Overtime

Dallas not sleeping during a snowstorm - 2001-ish

Dallas not sleeping during a snowstorm – 2001-ish

Overtime has always been kind of a hot topic in the architecture world.  Over my (erch) 17 year career, I have worked three places that paid overtime – two big firms, which just paid straight time; and one which paid time and a half.  That latter one ended up folding.  I did, however, buy my first road bike, a 1999 Cannondale R300, exclusively with overtime money.

It seems from my personal experience that most firms call all of their employees “decision makers,” and therefore pay them a salary.  That is all.  There is some consensus that an employee should be paid overtime as an intern, meaning that once you are registered, you are no longer eligible (however supposedly one would be paid more).

So this article in Entrepreneur Magazine caught my eye this morning.  It talked about how a new move in Washington would force more people to be paid overtime.  This, according to Entrepreneur, would stifle new entrepreneurs, and would in effect make employers restrict employee’s hours.  So, that employee who wants to put forth the extra effort won’t be allowed to… which not only stifles upward mobility, but also innovation.

Because everything stifles innovation.

Anyway, the first thought I had was: wow, this could have serious ramifications on our industry!  On my old bosses, on startups, on me!  Oh no!  And if everyone got paid time and a half as an intern, who on earth would want to become a registered architect?  The marketplace already shows that there is, if any, a negligible bump in compensation once someone becomes a registered architect.  This would, in fact, keep people from progressing in their careers!

Then, I started to think about my experience.  The architecture industry in particular has always reveled in working a ridiculous amount of hours.  It is a badge of honor.  From reading The Fountainhead to overnighters in studio to the workplace, putting in the hours has been what was most important.  I worked for a group who particularly pushed such a mantra: if you’re not here working at 8:00 PM and later every night, you are not working hard enough.

That is where I worked when I decided to start going back to school (they had known this when I signed on).  I had tons of papers to write, and I had definite cutoffs on some days when I had to go to class.  Class was at 6:00PM which means (gasp) I had to leave AT FIVE O’CLOCK.

I still had to get my stuff done.  I was at a (then) startup company, and had already worked many nights into the 2:00AM range.  I couldn’t do it anymore.  There are only 24 hours in each day that we all have, and I had made the commitment to myself that I was going to get a degree.

So something quite odd happened.  After only 6 months or so of this (leaving on time, having to seriously cut back my hours, etc.), I was approached by a partner.  He took me aside and said: “we’ve all been noticing you’ve been stepping it up lately.”  I suppose I had been.  I was figuring out how to do my work much more efficiently because I literally did not have the time to do it, and I was actually getting better in the process.  I was actually making an impression by forcing myself to work less hours.

I hate the cliché work smarter not harder, but there is some truth in it to me: its not the number of hours you put into a job, but simply what your output is.  Sometimes we all have to work late.  However, I like to say that if someone can’t get their work done within a reasonable amount of hours in the day, it is because of either:

  • Poor individual time management (who is writing a blog post at 9:40 this morning?  Yes I will be working late today)
  • Poor management (how long sir, have you been sitting on this, until you finally gave it to me to do?); or
  • unreasonable expectations by a client, or some other outside uncontrollable force.

Everybody makes mistakes, that’s OK and normal, and sometimes you have to work late.  But it shouldn’t be a badge of honor and it should most certainly not be a business model.  If the real response to this new legislation really is to cut back hours, I would challenge business owners and overzealous employees to get more out of the time you have.  And those who want to work long hours to excel?  Do it on your own time if you think it is THAT important.  Hours can be important, especially when starting out – because there are things that will take a young person four hours to do that a senior person can do in twenty minutes (in theory, that is why senior people get paid more.  In theory).  I see that as an investment in yourself, but the rest of your life also needs some time!  For instance, at my last “real job,” I was working alone on the weekends in the office – because I chose to go to the gym in the middle of the day, cutting down my usable hours in the week.  I feel like no one can keep someone from working; however, I don’t think sheer hours of work is what should get you ahead – it is the quality and quantity of your output.

An update, since the world is waiting on me

I think most of these blog posts have to do with me continuing to want to add to the site, but then I never get around to it.  So then a few months go by, and then I decided to write another blog post about how I would like to continue to write blog posts.  I suppose it is some vicious cycle that I just can’t seem to get out of.

