Are engineers lazy? Some are and some aren’t. But a certain type of laziness is hugely beneficial for engineers in their work.
I know, sounds contradictory. You’d expect the engineers who design the planes you fly in to be anything but lazy.
But the trick is to be lazy when it only comes to certain things.
Before we dive headfirst into the good type of laziness, lets’ go over the type of laziness I’m NOT talking about.
This type of laziness relates to Google’s definition of the word. Google defines laziness as,
“The quality of being unwilling to work or use energy; idleness.”
Let’s talk a little more about this bad type of laziness, to highlight the obvious of why it’s so bad.
The bad type of laziness
How does this bad type of laziness take shape in engineering?
An assignment that should only take a few hours to complete, takes you weeks to complete.
Now, why does this happen?
Simply because you’re too lazy to do your work. You let assignments stare back at you for weeks on end untouched.
In short, you work like a sloth.
I find this happens from forming bad habits and having poor motivation. You just don’t have a fire lit under you.
And let me tell you, this drives other people crazy. I know it drives me crazy!
To illustrate, I’ll go over a personal example when I experienced the bad type of laziness.
My experience with a lazy engineer
I once gave another engineer a calculation to do for a design Project X we were both working on. The calculation wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
So, I’d say it’d take 3 to 4 hours at most to complete the calculation.
He told me he could get it done by end of the week. Thus, 3 days to do the work. I was cool with that.
I moved on and did my own work. Then, the week passed by and I received nothing from him. Then another week passed by, and still, I received nothing.
At this point, I was becoming overly frustrated as we now had hit the third week. Plus, I was already done with all the work from my end.
Keep in mind, I was doing 90% of the project work myself. Thus, the workload was unevenly distributed from the start. So there should have been no reason for the delays.
With my frustrations boiling over, I finally just did the work myself. Then when I told him I finished his work on my own, he sounded shocked. He told he was almost complete.
Like, come on now. Almost complete after 3 weeks?!
The thing was, he wasn’t doing any other real work either. When he told me he was busy, I knew he was full of shit.
In the end, I told myself, “damn! This guy really does nothing!”
He did talk a big game of fooling others though. Unfortunately, like any other industry, you’ll come across people like this.
What I then noticed is, this was a reoccurring theme with everything this guy touched. It drove me crazy!
In short, endlessly dragging your feet with completing clear-cut work is bad laziness. As the Nike slogan reads, “just do it.”
Laziness of employee versus company founders
I want to now make a distinct comparison that I commonly see in the workplace. Because sometimes people expect too much output from engineers who are just employees.
But I do need to tread carefully here, as I don’t want to overly generalize an entire group of people.
I find in most instances, when you’re at the helm of a business you bust ass more than anyone. You go the extra mile because your neck is on the line.
You have all the following things on your mind day after day:
- Maintaining payroll
- Growing the business or just maintaining the flow of consistent business
- Dealing with constant business bullshit
- Managing liabilities and trying to not get sued
- Maintaining the business reputation
Plus, if it’s your business, you have a deep connection with the business. That’s why they say a business is like your baby.
What’s more, in engineering, many of the founders still do technical work too. Thus, you need to juggle business and technical work. You need to wear many hats!
Naturally, all this makes a business founder more tied to a business. As a result, they’re uber-efficient in their work and they don’t waste a single minute. They’re constantly on the grind checking off items from their to-do list.
Employees work output
An employee will do the bare minimum required to collect a paycheck or advance in their company. Thereafter, they clock out and go home
This doesn’t mean the employee is lazy though. Rather, they’ve conformed to their workplace environment. They’re doing what regular employees do, and not much more.
In return, in most instances, the pay of an employee is much less than that of a company founder.
To point out, these employees are no slouches. They’d complete the calculation I outlined in the previous section in several hours.
With that out of the way, let’s go over what types of laziness are beneficial in engineering.
Engineers filtering activities to only do productive work
Doing the most work with the least amount of effort should always be the goal.
This is the premise behind any good engineering design. Look no further than the endless pursuit of improved energy efficiency.
We want to increase machine output while limiting the consumption of fuel. The same ideology applies to every engineering project.
