over once you are ready.

The skill in taking breaks is to do it consistently enough so that you don’t get too tired and therefore start making excuses – which of course leads to procrastination. But it’s also not to take breaks so often that you neglect the stuff you really need to do.

In architecture school this can be hard because you don’t necessarily have the option to take a break with weekly tutorials, deadlines and submissions in the space of a few days. Instead, try to break down your week to allocate specific days to design work. Doing this can train your brain to associate different times with different tasks and will help you spice things up so that you’r enot constantly doing the same things over and over. Repetitiveness can lead to extreme boredom, trust me, I’ve been there.

Despite there being a huge array of digital tools to help us manage our tasks, founders of a to-do app soon realised that only half of their users would complete a task within a minute – mostly as a ‘psychological boost’. It’s likely that the rest of the time, we end up procrastinating over stuff we have to do because it’s too far away, not important or urgent or just too vague.

When you take a break, make sure to take it properly. Checking emails or finishing off bits and pieces will blur the lines between work and rest.

Parting Advice on Procrastinating

Procrastination happens to everyone at some point. There’s no shame in it and it doesn’t mean you’re running behind. Being patient is tricky but it is your best chance at getting through it. I think it’s important to try multiple solutions to see which fits the situation best. Maybe all you need is a coffee break or maybe you need to go cold-turkey on your design work for an entire day. Whatever it is, just know that procrastination is not permenent.

Having an internal reset will help you overcome this setback. Make sure you’re taking breaks, thinknig carefully about your actions and where your energy is flowing as well as recognising the low-value tasks that might seem enticing but are actually pretty useless.

Try keep something in front of you at all times, physically or digitally such as a quote or a part of your project that set the gears in motion. A source of inspiration that is visual will help you to stay on track with your design work. Otherwise, under the pressure you might end up compromising on your creativity which rarely works out for most people. Don’t treat procrastination like a bad thing either, maybe it’s a sign that you just need a break.

Most important, prioritise yourself above everything else.

13.09

5 Things I’ve learnt from Ali Abdaal

An internet personality whose popularity has been consistently growing for the past few years, Ali Abdaal has become a social media influencer known for providing tips and tricks surrounding productivity. Having started as a medical student at the University of Cambridge, Ali came across the notion of multiple sources of income and has been testing it’s worth for a few years to a point where he generates income by sharing what he has learnt.

With his own online education business designed for medical students thriving, he has explored the field of productivity hacks by studying the likes of Derek Sivers, Tim Ferriss and Austin Kleon to name a few. He implements his ideas in his own life before sharing them which is very clear in his content through his ability to combat imposter syndrome which has paved the way for his ever-increasing confidence.

Having followed his social media journey for the past few years, we have come up with 5 main takeaways from Ali’s productivity content that helps break the mental barriers we have created, yes we are the problem, not external factors, which leads us nicely into the first point.

People don’t care about you 🙄

It is human nature to care about what people think and that is okay. It does however become problematic when our actions are influenced by other people’s perception which underpins the concept of imposter syndrome.

Have you ever thought ‘I want to ask this question but it’s so stupid’ or ‘My drawings look awful in front of hers’ Chances are, you have? The reality is you are the only person thinking about your work and it limits you from asking that question. As a result, we don’t release our full potential for the fear of what other people might think. Ali Abdaal quotes Olin Miller in combatting imposter syndrome:

“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do”

Olin Miller

When you realise people are not fixated on you, it liberates you to make the decisions you want without fear of judgement. So next time, please ask that question and own your work!

There is no such thing as a new idea 🧨

On social media, at architecture school or even at work please know that nobody really has new ideas. Even that one person who appears to have the most creativity probably pinched it off of some serious Pinterest scrolling. It’s the same at university as we search for key precedents that help inform our design decisions whether that be from Vitruvius, Corbusier, or even Norman Foster.

Previously executed ideas are upcycled for different audiences and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If anything, it helps the industry in innovation! Coming to terms with this reality removes any self-imposed pressure of creating something original. Most of Ali’s productivity tips are sourced from Tim Ferriss or Derek Sivers, this doesn’t mean he is doing them a disservice rather it means he is sharing what he has learned and offering the authors their well-deserved credit.

Your website is your online home 💻

Building a personal website in this day and age is paramount. It is a little home you have on the internet where you can express your views, show your personality and even convert into revenue – should you wish to. The beauty of the internet is not knowing who you will connect with and where that interaction will take you.

It can land you your next job or client or even a different direction. Therefore, a website is also an ongoing record of how much work you have produced over the years and is a testament to your growth as a designer. The more presence we have on the internet, the greater the chances to achieve those goals through pure serendipity.

Multiple Incomes 💸

Adults commonly complain about the same thing – not having enough money, wanting a raise and more about money. That is largely because people prefer staying in their comfort zone by working a stable yet not always financially rewarding 9-5 job that cannot fund their desired lifestyle.

Ali emphasises that everyone can reach their financial goals by having more than one income to rely on. We have seen in the past year how precarious employment can be. Countless people were furloughed during the pandemic, businesses went bust and some industries remain closed even after half the country has been vaccinated!

To avoid this from ever happening again, Ali Abdaal suggests securing multiple passive incomes that allows you to do your full-time job because you want to and not because you have to. By extension, employee productivity will be enhanced! Sounds like a win-win situation. He refers religiously to author Tim Ferriss’ book titled The Four Hour Work Week which we think is definitely worth a read or just watch Ali’s review in the video below.

Nobody needs permission 🧊

After all of the above, there will be some people reading this thinking ‘…but who will want to listen to me? I don’t have a standing’ Well you’re right, you probably don’t but that doesn’t mean you can’t. I mean nobody gave us a certificate at :scale to start writing a blog, we just did and you as a reader have found this interesting enough to still be here so that is enough validation for us.

Ali repeats you don’t need permission to start your own business, a YouTube channel, a business Instagram account or even a website to meet your goals. Just get started and be consistent.

So this wraps up our five key lessons from Ali Abdaal, we hope you enjoyed it and can implement some techniques into your own life. Let us know what you think in the comments below and be sure to share!

Bonus Lesson!

It’s not about the destination, just enjoy the journey 😎 – Ali Abdaal

This article was written by Tazeen Raza

06.09

Your Future Self: Core Habits

Students are often at an interesting point in their lives, often described as a new season or chapter. The number one thing I always tell students is that you will most likely learn more from the people around you or your senior peers who were once in your position not long ago rather than idolising the life of mega-starchitects and individuals whose lives are totally different. Thinking towards the future, and your future self can be quite daunting, but there is always something to learn from others which you can then take as advice or warning.

In a video called 7 Things I Wish I Knew at 20, the second point made was that you don’t do things for you, you do things for future you. What does tomorrow me want? Having this question in mind at those crucial decision points can completely change the trajectory of your future, similar to the Butterfly Effect. But questioning yourself will also give you a sense of self-respect, let you see things from a broader perspective whilst still keeping your goals and visions in mind.

