Wednesday, October 28, 2009
At a meeting with some clients at a hospital this afternoon, I remarked to one of the hospital staff that I hadn't heard from him lately--usually he's peppering me with emails and questions, but I've gotten little to nothing out of him for the past week. Turns out that he had been at home on the couch...with H1N1. He said that his hospital's regulations required that he stay away from work for at least seven days after the first signs of infection, and he was not allowed back to the office to be cleared to work with the public or other staff again until at least 24 hours after his last respiratory episode (aka "cough"). As a hospital employee, he was required to get a flu shot and an H1N1 shot, but his facility ran out of the shots before he was able to get his. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Our culture, especially our work culture, teaches us that taking a sick day is a sign of weakness, like you can't handle the sniffles or a little ache. You ought to be able to power through it, right? Just take some Sudafed and get back in there, slugger! Added to that is the pressure of proving oneself; those of us who are new (or newer) to the workforce want to make sure we're present and accounted for as often as possible, being productive at all times. We hesitate to be absent when things are really busy because we're afraid to look like slackers, and we hesitate to be absent when things are slow because we're afraid that people will think they can get along without us. Usually, the outcome of this mindset and the resulting no-win situation is that people feeling less than their best come to work and do less than their best. Plus if they're contagious, they spread the illness to their colleagues, and you have an entire office doing less than its best. So much for the notion of being productive.
H1N1 isn't much worse than the regular flu, except to some very particular populations (see this link for details). The reason everyone's taking it so seriously is that it spreads so much faster than the regular flu, so you can give more people the flu faster. If you start feeling flu-like symptoms, whether it's now or next week or in a couple of months when the regular flu season hits, just cash it in and stay home for two or three days. Let's face it: if you feel like crap or even like sorta-crap, you're not going to be all that productive at work. Just stay home, watch bad daytime TV, drink plenty of fluids, and sleep it off. Your immediate job is to heal--your regular job will still be here after a couple of days' rest, and you'll be doing us all a favor.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I've talked previously about how the economy may work in today's interns' favor. An important part of making the economy work for you is to step up in your office and become more useful by filling the gaps left by staff or other services that have been cut. Not only will you be able to make yourself useful (and remind your firm why they kept you through the layoffs), but you'll also have good skills to use once the economy improves, which will help you whether or not you stay at your current firm. Fortunately, you already have the skills to do some of these tasks, and you can learn the rest.
It seems as if many interns have a better grasp of graphics programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. If you're among that group, then you're in a good spot. Let the managers in your office know how good you are with graphics, modeling, and/or animation software, and let them know how you can use it to help them. Recently in the firm at which I work, the interns in our office figured out that it was easier and better to import plans from Revit into Illustrator when creating nice graphics for marketing brochures and presentations. Back in the Bronze Age, I used to doctor the images with Pantone color infills directly in CAD, so this was a bit of a leap for my managers and me to accept from the interns working for us. However, after one of them showed me how to work with the images in Illustrator, I realized how easy it was indeed in the long run and advocated for it.
Technology is passing at least some of your managers by, and they may not realize that there is a faster and/or easier way to accomplish something in the office. Speak up, offer to fix the problem for them, and then fix it--doing so can make you indispensable and can ensure you a place on project teams. Another good idea may be to offer to teach your manager (or a group of managers) how to use whatever software you're using. The interns in our office have given some of the managers some basic training in how to use NavisWorks, a program that allows you to do a walk-through or a fly-through of a model from Revit or other software platforms. Sharing your knowledge and skills with your bosses not only makes them look good in front of a client, but it also helps them feel a little less behind the times and less old. Never underestimate the power of making people feel smart and hip.
