You are five days away from your deadlines or submissions. You believe that if you pull back to back all-nighters, you can conquer your design problems and get away from the dreadful tag of late submission. You have the snacks, a cup of strong coffee and a work desk that’s calling for your attention. There are three possibilities as to what can happen next:
Specimen 1: Sits down at his/her desk, opens up the laptop, decides to watch something for half an hour to wake themselves up. Half an hour turns into an hour and so forth. Next thing they know, it’s close to 4:00 am and they haven’t even started yet.
Specimen 2: Sits down at his/her desk and gets right to it. An hour or two into their intense work session, they decide to reward themselves with a 10-15 minute nap. They set multiple alarms (every 10 minutes actually) because the impending fear of not waking up constantly pricks at the back of their head. Alas, the alarms go to waste, 10 minutes turn into hours and if they’re lucky, they wake up just in time for class.
Specimen 3: Sits down at his/ her desk and gets into a work zone that nothing can attack or destroy. They eat distractions for late-night snacks and have a tremendous amount of motivation. They are the kind of people that stay up, produce good work, and follow deadlines no matter what.
The three scenarios seem all too familiar, doesn’t it? Architecture is a densely layered field that demands copious amounts of creativity, practicality and well, determination. The stress and rigor that accompanies the subject are at an all-time high, especially while pursuing a degree in it. The meticulous system tends to create a routined habit of giving up on sleep, showers, and in extreme cases, even food to meet deadlines. Let’s be honest, the first advice you’re given before you pursue the course is to run in the opposite direction if you have a solid and stable relationship with your bed.
The love-hate relationship between architects and sleep is not an unknown fact to the outside world. It has been debated about time and again by students as well as practitioners. But where does this impending need to stay awake to finish off work come from? What has caused such an obsessive relationship between architects and all-nighters?
To tackle such questions, we need to start at the very beginning. The first design project in the first semester of architecture school. I can still picture the state of the studio before my first review. The smell of cup noodles and fevibond in the air, model materials strewn across the floor, people taking power naps under the tables and music playing in the background. The reason why I reached such a state of giving up on the necessities of survival was that I was too overwhelmed by the overlapping deadlines of all the subjects. I believed that staying up all night was the only solution to finishing work. Sadly for the next few semesters, I held onto this belief system with all my heart. I was constantly shifting between two mottos which were, sleep is for the weak (before a deadline) and sleep for a week (after submission). Four years into the course and after an internship at a practicing office, I can now pinpoint why the all-nighter culture was so deeply integrated into my mind.
- The statement of losing oneself in their designs is associated with the design community for a very strong reason – We do not know when to stop. We treat our designs with so much love and care that we constantly look for ways to make it better. In our pursuit of perfection, we always believe that things can be improved, edited, added, or removed. This is a great mentality to have until it gets out of control. This need for perfection can also be tied with the fear of humiliation. This might come off as a personal thing, but being ripped apart at a jury in school or in an office by the boss tends to create a sense of dread that often takes a long time to overcome. The subjective nature of creative fields has always attracted criticism from its viewers. I cannot count the number of times I have let the question, ‘Is this enough?’ drive me to work for more hours than necessary.
- The misconception that more hours = more work. This is a blatant lie. Better quality work, as well as ideas, are generated when you are well-rested. Sleep deprivation slows down productivity tremendously. It can make a drawing that requires only 3-4 hours of attention and focus to stretch into 8 or even more.
- Poor time management. I know that everyone is probably rolling their eyes at this statement, but deep down you know it’s true. While the workload is grueling, better planning can be the saving grace. At times, unfortunate and spontaneous events such as the laptop crashing, forgetting to save a file, overlapping deadlines, etc. can throw you off track. But creating a schedule and prioritizing work does go a long way.
While years of being associated with architecture have given me a vast number of experiences as well as a pinch of wisdom, I can still say that I have not completely let go of all-nighters. I do pull a few of them (usually a day before the deadline) because I’m human and sometimes I do not practice what I preach. Another reason being, some all-nighters have given me a sense of rush and determination to work faster. However, as a fellow member of the architecture community, I encourage people to not fall prey to the all-nighter culture and try to break ties with it, as soon as you can. As hard as it is to believe, giving up on sleep is not the only way to survive and produce quality work and maybe it’s high time we start eradicating this notion.