Since having started this blog back in 2012, I’ve had the opportunity to work with thousands of engineers from around the world. My readers come from every discipline, every industry and every career stage. When speaking with engineers, there’s one challenge that seems to keep coming up over and over again: being productive.
No matter where you come from or what you do, engineers never seem to feel like they have enough hours in a day to get everything done. They’re overworked and overwhelmed. They feel like they need to react to the world around them and are constantly firefighting.
Have you ever felt this way? I definitely have. Heck, when I was just getting started in my career, I felt this way all the time. That’s why, like any good engineer, I set out design a system to beat the overwhelm and to take control of my work. The foundation of this is system is what I call the Productivity Formula, which is what I want to share with you today.
The productivity formula
When designing my productivity system, I realized that there were three fundamental issues that I needed to solve. These are the same three issues that I see in the engineers I work with. In order to truly be productive and have control over your work, you must be:
Without being efficient, effective and systematic, you cannot be productive. That’s the fundamental idea behind the productivity formula.
Let me explain what exactly I’m talking about…
Efficiency is the ability to do things quickly. It’s the ratio of work done to time spent, so high efficiency is good and low efficiency is bad. Most people believe that efficiency is synonymous with productivity, but that’s not true, as will become apparent when I explain the next two pillars. Simply having the ability to get lots done in a short amount of time isn’t enough to be able to be productive.
Being effective means doing the right work. Generally, this means doing work that is bringing both you and your organization closer to your goals. This is something that many engineers struggle with, because they aren’t clear on what their goals are. It’s quite easy to lose sight of the big picture and just do work that keeps you busy (i.e. responding to email) as opposed to work that moves you forward (i.e. writing a strategic plan). Effective work is work that counts. If you’re doing work that doesn’t ultimately matter, it makes no difference how effectively you do that work, it’s still time and energy wasted. In fact, there’s an opportunity cost to doing the wrong work, because you could have been working on something worthwhile. Without effectiveness, you can certainly be busy, but you can’t be productive.
Finally, in order to be productive, you need to be systematic. Productive engineers are consistently and reliably producing worthwhile work and do it efficiently. If you don’t have a system in place for how you work, you’re a bit like a pro athlete who’s always injured. When healthy, you’re amazing. When injured, well, you’re not producing anything. Sometimes you’re great, other times you flame out. If you don’t have a specific approach to being efficient and effectiveness baked into the way you work, then you’re not really a productive engineer.
Take the next week to journal what you actually do in the run of a day and try and make sense of where you need to improve. Do you need to be more effective? Efficient? Systematic? Whatever you chose, for each of the next four weeks, chose one strategy you’re going to use to improve for that week and work hard on implementing that one strategy.
Using the comments section below, please tell us how you struggle with productivity. Which of the three pillars is it that you need help with? If you’ve overcome a problem with productivity, let us know how you did it and what strategies helped you. As always, I respond to every comment, so please don’t be shy!