Do All Engineers Need to Check Things Off to Feel Productive?

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This is a post by Anthony Fasano.

I admit it—if I do not have a list of tasks in front of me to check off as I work throughout the day, I am not productive. Is this because I am an engineer? Maybe. However, I can tell you that doing this dramatically increases my productivity level, and in this post I will share some reasons why. The checklist method, so to speak, has enabled me to get about 12 hours of work done in an eight-hour day. I have measured this based on past experience and discussions with other engineers.

Here are five reasons why having all of your tasks laid out in front of you helps you accomplish more:

Facilitates Delegation – When you can view all of your tasks, you can easily identify which of them can be delegated to staff or other team members. This should be done first thing in the morning, so they can accomplish these tasks while you work on others.

Simplifies Prioritization – When you have a dashboard (whether it be online or on paper) that allows you to easily view all of your to-do items, it’s easier to prioritize them. This is critical, because if it’s not done properly, you might be working on a task that is much less important than three or four other ones on your list, which can really hamper overall productivity.

Eliminates Mishaps – When you work at a fast pace, you have to be sure you don’t miss things. Having all of your tasks in front of you ensures that you can see everything and nothing will escape your mind. When you work off the cuff and deal with things as they arise, other things get missed. Missing things can be especially dangerous as an engineer, when your work often has impacts on the health and safety of the public (e.g., roadway and/or bridge design).

Alleviates Overwhelming Feelings – For me, when I have a lot of things to do (which is every day), I tend to get flustered or overwhelmed. Usually, after listing and prioritizing all of my tasks, I immediately feel better and get myself into a better state for working and being productive. This certainly doesn’t decrease the number of tasks on my plate, but it makes me feel more in control of them, and that matters a lot.

Boosts Confidence – Nothing makes me feel better than physically crossing a task off my list when completed. The feeling of accomplishment inspires me to jump head on into the next task and keep moving full steam ahead. Like the last, this is probably more of an emotional benefit, but I believe it goes a long way in keeping my productivity high.

Okay, now I can check off writing my weekly blog post and move on to the next task on my list. I hope this post helps you stay productive as an engineer, whether you share this same checklist need or not.

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  • Tim Schroder

    YES, all engineers (and professionals) need a list to BE productive.
    I use lists everyday. Unfortunately I can get lists of lists and that can be less than productive.
    When I get stuck in the loop of too many lists I then put at the top of my to do list a task to review and reduce/consolidate my lists.
    I find that they do make me much more focused and productive. I find that the greatest non-productivity benefits of using lists are:
    First- I don’t loose tasks in my projects as often. Having dozens of active projects at a time can be overwhelming if you haven’t thought out all the steps and listed them out.
    Second- I don’t miss deadlines due to forgotten due dates. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t had to rush to complete tasks but does allow me to plan ahead for upcoming dates and “smooth out” the peaks in my schedule.
    Third- The simple act of writing out a task list for a project is a simplified plan. As we all know if you don’t have a plan you won’t reach your goals.
    Fourth- By writing things down two important things are accomplished. First the tasks are taken from my daily mental activities and moved to my long term memory bank. Second it frees up my mind of clutter so I can better apply my brain cells to my tasks.
    Finally, Fifth- It makes it easier to address all the “surprises” that are thrust upon you in your daily activities without disrupting completely disrupting your productivity.
    I hope that my commentary and Anthony’s post have persuaded you to try using lists in your daily routine!

  • D’Angelo R. Woods

    This post is timely–I have been using a similar method to get through one of my most productive weeks of the year. On Monday I decided to start not only writing down my tasks in the morning but including with them a time i.e. Check e-mail (30 mins). To stay on track (time-on-task method), I use the timer on my iPhone and place it near me so that I can occasionally check the remaining time. This helps me to see not only how much I am getting accomplished within the window of time given but also how much time I may be wasting if I do become sidetracked. Those ticks are unforgiving! When the timer runs out, I move on to the next task. If the task is not completed, it gets bumped to the afternoon or overtime schedule based on its priority.

    The keys to the above method are (1) to be realistic with the time needed to complete the given task while at the same time challenging yourself to get it done with a sense of urgency and (2) to prioritize tasks with long-term, short-term, and any-term deadlines. The final key is to try it and adjust as you go along.

    Thanks for another helpful post, Anthony.

  • Anthony Fasano, PE

    Guys thanks for the vote of confidence. Good to know I am not alone here! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.