But what about the stuff you might not know much about, like writing proposals or checking shop drawings or marking up specs? This is where your boss gets to return the smart-and-hip favor and bend the learning curve in your direction. Let your manager/boss know that you're interested in learning more about how your firm puts a project together--how can you help? Can they show you a little something to get you started? If not, is there someone else in the office who can help you get started reviewing these storefront shops or those specs? It's quite likely that someone will have the time to teach you a little about a new task, and at the very least your manager will be appreciative that you're interested in learning more. Asking for more and more interesting tasks to do in the office can help you be useful and earn you some valuable IDP credits when you approach it from the Jerry MacGuire "help me help you" angle.
Friday, October 23, 2009
A couple of years ago, one of my colleagues discovered that his wife was expecting right after he took his second section of the ARE (back when it was nine parts). Knowing that life was going to get pretty hectic and very different after their baby arrived, my colleague stepped on it and finished the remaining seven parts of the ARE about two weeks before the baby arrived. During that same time, he scheduled his workload with his manager and fellow design team members so that when the baby arrived, he could slide off his projects for a few weeks while he helped his wife and then work limited hours for the next few months after that. A few women in my office have proceeded in a similar fashion when expecting--they let folks know at least three months in advance, figured out how long they wanted to be gone after the baby was born, and then arranged to have their workload lessened just before they left and increased slowly as they returned part time and then full time to work. My office also has a "quiet room" for making private phone calls because we have a mostly open office, and that room served double duty for women needing to use breast pumps.
It's no secret that architecture is a tough major and a tough profession, but increasingly it's becoming more accommodating to families. It demands a lot of its practitioners, and we put a lot of ourselves into it. Just when we think we've gotten caught up on our projects, we're suddenly behind again and there's yet something else to be done. But I've learned over the past almost-ten years that there's always something else to be done. And if I take literally the logic that I need to spend more time at work because there's always something else to do, then I'd never go home. So my colleagues with children and my colleagues without children and I go home at a regular and decent time on a regular basis. There are times when we work nights and weekends, but more often than not, we're making it home in time for dinner and story time and bedtime, and our weekends are free enough that there is time to take trips and play in the yard and do nothing.
Architecture as a college major is much tougher on a family life than architecture as a profession, I've personally observed. It seems as if everyone at my office had someone in their class who had a kid, and that person would hardly show up for studio and would eventually either drop out or change majors. Studio takes an incredible amount of time, and I'm amazed when I see people make it work. Being married without kids is easier at school and at work, but school seems to be harder on kids because dare I say, architecture school demands more timewise from you than work.
The architectural workplace is falling a little more in step with the rest of the modern professions and their workplaces these days, it seems. To be sure, there are some places that watch like hawks when you come in and when you leave, and there are people that give each other sideways glances when someone leaves right at 5pm. However, you can make work work for your family--in any profession--if you and your boss and firm agree on your hours beforehand and you can and do get your work done on time and with excellent quality with that schedule, then ultimately the discussion is closed. People can roll their eyes all they want--you're getting the job done and going home to your life.
I'd like to state that having a life outside of work isn't just for people who have children. Employers are finding that all employees are happier and produce better work when they have a life outside of the office and get ample time to rest and enjoy something other than drawing flashing details. A few of the people at my office work slightly off hours so that they can do other things outside of work. One woman works 6am-3pm so that she has enough daylight when she gets home to work on some home remodeling projects. A young man in his twenties (and an intern) who is one of our de facto drawing software managers works 7am-4pm so that he can be here to answer questions while people are working but also has a little time to get work done before the office fills up with people and their Revit and CAD problems. Another fellow works 8:30-5:30 so that he can take the train to and from work with his wife. None of the people I've described above have children.
