9 Engineer Habits All Successful Engineers Have

There are 9 engineer habits all successful engineers have. By adopting these habits, you’ll level up and reach your full potential.

These are habits used by all types of engineers, and they’ll help you do the following:

  • Lead large and complex projects
  • Maximize your salary
  • Increase your confidence
  • Gain respect from your peers and clients
  • Start and run a successful engineering business

#1 Master your time management

A lot of the time you’ll be working solo. So you need to be able to properly self-manage. Otherwise, you’ll miss deadlines and make an entire line of people angry at you.

To properly manage your time, create structured daily to-do lists for yourself. This way, you won’t guess what you need to do every hour. Then over time, you’ll learn how to work like a machine. And your productivity will skyrocket as long as you have laser focus.

Even more, I suggest doing the following:

  • Cut out any and all distractions to maintain your focus
  • Prioritize activities based on deadlines and the amount of work involved
  • Learn to multi-task effectively

#2 Closely follow industry standards 

electrical equipment lineup
Doing inspection work inside a water pump station

First, properly learn and then follow your industry’s standards. This will ensure inspectors approve your work. But also, it’s your responsibility per the ethical principles in engineering. You want to be sure your work is safe and functional.

In return, you can sleep better at night by limiting engineering mistakes. And if set standards don’t exist for certain work, then create them. Maybe your company doesn’t have engineering drawing review standards.

So, create drawing standards for your company to deliver the best quality drawings. You can start with learning how to properly check engineering drawings. Also, read through the undiscussed rules in engineering to find anything else your company lacks. I find many engineering companies lack in the following areas:

  • Documentation
  • Project review protocols (QA/QC)
  • Training material
  • Employee accountability

#3 Maintain communication with all stakeholders

Keep all stakeholders of a project in the loop. Provide status updates and discuss issues as they come up.

I become frustrated when I’m not kept in the loop. Especially when I assign someone work they agree to do, and then they ghost me. A couple of weeks pass the agreed-upon deadline, and I hear nothing. I don’t know what’s going on.

These individuals don’t respect our commitments, and it’s frankly disrespectful. Because the delayed work trickles down the line and impacts countless others. And I then need to give answers why the work isn’t completed. It makes me look bad. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence.

In short, good communication solves almost all problems. On the flip side, bad communication ignites almost every engineering problem. To improve your communication check out my following articles:

#4 Pursue knowledge

seek knowledge
Photo Credit: j zamora

Constantly search for knowledge and make learning a lifelong habit. You never want to reach a point where you say to yourself,

“Okay, I’ve gained enough knowledge. I finally hit my knowledge quota for my life.”

With rapidly advancing technology, there’s always something new to learn. No matter how focused your specialty niche is. And this is how you maximize your abilities as an engineer. In fact, the endless pursuit of knowledge by large, is how genius engineers are made.

#5 Backup your digital work

Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how easily you can lose your digital work. This is why I constantly save my work, and I have my apps all set to auto-save. Even more, I create multiple backup copies of my work.

These days, you have access to many great cloud services like Dropbox. You can get 1 TB of storage space for dirt cheap. And to illustrate the importance of backing up your work, I’m going to go over a nightmare example.

I once had my hard drive and server both crash together, early on in my career. A large part of the data wasn’t recoverable. I lost months of engineering design work. This included tons of intricate drafting work and large amounts of project notes

The only saving grace was I had a lot of my work printed out. So I didn’t need to completely start from scratch. But today, with almost all engineering work saved digitally, you NEED multiple backup sources.

#6 Properly gauge project timelines

Learn how to dissect project scopes and clients to determine rough project timelines. This way, you can more accurately create project schedules. Because as the expert, if you tell a  client the work will take a month to complete, they’ll take your word.

And it’s one thing to go one week past the project deadline. But, it’s completely another matter to go two months past your deadline. With the latter scenario, you’ll then have everyone and their mom breathing down your throat. So, to first size up a project, do the following:

  • Customer evaluation: are they responsive? Will they be able to get you everything you need quickly? If they’re slow from the start, they’ll be slow once the project starts.
  • Available information: how much critical project information do you have access to? If not much, you’ll need to do field investigations and/or R&D work.
  • Scope of work: is the scope finely defined? If not, the project can turn into a drawn-out mess.
  • Your schedule: are you busy? Do you anticipate your workload to increase?

By answering the above questions, you can better create accurate project timelines. Also, the more projects you do and customers you deal with, the better you’ll get at this.

#7 Documentation 

office engineering notes
A section of my office engineering notes

Document EVERYTHING. Even the small details you view as trivial. Because more times than not, the trivial items will fall back on your plate in the future. You then don’t want to research and relearn everything. It’d be a HUGE waste of time.

So, when you’re in the thick of things, write down everything you learn. I always take notes after any one of the following:

  • Researching for several hours
  • Receiving detailed requested information from vendors
  • Receiving answers from other engineers over things I didn’t know about
  • Making critical design decisions for projects
  • Gathering agency information (e.g. lead times for certain activities)
  • Troubleshooting problems in the field

I suggest creating physical notebooks for your notes. Also, store your notes online. For example, use one of the many cloud services. This way, you have instant real-time access to your notes on any device.

Another tip is to add long-tail keywords to your digital notes. This makes searching through your notes super easy. Even more, break out your notes into organized folders and sub-folders. The more organized you are, the more useful your notes will be.

#8 Check your work

You need to know how to check all parts of your work. This is a skill in itself. So use the review standards in your company, or create a review check process yourself. This way, mistakes don’t slip through the cracks.

Over time, the review process becomes like brushing your teeth before bed. You check your work like clockwork and you can easily spot mistakes. It’s when engineers get too confident and dismiss the review process, problems follow.

Even more, give your engineering work to others to review. Because two heads are better than one. I suggest making peer review a part of EVERY project.

#9 Other powerful habits

Below is a list of other articles I’ve written to help you build the best of the best engineer habits.

In the end, becoming a great engineer comes down to how much effort you put into leveling yourself up. You need to answer the following questions:

  • Are you willing to go the extra mile to learn as much as possible?
  • How uncomfortable are you willing to get with your learning?
  • How much will you sacrifice to maximize your work output?

What’s more, most of your learning won’t happen inside of classroom walls. I wholeheartedly believe real-world experience trumps any classroom learning. And this is why I believe engineering education needs reform.

Powerful engineer habits wrap up

Every human, including engineers, is only a series of habits. So by adopting powerful engineer habits, you’ll maximize your abilities.

In return, you’ll work on more awesome projects, and you’ll feel more satisfied with your work. A win-win!

Which engineer habits do you find to be the most impactful in an engineer’s career? On the flip side, which engineer habits are the most detrimental to your career?


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