If you live and work in an urban hub like Seattle, San Francisco, or New York, a significant shift has likely affected you. You may not have even noticed it (because you were so busy), but we’re in the middle of a deep recession. It’s not an economic recession, those days are fortunately behind many of us; though our amnesia-prone culture seems to have forgotten the lessons learned at the bottom of the economic collapse last decade. No, this is a recession of time, and patience, and thoughtfulness. It’s a recession that’s preventing the ability to be present and make mindful decisions in our work and in our lives. It’s a recession of personal bandwidth.

You hear it all the time, how busy everyone is now. People are crazy busy, so busy that they’re on the fringe of declaring email bankruptcy. Professionals are applying the rules of emergency room triage to their to-do lists. Attending to your texts and voicemails simply forfeits valuable time holding back the tide of mounting emails, to say nothing about doing the actual work. The design and construction industries are no exception to this condition, in fact they may be some of the most infected. The fact that more people are moving to urban areas than can be accommodated, along with low interest rates, and frenzied competition for scarce land, all builds up to the perfect storm for developers, architects, builders, and consultants. The amount of work right now in the built-environment simply can’t get pushed quickly enough through the funnel of reality.

You won’t hear a lot of protesting about this predicament, as most people would argue that it’s great to have an abundance of work. At the same time, with the balance of most people’s bandwidth bank accounts in the red, the implications are very concerning and very real. All of this mindlessness and busyness is leaving blind spots in the built-environment, and while tower cranes animate the skylines of our cities, a disturbing amount of this work will soon be a testament to this lack of mental bandwidth. The ill-tailored 4-pack and 6-pack townhomes are spreading through the multi-family zones of the Pacific Northwest like a cancer, while thoughtless apartment buildings are wiping clean the layered cultures of Seattle’s neighborhoods with mechanical efficiency. Projects are being produced as quickly as the industry can pump them out, rewarding short-sightedness and reinforcing bad habits.

Most cities get a growth opportunity like the one before us every 50 years or so, and the decisions made during these boom times will be with us for generations. Designing the built-environment requires rational analysis, careful consideration, and masterful judgement – qualities that are challenging to achieve, even when ample time is available. Without these qualities at work in the design world, we’ll all be paying the price for the lack of bandwidth by way of a built-environment that falls short of meeting society’s needs.

Here at BUILD, we’re grateful for a strong economy and the opportunity to play a role in the design of our city. At the same time, we’re acutely aware of the dangers of an industry in such a state of overdrive that it leaves little time for mindfulness and being present. We’re also firm believers that the bandwidth recession doesn’t have to result in thoughtless design and inadequate projects. For today’s post, we’ve identified 5 work-life philosophies we practice on a daily basis that help us defy the trend of this recession and give us access to mindfulness in life and work.

1. Keep fitness in your routine. Though it may seem advantageous to your schedule to cut out that workout from your day, the body fuels the mind and getting a bit of cardiovascular exercise is known for helping people focus and think clearly. Exercise boosts the immune system, helps prevent disease, and promotes positive self-esteem. Plus, who wants people designing their city who don’t get out for some fresh air and exercise on a regular basis? Having fitness goals similar to professional goals is helpful. And beyond all of the well-known platitudes of fitness, we’ve also noted two rather significant benefits:

  • Getting exercise and refreshing our bandwidth (even for a short time) provides the space available to solve a complicated problem and identify blind spots in our work that we wouldn’t otherwise distinguish. All this simply by letting the brain air out during fitness.
  • Most of our exercise is around the city we live and work in, so we are able to see emerging patterns and changes in the fabric of the city in real time, over time. While we run and while we pedal.

2. Eject the distractions like a virus. In our world, these are the round-table design discussions, lunchtime presentations from sales reps, professional conventions, and award ceremonies, to name a few. There’s no greater dilemma in the architecture profession than talking about doing good design when you could simply be doing good design. Choose your extra-curricular activities carefully and thoughtfully.

3. Practice the science of design. No matter the project type, scale, or location, practicing architecture requires analysis and working through a set of logistical steps. Most design firms have established systems for navigating through the design process. Our process relies heavily on a scientific process. To us, architecture isn’t an art project that you can spin your wheels on indefinitely. Architecture is pragmatic, and a good design process stems from mastering the logistics. A bandwidth recession is no time to diverge from such a system, in fact, it’s the reason most firms develop a clear process.

4. Surround yourself with a good team. One of our most successful strategies to save time, keep our sanity, and enjoy our work in the bandwidth drought can be found in our own crew, consultants, tradespeople, and advocates in regulatory groups. Creating a team that works well together and is accountable for their actions is invaluable. Being able to delegate to individuals you have complete trust in frees up brain space to tackle more issues. Not to mention, it’s a heck of a lot more fun to work with people who are fully engaged.

5. Take a hard look at where your time is going. Start your day by tackling the three hardest, or most dreaded, things on your to do list so they don’t drain your energy throughout the day. Valuable tip: it takes more energy to not do a thing rather than just doing that thing. Check those items off your list and get back to the enjoyable stuff.

That covers our thoughts on the Great Bandwidth Recession of the mid-2010s. Feel free to share the practices that keep your own work and life focused and thoughtful in the comments below.

Stay Mindful and Cheers from Team BUILD