So you want to learn how to be productive? Why do you want that in the first place? Do you have lots of homework or extensive projects to work on? Is your design portfolio incomplete? Does it really matter that you are not productive? If you are an engineer in school or recently graduated, the answer will most likely be "yes" to all those questions.
Learning how to be productive matters a lot! You slack off, and you lose credibility; you become productive and you gain.
[Image Source: steinchen via Pixabay]
So how do you ensure that every single day is a productive day? And how to you make sure you actually feel good about it? Here are 7 typically overlooked steps to start with; many engineers ignore these steps because they think it’s not important, or they say they don’t have time to do these things, or there’s too much work to be done… so many excuses and not enough understanding or belief.
Let your guards down for 5 mins and read this article.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep enables your brain to function better compared to when you are sleep-deprived. Pulling an all-nighter isn’t something to be proud of. Yes I’ve done it too, and I brag about it from time to time, cause I actually wrote 41 pages of code in VB6.
But now that I know better, I should have wasted less time during the day (playing Gran Turismo on PS3) and focused more on learning how to be productive. When you give yourself at least 7-8 hours of shuteye, you give your body the time it needs to repair and reorganize itself. And you will be less cranky when you are well-rested.
When you need to make tough decisions, having enough sleep can help you to think straight and reasonably. Sleep can also enhance your memory, and you’ll make no or fewer mistakes at work or during your exams.
While studying Electronics Engineering, I was never an A+ student, and not even an A or B+ student. I hovered in between C and B- for most of the time; the occasional B+ and sometimes D and there was also the infrequent D-, and hey I won’t act like I never got an F, because I surely did.
But, could I have done better? Yes. Was there anything I could do to get better results? Absolutely. Was it my fault that I didn’t do so well? You bet it was.
Nowadays I no longer blame others for my failures because I’ve learned how to be productive. Lack of sleep was indeed one of my big mistakes.
Eat Healthy Food
Doing your work while you are hungry is weakening physically. You won’t have enough energy and cannot concentrate. So yes, eating before going to work or school, or when you are hungry, is one way of keeping your focus and productivity levels up.
When you have focus, and not constantly thinking about where the next meal will come from, you will automatically know how to be productive, mainly because your body’s stress hormones are kept in normal levels, and not causing you to wander off.
You must be reading this everywhere, so it’s no surprise to you when I say: Stay away from eating garbage food; processed food that’s packed with sugar and empty calories. I used to do it, so I know coffee and donuts are an engineer's breakfast and pizza or hot pockets are for lunch, and perhaps some pasta or rice for dinner. And I’ve heard all the excuses in the world too (not enough money; not enough time), trust me I know, I invented those excuses back in 2005.
But seriously speaking, who do you want to be? Do you want to just pass and get a degree? And then struggle for months or even years trying to get a job in your field while failing miserably?
Or do you want to graduate at the top of your class, getting hired right out of school? That’s not what happened to me, but I know that’s what I would have wanted. And I want the same for you. I want you to know that the gap between you failing in your engineering career, and, becoming a successful and happy engineer, is learning how to be productive.
And these 7 easy steps, which are often overlooked and not taken seriously, are the secret key to your success.
Meditate Every Morning
Oh ok come on now, you’re probably thinking… right? But hold on a second, hear me out - Meditation can be a health practice or religious practice. But for physical and mental health purposes, you can get into yoga or tai-chi. For religious purposes, you call it prayer. Regardless of what your reason is, and what you call it, meditation is effective and will help you be more productive.
Some of you may like Martial Arts or may actively practice different forms. I practice Thai Boxing and Krav Maga, and through meditation, I’ve been able to stabilize my mind and speed up my movements. Meditation helps me find my center. You get a better perspective of yourself and the day ahead when you meditate for a few minutes while performing your morning stretches.
I know what most of you think; “I don’t need to meditate” or “I’ve never meditated before, so I don’t even know where to begin.”
Look, that just not fair. Not to me, but to you. Are you willing to step away from achieving your highest potential so quickly? Is it so simple to kick away your dreams? I didn’t think so. I know meditation can be weird and perhaps not ‘cool’ to talk about with your friends; though it is what’s necessary for you to get to a place in your life and career that you haven’t been before. Meditation can help resolve inner conflicts. It helps to focus your attention on achieving greater goals for higher purposes.
Plan Your Day
You can plan to be more productive by segmenting your day into 15-30 minute slots, prioritizing tasks and allocating specific time frames for those tasks to be completed. Do this the night before your day starts and review your To-Do List once again in the morning. Write down your activities for that day – from your waking time to your sleeping time. Make sure to give each task a deadline and a contingency plan, and check off each task as you complete them.
