You are probably familiar with Schrödinger’s Cat: a thought experiment used to challenge/highlight the absurdity of quantum mechanics in which a cat is both alive and dead until it is observed. As I chase after architecture clients and organize my life around family and work, I have become acutely aware of an equally unfortunate and absurd creature.
An architect (or any client focused professional) who is simultaneously busy and bored. Yet when a client is ready to start work, the architect is either busy or bored, not both busy and bored.
I have a lot of work right now. A backyard cottage, a second story addition, a modest addition off the back of a one story home, another second story addition, and a bathroom remodel. I also have plenty of writing to do for myself and Graphisoft North America’s blog. Prospects right now are showing up weekly, if not daily. Some prospects are already rolling forward while others are a few months or a year out.
I have no work right now. One project is on hold while we await a meeting with an arborist. Another project has a measure scheduled but is awaiting an e-mail back from the client and a signed contract. A third project is being done for in-kind trade and thus has a flexible timeline (and a measure being done a few hours at a time on Friday mornings). A fourth project is my own remodel. A fifth just needs a client to pick a plan he likes. Sometimes I write in circles or struggle to focus on any article long enough to finish it. Prospects are being weeded out weekly, if not daily. Some prospects don’t have realistic budgets or timelines; others think modest architecture fees are too high.
I don’t have time to write this blog post today. And yet I have tons of time. I did a lot of PTA volunteering today; I have plenty of time to be the PTA Vice-president for the 2016-2017 school year and the PTA co-president for 2017-2019. Tomorrow I don’t have time to be on a 90 minute CRAN ExCOM call, beta test ARCHICAD 21, or follow through with all the PTA promises I made today. And my next two years will certainly be too busy to be on two volunteer boards. And yet… I spent a fun afternoon with my daughters and have a sleepover birthday party to organize and run for my oldest daughter this weekend.
As a sole proprietor I’m regularly stressed about work. So often I feel like I have too much to do and yet nothing to do. Sixteen hours of work that can’t be started today, but it all needs to be done tomorrow. An article to write for someone else, but all I can focus on is a blog post for Shoegnome. I meant to work all weekend. I didn’t. Instead I played with my daughters all day Saturday, and some of Sunday. I had enough work to fill the weekend. And yet when I sat down at my desk on Sunday, there wasn’t as much as I thought. I still spent hours working; the urgency was both false and real. Tonight, tomorrow, or the next day, one of my projects will stop being both alive and dead. It will race forward or officially end. Briefly I’ll have clarity. For a moment I’ll be only busy or only bored. At that moment I’ll know how much other work I really have to do.
Perhaps there’s no such thing as Schrödinger’s Architect. Maybe it’s just an architect who’s bad at time management and not a great business person. But maybe there is such a person. And the stress is a side effect of running a lean business where the goal is to have the right amount of work. Enough to keep the business healthy, but not so much that one can’t enjoy the important things in life. Ah… I get it. This is the perfect sequel to a post from exactly five years ago when I quit my day job to focus on Shoegnome full time. Here’s how that post ended:
AND NOW FOR A PROMISE:
Carolyn, Madeleine, and Phaedra. This next chapter in my career is for you three. May it make me a happier, more loving, and better father and husband. I think we’re all about to have some great adventures. I promise you all that much.
Yes, Schrödinger’s Architect is real: the razor’s edge of having enough work to be happy and inspired, but not so much that one misses out on sharing that happiness and inspiration with those who matter most.
Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century. Follow Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. If you want to read another article on this balancing act, check out Husband, Mom and Architect.