I have worked crazy hours for an extended period of time, and regardless of whether I ever have children, I won't do it again. Long, crazy hours make me emotionally and mentally unstable, and they damage my health and work and personal relationships. When I see a work-like-crazy period coming, I let my managers know that I need help in order to make the deadline, and sometimes I just borrow someone and get the help and ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I know that my behavior might not fly at other firms in town, and that's why I don't work for them. Ultimately, finding a firm whose work ethic and flexibility works for you will help with balancing work and family, and doing good work by the deadline consistently shows your firm and your boss that you can indeed make it work.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Whether or not you're a member of AIA, you probably have seen at least one continuing education seminar at your office. It was probably presented by a product representative (rep) from some building material company, and they brought in lunch--pizza, sandwiches, or boxed lunches--and talked about their product while you ate lunch. If the presentation was AIA accredited, then it spoke in more general terms about products and served more to edify you on certain construction techniques or problem solving of construction or detailing issues. Regardless, it was 45 to 60 minutes of your life for lunch, so it begs the question--did you get anything out of the presentation, or were you better off sitting at your desk with a Lean Cuisine you heated up in the microwave?
I urge interns to go to a lot of lunch-n-learn presentations because first and foremost, it's a good way to learn about and become familiar with all the different products out there. You may learn about something you've never heard of or gather ideas for the project you're working on or for a future project. You may gain a contact for future reference, say if you have questions about detailing an EPDM roof or a glass block wall. It's also a good way to learn about what current construction problems are going on. When I started in the profession back in 2000, flooring adhesive manufacturers had just changed their formula from an epoxy-based compound to a water-based compound so that it wouldn't have VOCs and would be more air-friendly and better for the environment. However, these newly-formulated compounds required that the concrete slab onto which they were applied have a much lower amount of water in them, so low that it was nearly impossible to attain. In the first half of this decade, our field saw a lot of sheet vinyl bubbling and peeling off because the adhesive would become goo again and wouldn't stick down. Hence, many of the presentations I saw in lunch-n-learns between 2001 and 2005 had to do with mitigating water in concrete slabs and getting flooring to stick on those slabs. I got information on this situation from concrete sealer product reps, concrete admixture product reps, sheet vinyl flooring reps, reps for products that were sheet vinyl alternatives, etc.
As you watch and listen to the presentations, see if there's any way it applies to your present project. Compare the examples you see and hear about to things you've drawn, done, seen, heard about, etc. You may think of questions to ask as you do this comparison--please ask! By and large, the reps I've seen want questions from the audience because they need to know what you want to know, what you need, what are your concerns. They can take that info back to their headquarters as say, "hey, architects are all wanting x, y, and z...." I've personally seen this happen--in the past eight months, I've told two surgical equipment reps that we really need Revit families of their equipment so that we can show them in our drawings and models, and lo and behold, there are now Revit families for these vendors on their site.
Other good questions to ask:
- What is the installed per-square-foot cost of your product/system? How does it compare to typical/traditional methods? (If they don't know this, I get suspicious. It's an honest and very common question.)
- Do you have CAD details/Revit families/ArchiCAD blocks of your equipment/details on your website or on a CD-ROM?
- What are some common mistakes you see in the installation of your product in the field?
- Are you available to help with specs or review drawing details?
- What is the lead time on your product? (That is, how long does it take for your product to get to the job site from the time it's ordered?)
- How can we get samples of your products, if we need them?
- Do installers have to be trained or certified in some way to install your product?
One caveat: I get a little nervous when I see product reps talk about building codes to some degree and accessibility codes to a greater degree. I've had toilet accessory vendor reps give my colleagues and me flat-out wrong advice on ADA compliance, and that kind of irresponsibility in exchange for a sandwich and a brownie makes me profanity-slinging, Jerry-Springer-chair-throwing angry. Take these presentations with a grain of salt (and possibly a margarita as well).
Monday, October 19, 2009
Product reps and consultants regularly come into our office to do AIA accredited presentations. As they talk and we munch away on whatever lunch they've brought for the seminar, we pass around a clipboard for everyone to sign in and include their AIA member number. I've noticed that more often than not, our interns aren't members of AIA.
I have a strange affinity with AIA, mainly because I worked at the AIA offices near my hometown right after I graduated from college. I spent a lot of time accepting and faxing resumes and photocopying and stuffing envelopes with announcements for upcoming seminars and events. Now, I'm on the receiving end of those postcards and mailings (and emails). Some of the announcements make me roll my eyes, and some interest me. I've gotten some benefit out of some of the mailings and programs from AIA, but it's not like I go to every activity and seminar. Also to my benefit is that m office pays my AIA dues. Back when I wasn't licensed, my dues were around $150 a year, but they've shot up to nearly $700/year since I got that little card from the state of Colorado.
