6 Non-technical Ways to Be a Better Engineer
Not all solutions are technical. Try a few of these simple tips to get more organized and get ahead of the game.
Communication is always, always, always a desired skill. You will never see an Indeed posting without some variant of "strong communication skills" listed as a candidate requirement. Most engineers flex their writing muscle the way most professionals do these days: email. Professional communication is great, but it limits your conversations to those valuable to your employer. Why not take the chance to say something that is important to you? Blogs are easy to set up, and available on myriad of platforms. Wordpress, Blogger, and even Github now offer blogs as a component of their services. (I use Github for my own personal blog - in tandem with the Jekyll Ruby gem, it's a super simple blogging utility. Even easier if you're familiar with git!) It's not necessarily important to blog about engineering - writing skill transcends topic, so you might as well write about something you love, because the dividends will pay off in other areas!
It's no secret that engineers make pretty great money. Do yourself a favor: put part of that paycheck away for a rainy day. Most financial advisors recommend that you keep at least three months of expenses available in a savings account for emergency use. This is excellent advice, and is vastly preferable to taking on debt to pay for medical expenses or a major home/auto repair. Does your employer offer a 401(k)? Do they offer to match a percentage of your contribution? If so, absolutely take advantage of it - you're leaving free money on the table if you don't! A 401(k) also has the benefit of taking your gross annual income down a notch or two, which can save you even more money when Uncle Sam comes knocking in April by reducing your taxable burden.
Keeping your mind sharp is crucial to tech work. Letting your body slack goes hand in hand with letting your mind slip. Exercise is a crucial part of good performance. There is a boatload of research out there that shows that exercise helps relieve stress, and engineering roles can absolutely be stressful. A growing body of research is showing that exercise has other fringe benefits for knowledge workers as well: increased focus, better mental resilience, and a higher reported level of wellbeing and personal satisfaction.
Make a schedule.
Schedules don’t exist to lock you down. They exist to free you up. By blocking out the most mundane and rote things in your life, you start to see just how much time you really have on your hands. Nearly every modern business uses Outlook, which comes with a great built-in calendar. Start using it, and you’ll see just how much time you have on your hands! I'm also a huge advocate of using a schedule in tandem with the methods mentioned in David Allen's Getting Things Done. Want an idea of how to jumpstart this method of organization? Check out the post I wrote on my Evernote + GTD workflow:
Find the best time of day.
I'm very much a morning person. I rarely make great strides on a project after 2 in the afternoon. Most times, the momentum is just lost after a lunch break. Because I know this about myself, I always try to set myself up to get my most challenging and important work done in the mornings. (The earlier, the better: I've had coworkers show up at 7:30 and find me an hour and a half into a critical bench test!) Whether this is prepping for an experiment, getting the background material in place to write a report, or crunching the numbers to validate a design, it's crucial to set yourself up to complete this work when you’re in the best state of mind to do so. This is really where your schedule can pay dividends for you. Your schedule functions just as well as a shield as an appointment book - if you've got something important to do, block it out! Email, office chitchat, and other daily actuarials can wait until off-peak hours.
Find a creative hobby.
I recently read a great blog post about how Nobel Prize-winning scientists are much more involved in artistic pursuits than the general population. I am convinced that creative hobbies pay off hugely for engineers, in large part because it allows us to indulge our curiosity in ways wholly of our own choosing. I’m also convinced that it forces you to interact with people and ideas who aren’t solely of the engineering profession. Richard Feynman was an accomplished artist, and held showings under a pseudonym. Albert Einstein was a lifelong violinist. Werner Heisenberg was an accomplished classical pianist. You wouldn’t be in bad company for trying!
These simple suggestions will yield massive results when implemented correctly. Give them a shot!