The biggest mistake almost every engineering student makes

Student mistakes

Photo credit – rchris7702, CC

Undertaking an engineering degree is one of the most difficult courses available. As a result, it is also one of the best paid professions around. For those who didn’t click the link, 6 out of the top 7 are engineering majors, with petroleum engineers unsurprisingly comfortably at the top of the list.

You need to spend a lot of time studying and working hard to be successful in engineering, far more than most degrees. If you want to succeed, consider your final two years to be more or less devoid of a social life. Many students, year after year, make the same mistake over and over again when studying engineering. I have seen countless examples of students who don’t realise they are making this one mistake that sets them up for failure.

What is the biggest mistake engineering students make? They don’t manage their time effectively!

This is so common that, having heard it so many times, I am sick and tired of listening to the thousands of reasons students have as to why they can’t manage their time effectively. Instead of talking in depth about the various excuses or things that are holding you back, let’s look at the three key ways you can begin to manage your time effectively to succeed at your engineering degree.

Key #1 – Develop a realistic and challenging strategy

The first key to effectively managing your time is to have a strategy. Wars have been won and lost because of strategies that are excellent or poor! While your engineering degree may not be as serious (or violent) as a war, you need a strategy to help you succeed. You should set out to make a main, overall meta-strategy. This will cover what you need to do each week of your semester or trimester. From this main strategy, you can plan your weekly strategy.

The weekly strategy focuses on what time you will allocate to each subject and on which days. Next, each night after you have finished studying (or about to go to bed), write out a list of what you have to complete tomorrow. Keep in mind that your strategy does not need to be overly detailed; it just needs to outline what you need to do. If you have to study every week (and you do) then your strategy will have a point stating that you will study for X hours a week for each subject.

Your strategy should be realistic and challenging at the same time. Don’t expect to write a strategy outlining how you will spend the next 12 weeks studying for 18 hours a day. Nor should your strategy outline how you will spend 20 minutes every day studying. A combination of challenge (where you think it may not achievable) and realism (you know it’s possible to achieve it) will help you to reach your goals.

Key #2 – Take your education seriously

You are soon going to become a professional engineer, so it is important to develop the habits and actions of a professional. You can do this by spending some extra time doing what others don’t and prioritising your time to make the most of it.

I have seen countless examples of students acting like idiots, and I don’t mean having a laugh or joking around. I have seen students spend afternoons stacking chairs to create a pyramid. As marvellous an engineering feat the pyramid is, I don’t think that helped them succeed or do well.

In essence, stop wasting your valuable time.

Key #3 – Revise your strategy regularly

I know many people who are brilliant at writing a great strategy, planning everything down to the last detail. This strategy will then sit on their desk for the next two years having never been looked at again. A strategy is only useful if you use it, not to make you feel better about yourself by having everything ‘planned out.’ You want to revise your weekly and daily strategy nightly to ensure you are on track and keeping yourself up to date. You can check your meta-strategy once a week to see how you are coping and to write out your weekly plan.

Sometimes you can’t achieve it all – so just do what’s most important to you and if that means leaving something out then so be it.

Remember, don’t just have a strategy, use it!