5 Productivity Tips for New Engineering Managers

by Andrew Murphy


Stepping into the shoes of an Engineering Manager, you're entering an entirely new ballpark. Scrap that, it's an entirely different sport! It’s not just about flexing your technical muscles anymore. Now, it's about steering your team smoothly towards scoring those goals while keeping everyone motivated and the vibes positive for everyone, including yourself. The quick switch to manager mode means you’ve got to catch on fast to meet the asks of your new gig and it can leave you with a sinking feeling as tasks pile up.

Feeling productive doing easy pieces of work, lying to yourself that they are important, all while being swamped but not actually ticking off the important to-dos is a sneaky pitfall. It’s like being caught in a task tornado, yet when the dust settles, the crucial stuff is still staring back at you. This might be due to poor time management, blurry priorities, or a trying to multitask. Breaking free from this cycle means getting a grip on what tasks to tackle first and owning your time like a pro. It's all about channelling your time and sweat into tasks that genuinely push your work forward, instead of just hustling on the low-impact stuff.

In this article, I will be sharing the productivity tips that worked for me during my career. These tips are straight to the point, aiming to provide practical advice that can be implemented right away.

What does "being productive" even mean as an EM?

Being productive as an Engineering Manager (EM) isn't just about crossing off tasks on a to-do list; it's a broader spectrum that encompasses leading your team towards achieving project goals while fostering a collaborative work environment. It's about mastering the art of juggling various responsibilities such as planning, delegating, communicating effectively, and making informed decisions that steer the team in the right direction. Unlike the individual contributor role you might be accustomed to, where productivity is often measured by personal output, the EM role pivots towards enabling your team to perform at its peak, ensuring they stay on track, and aligning their efforts with the organization's objectives.

Productivity in your new managerial shoes also means having a knack for identifying and resolving issues that may hamper your team's performance or project progress. It's about being proactive, spotting potential roadblocks ahead of time, and navigating through them with finesse. Moreover, a productive EM cultivates a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the team, encouraging feedback, and celebrating milestones, big or small. In a nutshell, being productive is about making significant strides towards project goals, empowering your team, and contributing to a positive, collaborative, and growth-oriented work environment.

1. Prioritise Tasks

Getting your priorities straight is your new best friend as an engineering manager. It's about spotting the tasks that will give your team a real boost and focussing on them. Get this right, and you're on a path to not only meeting the goals but also ramping up productivity for everyone in your team. It's a neat way to lower the stress levels too since you know what needs your attention stat and what can chill for a while.

But here's the kicker: project and team dynamics love to change. So, nailing prioritisation also means being ready to switch gears when needed. It’s about keeping a clear line of communication with your team, understanding the team's goals inside out, and making sharp, informed decisions that keep things on track.

  • Actionable Tips:

    1. Establish Daily Top 3 Priorities. At the beginning of each day, identify the top three priorities that need either your attention or your team's. These should be tasks that significantly contribute towards achieving your team's goals. By having a clear focus on a small number of important tasks, you can ensure that your day is structured around achieving meaningful progress, rather than getting lost in a sea of less important activities.
    2. Master the 2-Minute Rule from David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. It's simple: if a task will take two minutes or less to complete, do it immediately. This rule helps in knocking out easy tasks right away, clearing your to-do list, and making the prioritisation of larger tasks less daunting. It can be particularly helpful in managing email or other quick-response tasks, preventing them from piling up and diverting focus from high-priority activities.
    3. The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as Urgent-Important Matrix, is a simple and effective tool for prioritising tasks. It helps in distinguishing between what's urgent and what's important. Draw a box and divide it into four quadrants: Urgent & Important, Important but not Urgent, Urgent but not Important, and Neither Urgent nor Important. Then, place your tasks in the respective quadrants. This visual tool helps in focusing on what truly matters and prevents you from getting caught up in less significant tasks. It can be a game-changer in ensuring that your time and effort are directed towards high-priority activities that contribute to achieving your goals. I go into this in more detail in

      this blog post


2. Delegate Effectively

Delegation is your secret sauce to being a manager. It's about playing matchmaker between tasks and your team's skills. Nail this, and you're looking at a productivity boost, a happier team, and more time for you to dive into the big-picture stuff. But beware of the micromanaging trap; it's a surefire way to dim your team’s creative spark and morale. Getting delegation right is all about trust, laying out clear expectations, and being okay with not micromanaging every little detail - you are delegating the outcome, not the process.