Think about it this way; you probably shouldn’t go out clubbing the night before a final presentation. Now, your logical mind will know that, but the 🐵 Instant Gratification Monkey inside your brain will reach towards the things that are easy and fun. As Tim Urban mentions in the TED Talk ‘Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator’, these two sides or parts of your brain often have some overlap where doing the hard and difficult stuff is absolutely necessary ‘for the sake of the bigger picture’.

Venn Diagram of Easy and Fun, Makes sense / Logical and the Sweet Spot

This bigger picture is your future self. Identifying the difference between what is easy versus what is difficult (even temporarily) can be quite tricky but can be done over a period of time. I personally believe that the sooner you can complete the smaller or easier tasks the better. Because more often than none, it is exactly those ‘loose ends’ that come back to bite us at 3am in the morning the night before a deadline, also because we have underestimated how long they can take.

There’s a really nice Indian proverb that loosely translates to;

‘Finish tomorrow’s tasks today, and today’s tasks right now. When would you finish them, if the world were to end right now?

Instead of finding ourselves in those last-minute uncomfortable situations, why not just do the work when you actually have the time and energy? It’s also no surprise that sleep deprivation kills brain cells, something I’ve absolutely gone through myself having had a rough week to then realise it was because I didn’t sleep much or well.

Inspiration is Short-lived 💡

Your ideas, thoughts and bursts of energy are short-lived. They will come and go but when you decide to act upon them will be crucial in working smarter to ensure that you are working for your future self. Riding the wave of inspiration is such an important activity as Cliff Weitzman (Founder of Speechify) says in this LinkedIn post. Acting on your ideas and tasks will open up so many interesting opportunities and can actually lead to a higher quality of ideas and designs.

Finding the right balance for your inspiration is quite tricky to master. You really need to evaluate what is important and essential for your future self. I tend to get slightly carried away with what I feel are mind-blowing ideas which are usually quite innovative and thoughtful but I don’t review the amount of work that goes behind it which leaves me feeling very overwhelmed later on. The same can be said when decision-making. Figuring out what is worthy of your time and effort right now in order to benefit your future self will often involve a bit of risk-taking.

I think viewing this as trial and error works well. Over time you will figure out what is important and what will take priority. Trying to not get sucked into the instant gratification cycle can be best done by keeping your goals and visions in front of you, sort of like a do’s and don’ts list. For example, if you struggle with time management, try to think about what kinds of activities you end up doing instead. Do you binge a classic sitcom (I know we all love How I Met Your Mother) or do you end up socialising as an escape? Then, you find yourself rushing at the last minute because the pressure ends up motivating you. This is actually a really unhealthy way of dealing with your tasks and will lead to similar practices once you enter the professional world.

Instead, why not take a moment before making a decision to ask yourself, is this going to help my future self? Or, keep this in front of you at all times. Think back to the times you were up late, working away and you missed out on stuff or didn’t work to your best ability because you were overworked. I don’t think anyone truly wants to end up in that position but in the moment, it can get dismissed as something you will handle in the future.

See, these small things add up. Before you know it, you’ll be a graduate looking for a job and experience in the industry and your work ethic could be really poor. This will only hurt you in the long run. It might mean that you spend extra hours, working overtime because you haven’t set in place sustainable systems to find the right kind of balance.

Figuring Out the Essentials 🔍

I’ve been reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown recently, and a key takeaway I’ve gotten from it is that ‘less is better’. I have a problem of overwhelming myself, trying too many things at once and over committing to things I don’t really have time for. It’s safe to say that this doesn’t benefit my future self very much and has definitely resulted in my fair shares of burnout.

I know people can just say ‘don’t do so much’ but sometimes it’s not as simple as that is it? Instead what we can do is figure out what is essential to us. When putting it in the context of core habits, think about what is essential in your daily routine. Which of the less meaningful habits can you let go and are you just holding on to them in an unnecessary way?

Q: Is this going to help my future self?

Something that has helped me previously which I’ve dotted around in some of the other blogs on this website is the exercise of piggybacking onto your existing habits. Take a not so great habit you have such as pulling out your phone whilst getting into bed and override it with a different one. It doesn’t need to be complicated or of a huge impact either. Start small and work your way up. Replacing this habit with something like buying an alarm clock and setting that before you go to bed each night will also replace your excuse of ‘I need my phone for my alarm’. If that is too difficult, you could even start by simply limiting your environment and moving your charger to the other side of the room.

Future Self Action Prompts

  1. Make a list of 3 core habits you would like to achieve over the next year in order of importance
  2. Break down each core habit with small suggestions of what you could do to achieve this
  3. Implement 1 of those sub-habits each week or month.

If it doesn’t work out or you find yourself falling off the wagon, take the time to reflect on this by either writing it down in a journal or discussing with a friend or loved on. Getting advice from others can also help you to try things you many not have thought of.

Core Habits for Architecture Students 🧱

I’ve mentioned printing because it is one of my pet peeves. Seeing other students who are already so tired, nervous and stressed standing in line for the printers a minute before their crit really irks me. I do understand sometimes last minute things happen but avoiding these can make a world of a difference in your own mentality and work ethic.

The first thing you want to do is envision yourself in the future as an architect or working professional. How do you see your work life like and what kinds of skills do you pride yourself on? When we think about stuff like ‘I want to be a morning person to maximise my day’ you’ll find that there are core habits sneaking in there, they just might not be totally obvious. If you are a morning person (yes it’s totally acceptable to not be one!) then evaluate your current routine. Is that going to lead you and your future self on the path of being a morning person and having the most amount of energy at that time of day in order for you to complete your tasks and work effectively?

Planning is also a core habit that does require a sense of self-consciousness because there is a line between planning efficiently and falling into the trap of planning all the time without doing anything actionable. For example, setting things up ahead of time can also fall under the planning category – this is why I love templates! Having something to rely on as a base or a starting point solves about 50% of the trouble architecture students usually have with figuring out how to start. How your document or text or graphic ends up is a completely different story and may not end up utilising the template but it removes the friction of not knowing where to start.

Before starting my Masters, I wanted to set up a set of InDesign document templates that had fonts, colour schemes and guidelines already set up so when the time came to putting a portfolio together, I wasn’t procrastinating by focusing too much on these smaller, insignificant tasks and I also saved myself a lot of time that could be better spent working on the design of my building. Doing the work in advance is so underrated and students don’t actually realise how beneficial this can be.

Another habit architecture students should implement is iteration. The power of iteration is incredible. It’s a skill that is highly valued in practice because iteration unlocks further creativity and also leads to a more well-thought-out outcome rather than something you did in 10 minutes and submitted but later realised it was filled with mistakes. Iteration can be frustratingly difficult to grasp, especially in practice when the work you do isn’t really your own because you’re more than often working in a team for a specific client. But our duty is to make sure that there is a high level of attention to detail and this within itself is a massive skill.

Final thoughts 💬

Next time you kick yourself for not having completed something on time or find yourself wishing you had done a task ahead of time, make it a point to note it down for next time. We learn best from our mistakes and no one can be perfect at always being prepared because no one knows what the future holds.

