IMPORTANT Read the RIBA's latest COVID-19 advice and information | Website terms of use and cookie statement

How to organise, delegate and de-stress your workload

Feeling overwhelmed? Karen Fugle, Executive Coach and host of last year's RIBA Future Leaders conference, provides top tips for taking control of your working week.

14 February 2022

Many architects will be able to relate to the problem of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. Whether they are directors, associates, or not yet qualified, architects frequently attest to a prevailing culture of high pressure and long hours.

Executive Coach Karen Fugle works almost exclusively with architects and designers. She was Director of the RIBA's annual Future Leaders conference in 2021.

She finds that the high standards architects hold themselves to often hold them back from the two best solutions to their time problems:

  1. Organisation
  2. Delegation

Reluctance to delegate

Fugle’s architect clients often self-impose a number of obstacles to delegating work, despite the fact that they cannot realistically carry it out themselves. They are protective of too many aspects of the design process; they are over-cautious that the work will not be correct, and they believe that they could get the task done more quickly themselves.

This leads to them working on tasks well below their level of expertise in the belief that only they can ensure a high standard. Frequently, Fugle has encountered architects who are determined to carry out all tasks at an “A+ level” when a “B” would suffice.

Draw up a time study

“We are in ‘overwhelm mode’ because we carry everything in our head,” Fugle suggests. “So our first task is to get it out in the open. When we see the big picture, we can start to order it, find patterns and/or prioritise.”

This is a very simple step that few of us take: identify where you are spending too much time; and where you are spending too little.

“A time study gives us real data rather than assumptions. It allows you to start to envision what your ideal week would look like.”

Assess what is truly important

In analysing how we spend our time, Fugle recommends several equally simple exercises. Few people carry out such common sense self-auditing, but doing so can be revelatory.

  • construct an ‘urgent vs important’ matrix: a 2 x 2 square into which tasks can be placed, with ‘importance’ on the vertical axis and ‘urgency’ in the horizontal one
  • identify the tasks that you have to do because nobody else can: weigh these up against the tasks you want to do, and those that can be delegated
  • clarify expectations of what is required with the correct stakeholders
  • make a list of work responsibilities that you enjoy doing, and a list of any you dislike

Rather than letting ‘overwhelm mode’ build up, architects need to acknowledge that they can delegate more than they think. Simple time studies and prioritisation techniques can help identify what is truly important.

Junior architects want to be delegated to

Many architects early in their careers are hungry for experience and are keen to take on new responsibilities. They might be happy to have certain tasks delegated to them if it enhances their experience and career development (provided that they are not experiencing ‘overwhelm’ too, of course).

“I would encourage junior architects to ‘manage up’,” Fugle urges. “We cannot expect a manager to know the opportunities you want to come your way unless you communicate them.”

She suggests architects start by identifying which tasks or situations are in their comfort zone, then to look at their ‘stretch zone’; and then their ‘fear zone’.

“We often talk about stepping out of your comfort zone, but I prefer to describe it as pulling things into your comfort zone. If you know which activities you would like to challenge yourself with, you can discuss them with your manager. Emphasise your strengths and your values. Make sure you have a sense of purpose when asking for an opportunity.”

Your goals are team goals

One crucial point that applies equally to all levels of seniority is that a practice is a team. While an assistant architect might feel they are at the bottom of the ladder and are unable to delegate to anyone, they can find solutions with colleagues by discussing their responsibilities and workload.

“We must stop looking at ourselves in isolation and think in terms of team goals,” affirms Fugle. “What is the team trying to achieve here? How are you supporting each other and holding each other accountable?”

She is adamant that teams should provide psychological support for one another.

“It can be hard to put your hand up and say you are having a hard time. You may not literally be in a position to delegate in terms of seniority, but you should never be afraid to share the psychological load and ask for support. Colleagues at any level will respect that.”

More insights into leading teams will be presented at this year's three-part Future Leaders conference: Future Leaders 2022. The first event, Learning to Lead takes place on 16 March 2022. Tickets are now on sale.

Thanks to Karen Fugle, Executive Coach, Sleeping Giant Consulting.

Text by Matt Milton. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum: Health, safety and wellbeing.
As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as a RIBA Chartered Member.

Article first published on 4 February 2021.

Latest updates

keyboard_arrow_up To top