Figure 1.  The Blogging Cycle.

Figure 1. The Blogging Cycle.

Actually, I have written a few things, but it has been for my company’s website.  However, I have still decided to hold off on publishing those, because… Well, it’s hard to show anything on my website!  Everything is either in design, in for permitting, or under construction.  As interesting as underground plumbing rough-in is, images of select fill and PVC pipe don’t really state my mission.  But, I guess one sign of me not writing here is: things are actually still going well on the company front.  One of my “career maker” projects is well underway, and maybe I can pay myself (meaning my credit card) back for all of these company expenses.  Although starting an architecture firm is relatively cheap compared to other businesses, it seems like it slowly creeps up on you, especially when bankrolling it without a partner.  Throw on top of that – the decision to do this was right after I made a decision to acquire my first income real estate with a good friend of mine, so say goodbye to tens of thousands of dollars that maybe… I could have used on the business!  I guess by the end of this year, I might add up all of the costs associated with this venture.

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Here is my lease property. It has since been painted, and it is nicer and cooler than my own house.  It is also fully leased.  Yay.

I may have written this here before, I’m not sure, and this Saturday morning, over a nice cup of coffee, or eight of them, I’m not interested in researching it – but the reason I wanted to start this was frankly because a mentor of mine told me:

“if you want to do something in this world, and no one else is doing it, go do it yourself.”

So here I am.  Right now I don’t really look like I’m doing anything differently – I have a small architecture firm with a good team of consultants and contract labor, trying to stay lean through the start-up times, but I plan on truly building it.  However, that’s just the start.  I began the company to eventually develop real estate, which has also been done, and the architecture is a means to help start that venture.  I’m starting my first two development projects, so the business is slowly getting off of the ground, but the deal cycle on those is extremely long…  and the design side keeps growing, so I can’t complain.  The ultimate goal here is to have a design-oriented real estate development company. Honestly I don’t know many successful ones, and none in the area.  So here I am!  Just a chick getting out of the shell, but riding a little wave of success on my way out.  Even though there is nothing on the company’s website, I’m pleased to say that ever since I started this, I have been slowly putting myself into a position to make a real impact on our industry and our city, and I’ll be excited to move expand to the next one (I have a city in my long-range sites).

I took a trip to Marfa in September to write out business plans and get a lot of stuff down on paper.  And take a handful of photos.  I’ll be coming up on six months of that trip, and it will soon be time to revisit and revise it. I looked it over during the New Year, and I know there is a lot that will already need to be changed.  Yes, I’m actually living the advice of writing a business plan, and treating it as a “living document!’  Right now, I guess it is for my benefit only.

View of the Rio Grande as I wrote the first draft of my business plan.  Click the image for my shots of Marfa.

View of the Rio Grande as I wrote the first draft of my business plan. Click the image for my shots of Marfa on Flickr.

So more boring stuff coming your way:

  • Want to start an architecture firm?  This is what it cost me… This will be late in December.
  • I have an upcoming trip, late in the summer, which will include the Philippines and a good portion of China.  This trip will include visiting my sister, who has not left just yet, but has set up her blog here.  I’m also planning on making connections in China, both for development and another little business I want to explore.
  • I’m trying to upload “everyday photos” which aren’t posted every day, but I need some activity on the site!
  • I’ll probably write about my experience on my first half marathon.  Running Sucks.

That’s all I have on the docket right now, other than maybe some shop talk here and there… But for whatever reason, writing and publishing this garbage information is therapeutic to me, so just bear in mind… It’s all about me here.

The Year Ahead is Actually Looking Good

A shot I took on a recent trip to Marfa, misguidedly holding the camera out of the sunroof while driving.

A shot I took on a recent trip to Marfa, misguidedly holding the camera out of the sunroof while driving.

After quite a long time of being concerned about how things will turn out for the real estate industry, the city, and the region, if little old me can start feeling optimistic about his fledgling little nobody company, times have to be good.

