If you read my blog regularly, you know that I often write about efficiency and productivity in the workplace, as I believe lack of these things is the leading cause of engineers working too many hours.
I believe that one of the most important aspects of being productive is the ability to focus for a long period of time, which can be difficult in a world full of distractions. Two different systems allow me to sharpen my focus, work more productively and generate high-quality results.
First, I set aside a certain time of the day or week to do certain tasks. For example, I usually write blog posts early Friday morning, at 5:30 a.m. By doing this consistently, I know that that is my time to write and only write. I focus intently on that task and don’t let anything else get in the way.
It also helps that I have chosen to do a task like this early in the morning, when distractions are limited because most people are sleeping. Now, writing is a creative activity, and I can’t always think of a topic to write that day at that time—so I keep a running list of topics and then pick one during my actual writing tine.
The second way that I approach tasks to increase productivity and the quality of results is to split them up into smaller steps and perform these over a period of time.
For example, my wife and I are going through the process of setting up a will right now (anyone that has young kids and hasn’t done this yet—please consider it). The lawyer we are working with gave us a 30-page questionnaire. It’s been on my to-do list forever, but every time I look at that task, I think of the 30 pages of paperwork and skip over it. After months of this, I thought, what if I fill out one page per day for a month? So far, this process has worked.
To bring this back to engineering, here are some tasks I would recommend doing in one sitting and others that might best be broken up. Please leave a comment at the bottom of this post with any strategies that you use in approaching tasks in the workplace.
Tasks that might be completed more effectively in one sitting: engineering design calculations, returning phone calls (do them once or twice per day at the same time), preparation for a meeting, reviewing a set of design plans (depending on the size).
Tasks that might be broken up over time: reviewing technical specifications, reading a manual on a new software, taking an online training program, reading a book that will facilitate your career-development efforts (do five pages per day).
How and when do decide whether or not to break down large projects into smaller steps? I value your opinions and comments, please share them in the Speak Your Mind box at the bottom of this post.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
The Engineering Career Coach
Author of Engineer Your Own Success