A writer friend (of a certain age) was waxing nostalgic about the good old days before e-mail. She’d work on an assignment, finish by Friday, slip the copy into a FedEx folder, and ship it to her editor. Maybe she’d catch the latest movie with a friend, or just loaf, because the weekend was hers. But once the Internet was up and running, her editors began to require attached files, which they could turn around in a day or two. Slowly at first, her free time began to erode. Now she’s working pretty much 24/7. I can feel her pain. When I began practice, negotiations with clients and the building team were either face-to-face or by phone and fax. Today, BlackBerrys, iPhones, and Twitter keep me permanently attached. Thanks to a profession that’s gone global, we can be reached at any hour of the night, and the person on the other end wants an answer right then.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a Luddite longing for the old days of snail mail. Social media have allowed our profession to proliferate, which is no small benefit at a time when we’re all chasing work. It allows us to produce better and faster. But being on call any hour of the day is taking a toll on a lot of us. You’re at a restaurant with your family; it’s a quiet night out with the kids. Suddenly your BlackBerry vibrates. Who do you put on hold?
How many of us dare to get off the grid for just a weekend hiking trip with friends, or to simply chill with a book? Won’t the colleague or client who fails to reach us think we’re “less serious” than other members of the design team who have allowed themselves to be available even if their kids are performing in a school play?
For our own sake—and for the sake of our family and friends and those on the job with whom we interact—we have to carve hours out of the workweek for life. It’s not time wasted; time out promotes our physical health and the health of our relationships with family and friends. In fact, being untethered from work can lead to greater breakthroughs and, yes, enjoyment when we settle back into the office.
The author of the Declaration of Independence—an architect—wrote about the pursuit of happiness. By “happiness” he had something greater in mind than feel-good pleasure. He had a profound grasp of why it’s important to give ourselves the time to understand what it means to be alive. It’s an understanding that doesn’t come from work alone.
Clark D. Manus, FAIA, 2011 President