Habit formation is a slow process and doesn’t appear overnight so don’t try and rush it because this could lead to you getting fed up or frustrated and eventually giving up. If you enjoyed this blog post, head over to our community club and let me know what kinds of habits you’re going to be working on this academic year.

09.08

3 Powerful Digital Workspace Tips

Workspace Tips

In the past year, have you stopped to organise, reset and clarify your digital workspace? For many of us, our computers, laptops and Zoom home screens have become our primary workspaces but it can be incredibly powerful to make sure that these are working for you in a productive manner.

If you’re like me, you look for an efficient solution and workflow. This means thinking about saving time even by 1% because that compounds over time and helps you to do things quicker, feel more organised and avoid any distractions. Often, our desktops and folders can be cluttered with old files, half-done iterations and bizarrely named documents we don’t dare open.

Maintaining an organised digital workspace might seem like a non-essential, low-priority task but it can actually help you clarify your virtual environment. As an architecture student, this can help massively to keep your projects and modules on track. Implementing small habits can compound over time and lead to an efficient system in the future.

One habit I’ve implemented since investing in a new laptop is to find ways to adapt it to my workflow. This involves quarterly reviews and organisation hours so I can ensure that everything is running smoothly and things are in their proper places.

The 3 most impactful habits I can reccommend to people are the following:

Decluttering your software 🧺

Do you really need all 3 versions of Sketchup or the outdated version of Rhino you downloaded that one time but never ended up using?

Having gone through the process of re-downloading all my software onto a new laptop, it actually made me evaluate what I really need and what I use regularly. Decluttering your software is highly important for the well-being of your system and for focusing on building the skills within the software that really matters.

Another aesthetic idea I’ve implemented is to keep my desktop bare. No files and no software. Instead, I’m focusing on using the bottom toolbar or the Start menu to find and locate whichever program I need to use at that moment. This also prevents me from saving countless downloads and files onto the desktop – something we will get onto later on. I also like to change up the wallpapers and colours every once in a while just to give it a bit of a refresh and adjust to my mood.

Also, you may want to start being strict with which kinds of software you download if you’re worried about storage and allowing your computer to run at its best performance. If you try this out, be sure to tag us on Instagram or Twitter with your clean desktops!

Another organisation technique is to set aside some time every week or month, basically on a regular basis to do a very simple cleanup. This can involve the following:

  • Clear your cache and browser history
  • Delete everything from your downloads folder (and then recycling)
  • Make sure your frequent files are organised
  • Close those tabs 😉

Homepages 🏡

One thing I’ve found that really gets me in a state of work and free of distractions is to have my opening Chrome tabs be my digital hub. Notably, this consists of my Notion dashboard and Todoist Inbox. These aren’t just tabs I like seeing first and then forgetting about, they are my most-used pages as I am either working in Notion (taking notes, planning, scheduling) or ticking off tasks in Todoist.

If you can utilise this automatic feature to show you the scaffolding for your efficient workflow, you will be less inclined to immediately open up YouTube or Reddit. (That can come later.) Similarly, bookmarks work in a really interesting way. You might feel like it’s incredibly important to keep frequently visited pages on your bookmarks bar but you don’t need to. If you type in the first two letters of a frequent webpage, it will most likely be the first search suggestion, thus eliminating the need for the bookmark.

Instead, try and keep the bookmarks as pages that will help you in the long run. For example, a Resource Library that you can access easily and will be valuable for you is far better than bookmarking a website you used once and then never looked back on.

I’ve recently been saving and archiving web pages of interest to my Notion workspace so that I can actively take notes and utilise the information and content I am consuming. Having Notion on hand, open all the time just makes things that 1% quicker and efficient.

Another ‘fear’ we often have sometimes is to commit to bookmarking pages, in the fear of going overboard – which can happen but with a review system, you will be able to curate the list to your liking. I would recommend making a few folders and saving web pages you come across that might not be useful at this very moment but could be extremely valuable in the future.

File Management System 📂

A file management system is something I’d highly recommend for your digital workspace. The sooner you can create this, the faster and quicker you can get things done and find files easier. As a content creator, I’ve found that having this system makes things a lot easier than trying to find random JPEGs and Instagram posts in your downloads folder. For architecture students, this is probably a great keystone habit to start working on as it will probably be similar to how a central system works in practice.

To make things easier for you, I’ve created a flexible system with structured files within files within files. This is a tried and tested system that is very similar to a central system that many businesses and organisations use. All you have to do is download the Desktop Zero template and start organising your files as soon as possible.

In practice, files, drawings and correspondence absolutely need to be organised mostly so that the rest of the team can also access and work together by using a central system in their digital workspace. This keeps everyone on the same page and means that there is always a place for something.

Implementing these 3 tips can be game-changing because they are the first steps towards an organised environment and workspace. Let me know in the comments if you have tried any of these!

31.05

How to Find Balance as a Content Creator

The most common question I get asked as a content creator is how am I able to balance my time between working full-time, pumping out blog posts and trying other side projects as well as having a personal life. Before you go ahead and read this post, let me tell you that there is no magic formula or guarded secret and no, I don’t have assistants or a secret twin.

TIme-management is something I’ve seen the majority of architecture students struggle with and it’s no wonder because we are often bombarded with tasks to do week after week on top of other deadlines. But the main reason any content creator decides to start their own blog, YouTube channel or podcast is because they enjoy doing so – remember this because it’ll be important later on.

You’ll often hear that mastering content creation takes a lot of consistency. That consistency can only be driven by your personal motivation and you’ll have some of this when you decide to take the plunge. Some of the ‘balance’ is down to how much or how often you want to be working on your side hustle and the goals associated with it but part of it is also how you manage your time to be able to do these things in the first place.

I have to admit, I have it much easier than some. I’ve been living at home the past two years not having to worry about my financial status and therefore already at an advantage as I am able to explore my interests. Others may have a ton of responsibilities and still end up being fantastic at what they do – remember that each person’s journey is different.

A recent concept or shift in mindset I’ve discovered is the art of managing your energy vs your time. I guess we all get caught up in trying to make the hours in a day work for us but we aren’t really thinking about when we work best or when our prime hours are. Basically, if you can implement habits and steps that will let you work according to your energy levels, then you don’t have to worry about pulling all-nighters.

What works best for you?

Building on this personal journey idea, you need to first figure out what works best for you. What kind of worker are you, when do you work best and where do your interests lie? The answers to these questions will help shape how you balance content creation.

For me personally, I’ve tried to work on some kind of project every summer where I wasn’t on holiday. I’ve had various interests and career aspirations over the years and I can honestly say that the skills I’ve learnt along the way have shaped me as a person. Learning how to code in school opened me up to the world of web-development – something I use today to make tweaks on this website. Practising the art of sewing, embroidering and textile design taught me a lot about patience and the importance of iterations.