So how about you? Are you an AIA member? Why or why not? Feel free to respond in the comments or via email from the sidebar. I plan to find out more about what's the point of AIA and give you a good pros-and-cons discussion about it here in a later post.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Someone recently asked me how I went about studying for the ARE. It's a good question with (of course) no simple answer, but I feel qualified to answer it due to my shared ARE experience. As I've mentioned before here, I took the ARE simultaneously with my husband, so I got to experience two types of studying.
First, I should explain the method to our madness: knowing how many interns procrastinate and delay taking the tests, my husband and I decided on what order we were taking the tests and then booked two tests two months in advance for subsequent Mondays. For example, if we were taking tests now, and we were booking the tests today, October 16th, we would book one test for Monday December 14th and the next test for Monday December 21st. After we finished each test, we would book the next one for two months out: right there at the Thomson Prometric testing center, we'd book the next two tests for Mondays February 15th and 22nd. What this helped us do is set a time table for getting off our butts and studying instead of saying "oh yeah, when we get home, we'll look online and make the appointment then...."
Our study methods were very different. I studied each night, five to seven nights a week, every week before the tests. My husband would read occasionally for an afternoon, but he wouldn't get really serious until three or so weeks before the tests, and then he was a crammer. I learn through repetition, by reading things more than once. My husband, God bless him, will literally fall asleep if he reads any kind of study material or heavy learning stuff for more than five minutes. He'd carve out an entire Saturday morning, where after sleeping all night, he would go layo nthe sofa, read the study book for five minutes, fall asleep for two or three hours, and then wake up and read the entire books straight through. What we learned from this process is that we had to study the way we studied in college, which I think is generally good advice (unless you went to a cruddy college). As adults, you likely know by now how you learn best--by cramming and using the recency effect, by learning it over and over, by reading it and discussing it, whatever. What was also helpful about taking it with someone is that not only did we each have someone to keep encouraging the other to keep going, but we also had someone to discuss the study material with. I found this expecially helpful when it came to the Construction Documents test--the study material talked about a bunch of contracts and CA documents that I'd never seen before due to my limited experience, but my husband had dealt with all of the documents and was able to enlighten me further.
As for study material, we read mostly some books that my office would loan its interns for studying. I think they were Kaplan or someone like that. If you get books that talk about any of the graphic sections, look for the name Norman Dorf--he used to do lots of study materials on the old graphic sections, and he would occasionally check out the graphic forums at www.areforum.org and give people advice. We also bought a set of the flash cards and studied those extensively. Sometimes, we would see a question on those flashcards that was straight off the flashcards. Nice.
My primary suggestions for taking the ARE are:
- Be disciplined. Book your next test as soon as you're finished with the last one, and actually study for it.
- Study the way you studied in college (and passed).
- Discuss what you're studying with others, such as fellow ARE takers and other architects in your firm.
Notice I said to discuss what you're studying, not what the test is on. People who have taken the test before you can only talk in generalities about what the tests ask you, but they can't give you specific questions. For example, someone who just took the MEP test might say, "I had a few questions about home security systems," but they cannot say, "I had this one question that asked where should you put sensors if the house is here near a whatever blah blah blah." When my husband and I took the test three-plus years ago when it was six multiple-guess sections and three all-graphics sections, we found that we got the same test on half the multiple guess tests and at least one of the three graphics ones. There is more than one version of each test section floating around out there, so sharing information about exams is not only illegal, but it also might be plain out useless. Some interns in Nevada were recently barred from ever seeking licensure due to posting possible solutions to one of the test sections on a forum.