Two projects I have should start construction at the beginning of the year, and the “big one” should really start moving at about the same time.  I’m also working on something that, if successful (I will know my February or so), might be one of the most ambitious planning exercises that the area has seen in a long time. At that point, it will be time to scale.  It’s kind of scary and exciting at the same time!  I still don’t have it all figured out and maybe I never will… But that first real, full time hire – with the overhead that comes with it – is a big hurdle.  Over the next two weeks, after I take an ever-so-short vacation (it will be my first legitimate vacation in years), I’ll head up to visit my family and probably spent most of the time working on projections and financial models.

On top of that, there is website content, networking, Christmas parties, business development, all of the other stuff that I haven’t seemed to have been able to do. I also have the actual work – that has to fit in there somewhere, right?  I’m looking at working with a virtual personal assistant to try to get some of the minutia off of my plate.  We’ll see how that goes, but I don’t what to offload!  I guess that is going to take some time to figure out.  But there are definitely some things that I do that… May not be the highest and best use of my time, so it’s worth a try.

I’m very thankful for this year.  There have been many trials, some I have been happy to leave behind, another which I still can’t seem to let go.  I have been lucky to have people around me who support me, others who have given me some space, and some good old fashioned luck/divine intervention.  2014 will be the year to pay all of those people back!  You know what else might be cool?  Writing something interesting on here.

I am very interested as to why WordPress thinks I should tag this post with “Great Blue Heron” and “Hawaii.”  I think I’m going to.

Owning a business versus owning a job

In my last job, I was an “owner,” at least by title and document.  This had its advantages and drawbacks.  One of the advantages was an eligibility to be a part of EO.  My old place didn’t have the income requirements for full membership (it was also founded in 2008), so I was put into the “accelerator program,” which was more of an education tool to help businesses get to the minimum requirements for full membership.

One f the things they talked a lot about was owning a business versus owning a job.  The premise is pretty simple – if you aren’t there, what happens?  If everything hinges on the business owner, they are tied to it.  Although the benefits and rewards can be different, the fact is: its another job.

It gets worse if you simply “strike it off on your own,” which is what I have done.  Somehow, out of the gate, I have done pretty well.  This is in the midst of several life changes, including boo-hooing for months over some girl that really didn’t love me anyway.  I’ve been distracted and self –destructive, and I feel like the fog is just now thinning out.

This is pretty representative of my business plan as it stands.

This is pretty representative of my business plan as it stands.

Somehow I’ve kept things afloat, but I really I have just been working for myself.  There are a lot of freedoms to that, but I don’t really see this as my end game.  Several People have congratulated me, wishing me good-luck on my entrepreneurial adventure.  Honestly, so far, it hasn’t been one: I’ve surprised myself by maintaining my living without a job, which is pretty cool, but now… I feel like its time to build something..

Next year is already looking really good.  However, as I look at it and get excited about the opportunity that awaits,  I still haven’t figured out how to scale the business – it can’t be completely about me.  Its daunting to  think about the expenses of all of that – office space, medical insurance, salaries… At least I’m not out looking to buy a factory and dealing with raw materials, inventory, etc… So honestly the barrier to entry isn’t that high.  But its still a lot for someone who is earning his own way.  But I’ve decided to focus on it.  Step by step.

Thanks, Brain – no really, thanks. By that I mean you suck.

Sadly, I know the significance of this image.

Sadly, I know the significance of this image.

I’ve always thought of myself as a lone worker, even when working in an office.  Sometimes, it really has been that way – I usually end up handling multiple projects, typically smaller ones, with small teams and many times no team or support (even if it was promised).  Now, it’s quite literally “Tyler versus the world,” and I’ll admit: its pretty intimidating.

I know eventually I will get used to it.  I’m just tired of waking up at 3:00 AM with random thoughts in my head – mostly about money.  The funny thing is, I actually have the money thing covered for a while.  I’m very lucky to have some great clients who want me to work for them, and my immediate future looks bright and fits in my overall business plan (which has been yet to be refined, but I’ll get there soon enough).

Then there’s all the other stuff – billing, taxes, cash flow… Although I was good with accounting in school and I’m relatively comfortable with it, unfortunately I have to be in the mood to do it well (then again, that’s the way I am with design work, which can be infuriating).  It is, however, just one more thing I have to take on.

