You Can Take a Break (Down Time for Engineers and Runners)

When a runner enters the mindset of racing season, they spend a large amount of time clocking miles, focusing on proper eating, performing strength training, and stretching.  This causes stress on their body and mind.  Due to this, runners need to schedule a rest and recovery period, a break, into their training schedule.  This gives their body time to recover and repair muscles, which will encourage fewer injuries and can improve their success in achieving a Personal Record (PR) or goal.  For the runner’s brain, a break allows for reduced stress, since most runners are type A personalities and feel anxiety over the slightest deviation in their training and preparation routine.

Engineers in the workforce, have times they are immersed in a project and forget everything that is happening around them. In the world of strict deadlines and having quotas to achieve, we tend to ignore the fact that our minds and bodies need a break.  It has become part of our nature to sit in front of our computers for hours, not leaving our desk even for lunch.  Engineers show up to work early, stay after hours, and bring work home; the brain is placed under large amounts of pressure causing us to lose focus, become forgetful, frustrated, and depressed. In the end, we are burnt out due to this high amount of stress and anxiety in our lives.

Is this actually helping your work performance?  NO!

So how do you become more efficient, focused, and happy?  We take our break to recharge our minds.  To get the most out of a break, you will need to mentally disengage from the work at hand.  For some engineers this is difficult to do, but here are some suggestions that can lead you back to a productive path:

  • Get outside and go for a 15 minute walk.  Going outside has been proven to alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind.
  • Read or watch something that will make you laugh, giving you a positive sensation.
  • Find a place away from your desk and let your mind wander. This allows your creative side to generate new ideas to help with problem solving.
  • Try to learn something new, which will help you feel confident.
  • Help a colleague out.  This gives you a feeling of social connectedness, resulting in a comforting and positive feeling.

So remember it is okay to take regular breaks, which will benefit our max performance, and rejuvenate us so we are able to achieve that next big goal.

Words of Wisdom:  Write down at least three positive things each day. This will help you focus on the good in each day over the negative.

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How the Digital Age in Engineering Compares to a Treadmill

When going to the gym, there are always those people you see running on the treadmills. One day you overhear one of these people tell their gym buddy, “I have been training for a 10K every day.”  Are they really prepared for that 10K?  Treadmills can only prepare a person to a certain point, they do not consider all elements that are part of running outdoors.  Treadmills allow you to have a faster pace than a road because the belt assist you. Treadmills have more “give” than pavement, which means your body will not be prepared for the impact.  Treadmills are unable to simulate outside elements such as terrain changes and weather.  Treadmills are a great tool, but until you head outside you cannot determine how your body will react.

In the world of engineering the treadmill represents simulations/modeling programs.  New engineers are educated about all the new innovative technology they can use to determine an outcome of products during processing.   Simulations/modeling are being used throughout industries across the globe, but sometimes engineers forget that these digital advancements should be used as a guideline since they are unable to predict all variables that can occur.

Setting up physical experiments will allow you to consider the surrounding environment in your industry.  Let’s evaluate the benefit of using a physical experiment through an example. A young engineer uses a simulation program and discovers the best method of producing good bar product off of a rolling mill.  The engineer informs the project lead of the discovery, and insist on updating the production practice. The project lead decides to run a physical trial before implementing the change.  Before the first bar is placed into the mill the project lead realizes the simulation requires the rolling mill to be set at maximum speed.  The simulation was not able to consider that maximum speed could damage the rolling mill, costing the company a large amount of money.  The simulation also was unable to determine the safety factors of the employees who would be working with the material at the rolling mill.

A second item to consider before using simulations is time and resources.  Currently, simulations/modeling take a large amount of time to input all the data for accurate results.  If your department had a deadline to uphold, it may be faster to setup that physical experiment.  You will always want to take this into account before starting a project; what is your time frame, what resources are available, and which method will be cost effective?

So, simulation/modeling should be treated like a treadmill, they are able to help guide you in the right direction but should not be used as the only dependable source.  Before even starting a project take a step back and ask yourself, “Should I start on a treadmill, or will it be more beneficial to just head outside and hit that pavement?”

Words of Wisdom: Today, try to get away from your desk and go outside.  This will help reduce stress and improve your memory.  Fifteen minutes is all you need!

Soft Skills to Succeed in Engineering from a Runner’s Angle

When you long distance run there are tools and skills all of us crazy runners know we need; such as the proper shoes, endurance, hydration source, mental strength, solid fuel source, knowing the route, etc.  What is not realized by a beginner runner are the other skills required to develop and maintain a good running career with minimum injuries.  These items can be: modifying you’re eating habits to have adequate nutrition at the right time, performing quality interval training in order to increase speed, strength training, correct breathing pattern, and keeping an appropriate speed so you will not deplete your energy before the finish line.

When entering the engineering workforce, the same concept is applied.  You have been through college and gained your standard professional skill pertaining to your field of study.  This is excellent, but most classes do not emphasize the importance of soft skills that are required. For an engineer to thrive as a professional you must be able to navigate the group dynamics in a workplace.  Following are a few examples of necessary soft skills for success.

Communication

When entering the workforce, engineers must interact with individuals from different backgrounds; they may or may not share the same technical knowledge.  It becomes essential to have discussions in terms that everyone can understand.  This is referred to as knowing your audience.  The same concept applies when using written communication.  If you are unable to be understood when relaying information on a topic, then you will not advance.

Empathy

Most individuals become engineers because they want to “make things happen”.  Engineers get themselves deeply absorbed in projects to the point that they forget the most important aspect; we are working for our customer’s needs (internal or external).  Always try to look at a project form your customers viewpoint because they are the priority.  If you lose track of what the project is about, this can result in providing a product that may work but not for the intended use.

Creativity

Engineers usually have great problem-solving skills, but creativity is lacking. Engineers must work under many constraints of projects, some of these restrictions will require innovative thinking.  An example where this can occur is if you found what you believe is the to be the best method to implement a project, but it is out of the budget for the company; you will need to find a unique method to implement a project with the same result but stay in your budgetary limitation.  Creative engineers can always see new angles to find solution.

As engineers there are not many options for soft skills training so you must find methods to practice these skills.  I enjoy practicing these skills by signing up to run races; this allows for interaction with all types of people, having a feeling that we’re all in it together rooting each other on, and evaluating the best method to achieve my next personal record. Find your why to practice your soft skills and you will be on your way to the finish line (Success).