How to Overcome the Young Architect Burnout + why I Stopped Blogging for a Year

For those of you who had been with me since 2011 when I first started this blog, you might’ve noticed I’ve stopped blogging for over a year. Blame it on moving around a lot, working 70 hours a week, dealing with family issues...

Well, the truth is I was having a massive burnout - I know that’s something we all face from time to time.

 
For those of you who had been with me since 2011 when I first started Just an Intern, you might’ve noticed I’ve stopped blogging for over a year. Blame it on moving around a lot, working 70 hours a week, dealing with family issues... Well, the truth is I was having a massive burnout - I know that’s something we all face from time to time. | Joann Lui
 

I had to stop everything in my life including blogging to barely get ahold of my workload. Basically my work life balance was just not there. I realized after a long year of burnout that maybe you're feeling the same like I did.

  • You love what you do, but you start to feel taken advantage of at work.

  • You drink more coffee than your body can take, but you’re still lacking energy everyday.

  • You become easily irritated and impatient with people around you - it could be co-workers, clients or even your friends and family.

  • You dream about piles and piles of fabric samples piling up in your little apartment. (Yes it happened to me just last night).

  • Your head keeps spinning about work when you’re trying to fall asleep in bed.

I can go on and on, but the point is we all experience a burnout in one way or the other. And I want to help you overcome it because you deserve to actually enjoy the job and profession that you worked so hard for.

How I fell into a massive burnout

I started to suffer from tiredness all the time. This is not the kind you get from lack of sleep like you were in architectural school. I’d sleep 12 hours on the weekend to “catch up” on my sleep and yet still feel exhausted throughout the day.

I became a very negative person. This past year I've gone through major family and personal problems that threw me into depression and anxiety everyday. There were so much in my head that I had to take melatonin to fall asleep even when I was exhausted after getting home at midnight from work.

I stopped taking care of myself. Long gone are the days hitting hot yoga every day, or even eating a decent home cook dinner.

I feel like Revit was my one and only best friend. Instead of socializing, hanging out with my friends, or even just going to happy hour with coworkers, I was always just Reviting away.

I started to ignore my family. When my life wasn’t overwhelmed, I’d facetime with my parents in HK every day. Now? I couldn’t even bring myself to answer a text.

I failed my ARE exam. I've always been good at passing exams. So when I failed SPD a couple months ago - the first exam I ever failed in my life, I had a mini panic attack. That's when I realized I need to make a change. (Oh, and by the way, maybe you are struggling with your exams too… No worries! I’ll be sharing my experience through these exams soon, so be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already!)

“We’ve no kids to pick up from school, but we still need to live our life outside of architecture." - Click to Tweet

5 Steps to Overcoming your Burnout

Now you might’ve been like me, grinding away long hours and falling more and more into a burnout everyday. But we’re all in this together.

1. Stop being so perfect

If there's one thing in common of all architects - we are all perfectionist. We want those lines to be perfectly aligned, the Revit model to be perfectly organized and the entourage to have perfect shadows in Photoshop.

Stop it.

We will never be the perfect drafter, the best renderer, or the smoothest client negotiator. Because we simply can’t and shouldn’t spend 24/7 perfecting a rendering. That CD set is not going to be perfect; that’s why there are RFIs and submittals (and sometimes change orders).

I am not saying don’t do your job. Do it as best as you can without stressing out. A lot of time this is not your fault. It could be a client decision, a lack of staffing or there is simply just too much work and not enough time.

So first - shift your mindset from “I have to make it perfect.” to “I have done my best.”

2. Find your creative outlet

There are a couple things I love other than architecture - writing, branding, marketing and organizing. I started this blog as my creative outlet from my first job.

Let's face it. Real life architecture isn’t as fun as what we imagined in school. You'll need to find your creativity in other means to fulfill your soul.

Here’s a few ideas to start you off!

  • Design your own personal brand
  • Go learn about photography…
  • Join a competition with some of your friends

Do that one thing you love that you keep pushing off. For me, it's blogging that encompasses both my passion for writing, branding, marketing and architecture - and may be one day organizing!

3. Go eat a donut

You know that person in your office that’s always happy and smiling? You’re probably wondering why the hell is she so cheerful.