Talking about iterative tasks, architecture has so many links to the world of design whether it’s graphic design, animation or even film and media. So part of it is turning your hobbies and interests and extracting those skills to help you later on with content creating. Obviously, learning any new skill takes time and commitment, but if you think about it as investing in your future, it can make future tasks so much easier!

For example, having had previous experience with creating social media posts, I know the basic rules of colours, fonts, design and curating a feed. This made it super easy for me to implement the same skills when it came to creating my own Instagram page. But an aspect some people really underestimate is the idea of planning and organisation. I use Notion to plan all my blog posts and social media content. It’s a process I’ve been adapting and growing since March 2020, ever since I discovered Notion and was able to compile my Second Brain in this digital workspace.

Each person has their own way of doing things, their own preferences like working at 5am in the morning or working late. Everything that works for me may not work for you, but I think you have to give it a try at least once! If you don’t, then you might be missing out on the possibility of a better workflow. And if it doesn’t work, well, at least you tried. Trying and starting are the most difficult things to do. But if you can find what makes you click, like that perfect environment or timing then it could be the key to unlocking productivity.

Doing the thing that you find fun → balance

It’s all good trying to find the fun in boring and mundane tasks too, but sometimes you can fall off the wagon and no matter what you try to do to make it fun, it still doesn’t sit well with you. For me, I’ve never seen this blog as work and when people ask me how I keep going or how I have so much drive it’s because I see so many solutions to the everyday problems architecture students face on all kinds of scales. I find it fun to write and get my thoughts out in the form of an article. And hey, if you enjoy it then that’s a bonus!

The thing is, I’m not sitting down and telling myself that my readers will expect a blog therefore I need to write, it’s actually more for me than anything. Documenting a journey and being able to reflect back regularly also helps me grow and adapt. It’s a no brainer that if you do what you enjoy then you will be more likely to continue it, right?

One could say that you may enjoy playing video games which is why it’s your go-to procrastinating habit and why you prefer it to doing your chores. But if you adapt the chores to be a little more fun either through small rewards or setting yourself accountable and offsetting it with the stuff you do enjoy, you might build a certain respect for doing something. Similarly, if you are able to step back every now and then and look at the bigger picture, you may see that there is an overarching goal you want to achieve and this is a step in that journey.

I’ve seen blogs and content creators come and go. All of them had the potential to become big or grow an audience or create valuable content but most of them don’t have the passion for it. Doing something for the wrong reasons like just to get famous often doesn’t work out once you realise the amount of work you need to put in. Like I said, if that ‘work’ seems more like play to you then usually there is nothing that will stop you.

Your priority should be you

Above anything else, the key to content creating or any kind of commitment is to put yourself first. Architecture is a tough degree and the industry is currently lacking in terms of support for wellbeing and mental health. It’s also unfortunate that unhealthy methods of working have been ingrained in us since the start of architecture school and we don’t stop to realise there is a better way. Balance can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed – so try and enjoy the things you’re doing.

If you don’t give time to yourself and the small things in life you enjoy, then you will hit burnout very quickly. This has happened to me on a number of occasions. The lockdown seems appealing to introverts like me and if you’re as motivated as I am, you might just think ‘great! more time to do some work’. But it’s really unhealthy. I found myself overwhelmed with committment and projects I had created for myself on top of everything else that was going on. I realised that I don’t need to go in head first with every idea that comes to mind and actually it’s nice to not be doing something new and crazy for a while. (I’m still working on this).

One way I’ve found that works for me is to plan in the downtime. I’m an obsessive planner. Lists, outlines, schedules – you name it and I’m doing it. So, whilst planning my weekend or my week off from work, I make sure to plan in some time for myself. Now, on days where I feel a bit all over the place or feel like I’m not getting any good ideas or just not feeling myself, I make sure to unplug everything from my desk so that I don’t get tempted to sit down and I go and do something fun or chill. Even lying down on the sofa to binge Netflix movies can be a really nice break from the constant work mode.

This productive procrastination is actually really valuable and can have a bigger impact than you think. I’m the kind of person whose brain doesn’t switch off. So I’m constantly thinking about the next blog post that will go viral or the project I’ve had in mind for months and actually not being able to write or plan or take action can help me really think about it and reflect on such ideas. Some people try journalling at the end of the day to ground them and help them realise the stuff that really mattered.

Finding balance certainly takes a while – I’m not there yet, although it may seem like that from an outside perspective. There’s this concept called a Growth Mindset where you believe that you can improve your abilities and skills with hard work. Being on a learning curve or at a turning point in your journey is far better for you than focusing narrow-mindedly on a specific goal or even the fear of not being able to achieve that goal.

The underlying belief of a fixed mindset means that you believe your intelligence is a certain amount and if you make mistakes or struggle, you start believing that you don’t have as much intelligence as you thought. This then evolves into a fear of trying something new because you want to avoid being judged or failing. Looking at opportunities as something you have to work for in order to get better, smarter or more intelligent is what will help you grow. Here’s a great video that explains the concept:

A mantra of sorts I’m sticking to at the moment is, ‘Start the day with one less task / project’. Have you ever heard the phrase; ‘Before you leave the house, take off one item’ (like an accessory or something). It’s a concept for fashion and basically tells you to pare things back a bit. When I schedule my tasks or I write out actions for the day, the last thing I do before I begin is to move one non-important and non-urgent task to another day.

Try it out and let me know if you’re struggling with finding balance and if you have any tips on doing so. We can learn better together 😁

17.05

3 Ways to Learn New Skills Effectively

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.

Habits are a repeated action that you do in a certain time frame.

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.

Time Management

person holding white mini bell alarmclock
from Unsplash by Lukas Blazek

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?

Practice

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!

29.03

5 Productive Habits to Start After Graduating

Coming fresh out of university often feels like the beginning of a new chapter and the new possibilities job-hunting can bring you. Of course, this isn’t the only route to take after you graduate and it may be better to take a break or try out something new. Here’s how you can still remain productive after you graduate from architecture school.

modern businesswoman in casual outfit talking on mobile in office
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

What are productive habits?

After graduating, you’ll find yourself at a point of self-evaluation for when you work on your CV or portfolio. You’ll be thinking about what you can offer a potential employer, the kinds of skills you have and why they should hire you. But sometimes this can take time.

Productive habits are something I didn’t really start working on till after I left university. Essentially, it’s the stuff that you do on a day-to-day basis that will allow you to work more efficiently – thus being productive. For architecture students, habits like sketching daily or working on your model making skills can be a great pillar of some key skills that could shape you as a professional.

I strongly believe in building your skills as much as possible. The number of things I’ve tried is far bigger than those I have stuck with but it’s made for an amazing experience and opportunity. For example, by creating branding and digital assets for my family business, I was able to grow my skills in graphic design further, even freelancing on PeoplePerHour and actually creating a brand of my own. Now, it’s a great talking point and added skill on my CV which employers are surely interested in. It’s the age of technology and firms are becoming increasingly open to employing students who have a varied skill set.

