Time is money in the engineering biz. It is a resource which, if managed wisely, will help your firm grow profitable. However, time can also be traded or sucked away from income-generating projects and tasks to client relations, management, and soul-destroying admin.
As an engineer, how do you keep your soul from being destroyed? The answer is simple...
...Adopt time management practices that minimise the amount of time you spend on non-engineering tasks, and ensure the time you do have available is productive. In this article we get into the how with 8 time management tips.
Time Management Tip 1: Understand your patterns
The key to successful time management lies in understanding your own body and brain. When do you perform the best for certain tasks?
All humans operate using an individual set of physiological patterns. We all sleep differently – some needing hours more than others to obtain the same level of functionality, some needing an early bedtime and an early start, others wanting to sleep late into the day.
During the day, energy levels and cognitive functioning experience different peak and troughs. The time when you focus best and can think most creatively may be very different to your peers. The trick is to structure your day to take advantage of these pockets of extra-productive time, and ensure you’ve allocated them to the tasks for which they’re most suited.
For example, I do my best writing work (the main thinking part of my job) early in the morning or in the late evening. So I make sure to schedule out those times for writing tasks. The rest of the day I allocate to administrative tasks or other duties that aren’t so intensive.
Also, I find that exercising just before lunchtime means my lunch time is very lethargic, but my afternoons are more productive. Your patterns will be completely different, because you are different. Begin to understand your own biochemistry, and work around your most productive times for each task.
Time Management Tip 2: Get it Done Online
As an engineer, you understand the importance of keeping accurate records. You can’t manage something, unless you first measure it. Tracking the time spent and costs associated with each job enables you not only to give an accurate total to your client and capture all your costs, but you’re able to measure different aspects of your business.
As an engineer, you’re gonna love that.
One of the easiest ways to get these numbers is to implement an online project management system, like WorkflowMax. Why? Well, WorkflowMax enables you to track time, manage costs, send quotes and invoices, set project milestones, and a ton more, all with only a few clicks.
But what’s more, WorkflowMax stores a wealth of data about each job you do, and enables you to pull up reports on that data. You can see:
- Which clients bring in the most profit.
- Which engineers work fastest on certain tasks.
- Which types of jobs are most profitable.
- How long projects are taking from inception to completion.
- Anything you want, by adding custom fields.
This can help you to further prioritising your time and resources by, for example, focusing on bringing in more of the type of work that generates to most profit or placing your fastest and most efficient team members in the places they’re needed most.
Time Management Tip 3: Default Calendar
As an engineer, you’ll have a lot of tasks that need to be performed week in, week out, or ongoing projects requiring a monthly site visit or other recurring schedule. A great way to help your organise your time is to create a default calendar.
For this, you need a calendar application. I use Google Calendar, but there are many other options out there. In any calendar application you can set recurring events, and colour-code these events so you can categorise them in different ways – different types of jobs have different colours, or each client has a different colour, for example.
Most people use their calendar to put in meetings or other events where they need to meet others. But you can go a step further and create allotted time slots for different daily/weekly/monthly activities. For example:
- if the first half-hour of the day is where you check your emails, then schedule it in as a daily task. That way, no one can book you in for a meeting during that time.
- If you have to visit six sites every month for maintenance / checkups, then schedule these visits in to recur on specific days. This is a great way to help you streamline your time – for example, allowing you to schedule 2-4 visits in the same to day to cut down on traffic time.
- If you then need to write up notes from those site visits, schedule a block of time for this the day following. This helps you to get those notes written up in a timely fashion.
By scheduling tasks in this way, you always have an accurate view of exactly how much of your time is already allotted in a month, so you can then fit new work and commitments around it.
Time Management Tip 4: Assume Everyone Knows What They’re Doing
Engineers can be perfectionists, especially when it comes to projects they will have their names against. Unfortunately, this desire for control can result in you becoming an overbearing micromanager.
Give your team their assignments, check you’ve answered all their questions, and then leave them to it. Don’t hover over them, asking every week, every day, ever hour for an update. Not only does this slow down the process and cost both you and your team precious time, but it creates a culture of mistrust.
If you need to keep apprised of progress, you can do that via an online job management system like WorkflowMax. Or schedule in a slot of time to receive updates. But outside of that, step back and focus on your own tasks. Don’t try to do everyone else’s.
You hired this team because they are educated, talented, and keen to prove themselves. So let them prove their worth to you.
Time Management Tip 5: Schedule before you commit
Here’s a simple tip that can save your engineering firm from becoming overcommitted. Before you commit to a new client – often, even before the quoting stage – pull up your schedule and see how much time is actually available for that job in the coming months. If everyone in your firm is using a default calendar, you’ll be able to add up how many free hours they have each week and get an accurate picture of how long the job will actually take.
This will be easy to figure out if you’re using an online job management tool, like WorkflowMax, where you track similar jobs, and can see what each team member has on their desk at any one time.
If you’re not assessing the available time, you risk overloading your team with work, putting pressure on every arm of the company to pick up the slack. When workloads are heavy, hours long, and employees stressed, mistakes happen.
Time Management Tip 6: Set Milestone Dates
As an engineer, you work on large, complex projects involving many different departments, tools, contractors, and components. Jobs can run over months or even years, and it takes a certain kind of mind to be able to visualise a schedule over that period of time.
Milestones enable you to break a job down into smaller sections. This helps everyone on your team focus on ticking off the tasks for each stage and moving a job through its different stages of progression.
Upon reaching each milestone, you can bill the client for work completed thus far. This helps you to manage cashflow and ensure your business continues to operate with peak efficiency.
Time management tip 7: Adopt a project management Methodology
Engineering projects can be mind-blowing in their complexity and intricacy. The way you approach a project and organise all the different facets has a significant impact both on the amount of time it takes to arrive at the finished result and on its overall success.
In the early days of engineering, it would be up to the leading engineer to set out this approach (the methodology). However, in the 1950s large companies began to develop standardised methodologies to streamline the project management process.
Using a standard methodology that sets out the steps you take in order to bring the process to completion can help you to manage a complex job with little hassle, and ensure you don’t overlook critical steps. An established methodology takes much of the thinking process out of your hands, freeing up brainspace for the actual engineering work.
At WorkflowMax we have an in-depth article which discusses the pros and cons of different project management methodologies. It’s a good place to start to choose the right framework for your particular project.
Time management tip 8: Collaborate and share
As an engineer, you can be a bit of a lone wolf, charging ahead with the work you need to do without coming up for air or water or cheap vending machine chocolate. You can sit for hours in the dark nutting out a complicated engineering problem.
This demonstrates your dedication to your work, but you may have been able to save those hours in the dark if you’d just gone and asked another engineer to help you nut out the problem.
Bouncing ideas off another person can work wonders for productivity. That other person brings a fresh pair of eyes. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stressed over a problem for hours only to talk to someone else and minutes later have a solution. They also have a unique perspective, experience, or contact that could make all the difference to a project.
It’s time for this lone wolf to hunt with the pack.
As an engineer, how do you manage large-scale projects? What time management tips can you offer?