Time management for engineers

One of the factors most influential in your personal success will you be your time management ability. As an engineer you will have many competing demands on your time. Like many engineers you may feel that most of these are “interruptions” or other demands that impede your “real engineering” work. These notes can help you manage your time better if you feel the need.

Evaluate your own time management. Try this questionnaire first. Next, evaluate your time management practices with this second questionnaire:

time management practices (only for students),

time management practices (if you are no longer a student).

If you scored 40 or more on each questionnaire, your’re doing OK, and will find the rest of this post provides some useful hints. A score of 50 or more on each questionnaire indicates you’re doing fairly well already.  The average combined score for students (so far) is about 85 and for practising engineers, it’s about 90-95.

Here’s how Leslie Perlow, author of the book “Time Famine” described this.

I found that engineers distinguish between “real engineering” and “everything else” that they did. They defined real engineering as analytical thinking, mathematical modelling, and conceptualising solutions. Real engineering was work that required using scientific principles and independent creativity. It was the technical component of engineers’ deliverables that utilise the skills the engineers acquired in school. As one engineer summed it up, “real engineering is what I thought I was hired to do.” In contrast, “everything else” translated mostly into interactive activities.

Engineers describe these interactive activities as disruptions to their real engineering, although research reveals that interactive activities are critical for the completion of an engineer’s tasks. 95% of the time, these social interactions are unplanned, spontaneous so they can seem like interruptions.

This can lead engineers into a vicious work-time cycle. In this cycle, time pressure (to get a product to market/getting the project completed) leads to a crisis mentality which results in individual heroic behaviour causing constant interruptions to others adding to the time pressure and crisis mentality. “Fire Fighting” is the term used by many engineers to describe this, and it’s ever-present for many if not most engineers.

You can learn to break out of this vicious cycle.

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