Habits are also part of a bigger system. This is something that author James Clear talks about in his book Atomic Habits. Instead of setting goals, create systems for yourself. The reason for this is that usually, goals don’t help us actually do anything. Creating actionable steps towards those goals is a more productive way of doing things because you can actually make real progress instead of telling yourself that XYZ is your goal.

For example, a habit like writing every day for 20 minutes can open up other avenues and ideas that you wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. Habits such as waking up early every day or writing a to-do list at the start of your day can also help your future self. By writing daily, you’re being creative whether it’s a journal or summary or a piece of fictional writing. This could then build your interest in writing as a whole and as you keep practising, your craft becomes better.

How can this be productive? Well, there are many architectural writing competitions, there are opportunities to write for blogs 😉 or even create your own content – I once wrote a 50,000-word book! These kinds of projects and side hobbies can lead to actual professional opportunities in a practice or elsewhere like becoming an editor.

5 Habits You Can Start Implementing Today

Write a to-do list every morning / every night.

Depending on how you work best, writing a to-do list at the beginning of your day or the night before can help with gaining more clarity and avoiding procrastination. I found myself often not knowing what to do or feeling lost with my project without having a guiding hand from my tutors. The key is also not to try and overachieve or give yourself too much to do because you end up falling in a loop of guilt and frustration if all the tasks aren’t complete.

It’s also okay not to complete every single thing on your to-do list. Instead, prioritising the tasks is a better idea. This way, you can reschedule some of the tasks either because they aren’t immediately due or aren’t as important as the others yet. If you find yourself working on too many high priority tasks in one day, you need to start looking after your future self.

Plan ahead for your future self

Of course, we can’t always prepare for the unexpected – but we can for the expected. For example, if you know there is a lecture about employment before you graduate, then make an effort to take a look at your CV and portfolio beforehand so that you can attend the lecture with some questions. If you’re thinking about the next step and questioning what you can do right now to prepare for it, you’ll find that when the time comes, you’ll be less panicked because you’ve prepared for it.

Prioritise time for yourself

Yes, this is productive. Building yourself as a person is equally as important as developing your skills and putting in the effort to take courses or learn something new. If you make this a habit during university, even better! We need to take control of the time we spend on things and not let it get consumed by trying to keep up in the race or trying to achieve too much too quickly. It also lets you set a base standard so that when you go into practice, you know there are certain boundaries and your time is your time.

Work towards a goal – with a clear system!

There is an awful sense of uncertainty that comes with finding a job, so if you are in that position, you never know when you could land an interview and get the job. In the meantime, it could be a good thing to work on a goal with a timeframe of about 1-3 months so think about something achievable in that timeframe. If you do end up falling behind because of other things that crop up, don’t fret.

Get off social media

This is something I’m personally working towards. Of course, being a content creator you would think I’m constantly on Instagram but for the most part, I’m not. I love consuming content as much as the next person but I have this annoying habit of literally scrolling through my feed when my mind wanders off during writing. (I’ve done it whilst writing this very blog post too). Social media is a great tool for many things like inspiration and learning but when you’re stuck in that hypnotised state it doesn’t do much for your productivity. Learn the art of restraint and focusing more on what’s going on around you.

Most graduates, like myself, will have one general focus – getting a job. That can be a good goal to work towards but remember that there are several other things you can be doing to make that final outcome even better. There are also a number of routes you can take to get there. Doing an internship for a design company or launching your own Etsy store are fantastic achievements and don’t need to hinder your chances at reaching that goal.

By building productive habits you can utilise all these skills for the rest of your life – how incredible is that! Us architects-in-training already have more skills than the generation before us what with the explosion of social media and content creating in the last decade. You might even have skills you don’t realise are skilled. I believe that your habits can shape you as a person and if you’re stuck on what kinds of habits to build – apart from the killer list I gave you, it might be a good idea to turn to your hobbies.

Having a hobby that can take away your stress or a hobby that will make you money or even a hobby that keeps you fit could each have their own set of habits that are derived from working on these hobbies. Also remember, even if you’re not a graduate, these habits don’t have an expiry date or a minimum qualification! When you choose to start or stop is up to you – as long as you have some sort of check-in system with you.

Something I’ve found incredibly productive is saving the content I read, watch and listen to. I’ve never been one to take notes for the sake of taking notes but it has proven to be so helpful having a whole library of ideas, systems, references to keep in my own little library – plus the added notes from myself!

Let me know if you are going to implement any of these productive habits and make sure to come and say hello on Instagram 😃

08.03

How I Use Notion

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I am obsessed with Notion and all its applications. I first started using Notion in March 2020 – just as we went into lockdown (so it’s fair to say I had a lot of time on my hands). I truly think that using Notion can be absolutely game-changing for architects, students and all kinds of designers and content creators.

The reason for this is that Notion is a workspace tool. If you’ve used Google Drive and it’s other apps like Docs or Slides, it’s sort of the same idea but on steroids. Notion is essentially ‘an application that provides components such as databases, kanban boards, wikis, calendars and reminders. Users can connect these components to create their own systems for knowledge management, note-taking, data management, project management, among others. These components and systems can be used individually, or in collaboration with others.’

Notion is free and has a student / educational plan for you guys to not only create your own workspaces without limits but share them with friends and peers too. This means that you can create an organised system of your own but also share it with other people to track and create projects or areas of your life.

My Notion Workspace

Before I started using Notion, I was using various different notebooks for several things. I hadn’t ridden the productivity wave yet so there was a lot I wasn’t exposed to either. Now, there is no problem with keeping notebooks and I’m definitely not saying that Notion should replace these things, but instead it gives you a digital version that can be filtered, sorted, organised and expanded in several ways – something a regular notebook can’t give you.

I’ll give you an example. Content creating has been amplified by 10 since I started using Notion. Before this, I was still using a pretty organised system, tracking ideas for blog posts on a Google Sheet, planning out my writing in my notebook and writing any sort of idea down on any page that I probably wasn’t going to go back to again. There was stuff that I had to keep going back to such as my branding elements (think fonts and hex codes) but sometimes didn’t have my notebook on me. This caused some friction. With Notion, there is a dedicated space where I’ve kept this information and it can be easily accessed through search by hitting Ctrl + P. I can do the same on the Notion app, share it with other people I am working with or just have a record of my branding elements.

The way I use Notion has changed a lot over the past year. I’ve ‘re-done’ my workspace / wiki / dashboard a handful of times so far and just tried to keep the things I really do use. Most people go two ways of creating their workspace.

  1. They use the sidebar to create pages and pages – all separated. Then they link back to these occasionally and as needed
  2. They create one page and make sub-pages within them

So what I’ve done is a mix of both. Initially, I didn’t even bother with a ‘Home’ dashboard because I wasn’t really using it since I jumped from page to page or just focused on one thing at a time. I then realised that my main use of Notion was to track my tasks so I made my Task Box the opening tab and really where I spent 90% of my time on Notion.

