12 Keys to create balance in your engineering career (part 1)

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“There is no work-life balance. We have one life. What’s most important is that you be awake for it.”
― Janice Marturano

So, you have a big deadline tomorrow. Clients keep on calling you on the phone. Email notifications are tumbling into your inbox and there’s another colleague asking for something. And wait, it’s your day to pick up the kids from school and you promised your friends to organize a get together next weekend. What you really wanted to do is go to the gym tonight but you actually crashed on the couch to watch TV to avoid that discussion with your partner. But you still had to work on that deadline…Sounds familiar? This article covers the first 5 of 12 keys to create more balance in your career.

1)List your values. These are things you believe are important in your career and in life. What do you want and what do you stand for? Examples are:

  • Be the best engineer in a field
  • Have meaningful relationships
  • Give value to clients or co-workers
  • Learn new skills
  • Spend time with family or friends

Do you have trouble finding out what your values are? I suggest you only write down 5 values. Still having trouble finding out what they are? Try to write down what your “anti-values” are. For me, one is not keeping promises. The opposite value for me is to do what I’ve promised.

2)Determine priorities for success. Once your values are defined, you’ll find it’s easier to make choices and set priorities for today, this week, this month or this year. Keep in mind that every choice has a consequence. The question then is if you’re willing to take the consequences. If your priorities as clear to you, you know what you have to do that day. This means that you can set boundaries to yourself and others (actually you’re saying no to certain things).

3)Manage your time well. People often get stressed (get out of balance) when there’s too much to do in too little time. So plan your day well and include time for unforeseen tasks. There are a lot of techniques how to get things done (check this site or this site ).

One of my favorite techniques is to make a “to do” list of not more than 9 tasks. I call it the “1+3+5 list”. You start with the most important task (the big deadline), then 3 other important tasks, like calling those clients. Finally end with 5 less important tasks like answering mail (if it’s really important, people will call!) or even any other task other than work (call the dentist for an appointment).

Limit the time you spend on a specific task. This is a challenge for the perfectionists among us. If you’re spending too much time on one task, ask yourself what the original specs of the task were. Also, perfectionist want to be 100% certain that the task is completed well. Reflect on what the origin of this uncertainty is and if the current result meets specifications as it is right now. You can always check this with your manager or your client.

Another powerful technique is start the day with the following intention: “I manage my time well”. Say this to yourself or write this down. You’re telling yourself that you will do everything in your power to do what has been agreed.

“The act of speaking our intentions aloud shifts them from wishful thinking into action.”
― Michael Thomas Sunnarborg, 21 Days to Better Balance: Find More Balance in a Busy World

4)Simplify your life at work and at home by automating, eliminating or delegating. An example is a software tool to help you to be more productive and effective at work, to read your email just 3 times a day. You can clean your desk and write down your “1+3+5 list” for the next day before you leave the office. Simplify your life by being present at home or while doing your calculations at work. This means not being distracted by the other tasks you want to do or by that smartphone when you’re with your family. Also you could hire someone (a nanny) to bring your kids to soccer practice and help in the household.

5)Celebrate. Yes! Celebrate when you’ve completed a task. Every one of the tasks you have. This can be a coffee break, a stroll or a snack. It will give you motivation to proceed to the next task as there will be another reason to celebrate.

My next article will cover 7 more keys to create more balance in your engineering career.

Do you experience having trouble creating balance in your career? In what ways and what do you do to balance?Let me know in the comment box below. I am looking forward reading from you!

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