Archive for the 'Process' Category

10 Tips to Conquer Procrastination

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My name is Mark R. LePage and I am a recovering procrastinator.

There… I said it.

After 40+ years, I don’t have much hope of ever finding a cure, but recently I have found some ways to hang on to the wagon and stay focused on getting things done.

Here are 10 tips I’m using to conquer my procrastination.

1. Write out a plan. In order to get anything done, you need to create a plan. What does the end result look like and how are you going to make progress. Write it out. As a serial dreamer, I have hundreds of plans in my head, at all times. The plans that make progress are the ones written down and developed into a clear step-by-step process.

2. Schedule milestones. Progress looks much less daunting when you break things down into smaller easily attained milestones. Set them to specific dates and get to work.

3. Work toward deadlines. The quickest way to NOT get things done is to never NEED to get things done. Set deadlines on each milestone, and base your deadlines on realistic timelines developed in the plan you developed above.

4. Turn away from distractions. In November, I re-instituted my “full media blackout”. I stopped reading the news, turned off the television and tuned the radio away from the talk station. If the world as we know it does in fact end on December 21st, I am quite certain I will hear about it. I am now focused on the things that are fully within my control. The things not within my control are simply distractions. Turn away from the distractions and focus on the things that truly matter most.

5. Stop blaming others. No one else is going to get it done. There is nothing stopping you from progress except YOU. You are in control of the decisions you make and the attitude you choose to adopt.

6. Birth good habits. In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessCharles Duhigg deconstructs the habit into three parts; a cue, a routine and a reward. Once you understand that, you may give birth to your own good habits. If you want to do something consistently without the pain and frustration of broken resolutions, make it a habit and watch what happens.

7. Kill bad habits. From what we’ve learned in number 6 above, we can now analyze every bad habit standing in the way of our progress. Identify the cue, the routine and the reward. The key to making sustainable change is keeping the cue and reward, and changing the routine. Do you unnecessarily check your e-mail everyday at the same time, rather than working on those pending construction documents? Identify the cue and reward. The cue may be the time of day. The reward may be a sense of accomplishment. Change the routine to completing a simple task on those drawings and a new habit may be born.

8. Look beyond yourself. Find some inspiration. Find others who have accomplished what you want to accomplish. Learn everything you can about them and how they made progress. When you know that others have done what you are trying to do, you’ll find hope that you too will accomplish your goals.

9. Raise the stakes. As many of you know, I am working on the plan for my 12/12/12 Project. Talk about procrastination. I’ve been trying to make progress on this project for more than a decade. By announcing the concept of the 12/12/12 Project to the world and publicly committing to my plan, I raised the stakes. If I don’t do what I said I’ll do, I will lose credibility with you, my family as well as myself.

10. Start. It may be the most difficult step, but believe me, no task has ever been completed without starting. So, start… and see the procrastination melt away.

***

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photo credit: Mykl Roventine via photopin cc

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How To Complete an Overwhelming Project

Last week I announced the 12/12/12 Project and with it, an invitation for you to join me in committing to your own life altering decision. On December 12, 2012, together, we’ll start the next phase of our lives.

A life altering commitment is pretty heavy. A 12/12/12 Project is overwhelming by definition. So, how in the world do we approach such a thing? How do we accomplish, quite possibly, one of the most important decisions of our lives?

This week, I want to show you a simple way to get started.

Develop a Plan.

As architects, we’re good at developing plans. So, let’s start with a plan. Map out your project, step by step from beginning to end.

In his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey writes about  Habit 2; Begin With The End in Mind. What do you want your project to look like when it’s finished?

My family and I live in Westchester County, New York. Our little cottage in the woods sits upon a one-acre lot. Dozens of tall deciduous trees stand side by side from property line to property line. Every autumn we are blessed with a colorful spectacle of orange, amber and red. That wonderland quickly turns into a layer of dried brown leaves covering every inch of our parcel. It’s rather overwhelming, knowing that I am solely responsible for removing each and every leaf.