  • Actionable Tips:

    1. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your team members and delegate tasks accordingly. Understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses allows for more effective delegation. You can assign tasks that play to each member’s strengths while providing opportunities for others to improve their weaknesses. Use one-on-one meetings, performance reviews, and team feedback to gather insight into their capabilities.
    2. Clearly communicate expectations and any other relevant information when delegating tasks. This includes the desired outcome, the deadline, who can be contacted to help them, and any other information that will help the team member understand and complete the task successfully.
    3. Provide feedback to help team members improve and learn. Feedback is crucial for growth and improvement. Provide feedback on the delegated tasks, appreciating the efforts and suggesting areas of improvement. Creating a feedback-rich culture promotes continuous learning and improvement.

3. Time Management

Time management is your toolkit for squeezing the most out of your available hours to make sure you achieve what you want and need to. For your squad, getting a grip on time management means better sticking to timelines, dialling down the stress (for both your squad and yourself!), and revving up both personal and team productivity. It’s your game plan for planning, prioritising, and getting tasks across the finish line efficiently.

Building a daily routine, pencilling in realistic deadlines, and giving a nod to time management tools can shift how you and your squad handle time. And don’t forget to peek under the hood to see how time’s being spent, making a tweak here and there to keep things along the right track.

  • Actionable Tips:

    1. Buddy Up with a Time-Tracking Tool. Go digital and grab a time-tracking tool like Toggl or Harvest. It's like having a personal time coach that shows you where your hours are sprinting off to. By seeing where time gets spent, you can shuffle around tasks and zap those time vampires sucking up your day.
    2. The Pomodoro Technique. This one’s a classic. Work like a sprinter, not a marathon runner. Break your work into chunks (say, 25 minutes), then hit pause and take a 5-minute breather. It keeps the brain fresh, and you'll see tasks getting ticked off your list faster than you can say '



    3. Avoid procrastination by tackling high-priority tasks first - Procrastination can significantly hinder time management. Tackle high-priority tasks first, and use techniques like the Pomodoro Technique to maintain focus and productivity.

4. Avoid Multitasking

Multitasking is a slippery slope to mix-ups, a dip in productivity, and a scatterbrained scenario. It dresses up as a time-saver but usually crashes by stretching out completion times and reducing the quality of your work. So, flip the script and tackle one task at a time, you’ll notice your focus sharpens, the quality of your work increases, and you're working through tasks quicker thank you expected.

To get in the groove of single-tasking simply start by laying out your tasks, lining up your priorities, and reducing distractions. It’s a bit of a mindset change too, swapping the badge of busyness with valuing the real deal work.

  • Actionable Tips:

    1. Use tools that help minimise distractions like applications that block social media. Tools like Freedom or Cold Turkey can block distracting websites and applications, helping you to focus on the task at hand. By reducing distractions, you enhance the quality of work and overall productivity.
    2. Allocate specific time slots to different tasks and stick to the schedule. Designating specific time slots for different tasks helps in maintaining focus and avoiding multitasking. Use time-blocking techniques to schedule your day and ensure that you have dedicated time for each task.
    3. Before diving into the task, take a moment. Understand the task, why it's important, and what the goalpost looks like. It's like having a pre-game chat with your task. This clear understanding helps in keeping the distractions at bay and your eyes on the prize.

5. Set Clear Goals

Setting clear, achievable goals is your map to success. They're like the North Star for your team, lighting up the path, amping up the motivation, and setting up a scoreboard to track how well you're doing. And hey, let’s keep them SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Get your team in the goal-setting huddle. When everyone chips in, there's a better vibe and a solid buy-in to hit those goals. And don’t forget to keep the goals in sync with the project’s changes and twists. A little tweak here and there based on how things are shaping up keeps you on the money.

  • Actionable Tips:

    1. Communicate the goals clearly to the entire team and ensure everyone understands their role in achieving them - Ensure that every team member understands the goals, why they are important, and how their work contributes to achieving these goals. Clear communication of goals sets the direction and expectations for the team.
    2. Pit Stop Reviews. Regular check-ins or reviews are like pit stops in a race. They help to refuel your project’s strategy, fix any issues, and get a clear view of what lies ahead. It's all about knowing when to pause, assess, and maybe switch gears to stay on the right track.
    3. Error Autopsy. When things go south, do a little error autopsy. Dive into what went wrong, without playing the blame game. It's all about snagging those lessons to dodge similar potholes in the future.


Stepping into the shoes of an Engineering Manager is like switching lanes from solo rockstar to the maestro of a band, with your eyes on the prize of team success. The tips we've chatted about in this article are how you play through this change, with a spotlight on strategies to amp up productivity, smooth out processes, and build a culture where your team can thrive. Each tip is packed with hands-on advice to face the manager's challenges like a pro, not just hustling for on-time project delivery.

But here’s some real talk: this ride isn’t a one-and-done deal. It's about tuning these strategies to the rhythm of your team's changing scenes and groove. Management is about striking a balance between hitting project goals and keeping a team that's motivated, in sync, and always in the loop. By using these tips you are setting yourself up not just to hit the high notes on project goals but also create a workspace where your team can thrive.


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