Most engineers I know are interested in achieving a relatively high level of productivity in their professional and work activities. Since most are working long hours, they aren’t interested in spending time on none-value added activities. Those who are successful in optimizing their productive time, do so through focusing on developing a plan of action.
Productivity is associated with creating value. While you can feel productive attending project meetings, reviewing designs, or obtaining closure on a long-standing issue, it may or may not result in value beyond making you feel productive. In my mind, productivity (a.k.a. creating value) comes only in achieving movement towards the accomplishment of a defined goal.
With this concept in mind, let’s unpack how to get from focus to productivity in your engineering career.
Focus on the Plan in Order to Be Productive
As Anthony and I have written repeatedly over the years, success in any endeavor comes through defining your goals. When you focus on defining a goal and developing a plan to achieve that goal, you can then be productive towards achieving that goal. Only in attaining the goal are you ultimately productive — i.e. creating value.
A simple way to think about the link between focus and productivity in your engineering work is in Figure 1. Building off the Plan – Do – Check – Act iterative method for initial planning and continuous improvement, you get to productivity, or creating value, by incrementally focusing on defining the requirement, developing a plan of action, then working the plan.
Just focusing on “being productive” misses the important question of “what are you being productive on?”
This process is no different from what we do in delivering an engineering project. We start first by defining the requirement, identifying risks and issues, accomplishing preliminary assessments and studies, and then move into developing the plan of action. Only after we’ve focused on all of that work do we then focus on executing the project — i.e. go into production.
Doing something to feel productive isn’t the same as creating value. There’s a lot of writings about focusing one’s mind to achieve high levels of productivity, etc. Remember, this is really about getting in the right space to generate “deep work”, the type of work that requires you to shut off outside stimuli.
Doing something that’s not part of a larger plan isn’t necessarily productive. Avoid this by focusing on developing a clear plan of action before you start applying your time and energy.
“Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence.” – Alan Watts
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on the things you do to be productive in your engineering career.
To your success,
Christian Knutson, PE, PgMP, PMP
Engineering Management Institute