Now, I have 6 key areas that are their own dashboards. Inside, there are sub-pages, databases and links but overall, it covers the 4 key areas I need and stuff I was previously using which has been archived. By simplifying the sidebar, it makes it so much easier to jump if needed and hide it completely (to maximise screen space). Very recently, I archived my task box and switched to Todoist. I was finding there was an increase in friction and due to my timings at work, I just wasn’t inputting tasks because there was a lot of extra information to fill in. The Notion app is good, but it’s not that useful for inputting tasks (in my opinion). Todoist is just pretty easy to see on my phone and sort and has built-in features like priority and labelling which you don’t need to worry about keeping a track of.

In the ‘home’ dashboard, there are mainly links and personal pages that don’t really need to have their own dashboard as well as my frequent pages list. This is more than often a subpage of a project that I’m working on and it makes it easier to have this in front of me so that I can start working as soon as I open my window.

The :scale section is where all of my writing, organising and planning happens. I’ve got stuff like ideas and goals for the coming months as well as general guidelines I can send to guest authors. 90% of my content creating happens in Notion – in fact, I’ve recently switched over the writing portion from Google Docs into Notion too. The table view is AMAZING by itself because you can add in all kinds of fields and sort and filter them and the best feature in Notion is the ‘Create Linked Database’. It allows you to replicate any kind of database in any view and apply a completely different set of filters meaning you only need one master database that holds all the information.

You can also build your own templates to optimise your workflow as I’ve done in the Ultimate Archi Student Hub. This means whenever you add a new project in there will be a set of headings and blocks already in there so that you don’t have to rebuild everything every time you create a new page.

The Possibilities of Notion

It’s been a year since I first started on Notion and in that timeframe, they have released a number of updates and new features. It’s also not a secret that the API is due to release soon 🤫 which is going to bring even more integrations and connections to other platforms and applications. I think this will be an amazing step forward because it’s almost like re-discovering Notion and getting to build or edit your workspace.

You should also keep in mind that there are numerous other productivity applications like Trello or Asana as well as phone applications that might even do a better job than Notion for specific things. I keep a close eye on the Keep Productive YouTube channel to find out about updates or new releases of interesting apps and occasionally give them a try – that’s how I found Todoist!

Another great part of Notion is its community. There is an awesome Discord server, subreddit and a bunch of cool content creators, template makers and bloggers who love Notion as much as I do. This means there will surely be new ideas and uses for Notion that could influence how your workspace takes shape and you can learn almost everything from these guys. We’ve linked our Resources page where we’ve got a dedicated Notion section for you to check out!

Architecture Students

As a working Part 1 Architectural Assistant and content creator, I love Notion for its wide range of applications to what I do. I really think that students will benefit most from an organised system they can build and keep track of. The open-ended structure means that you don’t have to try and cram things into one place nor is there a limit on what you use Notion for.

Notion would be great for the design side as well as a wiki or organisational tool. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Keeping track of multiple projects and deadlines at the same time. By linking this to a task management system you can also re-surface pending tasks depending on the priority level of the project. If your dissertation is due in 4 weeks, you can plan out each day or week and assign tasks that will help you stay on track throughout.
  2. A reference library for precedents, articles, helpful resources that you’ve used or interest you. Think about how Pinterest works except in Notion you can clip entire webpages including the text and images as your own personal copy. It’s like bookmarks but you’re able to sort, filter and favourite ones you regularly use.
  3. Portfolio planning; you can track the status of which pages you’ve completed or need to work on as well as creating a library of pages that you want to create and include in your portfolio. The best thing about creating instances in a database is that each one will have its own page.

If you want to learn more about the applications of productivity and using Notion as an architecture student, you can find out more in our 🧠 Building an Archi Brain course.

The most important takeaway from this is that organisation is the key to being more productive, having a set workflow and direction and this can be achieved with Notion – but not exclusively! Remember, it’s not the tool that magically makes you more productive, you need to put in the work to create the habits and systems as well as the Notion pages and databases and then keep testing and adapting in order to find the correct balance.

Plus, who knows where Notion can take us aspiring architects right?

22.02

How You Can Get More Done in a Week

No this isn’t an ancient secret, there are no acronyms, no kind of formula or set of steps to follow to get more done. This article isn’t about me telling you some complicated way of getting more things done throughout your day or week. There are aspects of your life which will be different to mine; you might have more responsibilities or a different schedule altogether which means there is no right or wrong way of being more productive and getting what some people would consider as a lot throughout the week.

Let’s skip back to the beginning of last year (2020), I’ll set the scene.

Essentially, I was on ‘holiday’ mode. My job search was actively taking place but there weren’t any imminent responsibilities or schedules I had to stick to. The pandemic hadn’t even begun so I was taking life one step at a time, knowing that at any point it could change. That’s the key here, Tomorrow could be vastly different from today, and I’m not trying to scare you, but the idea to keep in the back of your mind is that no one is productive 365/365 days. We all have periods of intense productivity or work or commitments that take up a lot of our time. If there is one thing I’ve learnt from this pandemic, not just from my personal experiences but those of others’, it’s that life is unpredictable.

I also didn’t really have a strict routine during the week and apart from the blog, there weren’t any other projects taking up a lot of my time. I did work a portfolio update and helped out with family business things. But I didn’t feel the need to write down what I had to do for the week. Now, in university, this was totally different. Obviously, deadlines are pretty serious and at that time my sketchbook was the place where I would write down all the things I had to do from this week’s tutorial to next week’s tutorial. But it was never on my mind to try and get more done.

Capture

So sometime between January and March, I found Notion. Now, I’m not saying Notion specifically changed the way I work but instead, it’s the concept of capturing ideas or tasks. If you’re specifically looking for guidance on productivity, then I’d recommend watching the video below by Ali Abdaal, then reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. The first core principle in this book is to Capture.

So, this specific concept is what many people don’t really realise is key to getting loads of things done. If you look back on some of our posts throughout the year, I always mention creating lists and staying organised. The method is essentially the same. At the moment, I have so many things and projects to concentrate on that if there was no capturing method, I’m sure at least 70% of those would be forgotten about. That’s not great when you’re trying to get a lot done. So how am I able to even balance so many projects? Because I’ve got a system sorted.

In university, this system was good enough to get me by, but looking back now I cannot believe I didn’t even have something as simple as a digital checklist. The reason for it being digital is so that I don’t have to wait to get home to write it in my sketchbook. Let’s be honest, inspiration can hit you anytime, anywhere. Offline tools have their advantages, but there is an undeniable satisfaction in an analogue method – either apply here!

Strategy to Get More Done

The key here is the level of priority and urgency for your tasks in one week. The priority can depend on deadlines, time constraints and your involvement in these projects. But there is also a level of priority you usually have in your head on a day-to-day basis. For example, today was the best day for me to work on the next few blog posts and wrap up most of the tasks I usually have for this blog because tomorrow I’m planning on dedicating all my time towards a secret project 😉.

Every single morning, I sit down and think about what I have to do for today and sometimes tomorrow. Without fail, every single day.