Do you still have questions about the ARE? Do you have questions about anything regarding the profession? Feel free to ask in the comments or via email in the sidebar. Thanks!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I mentioned in my last post that my friend and fellow architect who was frustrated with her boss' unclear expectations and standards is a little older than me. I recently turned 34, and I got licensed a few months shy of my 31st birthday. (You can do it faster; I procrastinated sending NCARB my completed IDP stuff. Wish I hadn't though--the hype surrounding the ARE is worse than the actual test.) I've been pondering on my friend's problem, and my conclusion as to the source of her frustration leaves me a little downhearted but wiser. The problem stems not just from the fact that her boss wouldn't be clear as to what was expected of her, but I believe that her age played a supporting role.
I wager that many of you reading this went right from high school to college to grad school and then to work, but some of you may be nontraditional students--got an undergraduate degree in another field first, worked in another field before architecture, or maybe even served in the military or took a couple of years off between high school and college. To my nontraditional intern readers, I tip my hat. Architecture is hard enough to do as a major and a profession, and it can be even harder when you find yourself a few years older than your colleagues in school, and then in the workplace. The extra few years in your age increases your firm's expectations of you--project managers will likely expect more from you because you've obviously worked before, whether in this field or in another or even in the military. They're looking for your maturity to come out and for you to take initiative and be that much better at your tasks. They expect you to make fewer mistakes and think things through more thoroughly and more quickly, because your previous experience has shown you the cost of not doing a good job.
These expectations are a double-edged sword, though. High expectations mean less room for error, and while it's hard for an employer to accept chronic mistakes and lapses, it's even less tolerated when that intern is in their thirties instead of their twenties. This condition is exacerbated when a nontraditional intern drags his or her feet about getting licensed, which is the situation my friend found herself in. When a project manager explains the qualities of a good intern to an employee in his mid-twenties, it feels like tutoring and leading a new generation. But when that same manager explains those same qualities to an intern in her late thirties or early forties, it feels like remedial training--"how can you not know this already?" I'm betting that's what happened to my friend, who found herself celebrating the big 4-0 without having passed the entire ARE.
My husband, also an architect, was a nontraditional intern. He worked for a couple of years and spent a few years in the military before going to architecture school, so he didn't join the architectural work force in earnest until he was about 30 years old. He and I took the ARE at the same time and passed all the sections at the same time, which meant that by the time I was the age he was when he started architecture, I was licensed. He got licensed in his late thirties, and not a moment too soon; he started a new job at which he managed interns in their mid forties and even early fifties. You read that correctly--there are interns out there who are old enough to be your parents, and they work for my husband. And every time he gives them feedback on a design or an idea or a detail, they roll their eyes. It bothers my husband a little bit, but he ultimately shrugs it off. He knows that if his office shut down tomorrow, he as a licensed architect would have a much easier time finding a new job than a forty- or fifty-something intern. Firms would rather hire someone younger who will work for less money (because they literally have less experience, but still enough to do the job) and--sad and rather illegal but true--younger folks have fewer obligations outside of work. Hiking trips and volunteer work can be skipped or put on hold, but PTA meetings and caring for elderly parents or sick children cannot. (Again, that reason for not hiring an older person is illegal, but I'm betting it still happens.)
I push all interns to get licensed as soon and as fast as they humanly can, but my advice is issued especially urgently to nontraditional interns. You have too much to lose and everything to gain by keeping pace with or even passing by your younger peers.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Recently, I told a newly-licensed friend (who's a little older than me) about this blog, and I asked her for her perspective as a just-barely-former intern. What about being an intern did she wish her bosses knew? What advice did she have for other interns? Her comment was one that struck me as a problem that I'm betting many of you may have. Her main problem, she said, was that her boss made excellence a moving and obscured or elusive target, which made it hard for her to excel.
She once asked to do some design on and manage a small project, and her boss said that he was giving it to another intern. His reasoning was that the other intern was really good and sharp, or as he put it, "a rock star." My friend, however, could not seem to get him to articulate what were "rock star" qualities. What exactly was this other intern doing that my friend was not? What did she need to do in order to be a rock star?