It’s a very big project.

What do I want the property to look like when I am done? Clean and organized.

How do I accomplish that? I follow my plan.

Break it down into small sections accomplished over multiple days.

I deconstruct the overwhelming project into smaller, more manageable sections, to be accomplished over multiple days. “The Front”, “The Hill”, “The Garden”, “The Patio”… Looking at the project as several small tasks makes the massive amount of work appear much more manageable, and even quite surmountable.

Start.

No project has ever been completed by standing there and looking at it. You need to actually start. Sometimes starting is the hardest part, but trust me, starting is critical to the success of the project.

Use the right tool for the job at hand.

I pull out my trusted orange gas-powered leaf blower, fill it will fuel, pull the cord and get to work. Yes. It’s noisy and a bit smelly, but its the right tool for the job. Leaf removal is no game. We are talking major amounts of organic material, accumulated, probably weighing hundreds of pounds. A plastic rake isn’t going to get me very far. A plug-in electric blower with not much more power than my wife’s hair dryer? I’d rather pick up each leaf by hand.

Begin with the section having the heaviest impact.

So many leaves. So many sections. Where to begin? Begin with the section having the heaviest impact. I start with “The Front” section. When the front of the house looks maintained and tidy, the whole property looks better. The project starts to look much more manageable when the front of the house is in order. A sense of motivation to carry on with the project sets in as I move on to the each consecutive section.

Work down hill with the wind at your back.

Trying to blow leaves uphill and against the wind just doesn’t work. In fact, you’ll often end up with more of a mess than when you started. Work down hill with the wind at your back. Leaves also move easier over the smooth driveway surface than over the pachysandra bed.

Scope out the path of least resistance and work to move the leaves in that direction toward a central location.

First pass, push through and collect as much as possible.

Once you’ve gathered all the leaves in a central location, its time to move them to their permanent home, the mulch pile. After 30+ years of moving leaves (it was my job as a kid as well), I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade.

To move a large pile of leaves as efficiently as possible, you should proceed through the big pile blowing full throttle, in one brutal push, collecting as much as possible as you move forward.

Don’t attempt to push the entire pile in one pass. If you do, you will find that it is more difficult to move the leaves and much of the pile will remain uncollected. You will quickly tire, putting the entire project in jeopardy.

The most important thing is to move from the front of the pile and all the way through to the back of the pile without stopping. You may even use your feet to push more leaves forward as you go. Move as much as possible with each push forward.

After each pass, back track over and push more forward as you move back.

After each pass through the pile, back track and continue to push more leaves forward as you move back to collect more of the pile you left behind on the preceding pass.

After the final pass, collect the small stuff

After several passes through the pile, you will have efficiently moved the entire pile to where you want it to be. With a final pass you will collect the small stones, twigs and debris.

Leave nothing behind.

Use a different tool for the fine detail work

In some areas, a leaf blower is not the proper tool to do the job. It is far too powerful and may damage the delicate plantings in the garden and among the stone ledge. For fine detail work, you will need a small rigid rake.

Remember from above. Use the right tool for the job at hand.

Repeat until complete. Then move on.

Complete one pile in the section. Then move to the next. Repeat this process until the section is clean, organized and looking its very best.

Then move on to the next section.

Repeat the entire process until the project is complete.

See? It wasn’t that bad. An overwhelming project… completed.

Maintain every week

In order to keep the property looking its very best all year long, I do simple maintenance, weekly, throughout the year. I pick up the small sticks that fall in wind storms and rake up random leaves that find their way back onto the property.

If I maintain the property each week, it stays healthy and always looks its best.

Perform a major clean up 4 times per year

Every season requires a different approach and a separate cleaning. Every three months, I reevaluate the condition of the property and address the areas needing my attention.

Revisit each year

Each year, the cycle of seasons finds its way back to autumn and the leaves fall again. Each year, I pull out my trusted orange leaf blower and get to work.