Once you do capture all the information in your head, it can be a little difficult or overwhelming trying to organise everything. In Notion, I assign a priority that ranges from 1st – 3rd. Some apps like Todoist even do this automatically for you. Honestly, if any task takes the 3rd priority, I don’t even bother adding it. Do I really need to do that task? Chances are that I’ve either worded it wrong or the task I’m writing down isn’t so urgent as I think. The way you write down your tasks is super important. If you add something like ‘Complete plans, elevations and section’ you’re having a laugh!

But instead, if you break down these tasks, even into smaller tasks that might take you half an hour, you’ll not only feel a sense of satisfaction after completing it, you will also be able to see and understand how long the entire project might take you so you can get a feeling of what your personal pace is – which will also help you in the future. I usually give myself a limit of an hour. If it’s going to take me more than an hour then I need to split it into two tasks.

The other and very truthful thing about getting a lot done in a week is that you have to have a passion for whatever you’re doing because if you’re not, you will procrastinate for as long as you can to avoid it, and that’s not getting it done. Now, I don’t see working on the blog as a chore or ‘job’, in fact, I’m writing this on the couch, whilst watching Masterchef – this is my relaxing time (and when I write best)!. Once you eliminate the notion that your projects are detached from you and are just things you have to do, you start feeling a sense of pride and excitement. I’d always recommend re-evaluating what you’re doing at the moment and whether you’re enjoying it.

5, 5, 5

So how can you get more done in a week? Next week, for 5 days, try to start your day by adding 5 tasks that you want to accomplish each day. You could block this out in a calendar, you could even plan for the entire week if you’re confident enough. Then, at the end of the week write down 5 things that worked. Did you work better during the day or at night? Did you find yourself completing writing tasks quicker – and if so, could you go one step further by making it a filler task?

A filler task is something that you can do whenever, wherever without thinking about it. This means that if you are avoiding or procrastinating you can lean on your filler task and that way you’re still doing something enjoyable and completing something that is important!

To sum it up, what you may think of as ‘a lot’ could be different from the person next to you. But what is important here, especially for students, is that you need to be able to capture and prioritise what you want to be achieving. By creating systems for ourselves that we know work, it will be much easier to work through tasks and deadlines and still be able to make time for the things that matter.

So, that’s it. That’s how I get a lot of things done in a week. I make sure my system works for me and try not to overload myself and I make sure that anything I invest my time into, I enjoy doing. Make sure you’re asking yourself, is this worth it? In 5 years time, will what I am doing today be of any relevance to me? The answer in your head will immediately decide whether it is worth your time in the present. Remember that you don’t need to work as a drone either; switch up your routine, put things on the back-burner for the moment and do something new, fun and exciting. Strict routines could work for some people, whereas for others you just have to keep trying new things. You really never know where it can lead you.

Workflow Tips You Need to Implement Right Now

Workflow Tips You Need to Implement Right Now

A solid workflow is important when you have deadlines to meet and projects to finish. First let’s make sure we know what workflow is. Workflow as described in the dictionary is ‘the sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion’. This is the part where you are being productive, not planning for it, not refining it, but the actual process.

Over the course of your studies, you might build up a workflow that works for you, a method that ensures you are working to the best of your ability. If you’re a newer architecture student, it can get very overwhelming very quickly. By the time Christmas rolls around, you have deadlines, crits, weekly tutorials and a project to be working on so your workflow could change over time.

Implementing some good habits and creating systems is the best thing you can do right now. If you’ve just graduated, this could be a way to prepare for work or to make sure you are using your time as well as you can and sending out applications. If you’re in between years, creating a workflow that suits you can be the best thing you do over summer.

🟢 Keep a sketchbook

A sketchbook is a must and you will have heard that multiple times on our website and from other architects. Having online productivity tools like Notion is great for note-taking or collecting links and resources but there is something different about drawing out your ideas. You can also do this on some trace, and scan it in, but remember that these are simply tools for you to output your thoughts and creativity.

You will inevitably be using a sketchbook in university and in practice, so try and make sure that you keep it on hand at all times. You could even have multiple sketchbooks that you use for individual purposes. Make sure you keep track of important details of your projects so that you can refer back to them. Sometimes your sketchbook can be much more informative of your design approach and decisions than your final portfolio.

🟢 Organise your tasks

This point links to the previous point. How you use your sketchbook is up to you at the end of the day. But it might be better to keep a separate planner or online system that can allow you to organise your tasks. If you didn’t know already, we’ve been using Notion, and it has been a gamechanger. There are many possibilities and uses but to start out, a simple to-do list can work. If you often end up giving yourself too many tasks or don’t always check off tasks, Notion can provide multiple views such as a table or Kanban board to make it more interactive.

The purpose of organising your tasks is so that you have a clear set of actions to complete in an hour, in a day or in a week. This is especially helpful if you often find yourself stuck and don’t know how to proceed. It also lets procrastination sneak in which you will end up regretting later on.

🟢 Work in small chunks

The pomodoro technique is possibly the best and easiest way to get started with time management. Think about what kinds of tasks you want to accomplish and be very specific. By writing down ‘make a model’ you’re not thinking about the logistics involved. What if you need to go buy materials first? Or you need to wait for your 3D printed elements to finish printing. Being specific means that you’re also being realistic and can fit those tasks into small chunks.

If the 25 minutes seems a bit too short for you, try 50 minutes and a 10 minute break afterwards. As you progress, you will start understanding how much you can do in under an hour. This blog article has taken me 26 minutes up till now and I know that I can finish it within in hour because over time, I have gotten used to the workflow of writing an article and once I am in the correct mindset, the words flow a lot easier. But having a rough outline helps too.

Basically, if you incorporate this into your daily schedule it can work out great and push away the pressure of having to work for long hours on end or think about staying up all night to finish something.

🟢 Finish your current task before starting a new one

This is something that people often don’t consider. Obviously, procrastination can be detrimental in the long-run, but if you tend to skip on to the next task or switch in-between different things without finishing something, it might confuse you or you might not even finish at all! Usually this happens if we don’t enjoy the task that we are doing. So it’s not a matter of not doing what you don’t enjoy but instead, making those tasks enjoyable in some way. For example, if you’re going to be doing a mundane task like annotation, pop open a second screen and put on an episode of something you’ve already watched but enjoy.

You will end up linking these two tasks together and will actually start to do these things naturally. If you’re struggling with being productive, have a look at Ali Abdaal’s class on Skillshare. Here you can get an idea of what productivity is and how it links to workflow.

🟢 Keep goals in front of you

Goals can give you motivation. We often say that as designers, we tend to think visually. So if it means keeping a photoshopped image of yourself at graduation, do it! It isn’t uncommon for students to think about dropping out if things aren’t going as well as planned. But by having your goals either written down or in front of you, it will give you that motivation to keep on going. Over time, this motivation for short term goals can also turn into a drive for longer term achievements. If you can positively visualise them happening and if you have the determination to see it through till the end, there should be nothing stopping you.

Although this is an article on workflow tips, we shouldn’t get bogged down with what tools will make us work better. We have to also think about what we want out of having a better workflow and what are the end goals.

