Everybody knows that architects work a lot of hours – right? I’m not talking about an extra hour every day or something so pedestrian, I’m saying that according to the chat rooms and emails I receive, architects routinely work 60+ hours a week.
Yikes! But is that really true?
I get asked how much I work in a week all the time and I typically send out roughly the same answer: “I work regular business hours because I have a family and it’s important to me that I get to come home and see them.” But I started wondering if this was just lip service because I wanted it to be true or was it actually true. Considering that it’s currently Sunday afternoon I am sitting on the couch in my Den writing this article, I know that I work at home quite a bit (don’t kid yourself, and regardless of what I might have told you, writing this blog is a lot of work). I decided that I would go into the time reporting software that we use at the office and run a report on how exactly how much time I’ve spent doing billable work.
To set the stage, there are four weeks left in the year, so if I worked an 8 hour day every day this year, I would have billed 1,920 hours. (48 weeks * 5 day/week * 8 hours per day = 1,920 hours)
Starting Point – 1,920 Hours
But I didn’t bill that many hours because there’s vacation time, holidays, business development – and time I spent on charitable endeavors. Let’s start with vacation and holidays. In my office, I get basically 4 weeks vacation – two of which happen when we close the office down from Christmas to New Years. That means I’ve only had the opportunity to use 10 of those days. Plus, we close the office for certain holidays – the ones we close the office for (that fell on a work day this year) included:
- Memorial Day
- Labor Day
- Good Friday
- 4th of July
- Day after Thanksgiving
I didn’t include Christmas and New Years dates in here because we elect to close the office for those holidays. So between holidays and vacation, that’s 16 business days off so deduct another 128 hours from my potential working time.
Down to 1,792 Hours
Oh yeah, lets not forget about all the time I spent getting those continuing education credits at conventions … and while this is valuable time spent making sure I am up to speed on my licensure requirements, it’s generally not time I spent doing billable work. I went to the National American Institute of Architects convention and the Texas Society of Architects convention this year. In both instances, I missed 4 days of work – that’s another 64 hours lost.
Down to 1,728 Hours
Now that my name is on the front door, I spend a portion of my time in Business Development. This can mean anything from giving lectures, to writing articles for this site (and a handful of other periodicals), sending out letters, talking on the phone, etc. It’s not particularly glamorous but it is work and I do spend a fair chunk of my time working on business development.
I gave 11 lectures this years, 9 of which involved some sort of travel (and some were farther away than others). All told, I spent 14 days out of the office in lecture related travel this year – deduct another 112 hours.
I also wrote 115 articles for this site (I was surprised when I looked this number up – yikes!) and then there is all the time I spend supporting this articles in terms of responding to comments and emails, cross-publishing, tweeting, Facebooking … the whole kit and caboodle. Most of the article writing takes place after hours and when I can squeeze it in. I do spend time during regular business hours on part of it but a fair chunk happens after the sun goes down. From my timekeeper, I have 374 hours logged in writing blog posts and responding to comments. What this number doesn’t represent is the time I spend responding to the emails. Since it’s not recorded, I am not going to put any time down. I know that’s not really fair because I do spend time on it every week but I decided when I was going to go through this exercise, if I didn’t already have it recorded, I could plug-in any fake numbers.
Down to 1,354 Hours
Now it’s charitable “donated” time … which is pretty important to our little firm. The easy thing to calculate first is all the AIA service time I spend during business hours since it shows up on my calendar. This year I was the Director of Communication on the Dallas AIA Leadership Board. Between the meetings I attend with other committees, the quarterly All-Chairs meetings, Directors meeting, and finally the actual board meetings I attended, this time amounted to 177 hours.
I also served as the Chair of Digital Communications for the Texas Society of Architects – which actually involved a lot more work than simply attending meetings and adding my 2 cents every now and then. There were 64 hours of meetings, retreats and legwork involved. I also had to prepare and present a seminar for the Texas Society of Architects convention – I won’t include practice time for this seminar but the time I spent putting the actual images together and working on the material definitely counts. All in … another 96 hours
I also put together the Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition, as well as design and prepare drawings for my own playhouse that gets donated. Other than preparing the posts (which I’m not counting in this section, they are already accounted for in the business development section above) most of the time spent is overseeing the event itself, responding to emails and entries, questions from people looking to submit, coordinating the judging – that sort of stuff. I love doing it but it was a 62 hours I spend working rather than sitting on my couch.
Down to 1,019 Hours
And then there is the general office time – the stuff that isn’t billable to a client and isn’t already accounted for in one of the above categories. I am surprised every time I fill out my timesheet how much time I am in the office that I can’t attribute to something tangible. I know I don’t spend that much time in the bathroom or fixing the copier, where does all this time go? I can hear just about everyone saying:
“You talk a lot in the office regaling everyone with stories that everyone has already heard many, many times.”
Whatever … I don’t talk for hours every single day. I think part of the reason I end up with gaps in my timesheet is that at times, I ping-pong around from person to person, answering 1 or 2 minute questions that I don’t record it on my timesheet. It’s hard to actually figure out how much general office time I have but only record specific tasks to the general office billing category. This was a disappointing 162 hours (which is approximately 8% of my time in the office).
Down to 857 Hours
Finally a look at the actual amount of time that as billed to an actual project. About 90% of all my projects are hourly and so this number is kind of important. So just how much time did I spend working on projects that I can actually bill? Turns out that I bill 1,082 hours so far this year out of a possible 1,920 hours, or just over 56%. On one hand, this is acceptable because I my target billable amount for the firm is 50% so I’m beating it – but just barely.
BUT … if you subtract 1,082 from my running total, you get [drumroll please …..]
Down to -225 Hours
That’s just over 28 days of overtime spread out over a 48 week period. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? It works out to about 5 hours per week or one extra hour per day.
That certainly doesn’t support the stereotype that architects work all the time and like crazy. I will admit that this doesn’t really tell the whole story because I’m not listing all the time that I don’t record on my timesheet (which means it definitely isn’t billable). Since I don’t really know how much time this could amount to – even if I’m super generous and say that it amounts to 5 more hours a week, we still aren’t talking about a whole lot of time.
None of this is on accident, our office is intentionally set up so that people don’t work long hours. The motivation that drives many architects to work long hours is the desire to make each project as good as it can possibly be – they never want to stop designing the project. We have a very select group of people currently working in our office and they all take personal ownership of the projects on which they work. They all aim to deliver what is required but since we don’t have a culture in our office of working nights and weekends, there isn’t the pressure to constantly be up at the office grinding drawings out.
I know that my circumstances – and the office that I am now a partner in – are fairly unique. But they are completely unique as the majority of people that I know don’t work 60 hours a week. Maybe the occasional 50 hour week but most professionals I know work more than 40 hours a week under normal circumstances and it isn’t all that uncommon that they work a 50 or 60 week from time to time.
I don’t need to tell you that the general feeling out there is that if you want to be an architect, you are going to have to work a lot of extra time and I just wanted to let people know that it doesn’t have to be that way. I won’t go so far as to say that I work smarter rather than harder but I will say that I am fairly mindful of how I spend my time while I’m in the office.