The Indicator: Distractions

The Indicator: Distractions

Focus! Focus! Focus! Why are you reading this! You should not be reading this now! Get back to work! You are being unproductive! You are DISTRACTED!

Architecture in an office environment often functions like the opposite of how it was in studio. For one, offices are businesses so there is a need for oversight, management, evaluation, assessment, leadership, discrete task assignments, meetings…the list goes on. Notice that all of these elements to running a firm somehow come down to time management and staffing issues. Leaders have to keep an eye on junior staff, not to be annoying and stand over their shoulders micro-managing them, but to stay aware of what everyone is doing and where the different aspects of complex projects stand. Of course, this also relates to project budgets.

More after the break.

Architecture offices are usually set up to encourage and expect workdays devoid of distractions and distracted employees are generally considered a drag on productivity. Of course, there are degrees.

Architecture tends to thrive in creative, stimulating environments and offices are not necessarily set up this way. One of the issues here is that a lot of architecture in the office environment is not really based on the same creative acts you may have engaged in when you were in studio. The office has different needs and wants you to be 100% focused on fulfilling those needs.

Be that as it may, there is simply no way you can sit there for eight hours straight and be 100% focused on your work every minute. Remember those all-nighters in school? Ever notice how many people are surfing the web or just chatting with friends? There were a lot of other activities going on in studio, right? I’m not encouraging all-nighters, by the way. I’m also not encouraging architectural staff to surf the web constantly. The point here is that the studio environment accommodated a world of productive distraction that enabled necessary exploration.

Cognitive studies have shown that the mind can focus for roughly twenty minutes before automatically starting to search out something new. It does no good to try and fight this. The brain simply doesn’t work this way. There are reasons for this that go back to survival and development—probably so you won’t get so absorbed in something that a tiger will eat you. Despite evolution, things haven’t changed all that much—even for architects.

The bottom line is that office environments can be more productive, efficient and creative when they foster a more open and less rigid culture that accommodates how the mind really functions. A number of well-known internet companies have adopted such policies and it seems to serve them well.

This might seem obvious, but experience has shown that taking real time out throughout the workday is actually quite rare in the architecture profession. Again, offices sometimes foster a sit-in-your-chair-and-don’t-move-until-the-end-of-the-day culture. This is ultimately determined by management style.

If you are a project manager or principal, keep this in mind and encourage your staff to be good to their brains. In the long-run they will be more effective, more creative, more productive, and more engaged…not to mention happier.

Here are few things you can do in the office to re-charge your brain:

Go take a walk. Get coffee/tea, even it’s just at the office kitchen. Go for a smoke—even though you really should quit and do… Tai chi or yoga. Go out and call someone you love. Read for a few minutes. Look at architecture publications (offices usually have these) Look on the internet for a while. Email a friend. Go “bother” a colleague and get him/her to get coffee/tea with you. Go to your local bookstore. Sit in a park. Eat lunch outside the office—not at your computer. Ride your bike for a few minutes. Daydream. Listen to some music. Wash your face and brush your teeth. Step outside and people watch. Buy a little something for your partner/loved one. Think about something besides architecture. Remember to breathe. Do some drawings on post-its.

You probably do many of these things anyway, but at least now you can feel more accomplished and positive about your little asides and maybe you won’t feel like you need to sneak them. So, if you are caught reading this when you are supposed to be working, just tell your project manager you are being productively distracted. I’m almost certain it will go over well.

The Indicator

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Cite: Guy Horton. "The Indicator: Distractions" 26 May 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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