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’.
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?
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
- Make a list of 3 core habits you would like to achieve over the next year in order of importance
- Break down each core habit with small suggestions of what you could do to achieve this
- 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.