We have one here in the office. She seems like she has no worries in her life. She is always the passionate leader that’s cheering everyone on in her team. She’s always smiling no matter how much work we have to do.

Well, I found the secret (and all I had to do was go ask her).

“When you get older like me, you'll realize that taking a little break isn't going to kill anyone. All those deadlines will always get done one way or the other. So go eat a donut, go out for lunch, go to the gym. Believe that yourself and your team will get it done and it will be okay.”

That changed my perspective not only in architecture - but in life.

As we all know, it's architecture - not medicine. Taking a break isn’t going to kill anyone!

I encourage you today to step outside of your office, your studio, or wherever you’re working from. Go eat a donut, or pizza, or ice cream, or whatever. I won’t judge.

Just go out. Take a break. Breathe. It’ll get done - I promise.

4. Trust your team

You’re hitting a major deadline, and your boss gives you 6 not so experienced team members to help.

That’s good right? At least you’re getting help.

Well as it turns out....

  1. You’ve to get them familiar with this super complicated project.
  2. You’ve to teach them Revit which they know nothing about.
  3. You’re also teaching them how to do anything in a CD set.
  4. You’re answering SO MANY questions that you can’t even focus on your own work.

Sounds familiar? That was me last year. I was struggling so much between meeting the impossible deadline  and help them do their work that at one point I just wanted to give up.

But instead what I did changed everything.

I let go.

It took a lot for me to finally let go and trust that they can do it. Let’s just say I stopped being a control freak. (Stop being so perfect remember?)

Architecture is a team effort. You alone won’t build a building by yourself. If you can’t let it go and  trust your team, you won’t have a team.

You will be surprised what they can do when you give them freedom and guidance.

5. Go home

When was the last time you left on time from your job? When was the last time you left your studio before 2am?

The true moment I really stopped feeling burnout was when I started going home on time.

Believe me - it’s so hard to do. When I work normal hours I feel like I'm slacking off. When I'm in my bed at 11pm, I feel like I should've just left work.

Work life balance isn’t easy for architects especially those of us who are single, young, super eager to learn and do more.

Stop that guilty feeling in you that you need to keep working forever.

Stop the evil voice that’s telling you staying late means you’re getting more work done. (because really you’re not.)

Stop that mentality they embedded in us in architectural school.

Just Stop It.

Even though we’ve no kids to pick up from school, we still need to live our life outside of architecture.


So there you have it. Start shifting your mindset. All architects are workaholics - that’s how we got through architectural school.

Sometimes we are just so freaking obsessed with work that we slowly get burnt out without realizing it. But for all the hard work you put in, you deserve to have a healthy fulfilling life too.

Before you do anything else, today I want to just ask you to do ONE simple step…

Ready?

Got your Pen and Paper ready? Okay...

I want you to write down a daily affirmation in your sketchbook (I know you have one).

It can be anything like I’ll be less of a perfectionist. I’m going home at 6pm. I’ll have lunch outside in the sun...

Sound weird? Try it anyway. I know your sketchbook is the most sacred place in the world - write it there so no one else can see it. Try it for 3 days, then comment below and let me know how it goes.

It’s a little practice I started with myself that changed my mindsets completely.

You can do it. You just gotta tell yourself you can.

Then go eat a donut (ok that’s two steps).

All the other steps will come with it.


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CDS/PDD: 5 Types Of Documents Every Architect Needs To Know

You have drafted up so many construction documents in your young hipping career. But when you're asked a question what goes inside bidding documents, you've no idea.

You hear your project architect interchangeably using the terms “specs” and “project manual”. But did you know they’re actually not the same thing?

Don't worry. I've got you cover!

We’re going to look into every type of documents you’d need to know (not just for the CDS/PDD exam but for your daily practice). You can even download the CDS/PDD – Know Your Documents study guide at the end of the post before your exam!

 
We’re going to look into every type of documents you’d need to know for the are 4.0 CDS/are 5.0 PDD exam. You can even download the study guide at the end of the post before your exam! | Joann lui
 

CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENTS

This is the easiest to understand. Construction documents include everything you do to bring a project from design to a completed building. This includes:

  • Bidding Requirements
  • Contract Forms
  • Conditions of Contract
  • Specifications
  • Drawings
  • Addendum
  • Contract Modifications

Tips: Submittals are not part of construction document. Submittals are drawn by contractor and reviewed by you - you don’t actually draw them.