Cleaning the yard is not my favorite project, but all the hard work results in a great looking property. The gardens fall into their winter slumber and wait, prepared for spring to arrive once again. My wife is happy that her gardens are cared for, which, of course, makes me happy.

I look forward to the day when I will finally delegate this annual chore to the next generation of leaf blowers. With a 10 year old son, an 8 year old son and a 5 year old daughter already asking to take over, it may not be long before my leaf removal days are finally over.

When that time comes, I will pass the lessons I learned on to them and move to more productive uses of my time. There are waterfalls to complete, stone walls to stack and garden sheds to build.

The list of overwhelming projects is never-ending.

***

photo credit: Micky** via photopin cc

Michael Gallin: Entrepreneur Architect

While at Carnegie Melon University’s school of architecture in the early 90’s, Michael Gallin developed a passion for finding innovative solutions combining design and technology. Although his primary interest has always been architecture, computer technology has been a close second.

Gallin founded his architecture firm just north of New York City in 1999. He recently merged his practice with another firm, forming Gallin Beeler Design Studio. The current office, with a staff of nine, has a reputation for exceptional design quality and is a frequent recipient of regional design awards, including 11 AIA awards in the last ten years.

Frustration is often a catalyst for innovation. In 2009, Michael’s frustration over how his office was managing information brought his passions for architecture and technology together.

A client requested a paint color used on a past project. After spending hours sifting through archived drawings and construction submissions, Gallin concluded that there had to be a better way. He thought that his firm’s project information and specifications should be stored in a single searchable database. The database should be instantly available for reference from one project to the next and users should be able to refine the information over time. In a controlled and managed way, clients, consultants and contractors, should all be able to access and contribute to the database during and after the project is completed.

This simple idea, to put all project information into a single accessible database, has revolutionized how Michael’s practice runs.

Initially, Michael created the database using a software called Filemaker. After refining the user interface and optimizing the database structure to be flexible and intuitive, he moved the database and user interface online. The resulting website is available to everyone at ADOSAR.com.

According to Gallin, “We can now find what we specified, as well as what was actually installed on a project, in a matter of seconds. This information is available for refinement and reuse on our upcoming projects. Time consuming tasks such as producing finish and hardware schedules, managing submissions, disseminating bidding information, and managing construction contracts have all become dramatically more efficient. We have tried many ‘time saving’ and ‘quality improving’ products and nothing has had the dramatic impact that ADOSAR has in improving project quality and efficiency. The key difference is that ADOSAR is simple. Its always available online and doesn’t try to do everything. It focuses only on the information that is ideally suited for database storage while leaving the drawings and models to other better suited tools.”

The more people use ADOSAR, the better it gets. The database grows and is refined continuously.

Problem: Inefficient recovery of information from past and current projects.

Solution: Michael Gallin’s ADOSAR.com.

Michael Gallin is an Entrepreneur Architect.

***

Anyone interested in helping to test and improve on the “ADOSAR” concept should reach out to Michael via email. Free access to premium features is available to users willing to help refine Adosar by providing constructive feedback.

The Power of Stopping

When my brain is rested and not required to complete a specific task or stay focused on success, amazing things happen.

During scheduled breaks, like vacations and holidays, I often develop my biggest ideas, like new business systems, strategies or concepts for future entrepreneurial endeavors. My right brain (the creative side) is free to roam, shifts into a lower gear and finds some additional horsepower.

Some of my most interesting, most innovative ideas have been discovered during these periods of cognitive overdrive. As I walk through the woods each morning, while driving long distances, taking a shower or as I drift off to sleep, my brain takes me to the most interesting creative places. (At times it takes me, very literally, to very unexpected places. I once drove two hours in the wrong direction while dreaming of my future and developing a new business strategy. My wife will never let me live it down.)