So in short, in engineering, you sometimes need to flat out say ‘no’ to work. This way, you don’t need to re-do work, and you only produce high-quality work.
Because doing work just for the sake of working is a fool’s game. You’ll accomplish nothing in the end.
Sure, you’ll look busy, and others will think you’re not the bad type of lazy. But what good does that do in the end? Putting out a garbage project is an endless set of problems for everyone involved.
I find most engineers will over time understand that saying “no” to certain work is a powerful skill.
Important Note: a lot of the time, hectic work comes from poor planning. It’s because you didn’t properly plan and you’re now rushing to get your work done.
In other words, running around looking busy may just mean you have horrible time management skills.
Identifying productive work in engineering projects
Imagine you have a project where you need to make a machine output two things. The first option is to slave away and try to design this machine from scratch.
The second option is to find two existing machines that each output one of the things you want. Then, your job becomes figuring out how to integrate the two machines together.
Clearly, option number two is the most efficient. You’ll have two proven machine concepts to use. So you’re not reinventing the wheel.
Plus, you can integrate your newfound machines with other designs. Maybe in the future, you need to output a third thing.
In the end, the project’s end goal is to output the two things you want.
This may mean researching for days to find the two best existing machines to use. Then, spending days thinking about how to integrate the two machines together.
So, it’s not about showing others how hard of a worker you are with your head down slaving away. In other words, frivolously doing calculations, running simulations, and drawing up schematics.
Because the result may be an overpriced machine that’ll take over a year to build. Plus, the machine may not even work. This is bad engineering.
Engineers properly project planning
Engineers tend to overthink problems. They may endlessly drag a problem through the dirt, as they think through every last thing that could go wrong. Thus, delaying the project completion.
I get called out on this from time to time.
I get it. It’s not always productive and it drives business people crazy. Heck, I drive myself crazy sometimes.
Then other times, long think periods are not only beneficial but required. This is for when you’re project planning. The goal is the following in this process:
- Figure out a design direction
- Limit project re-dos and failures
- Complete the project efficiently
To outsiders, these engineers may look very unproductive as they plan projects. They may even receive the ‘project delayers’ label.
I thought the same when I first started working as an engineer. I equated this process with the bad type of laziness.
Quickly though, I learned my lesson after I led a fairly complex design myself. I didn’t properly plan, and boy did I take a beating for it.
Midway through the project, I had to start from scratch. My initial design idea was driving the project in the wrong direction.
I wasted a lot of engineering hours and the project fell well behind schedule. Lesson learned!
The necessity of project planning
There’s a reason for the madness with project planning. Proper project planning will save you endless future headaches.
Because any engineer can slap together a design. But in the process, will the engineer properly address the below-listed questions?
- Will the design be functional in the real world?
- Will the design be operable 10 years from today?
- Can the project stay within budget and on schedule?
- What’s the effort involved in implementing the design in the construction/manufacturing stage?
In engineering, it’s not always about how much effort you overtly output. It’s about how efficient you are in reaching your desired goal.
I compare it to basketball.
Why should players endlessly run around exerting all their energy for two points? All the while, a simple pick and roll play will get you the same two points.
Important Note: creating a project plan is essential to good engineering.
Thus, take the extra time to properly plan a project. Even if it means thinking for hours on end, without doing any “real” work.
This includes figuring out a design direction. The design direction heavily depends on the engineering creative process.
“Are engineers lazy?” wrap up
Some engineers are lazy, like couch potato lazy.
But many other engineers are lazy by design. This good type of laziness we discussed is what drives innovation.
You can’t rush great engineering. The technologies we have today come from engineers placing no limits on their hours of work.
Lech Walesa, a Polish Nobel Peace Prize winner said it best,
“I’m lazy. But it’s the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn’t like walking or carrying things.”
Clearly, laziness isn’t always a bad thing!
In the end, try to have more of the good type of laziness in you. Then scrub out the bad type of laziness, to become an awesome engineer.
And if someone asks, “are engineers lazy?” reply with ‘great ones are, by design.’
Are engineers lazy to you? What type of laziness in the workplace annoys you the most?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.