The advantage of having a written plan for the day with you is you get to know right away what task comes next. You will know in advance which task is coming up next, so you don’t have to think as much and wonder about your day. You save more energy this way and become more productive as a result. At the end of the day, you can see which tasks you’ve completed and which ones you haven’t. Re-assign those incomplete tasks to the open time slots tomorrow and give them a tougher deadline.
I use my Google Calendar quite efficiently to plan my days in advance.
I plan for everything including sleep and family time, when I wake up and what I do first upon rising, as well as when I go to the gym, when I read a book and every single work-related task that must be done that day. Check out a screen shot of my calendar above and connect with me on Linkedin or Facebook if you need help setting up your personal calendar. I promise this will significantly help your results and show you how to be productive.
Hydrate With Water
Drinking enough water is said to prevent headaches, but who drinks enough water these days, right? Is that a good enough reason for you not to drink enough water too? Absolutely not. There’s more than enough scientific facts on this planet to drink more and more water (don’t worry, drinking too much water is almost impossible), I weight 200lbs, and I aim to drink 1 gallon of water per day.
Here’s a tip: buy a 1-gallon jug of water and refill it every morning; your goal now is to drink it before going to sleep. And try not to drink much water before hitting the bed, because then your sleep quality will be disturbed as you will most likely have to wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom. This will take you out of REM Sleep which is counter-productive.
Lack of water often causes headaches. Headaches can be very annoying and can strike at any time of the day. It could be due to stress, the temperature, lack of sleep, or even lack of oxygen flowing through your body. However hydrating yourself helps flush out toxins from your body and provide a better flow of nutrients to your skeletal muscles and your brain. This helps you feel more energized and able to take on your tasks with no or fewer health distractions, making you more productive.
Relax Your Mind
Take it easy once in a while. Oh and I don’t mean you should go turn on the Play Station and run a game of COD online. Absolutely not my friends. Use your break time to relax your mind and body. Sometimes break time becomes extra work time because you are trying to rush in finishing your work. Treating your break time as a real chance to give you a few minutes to reorganize your thoughts which are the best to learn how to be productive when you’re back in class or back at your work desk.
So if you have a 15-minute break, take it! Go freshen up in the bathroom. If you have a view of nature at the office, sit back and enjoy the view. You can also use this time to meditate some more, or do what I did – I used to work for a company called CDW, I was a Technical Account Manager, like a Sales Engineer, and I used to take the stairs down from the 9th floor and go for a walk around the building, which took about 10mins, and then back up the stairs. While I walked, I thought about strategies and ideas that could help me with my job, or if I was walking with co-workers, we talked about non-work-related stuff to get our mind off of what we were doing. We told jokes and sometimes even made fun of each other to have fun.
Delegate Common Tasks
This last productivity tip is perhaps the one that is used less often than the others. Especially if you’re an engineering student... and right now you’re thinking “do you mean get someone else to do my homework for me?”. Ahh, No.
If you can delegate, then do so. This will free up your time to do other tasks. So delegate those ‘other tasks’ so you can have enough time to do your homework or work on your projects. Talk to someone who’s got experience in delegating tasks so they can share their experience and resources with you. Over the last 7 years I’ve learned to become a good team player, as so many of you are, but being a good team player doesn’t always mean that you do all the work. It can also mean that you assign tasks to the right person and you encourage them to do it for you within the deadline.
Look, the point here is, to improve your productivity and delegation is a strategy that will directly open up your time (your most valuable asset), so you can focus on doing the tasks that only you can perform.
You only have two arms, right? So if you’re cooking some food with your wife or husband and ask one to chop some vegetables for you, you are more productive, as a team and as a person, the chef!
And you also only have one brain. Most of you are thinking “oh well I can multitask” but hey don’t fool yourself. Multi-tasking is impossible. It has been proven scientifically, by MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, that the human brain is only capable of focusing on one task at a time. We can rapidly shift our focus from one task to another, from one item to another, but we can’t (we just literally can’t) think about two different thinks at one single nano-second. That’s now how we’re wired.
So, you want to learn how to be productive? You find yourself behind all the times and wish you could get more tasks done in a day? Ever wished there were 34 hours in a day? Ever blamed anything and anyone around you for not getting things done on time?
Well, it’s time to put your game face on, pay attention, and learn how you can implement these fundamental principles and strategies that the world's most accomplished professionals, including engineers, practice on a daily basis. And always remember what Zig Ziglar said — “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. Because we all have 24 hour days.”
About The Contributing Author:
Nader Mowlaee is an Electronics Engineer, Engineering Career Coach & Life Coach who's inspired by Motivating Confidence in Engineers and helping them reach their career goals. Reach out and connect with him on Linkedin or Facebook if you are an Engineer and need help with implementing productivity principles & strategies, or you are serious about learning how to be productive so you can experience more fulfillment in your career and success in life.