Following their recent interview with Principal Matt Todd, graduates Raymond Wu and Amy He talked to Associate Arun Agranat to get the lowdown on how he manages his workload and stress when facing deadlines. Over 10 years in Architecture, Arun has amassed some valuable tips for keeping his overall wellbeing in check while managing the demands of the job.
- What does a typical day in your work week look like?
There are lots of variables. It depends on the phase of a project, as well as how many projects I’m on. But ultimately, the start and end of the day look relatively the same – some exercise like cycling or swimming or taking the dog for a walk.
I’ve learned over the years to eat breakfast at home. When I was younger, I’d just rush to get out of the house and then I’d be calibrating for the first hour of the day. Getting control of the morning means I can set the pace for the rest of the day.
During my morning commute I listen to a podcast or an audio book to learn something new or take my mind somewhere else. I avoid checking my emails during this time, and as much as possible, I try to safeguard the first half hour of the day and try not to schedule 9:00 AM meetings.
When I was a graduate with lots of things to balance within each project, I’d always review and reprioritise my to-do list. Then I’d read emails and make sure that I had a very linear plan for the day – just to feel like I was in control even though things would constantly move and change.
Nowadays, most of my day involves meetings and trying to maintain contact with the teams to make sure everyone has enough information to keep moving, so that I’m not the one creating blockers.
I try to walk out the door at a consistent time each day. I put the earphones back in and resume what I was listening to in the morning to help decompress and separate work and home life. And finally it’s me-time, cooking and watching TV or grabbing a drink with friends.
- When you have a deadline, how do you manage your workload and stress and prioritise your general wellbeing?
It comes down to knowing where you stand. I always have priority lists for me and the team. As I’ve reduced my personal contributions – like modelling and authoring drawings – to manage other team members, it’s critical to communicate constantly so people’s responsibilities are clear. It’s important to ensure everyone is on track and has a manageable workload, so we can redistribute if we need.
When I was a graduate and a younger architect, I would do my lists to work out what was most important and reorganise tasks accordingly. I’d constantly recalibrate to make sure I had enough time and that I was reprioritising the most important things. That’s become my management style –making sure my team and I talk throughout the day and week so we don’t miss anything.
Unfortunately, long hours do happen, but if you’re organised you can anticipate it and make sure the team is comfortable with where the time is going to be spent so they can organise their personal lives. For me, it’s about figuring out how much overtime is needed and spreading it out so we don’t burn out. As consultants, our work is project-based and therefore deadline-based. Time compresses.
Sometimes there’s a curve ball or a blowout, but if you plan well you can kind of control it. It’s all about setting boundaries and finding strategies to mitigate the stress. By stepping outside of the studio I can often reenergise myself and when I come back in, I can attack it with a fresh lens.
If possible, I like to go for lunch with a friend or an old colleague and not talk about work at all. Often just talking about something else resets the mind, which is important. When everyone’s co-located and you’re trying to solve the same problem, it can kind of feel like university when everyone bounces off each other’s energies, so sometimes it’s better to break that energy and bring in something new.
- If you were your younger self again, what would you do differently to balance work and life? (Not just work, it could be studies, or anything)
I would try to prioritise things and not stress about the next thing that I need to do, especially when I have a lot of things on my plate. While it’s important to get everything done, they can be done within a set period rather than simultaneously. I’d try to be better at being content that I was getting something done so I could focus my energy without stressing about the other tasks.
What I’ve learned is that you have got to break the task down into consumable chunks and then tackle one thing at a time, finishing it before doing the next. Otherwise, it prolongs all the tasks and you spend longer on them. So, if I look back, that’s one thing that I would do differently.
- As a project leader who works with graduates and students on a day-to-day basis, what advice would you give someone who is just starting out in their career?
I’d stress the art of debriefing with your project leaders. If you develop the ability to assign yourself to achievable tasks, a project leader doesn’t need to worry about allocating then. And if you walk out of a meeting with a clear understanding of what’s required, you can show the outcomes and actions to the project leader and let them know what tasks you’re comfortable with. It shows initiative, but it also allows you to own tasks, which is really rewarding. When I was a grad I had the revelation that if I could self-impose myself onto things in the right way, it would be appreciated because it would be one less thing for someone else to think about.
Writing minutes for yourself helps you follow the conversation more. While you’re learning the technicalities, a lot of things can just become white noise. Writing minutes helps you to look back on a meeting and distil what’s happened.
Another thing I adopted from others was to really understand your tools – to figure out what efficiency tools or systems a company has to make things faster. If you get a task that normally takes seven days but there’s a tool to make it in three days and it takes you one day to learn it, you’re still better off. That gives you more time to think about design, and less time doing production work.
Finally, communication is key. The industry’s really rich and is made up of lots of different people with different needs and desires for their professions. So if you have personal requirements or things going on in your life, people aren’t always aware. It’s important to put up your hand and express what you need – whether it’s a family thing or something else, people are generally quite understanding.
That’s all for now! Here are the main lessons that we have learnt from these interviews:
- Find time to de-stress! It’s simple, but often overlooked.
- Talk! Reaching out and communication are key.
- Know your tools! Figure out what tools are at your disposal as this can save a lot of time and unnecessary effort.
- Don’t strive for perfectionism all the time! Know when to exert your effort.
- Don’t sweat on the small stuff! Try not to stress about things that are out of your control.
We thank Matt and Arun for taking time out from their busy schedules to talk with us.