BIDDING/PROCUREMENT DOCUMENTS

Before you issue for construction, you'll usually issue a set of documents for bidding only. This is to help the owner award the contracts to the lowest responsible bidder. That's why the bidding documents include basically everything before contract is awarded and construction is started.

  • Bidding Requirements
  • Contract Forms
  • Conditions of Contract
  • Specifications
  • Drawings
  • Addendum

Tips: An addendum is to modify or clarify the procurement documents issued for bid. It's issued after you issue a bid set and before a contract is awarded. After a contract is awarded, any documents issued to make changes to the project are issued as bulletins.

PROJECT MANUAL

Many think of specifications as a written construction documents. Specifications communicate the type and quality of materials while drawings communicate the quantity and layout. But it's important to know that specifications don't equal project manual, but instead it's a primary component of a project manual.

Other documents included in a project manual are:

  • Bidding Requirements
  • Contract Forms
  • Conditions of Contract
  • Specifications

Tips: In 1963, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) introduced MasterFormat to organize information in a project manual. Know the sections, parts and divisions in a MasterFormat - they do show up in the exams!

CONTRACT DOCUMENTS

Contract documents includes deliverables after bidding is completed (i.e. owner-contractor agreement is executed). Any bidding requirements are NOT included in the contract documents. It includes the owner-contractor agreement, the general and supplementary conditions, the specs, contract drawings plus any changes or modifications made to the contract.

  • Contract Forms
  • Conditions of Contract
  • Specifications
  • Drawings
  • Addendum
  • Contract Modifications

Tips: Contract drawings on the other hand are the graphic illustration of the project. It's part of contract documents to show the size, form, quantity and relationships between materials and systems.

RECORD DRAWINGS / AS-BUILT DRAWINGS

Providing record drawing is an additional service of an architect. It's meant to record the building as constructed based on information provided by the contractor to the owner. Because the information is provided by the contractor, the architect has no obligation to verify if the record drawings represent the built work.

(A201-3.11) Contractor shall maintain record drawings on site to mark up field changes & selections made during construction which will later be transferred onto a permanent reproducible medium for architect to submit to owner. 

It's comprised of all the deliverables that the contractor used to build the project including any changes/modifications that've been made during bidding/construction.

  • Specifications
  • Drawings
  • Addendum
  • Contract Modifications
  • Submittals

Tips: As-designed record drawings are what we as architect designed for the project (including the drawings, specs, addenda, supplemental instructions, change orders, construction change directives & minor changes in the work).

More Tips: B101-2007 Owner-Architect Agreement outlines all the basic services & additional services. Give that a read. It's important to know what they are for the exams!


Now that you understand every type of documents that architects need to know in a broader picture - go ahead and download the CDS/PDD - Know Your Documents study guide. It's designed to help you understand each document more deeply.

What constitutes as bidding requirements? Where does a change order fall in place? What is a submittal? The worksheet outlines every type of deliverables for you, so you don't have to go out searching for it when you're crunching your exam!

For more information about project documents, read up Part 3: Project Delivery in The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice*.


What constitutes as bidding requirements? Where does a change order fall in place? What is a submittal? The worksheet outlines every type of deliverables for you, so you don't have to go out searching for it when you're crunching your exam! | ARE 4.0 CDS & ARE 5.0 PDD | Joann Lui

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6 Tips For Completing Your NCARB IDP

Remember when you first graduated, you looked at the 5600 IDP hours and you thought to yourself how am I ever going to get through this? 5600 hours = 700 days = roughly 2 years if you work everyday. But for most people, it usually takes 3 to 4 years because: first, you don't work every single day; second, you don't always get to work on the required categories. For me, it took about 3 years. When I got the email from NCARB that I had finished my IDP, it was one of the most exciting moments in my life. I want to share with you some tips that I have learned in completing my IDP, and some helpful links at the end of the article to help you navigate through this journey.