🟢 Switch up your workspace

If you have a quiet study room with an adequate amount of space, then you might not even want to switch up your environment. But through lockdown, we know that it can be difficult to stay on task if there are others around you. Sometimes, you might need to take your laptop and sit on the couch, take your model and work in the garden in order to get a fresh perspective. We work long hours anyway and nobody wants to be sitting in front of a screen for the entire day.

Make sure you take breaks in between. These can be your social media breaks, a coffee break or something quick, but make sure you stick to your time and get back to work when you need to.

🟢 Plan in detail

Similar to being specific when you plan tasks, you need to remember that the same can apply to other aspects of your workflow. Take the time to invest in the proper tools for your desk, plan out exactly what you need and want and get rid of any distracting clutter. Plan out the next couple of months and what you want to be achieving each month. This way, you will avoid being stuck or clueless as to how to proceed. If you’re applying for jobs, plan out the kind of firms you want to apply to (but apply to them all), plan out a cover letter template in advance – you get the gist.

Having a good workflow can prepare you for a lot of things, not just in architecture. Hopefully, you can being to implement these things yourself and become a bit more proactive. If you didn’t know already, we often share advice like this on our Discord server as well as our Instagram. If you’re struggling with something specific, don’t hesitate to contact us and make sure to leave a comment below!

Productivity 101

Productivity 101 for Architecture Students

It’s no secret that architecture students have a serious work ethic which involves a lot of long hours, late nights, and a constant cycle of submissions. This is where productivity comes in. What exactly is being productive? It’s basically doing more with less. Getting things done and making the most of each day let’s you achieve goals faster and effectively. It can take multiple forms but the most important part of it is finding a solution that works for you. This is just an introduction to productivity and it’s many benefits.

As an architecture student, it can get pretty stressful and difficult by the time end of year submissions come around and by this point you may have had to juggle more than one project. Productivity means that even something as simple as a timetable or a daily planner can help you map out your thoughts and make sure you’re spending time effectively to achieve your goals. We’re all about lists and organisation at :scale.

However, the biggest problem most of us face is that we often don’t stick to whatever plan we set out. Don’t worry, we’re all guilty of this and sometimes it can be alright to not stick to a schedule perfectly for a day or two. The purpose of this article is to introduce you to the idea of productive habits and how you can apply these yourself as an architecture student. Some of you may have finished university for the year or might have extended deadlines in which case you may not have the time to implement habits in your routine. However, there’s no perfect time to start learning new techniques and methods. This could be really helpful if you’re going to start university later this year or even if you just want to make some new habits.

Finding the Source of Stress

For a fair few years, I was relying on hand-written lists and notes and I actually made use of my sketchbook only after I started studying architecture. This evolved into other diaries and physical note-taking systems however recently, I’ve started using Notion, a brilliant and life-changing productivity tool. The best thing about Notion is that there are a range of possibilities and uses but the templates and other tutorials help you get started so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Notion

First you need to figure out where you’re being least effective. Are you finding it hard to find inspiration and come up with ideas quickly? Or do you tend to get distracted easily? It could be any number of things in which case you need to figure out a way to come up with a solution. Questioning what is stressing you out and writing these things down can help you better understand what you need to do or fix. This doesn’t need to be specifically for university, it can apply to your daily life and give you a chance to keep track of hobbies or goals you want to achieve yearly.

For example, if you struggle with time-management, try out different methods like a simple timetable or a Pomodoro Timer and see which works for you. There’s no right or wrong way and you might feel like giving up if it doesn’t work. But once you find something that works, you’ll want to make it a part of your life. A good way to find new ways of working is through learning from others in which case YouTube comes in very handy. There’s a whole community of productivity nerds who put together their knowledge and ideas to provide meaningful content. Check out this video by productivity guru’s Matt D’Avella and Thomas Frank.

Building a productivity system will take some time and once it starts working for you, there’s no guarantee that you won’t have moments of burnout. Really, there’s only so much we can do in an hour, a week or a month and there’s no point setting up an organised system just to overwork yourself. Everyone has moments of feeling like their work is taking over so to avoid that you need to remember that you have a whole life other than architecture school which you can also incorporate into a productivity hub to make sure you’re still prioritising other important events and taking some time for yourself.

Avoiding Procrastination

If you’re struggling with keeping on task and often end up procrastinating, you might need to change things up in the way you work. This could be re-organising your desk and keeping some snacks and water on hand so you’re not always getting up to eat. Or, if you end up scrolling on Instagram to keep up with our stories and posts, you might want to download some apps that limit your screen time.

During the early phases of a project, students usually struggle with coming up with new ideas in which case you may need to find some inspiration or sit down and draw out all your thoughts. Allocate a specific time for this and turn off all other distractions. Currently, you might be finishing off your projects and getting your portfolio together in which case a ready-made checklist could be helpful. I like to storyboard my portfolio weeks in advance and set up a checklist in my spare time when there’s still a bit of clarity. Once you’re in deadline mode, it can be frustrating to think of the exact things you need to include, but having one set up will make your life much easier.

Introducing a work-flow and mapping out your day can help your mind feel less cluttered because all your ideas should be written out somewhere, in a diary or online application. The repetitive nature of being an architecture student and dealing with weekly tutorials or monthly crits can leave you feeling like it’s a never-ending process. If you think about it in terms of a simple day, usually it may start at 10am and finish anytime in the evening. Including other commitments like a lunch date or a weekly shop, you want to find the best use for your time. For example, I found that printing drawings or draft pages on a Friday night worked great for me. I wasn’t wasting time waiting for the printers to be free and didn’t have to spend the time in studio plus it meant I was prepared early enough to not stress out on the day of a tutorial or crit.

Productivity Habits for Architecture Students

There isn’t a need for huge steps or changes in your life but instead, if you improve upon something by a small amount, it adds up later on and you won’t even realise it, but you’ll be working much more efficiently. Set yourself achievable and desirable targets or personal deadlines that you can work to without any external pressure. When you do sit down to work or organise something, make sure the task has your full attention and cut out the smaller, non-essential stuff. By prioritising what you need to get done immediately you can direct your focus towards it but still have the benefit of keeping the less urgent tasks still in front of you.

Introducing a productive mindset over the past year has really allowed me to do the things I want to be doing and opened up doors that wouldn’t have even been in my sights if I hadn’t had organised my mind and used the technology available to me to my advantage. You may already be using some kind of productivity technique just by having a sketchbook to fill your thoughts with. Your time at university tends to go by pretty quickly since everything happens at such a fast pace. If you start introducing certain habits such as a daily schedule or take up a project to improve your skills, it can set you up very nicely for the year to come. We would recommend you take this summer to relax and get back to the other things you enjoy but also sharpen yourself for the year ahead if you’re starting work or university.

We’ve put together a list of resources that can help you take a step into productivity without it being overtly complicated.

🔵 Notion

🔵 Todoist

🔵 Skillshare

🔵 Roam

🔵 Google Calendar

🔵 Thomas Frank

🔵 Ali Abdaal

🔵 Keep Productive

🔵 Focus Keeper

🔵 Forest