Career woman sitting at desk looking overwhelmed and burnt out

Tips For Creating A Successful Technical Career Without Sacrificing Your Sanity

lifestyle hacks Jan 26, 2023

A Successful Engineering Career Without Working Long Hours?

Is it even possible?

Do you want to progress in your technical career, but you DON’T want to work 50 or 60-hour weeks?

Here are our three big tips on how to have a successful career without sacrificing your sanity.

Tip #1: What is a successful engineering or technical career?

Getting clarity over what success looks like for you is critical to making sure you don’t burn out.

When you know your direction, you can be strategic about where you put your limited time and energy – rather than burning the candle at both ends to land a promotion for a job that doesn't fit you.

You may have thought about this early in your career, but have you revisited it lately? Because what you want in your twenties might not be the same as what you want in your thirties or forties – as life changes, your ideas of what you truly want and what success is, change as well.

Engineering and technical areas have many career path options:

  • You might want to become a technical guru of some sort and possibly get quite specialised into one area. Because if you tend to focus on the technical, you need to specialise, because if you are a Jack of all trades, you will likely end up not being seen as an expert in any area.

  • Project and construction management may be your focus - the bigger the budget and infrastructure you build, the bigger the personal reward.

  • You might want to go into people management, where you will be dealing with relationships rather than technical design or operation.

  • Even within management there are different options – do you want to be a Managing Director in a large organization, or a team leader where you oversee technical people, managing the team to function at its best?

Take the time, and research all the different engineering career paths out there. Find people living the lifestyle you want with the job you want. Are they managing big teams, or instead big budgets and projects, or are they the internationally renowned expert?

Tip #2: Directing Your Career Towards Success

You know where you want to go, now to start steering the ship.

You need to be strategic about the projects you work on, and the way you deliver your work.

Take Person A and Person B – they start in the same role at the same time.

Person A does whatever project they are given and makes sure they deliver a good report (or design, model or analysis) on time.

Person B manages to get on projects that win awards or get the attention of clients and upper management. They also deliver on time, but they deliver more than just a good product - they deliver more value. A valuable solution for a challenge the client or manager was facing.

Which one is more likely to get the promotion, or new job opportunities? Person B.

Did Person B work more hours than Person A? Not in my experience.

Here’s what Person B did differently.

Work On Strategic Projects

Person B didn’t just work on any project that came their way. Over time, they managed to get on teams for the important projects. The awards and recognition, the kudos and experience gain, were results of the quality of projects Person B worked on.

Find out what projects get the attention of clients and management in your sector. 

It’s not always obvious beforehand, but often it is large scale projects, or projects with important clients, or new clients. Or it may be projects with opportunities for doing things differently – introducing innovative solutions. Check out what wins the awards and attention.

Now comes the tricky bit. How do you get to work on those projects?

I can hear you say, “but my boss keeps giving me all this crap work and bad projects. What do I do?”

The answer is you must have a tricky conversation with your boss.

The next time they give you work you don't see as strategic, say, “Hey, if I do this new piece of work, then I have to drop this more strategic project that's helping us manage this important risk”.

I can hear you say - “But if I don't say yes to my boss all the time my boss is going to think that I'm lazy or that I'm a complainer.”

The reality is, most of the time the opposite is true.

I know when I've been a boss, I've always appreciated it when a staff member said, "Hey, if I'm taking on this new project, I have to drop this other task that is important, and that makes me feel uncomfortable". Then the employee and I can figure out which piece of work is more important.

I don't view that employee as lazy – I view that staff member as proactive and wanting to add value in the best possible way. Without burning out.


Deliver Your Work By Adding Value

The other thing Person B did differently is they didn’t do just the tasks given to them, and certainly not the bare minimum.

Instead, Person B made sure they “over delivered” value to the client and management, supplying what the client / manager needed not just what they asked for.

Before you say “but that sounds like more work!”, I would like to argue that it is about working smarter not harder.

You could spend less time on the low-value number crunching and concentrate on the high-value risk identification process. Instead of giving your boss the analytically correct answer to the calculation, how much more will they appreciate if you tell them that the “correct” answer is going to pose some other significant risks? That pipeline might fit in the corridor, but it was going to cost three times as much as a different material has to be used because of the ground conditions.

Doing a high-level risk assessment that showed the answer to the question is not going to manage the risks they are facing, doesn’t necessarily take much time – but can deliver huge value, and keep your name at the top of the list when they want a “valuable” employee on that next big project.

So how do you add value?

You keep asking yourself questions, to challenge yourself to work smarter.

Say you wanted to go down the management path and you're a graduate now. Your job is mostly crunching data and working with spreadsheets. To be more strategic, think to yourself;

  • How could I present this to the client, so they understand it better?

  • How am I going to take ownership of this work?

  • If I was sitting on their side of the table, how would they want to see this?

  • What value can I add to this that is going to be of benefit to them?

As you put your client or manager’s hat on, more and more often, the more it will become second nature to deliver the type of value that will make you a “valuable” employee, who is able to name what type of work they want to do.

We've got one final top tip for a magnificent career without sacrificing your sanity - BUT these aren't the only tools available to you to really change your career and home life for better! If you want a whole toolbox of tools to use to improve your life - come join us in our course! 

The Professional Life Toolbox course has all the tools THAT WE HAVE USED AND TESTED IN OUR OWN ENGINEERING CAREERS! They aren't the platitudes of a leadership guru who hasn't had to work in an office for the last decade!

Tip #3: Create A Life Outside Work

The last tip to not burn out and still advance your career is you need to have a life outside of work.

You need to play squash or have guitar lessons, join a choir or book club. You need to have ways of catching up with friends, so you have that reason to leave work.

If you haven't got reason to leave work, it gets harder to say no and it's easy to work those extra 10 hours. Because what else are you going to do?

I can hear you think “ if I leave work at 5pm everyday, won't people end up thinking, I'm a clock-watcher?”

The answer is no.

(There might be some set in old ways of thinking that may think that. The people that care about the bums on seats, as opposed to productivity and delivering value to clients and customers. If you are stuck in an organisation that still thinks this way – you need to do a serious rethink as to whether your values and aspirations are aligned with the organisation, but that is a totally different article!)

If you're hitting your targets, if you're adding value with all your work, if you are turning up every day with enthusiasm and energy, then management are going to love you. Even if you leave at 5pm.

That is exactly what we have discovered in the last decade, when we've been going home on time. Management appreciated that we are ready to go each day and haven't burnt out. We are constantly adding value for them, and through our careers have been offered good jobs, good projects to work on.

So don't believe that in a voice when it tells you “Hey, if you leave at 5:00 o'clock, your boss is going think very little of you”. Quite often it will be the opposite.

You will be charged up. You will be ready to go.

Want more researched and tested strategies, tips and tricks to live a flourishing life at work AND at home? What if we could give them to you all packaged up so you didn't have to search through the rubbish out there on the web?

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In the meantime, start with these three tips in this article – but remember, this is just your starting point – Reading the article is only the first step! Now to action it, and learn more strategies!

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