Engineers: Do You Dance all Day Long?

September 14, 2010 at 8:50 pm 8 comments

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The word “dancing” in the title of this post doesn’t refer to the swing or the tango, although that certainly would make for an interesting workday.  By dancing, I mean do you find yourself going back and forth from one task to the next all day long?

Does the following sequence of events sound familiar?

– You get into work and log into your computer.

– You open up your e-mail and weed through the 15 e-mails that came in overnight.  You respond to some, forward others and delete spam e-mails.

– Then you notice that you have a voicemail, so you check your voicemail, write it down on a sticky note, but don’t call the person back yet.

– While checking your voicemail, two more e-mails came in, so you go back to e-mail for another 20 minutes, recycling through some of your e-mails from yesterday.

– Finally around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. you start actually working.  You open up a report that you have been working on.  As soon as you open it up a co-worker comes into your room, spends 10 minutes talking about the baseball game last night, another 10 minutes complaining about a new company policy and then you spend 10 minutes explaining the challenges associated with the current report that you are working on (or trying to work on).

– After your co-worker leaves, in between phone calls you get about an hour of work done before lunch, and then the whole process starts again!

Does this sound familiar?  Now do you see what I mean by dancing at work?  How many nights do you end up in the office until 6 or 7 p.m. wondering where the time went?

I challenge you to start working smarter!  Working smarter will allow you to get more done in less time and even get to spend some more time at home.  I have read several books on this topic including, “The One Minute Manager,” “Getting Things Done,” “Work Less and Earn More,” and “The Four Hour Work Week.”
Based on my own experience as well as information from these books, here are some recommendations for working smarter:

– DO NOT check e-mail first thing in the morning, pick a time later in the morning to check your e-mail.  If possible try to check e-mail two or three times a day at set times (i.e. 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5p.m.).

– At the end of the day, clean up your workspace and prepare yourself so that you know what you are going to do first the following morning (since you won’t be checking e-mail anymore).

– When possible set your meetings early or late in the day so you don’t eat up the middle of the day.

– Close your door (and disable your phone line) once in while to eliminate distractions and boost productivity.  You can literally close your door for one hour a day and get more done in that hour than you will the whole afternoon with the door open.  That wasn’t exactly what they meant when they said “power hour” in college, but it works!

Everyone is busy, and many times we have to answer clients calls on active projects and deal with problems in the moment, but adopting some of these behaviors should help you do less “dancing” and more focusing on one task at a time.

Please share some tips and recommendations of how to work smarter based on your experience.


Entry filed under: Career Development, Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Issues, The Workplace.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike  |  September 27, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks for the great advice. I will implement this in our office.

  • 2. Civil Engineers Tallahassee  |  September 27, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for the great advice!

  • 3. Anthony Fasano  |  September 19, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Douglas and Selvi,

    Thanks for your feedback and input! Douglas great tip about reading all e-mails before you respond!

    Selvi, I would say similar to Douglas I will do a quick scan of e-mails first thing, but remember I go through my e-mails at the end of the previous day, so there is not much read in the morning.

    I like starting as early as possible in the morning too!

    Have a great week.


  • 4. selvihanb  |  September 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I believe that prioritizing your tasks is the key in success of using the workday efficiently and smarter. It might sound old school but using an agenda (could be the outlook on your computer) helped me in great deal in improving my performance.

    I cannot agree not checking the email until 11 a.m. since there is generally important one to be replied immediately.

    What I do is to scan the emails quickly, answer the urgent ones, and make the phone calls early in the morning. In our industry, people start to their routine earlier than many industries; so I take advantage of that to finish my tasks. And whole process doesn’t take more than 15-20 mins.

    Starting the day earlier also helped me a lot. I prefer to go to work around 8:00 a.m. instead 9:00, and it changes my efficiency in a great extent. Hope these would benefit to other professionals too.

    Thank you Matt for suggesting this blog and Anthony for your write-up. I also learned few tips from other people’s recommendations.
    Selvi Balcioglu

  • 5. Douglas Lucus  |  September 18, 2010 at 5:39 am

    Good ideas for sure. But can you really ignore emails in the morning? I quickly find people calling / knocking on the door, wondering about my thoughts on an issue being debated by email, or someone wondering why I am not attending a meeting announced earlier in the morning… I have little choice but read the emails, before I actually get to work.

    I do often turn off my email in mid-day, when the traffic tapers off, allowing me to concentrate. So I see the virtue.

    One tip about the long list of emails waiting in the morning: read all before responding to any. You will likely find other people have clarified issues or answered questions before you even read the emails. It saves a lot of time and reduced confusion. Make notes on paper to be sure to respond to those you must respond to.

  • 6. Anthony Fasano  |  September 15, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Ben, that’s true and a good point. When I worked in a cube, I used to go into a conference room for privacy. when I used the conference room, people seemed to leave me alone, they thought I was in a meeting? It was great for when I had to review plans.

    William I agree 100%, I often help engineers implement a to-do list into their day to boost productivity and reduce that “I’m overwhelmed” feeling. I also agree about taking a walk, anytime you can break the day up and get outside, it is good for the mind and body!


  • 7. William Merunka  |  September 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Great advice! To build on your end of day routine, keeping a to-do list helps alot. This helps you know everything you need to get done as opposed to a post it here, a note written on this report, a clarification request burried amongst your email etc. For me it also energerizes me as more and more items get crossed off the list. It helps you realize how much you are getting done as opposed to just thinking about the endless amounts of stuff that you have to get done but have no idea how you would be able to leave the office at a resonable time.

    Another thing I find helpful is taking a walk at lunch. A little fresh air, and time away from the computer helps to renergize you and takes your mind off of the large amount of work on your desk.

  • 8. Ben Matthews  |  September 15, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Close your door? We are engineers and most of us work in cubes. Great advice though!


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