Engineering and Leadership || Productivity Formula

In this podcast/ blog post, you’ll hear all about the formula that I’ve developed over the last decade to really improve my productivity as an engineer. It uses a three-tiered approach that makes it different from most of the strategies you read about today.

Below, I list the links that I mention throughout the show and the script I used for the main content for the show.


Here are the links and resources I mentioned during the show:

The engineer’s productivity formula

I’ve worked with thousands of engineers over the last few years, and one theme that seems to keep coming up time and time again is that engineers never, ever feel like they have enough time in the run of a week to get done everything they need to. They feel like there’s too much work, and not enough time. They feel like their work lives are out of control and they’re in fire fighting mode more often than not.

In short, engineers everywhere feel overwhelmed.

This feeling of overwhelm affects engineers in every industry, every discipline, and every career stage. If you’ve ever felt like this about your work, take some comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.

In fact, I’ve felt the exact same way for much of my engineering career. Like so many of you, I left school excited to take on the world, and wanted to do as well as I could and climb the ranks as quickly as possible.

And, like many of you, I found myself totally swamped by the daily grind of meetings, emails, emergency tasks, last-minute requests, phone calls, panicked project managers and the like.

Still wanting to tackle the world head-on, I spent the next several years reading, learning, and experimenting with different ways of approaching my work – to get more done, and to do better work. To overcome the feeling of overwhelm.

The productivity formula

Through all this study, research, and experimentation, I created a productivity formula – a systematic, repeatable approach to getting things done.

What I realized was that there were three fundamental issues that I needed to solve. In order to truly be productive and have control over your work. The vast majority of productivity tips and approaches focus on one issue or another, but none of them really address all three, which is why I believe people find it hard to take control of their work.

The formula is this. In order to be productive, you must be:

  1. Efficient
  2. Effective
  3. Systematic

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. anything that helps you achieve your goals). Effective work is work that counts. If you’re doing work that doesn’t ultimately matter, it makes no difference how efficiently 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 efficient and effective work. 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.

Without all three pillars – efficient, effective, and systematic – you cannot be really and truly productive.

Your challenge

Now that you know what it means to be productive, take a good hard look at the work you do today. Take a minute and think through whether you’re being efficient, effective and systematic? Ask yourself: could I be doing this in a smarter way? Is this even the right work for me to be doing? Am I using routines to help me be consistent and repeatable?

This simple exercise can yield some big opportunities for improvement for you. Be sure to share what you learn in  the comment section below and let us know how you solved your issues.

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