Bosses sometimes inadvertently set us up for failure (not just interns, but even us licensed folk) when they are unclear on standards and expectations. You are well within your right to call them on it, by the way. Their precision helps you succeed, which in turn help them and the company succeed. You can say things like:
- "What am I doing that makes me just 'average' on my performance review?"
- "What would you consider an excellent job on this?"
- "What would you consider 'fast' for this type of task?"
- "I realize it can be hard to describe what you're looking for here, but the clearer you can be will help me do a better job."
- "Can you describe some ways I could improve this?"
- "I understand that you're not totally happy with the way I did ______, but I'm not sure what I could have done differently or better. Do you have some specific ways that I could do that?"
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I found the following on a small scrap of paper on the desk of a senior architect at my office, a fellow with probably almost 40 years of experience.
Best time to call a contractor: 7:00 am
Best time to call a client: Tuesday at 8:45 am
Best time to run a meeting: 11:00 am
Best day to hold all meetings: Tuesday
Best time to do manpower planning: Monday at 8:00 am
Best day to mail invoices: 23rd of the month (so they pay on the 1st)
Best time to open mail: 4:30 pm
Best place to eat lunch: at your desk (Lulu's note: unless this is all you've done for months--you should get out once in a while)
Best meeting format: standup meetings
Best way to control meetings: take meeting minutes yourself
Best position among six firms competing in a presentation: last
Best form of contract: lump sum with a well-defined scope (Lulu's note: good luck finding that ever again)
Best type of client: one who pays
Best employee: one who initiates action
Best length of workday: 9 hours, no more
I especially second the last item on the list. I just wrapped up a meeting with two deadlines, both of which were tough and involved some ten-hour days and weekends. I remembered why I don't work more than about nine hours a day, ever--I start to get shiny object syndrome and become way less efficient. So as I head into a long weekend off (and not a moment too soon), tell me what you think is the best. What's the best type of boss to you? Best time to get work done? Best way to stay organized? Best...whatever--sound off in the comments or tell me via email from the sidebar.
Monday, October 5, 2009
An intern in my office just informed me that any ARE exams booked after October 2nd now cost $210 instead of $170. If you booked and paid for a test before that date, even if it takes placed after October 2nd, you will not be charged extra. If you book and pay for the test after October 2nd, it's the $210 per test. Just something to keep in mind as you're booking your exams, or procrastinating booking your exams.
Several interns in my office have mentioned having problems getting their paperwork in place with NCARB. One of the interns described to me a frustrating process of sending in his forms over and over and being sent round in circles: being told he owed no money by one customer rep, then another says he still owed some money a few weeks later; having to send in his forms more than once, then being told that they lost one of his forms of the three required (when all three were sent in the same email), being told that the testing company would mail him something soon, then the company says that they no longer mail anything but rather you have to call and get an electronic confirmation number...and so on. It took him nine months to get his authorization to test from both NCARB and Thomson Prometric (the company that administers the ARE).
I mention this not to bash on NCARB, per se, but to remind you that if you're going to file with NCARB, don't procrastinate. You may lose some valuable testing time while they're still working out the bugs in their customer service, so don't make it worse by putting off opening your record. It may annoy you that you're having to keep yourself super-organized in order to make up for others' shortcomings, but as an architect you probably have lots of experience doing that anyway.
Friday, October 2, 2009
An intern and I were recently estimating how much time it would take us to do certain tasks on a master planning project, and it was proving a bit harder than it would seem to be. We had to consider the time it would take to visit and review the existing facility, conduct staff interviews, go back to the office and produce the drawings and images and site assessment...oh, but we should sit down before we ever go to the site and talk about what we want to look at, measure, take pictures of...and perhaps we should allot some time and fee for an engineer and a landscape architect to survey the site and provide some input.... Like I said, the more we thought about the time and effort involved, the more we realized that it wasn't as simple as just saying "three weeks."