Whenever I am performing a creative task, I’ve learned to stop, take a break and reset my mind. It may take nothing more than lifting my head and focusing on something other than the task at hand. It may be a more deliberate suspension of activity or scheduled time-out. I may stand up and stretch, take a stroll around the studio, stop for a snack or converse with a co-worker.

Rebooted, I return to my task with a rested open mind. I often discover new directions or alternative concepts. The path to success becomes clear. The awkward sentence is quickly resolved. The complicated architectural detail looks simple and the solution so obvious.

It works.

The next time you find yourself stuck, don’t spin your tires. Try stopping.

My 5 Rules

I am sharing my latest post over at the Living Well in Westchester blog, My 5 Rules to a Successful Architecture Project.

What are your rules to a successful project?

http://fivecat.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/5-rules-to-a-successful-architecture-project/

How Do You Organize Your Week?

So today is Monday. I typically reserve Mondays for administrative work and prepping for the rest of the week. I work on business systems and schedule project interviews on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Friday is a day to wrap up loose ends and make sure clients are happy.

Obviously, in order to be successful my routine is flexible. In fact I have a project interview this evening… on a Monday.

By keeping my tasks for each day consistent, it allows me to stay focused on what I am trying to accomplish,,, and that keeps my stress levels down (see previous discussion post).

How do you organize your week?

Let’s talk.

Architects Can Learn Much from Other Industries

What can we learn from other industries to make the traditional architectural and construction processes better?

Hospitals are filled with checklists and other systems to make sure that every step of a procedure is done correctly. NASCAR racing teams also use checklists and directives from multiple layers of team members, each with their own specialty. Toyota uses their Product Development System, also known as Lean Manufacturing, to make every subsequent product better than the last.

At Fivecat Studio, we are developing a Project Manual, filled with checklists, that will make every design process more efficient and will assure that every project is well built.

What are you doing to be more efficient? What systems are you implementing to be sure your clients are happy? Are you learning from other industries?

Please share…

Too Many Choices?

When performing our Design Development phase with clients, we typically assist them in selecting all their finishes, plumbing fixtures and lighting. This process is completed most efficiently when we discover and learn, through questionnaires and images, what our clients like and what they dislike. Then, with thorough knowledge of their taste, we offer a limited number of items from which they select.

We find that when clients attempt to perform this task themselves, they are often overwhelmed by the almost infinite number of choices from which to pick. This typically leads them back to us and our efficient process…

Today, Guy Kawasaki tweeted a link to Catherine Faas’ blog post, Why you should stop giving your customers too many choices. Catherine references an eye-opening case study showing redbox beating out Netflix by making DVD selection easier for their customers.

How can we make our clients’ project experience easier and more enjoyable? Should we be limiting their stress by limiting their choices?

I wonder how our clients’ would answer these questions…

What are your thoughts on choices?

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The Process of Architecture?

At Fivecat Studio, our process of delivering architectural services includes a very highly developed set of construction documents. Every possible decision is made. Every product is specified. Every fixture is scheduled, ready for purchasing.

Our intent is to obtain very competitive bids from general contractors, minimize change orders and reduce construction time by eliminating delays caused by slow or incomplete decisions. Most of the time, this focus on detail pays off in an appreciative client and a healthy relationship with the construction team.

Sometimes though, when the well developed design and thoughtful decisions are second-guessed, changes are made during construction. A tight construction schedule does not allow for a fully developed and scoped out process of decision making. Sometimes this leads to a “snow ball effect” of interrelated elements requiring modification. The desired time or money saved by the change is, many times, counteracted by the additional time and money required to handle the unexpected consequences of the innocent (or not so innocent) change.

So, here is my question to you, the Entrepreneur Architect. What does your process look like?

Do you prepare detailed, highly developed drawing sets for construction? Or, are you a member of the camp that believes the preparation of a basic set of “guideline” drawings are better, with the details and design decisions determined during construction, in the field?

Which process makes for happier clients? Which process makes for a most efficient construction schedule? Which process is most profitable for the architect?

Please share. I would love to read your thoughts…

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