 
Remember when you first graduated, you looked at the 5600 IDP hours and you thought to yourself how am I ever going to get through this? 5600 hours = 700 days = roughly 2 years if you work everyday. But for most people, it usually takes 3 to 4 years because: first, you don't work every single day; second, you don't always get to work on the required categories. Read more on the blog. | Just bean architects
 

1. You gotta ask for it

Some hours just like to play hard to get, like Construction Administration/Observation, General Project Management or even Business Operations. The only thing you can do is ask for it.

During this past annual review, I took the time to let my supervisor know that I needed my CA experience. Not only do I need it for my IDP but I don't feel competent without the experience on a job site. The next day, they put me on a project that has a lot of construction going on. Since then I have been stamping those submittals, going on job site, drinking coffee with contractors while punch listing. A couple months later, I am done with my IDP hours!

FACT: Make it a priority to meet with your supervisor to review your IDP progress every couple months. Not everyone has time, so it's your job to bring it to their attention whenever it's needed.

2. Take Control of It

Don't just ask for it - TAKE CONTROL OF IT.

If you are doing a zoning analysis, ask if you can go on a site visit. If you are doing a sketch for a change order, ask if you can go on site to see the problem. If you are doing drawings for a presentation, ask if you can go to the client meeting. Your employer can provide you with opportunities to gain the experience, but it's your responsibility to get as much out of it as possible. This way you can not only get your IDP done faster, but it will foster your career in becoming a more well-rounded architect.

3. Find a firm that fulfills it

If your firm is not providing you with the necessary experience, you need to find one that will. We don't have many first few years to go through. If you don't get it now, when would you get it?

For a very long time, I have finished all my IDP hours except for CA. But even after I expressed my concern to my previous firm, I was still always sitting at my desk pushing out pretty renderings or cranking on those CDs. I knew that it would probably take them a year or two to staff me for a construction administration role. So I decided it was about time to move on and find a firm that could fulfill my IDP. I am not saying we should just quit our jobs as soon as we don't get what we want. You should definitely talk to your supervisor a couple times before looking for alternative options.

4. go volunteer

If you don't have any Leadership and Services hours, just go volunteer! You don't need me to tell me where you can go volunteer.

I have seen many intern architects who have finished all their hours except for Leadership and Services. Most of them say they don't have the time to volunteer, but it really doesn't take that long. I did ACE to fulfill the 80 hours requirement in a semester. Talk to your colleagues first and see if there are any volunteer groups in the firm. All you need is a couple hours a week and do it for a couple weeks then you are done!

FACT: Leadership and Services hours are submitted separately as a supplemental experience. If it's done within your firm, you could ask your supervisor to approve it or whoever is the head of the voluntary service.

5. don't forget to log your hours

To effectively complete your IDP, you should keep a log of your hours everyday. Everyone might do it differently, so here is my system:

  1. At the end of a work day, I write down all my hours on a sketch book.
  2. After 8 weeks, I input it in the IDP Experience Hour Workbook from NCARB.
  3. 3 months later, I submit the hours in bulk and have my supervisor approve it.
  4. If he forgets to approve it (it always happens), I would remind him a couple weeks later.

Our time sheet also has a system that lets us put in the IDP categories for our hours, but it's just more flexible to do it on my own.

FACT: Submit your hours as regularly as possible. You will lose 50% of your hours if you wait past 8 months.

6. Start as early as possible

Don't wait until your full-time job to start submitting your hours. You can record hours as soon as you start an internship in school.

I started recording my hours when I had my first internship in school, and have been keeping an active record ever since. I would also record any continuing education hours if I go to a Lunch and Learn or lectures at the AIA. There are also many ways to earn IDP hours other than working in an architectural firm. For example, the Emerging Professional's Companion lets you earn hours by working with a mentor on the activities (it could be an architect you know, a professor or supervisor).  

FACT: Keeping an NCARB record active saves you money. NCARB has an article on their website that serves its justice.

Here are links related to IDP that you might find helpful:

If you have any questions about IDP or suggestions for other interns, feel free to leave a comment and let us know!

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Aspiring architect and graphic designer. I design buildings and write about it. My interests revolve around urban architecture, professional development, arts and graphics.