As the intern and I bounced ideas and timelines off each other, a well-meaning manager within earshot said half-jokingly, "Figure out the time it'll take, then double that. That's what should be on your proposal to the client." We all laughed and commiserated the way that projects seem to always take more time or be more involved than we originally thought. The manager then corrected himself a bit and said, "Actually, you should add about another 20% to 30% onto the time you think it'll take."
The intern and I did just that, and then we presented our estimate to our project manager, who was writing the proposal. His estimate was even higher than our 125% estimate, maybe even more like 150% of our guess. He took an average of the two estimates and wrote that into the proposal. What struck me was how, even though the intern and I are the ones that do this work on a regular basis and know how long it takes to do, the boss thought we needed longer to do it. Strangely enough, it is often those very bosses and managers that will push us to do whatever the task at hand is in less time that it truly takes to do a good job.
Estimating how long it takes to do a job or a task gets easier as your career progresses, then it gets harder again. After you have a few years of experience, you have a really good idea of how long it takes to do something. You're familiar with the software, you know the consultants pretty well and how long it takes to get back to you, and you know your way around a project. But then, your success gets in your way. By being good at your job, you get put on more than one project at a time, and maybe you even get more involved with the project by working with consultants on a regular basis and trading emails and taking phone calls. You become known in your office for being good at this or that--codes, Revit, equipment clearances, etc. So suddenly, what used to take you two hours now takes you three because as you were drawing this or putting together that, someone asks you what's the ADA clearance at the pull side of a door (18", you say, but 12" at the push), and then as you start working again, someone else asks you how to fix this stupid error message in Revit (split the wall, then demo the part you don't want, then align the part you do want with the door frame, etc.), and then you start working again, and then someone else...you get the picture.
Granted, there are some tasks that you can truly say, "That will take me ten minutes." But as you get better at your job, I urge you to consider lightly padding the estimated time it takes to complete more complex tasks. If it takes you that long or a bit longer, then at least you prepared them for it, and if it takes you less time than you said, then fantastic--overpromise and underdeliver, I always say. At the very least, be aware of what it takes to complete even the seemingly simplest requests.
A project manager in my office recently asked me to make a phone call to a local code official for him, knowing that I was on professional but good terms with this official (she seems to always call me back within a few hours of leaving her a message, and she answers my questions and explains things patiently). I was in the middle of assembling a program for a master plan (a different one than the one I described above), and I knew I really couldn't help this manager. I can hear you asking, "But why, Lulu? It's just a question!" Ah, but it's not. This particular manager has a very specific way he wants things done--everything--and he has a need to know the why beyond the why beyond even that why. Despite the fact that I was accustomed to this fellow and would try to ask questions of various code officials and consultants and product reps that I know he would ask, I would invariably not think of one or two questions for which he would want answers. So, his "just a question" would be me on the phone with the code official for ten minutes, then I would take five minutes to email him an answer, then an hour later when he finally read my email and I was working on something else, he would interrupt me and interrogate me on my conversation for ten minutes, then I'd have to call the code official back but this time I'll have to leave her a message, and then fifteen minutes later she calls me back and I stop what I'm doing for another ten minute conversation...again, you get the picture.
So I said that I was unable to help him at that moment, that I could make the call for him tomorrow, when I'd gotten somewhere with my master plan program. He pushed back, insisting that "it was only a couple of phone calls." I finally had to call my own project manager in to back this fellow of off me, but it was worth it. If had given in, my primary project (and frankly, a little of my sanity) would have been compromised, and I wouldn't have done as good of a job as I could have for that manager, knowing that I had a bunch of other work waiting on me. Having worked with that fellow enough, I knew that I had to estimate the time it took to do "a few phone calls"...and then double it.
I'd love to hear about phrases or habits/behaviors that make you curious or crazy. And it seems I may have a couple of managers reading the blog. If so, welcome! Feel free to ask questions or make suggestions for future posts, either in the comments on via email in the sidebar. Thanks!