changing gears


I am a solo practitioner. It is common for us to manage multiple projects simultaneously. In fact, many of us could have 5 to 10 projects going on at one given moment. This takes a unique ability to juggle (projects not chainsaws).

In order to maintain an adequate amount of work and income level, one must have multiple projects going on simultaneously. The challenge for me is going from one project to another, or more specifically one type of task to another – in the same day. I don’t like to change gears quickly – I’m not good at changing gears quickly. For the record, this is not limited just to solo practitioners, but any architect that has to manage multiple projects.


Two weeks ago I completed a set of construction drawings for large project and sent them off to the plan examiner for review. I had been working on them most of the summer. The thinking in the type of activity is one of specificity, concentration and heavy computer work. There is still design thinking as well as all of the other things we consider as architects; however, there is a specific goal or specific set of tasks that has to be done. You sit down and you do it. This concentration level may go on for many days or many weeks and perhaps many months. I know for large firms it could take years (wow).

Now to switch over to a different series of tasks can be quite challenging.


The beginning of a design project requires a certain amount of research and a great degree of concept development, strategic thinking and big picture planning. It’s not very specific at this point – it’s all-inclusive. I typically use lots of trace paper, Sharpie markers, pencils, sketchbooks and other types of tools to think through these design issues. I am not one to merely jump on the computer to work through broad-brush type of planning.

Therefore, to go from one type of skill set to another within a given day without some type of break or means to adjust my brain to be quite difficult. It’s bad enough architect’s brains switch from left side to right side so often you can see the smoke from our ears and that twitch…well, need I explain it?


I try to ramp up or down (whatever direction it is) by transitional tasks of lesser concentration such as correspondence or office work or something that can allow me to come down from heavy concentration to access the more creative parts of my brain. This goes both directions at the beginning of the project when I’m required to think broadly and diversely. At times, the ideas do not come quickly and the clarity of thought is absent. At times, I’m easily distracted (OK most times).

I do believe in a design process that is active, requiring miles and miles of tracing paper, testing and studying considering alternatives. Nevertheless, some of my clearest ideas come from walking away from my desk at times and thinking about the project while doing something else. I’ve had my best ideas while driving or shaving or showering or trying to fall sleep at night. Sometimes that last one can be a real problem.


Think of it like a car. Do you remember owning and driving a stick shift? One cannot go from first gear to fourth gear – the car just won’t respond. You must go in order – 1, 2, 3, and 4 (sometimes 5).

I thoroughly enjoy being a solo practitioner. I like the things it affords; however, there are days when I’m just not operating outside of first gear. Getting up to second gear or third gear can be difficult. There are days when I’m racing full gear and then the interruptions sometimes drive me crazy. It could be the end of the day when I know it’s time to quit, it could be a phone call, it could be remembering something else that is urgent (that I forgot to do earlier) or anything else that interrupts the concentration of a specific task. Perhaps it’s a deficiency on my part, but I think it’s just part of being an architect.

How about you – how do you change gears?


photos are from stock photo galleries on – click on photo to see author (used under the Standard Restrictions)

changing gears

3 thoughts on “changing gears

  1. Your post so matches my own daily experience. These days…the past four months…I’ve been changing gears by going to the gym. It’s a big deal and when I miss (like I did yesterday) it feels like I lost my wallet.

  2. Andrew says:

    I enjoyed this. And I love reading about people who enjoy solo practice. It’s in my future and I mostly hear what’s difficult about it

    Shifting gears for me tends to happen when my boss needs something. I feel like it happens pretty fast. When he is out of the office I have a much harder time shifting gears, and by that, I mean shifting projects. I feel like i can work on a few different projects in a day in fourth or fifth gear…the contractor calls and I get something done, my boss needs a few things to further his work on a second project, and now I can get back to what I’m doing on project number three, and take care of a few officey things for a project that winding down or ramping up.

    Other people needing things tends to be the determining factor in jamming me around my gear box. But when I’m left to my own devices I tend to stray away from my list and can certainly spend hours or a day longer than I intended on a project

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