Unless one day I just win the lottery, this is the best time for me to do this.  I have a good backlog of work, and more opportunities have suddenly reared their head – I’ve actually been amazed at how the universe has unfolded.  I have probably said it on this blog before, but once I made the decision to actually do this, many things fell into place very unexpectedly.  So I am pleased.

And I wake up at night.  A lot.

Which, really, isn’t very helpful with getting my work done.  I even wake up with thoughts of whom to hire, when, why, and how it fits.  I wake up wanting to run and rerun budgets and projections in Quickbooks (new feature!).  I would imagine that this would be much more helpful to do after a good night’s sleep, a cup of coffee, and a nice paleo breakfast.  But no.  For whatever reason, my body thinks it is a much better idea to wake up at three or four in the morning to do it, so the rest of the day will be completely destroyed.  I’ll admit I came up with a good idea Thursday night Friday morning… but was that really necessary?!

Anyway, things are good!  I don’t know why my mind races so much.

Lets look at the good things:

  1. I have already spent all of the money I will need to for a while on insurance, equipment, software, and all of the irritating expenses (although it’s not a high barrier to entry as, saying buying a factory.  Which I want to do one day).
  2. I have a great backlog.  Current count puts me at (2) signed projects, (2) 99% projects, (1) 80% project (probably 100% if I make myself cheaper, but I can’t), (2) of my own development projects and concepts, and (2) potential game changer meetings (even if my game has barely begun).
  3. I have a spot at a really nice office with good people in it.
  4. I have low overhead (even though the new car wasn’t a great idea, and I just bought an investment property – if anyone wants to rent a place on King’s Highway in Oak Cliff, let me know)

The bad:

  1. Its only me.  I have some admin support through the office and I could use their manpower if required, and I know other people to help me get my work done… Still, as insanely awesome as I might be, discussing decision making with another person with skin in the game is of great benefit.
  2. I don’t have it all figured out yet (does anyone?).
  3. I don’t have a big cushion of money.  I think I accidentally spent that on the investment property above (should be ready October 2013!).  even so, I don’t know how much I would have to have in the bank to make me feel good anyway.
  4. I’m tired.  But, my trip is booked, and in a few weeks, good or bad, I will have contemplation time and all of that other stuff.  I might come back crazy, but hopefully just recharged a bit.

So I made these lists with equal numbers, but the bad just really isn’t nearly as strong as the good.  So while I’m sitting here awake with a nice cup of coffee at 4:00 on Saturday afternoon (oh crap its already 4) all of this makes sense.

Aaand then 3:00AM rolls around again.  Grr.

Side note: I Google Imaged “3:00 AM” for the second image, like I sometimes do when I don’t feel like taking a photo myself.  Note I did not source the meme.  Anyway, the image was from a blog by someone who was caught in the sex trafficking business and has gotten out of it.  Although not a comfortable subject, I suggest the four of you who read this blog have a look: http://9to20.wordpress.com/

What is your End Game?

Someone asked me that a week or so ago.  To be honest, I really don’t know at this point what my real end game is.  It is something I will put on my agenda for my “reset” trip.   I have a small list of things to accomplish while I am there, and I honestly can’t wait for the time to come.

Come to think of it, I better book that trip.

This is me back when I knew what my plan was.  What happened?

This is me back when I knew what my plan was. What happened?

Anyway, it is something to think about, especially when you’re striking out on your own.  Right now, I am already starting to worry about how I will accomplish everything I want to accomplish.  I have a lot of work ahead of me – a lot that will earn me quite a bit of fee.  But at some point you have to stop saying “yes.”  If you’re not smart about it, you just wind up spinning your wheels, missing our targets, and then things start to go sour for everyone.

So you have to start thinking – do I want to expand?  What does that look like?  What does another person do to my business?

I have a general idea of where things will go.  A general business plan.  This will get hammered out a little bit during the weeks to come.  But there is something more.  When someone asked me that question, he was asking ME: what is YOUR end game?

At the end of the day, when you build something, it is for you.  “You” might be many things.  A family.  A partnership.  Some fiends.  Or, just “you” against the world.  Or with it, depending on how you look at things.

A year ago, I was in an organization called EO.  I was in what is known as the Accelerator Group, ones who didn’t make – but were striving, to get their companies to a revenue goal to “graduate” to full membership.  Many of the people I met there were on their way, others fell into the category of simply “owning a job.”  It seems like the more influential people I met did not fall into this category – they had built businesses, and more often than not, sold them.  Others, simply built their company around how they anted to live their life.  I don’t know – maybe I’ll do both.

But it all needs to keep one thing in mind – what is the end game?  How do you want to live your life?  What, in your mind, makes it all worthwhile?  And, perhaps more importantly – how do you want to be remembered?

Whether you want to build a business or not, I think its important to think about that.  For a while, I did – but it was only about lifestyle.  In our culture, that is typically tied to income. So income was a goal.

Maybe now – not so much.  Of course it is important.  But, more important is quality of life and enjoying not only the fruits of labor, but the path along the way.  So, for me, the question of “end game” includes the “current game” along the way.

So I guess the answer just got a lot more complicated.  Dammit.

Reset

That’s what I’m doing, in a way.  Im following my dreams, wanting to be the big player, actually trying to execute on something I have been waiting on for quite a while.

This is the only thing I own with a reset button.  Hmm.

This is the only thing I own with a reset button.   At one time I think everything had one.

Sometimes, you just have to take your shot.

It’s a meaningful time.  Today I sat down to focus on some sort of philosophy  – since this is my company, I want it – at lest for now –  to be a personal expression.  I want that expression to be effective, to attract other people who carry the same sort of hopes and dreams I do.  After adding those people, that philosophy will change from a person, to the philosophy of a group, a company, a culture.

I know that many times a lot gets lost along the way.  Its not a dilution of the original vision – sometimes I think that maybe the boat just starts drifting in a direction it was never intended to go – because times got too good, people got too greedy, or times got bad and people got too desperate.  Or something hit someone out of left field.  We are all just people.  And people are affected by heir lives, their families, their bodies, and all sorts of stuff that we just don’t want to acknowledge.

Aaaand now I’m the one in left field.  Focus.

I decided to write this post after jotting down a lot of words on what I think my philosophy is, and how I would translate that into an expression for my venture.   Maybe I’ll get there.  But I started crawling around in my head, and now I’m finding that there are too many things jumbled up in there.  Too many things that want to come out, probably more that want to stay put.

So, before I go full bore into the woods of the unknown, maybe its time to get to know myself a little better.

I had the privilege of talking to a business owner here locally who has done very well for himself.  Since he also has a design background, he and I have a common thread and, thanks to a common friend, I was able to make an easy introduction and get some one on one face time with him.  All of this, by the way, was through the organization I have chosen to do my community service through.  Anyway…  He told me that I have to sit down and really be honest with myself.  What are my weaknesses?  What are my real weaknesses and fears – things I would not admit to anyone?

Have I even asked myself that questions?  Do I want to know what’s in there?  Do I want to write it down?

Write it down, he told me, and write it on something that you will throw away.  Only something that you will see, so you can let it all out.  These are some of the things that he has written down, and it has directed how he lives his life, explored the business world, and worked through his relationships:

  • Write about what makes you happy.
  • Write about what scares you.
  • Write about what will change.

That’s a short list, but a lot of stuff comes with that.  I sat down to write some sort of company philosophy and ended up with a 2,000 word raving piece of work.  There might be something good in there.  I’ll have to sleep on it.

But still – have I really been honest with myself?  Honest with what really motivates me?  Makes me happy?  What I think makes me happy?

I took a leadership course last year which puts things into boxes – you figure out what your goals are – short term, long term, all of that – and work through it,  Write it down.  I did that.  Was I really honest with myself?  I think so.   All of us did it in a class together.  We were asked, much of the time, to share it with others.  I’m not exactly sure that is where true honesty comes from, because while sharing with others is good, one continues to put a veil on things for others to see.  Like it or not, people do.

The guy who ran this thing encouraged, though, that one do this alone in solitude – he does it every year (perhaps more).  So as I started crawling around in my head, tripping over spider webs, I have started to wonder – would this work for me?

I don’t think this would be considered a reset.   I guess more of a meet and greet.  I’m thinking I should try it before a full-blown launch into the unknown.