Have you ever wished there were a few extra hours in the day?

As we've discussed before, balancing graduate school with personal and professional obligations isn’t easy, and many students find themselves struggling to meet the difficult demands of their degree programs. This is a topic we often discuss with our students in the Masters of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) at UAB.

August 2 Time Mangagement

If you were to do a simple search on "how to manage time wisely" or "balancing time in graduate school" you'll find suggestions of organizing time in a planner, not over-committing, and balancing your school work with a healthy lifestyle. Planners and exercising can help you keep your mind in the right place to succeed in graduate school, but adding these things to your life when you're balancing so much can add chaos and keep you from getting what needs to be done - done. 

I've found that what works best for getting work done is the Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) model as discussed in one of our books of IEM recommended reading, Deep Work by Cal Newport. This method is more than just time management - it's about ignoring everything else and getting the most important things done.

Here are a few of the important takeaways from the Four Disciplines of Execution. These can be implemented throughout the IEM program or even at your current occupation.

Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX)

4DX #1 - Focus on the Wildly Important

The first discipline of 4DX is to focus your effort and energy on one or two goals that will make a dramatic difference in progress, rather than attempting to complete a large number of small goals. This doesn't mean you forget about other goals or smaller tasks, it just allows you to approach one major goal with focus, attention to detail, and diligence until it is delivered as promised, with excellence. 

You will need to discern beyond all your awesome, crazy, and creative ideas and know exactly what your capacity to execute is at the moment. Although it may feel counterproductive at the start, being able to accomplish these wildly important goals will return tangible and substantial professional benefits and set you up to succeed in future goals. 

Some examples of wildly important goals are:

  • Publish 5 Papers this year for a PhD going after tenure
  • Recruit 50 new clients per year
  • Earn $100k of revenue for your startup
  • Grow your email list by 50% this year

4DX #2  - Act on Lead Measures

The second discipline is to apply more time and energy to the activities that help you accomplish your wildly important goals. These are referred to as "lead measures" and are the quantified activities connected to achieving goals. 

Focusing on the wildly important breaks down the goal, and acting on lead measures defines the actions that will enable you to complete the goal. By having control of your lead measure, you can prepare for, and leverage, the inevitable "lag measure" that will hold you back from accomplishing goals. Acting on lead measures is more than just listing all the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the goal. Instead, define the most important actions of what needs to be done on a daily and weekly basis to measure your progress toward accomplishing a goal. 

Here are some examples to quantify your action of lead measures:

  • Hours spent on deep work writing papers
  • Hours spent actively in outreach - contacting people or generating real outreach tools
  • People contacted daily through email or phone or meeting
  • Daily “actions" to promote products and services that bring in money
  • Daily hours spent developing promotional tools

4DX #3 - Keep a Compelling Scorecard

In order to know if progress is being made it is important to know the score at all times. The discipline of keeping a compelling scorecard encourages engagement and keeps lead and lag measures in check allowing you to continue meeting and exceeding goals. 

If you envision your productivity as a game, you must know the score at all times to know if you are actually winning or losing. In order to solve problems, make decisions, and compel the appropriate actions it is essential to know the score of your progress. An effective scorecard is simple, address both lead and lag measures, and is visible to show when you are winning and also hold you accountable if you need to up your productivity game. 

Here are some tips I use when creating my own scorecard:

  • Tick marks through the week of hours worked with circles around the marks where milestones were met.
  • White board with a list of calls made
  • White board or poster board emails sent

4DX #4 - Create a Cadence of Accountability

In order for progress to continually be made within the discipline of execution, there must always be a recurring cycle of accountability. The fourth discipline of creating a cadence of accountability does just that. While disciplines 1, 2, and 3 bring the focus, clarity, and engagement needed to set you up to perform, the fourth discipline is where the execution happens. 

Accountability brings teams together and allows them to make commitments to each other to move forward in a disciplined way. If you're operating on your own, it's a commitment to yourself. The following steps can create an agenda of reviewing your progress and continuing to move forward:

  • Report on your commitments
    • Review team numbers
    • Confront barrier
  • Review your scoreboard - success and failures
    • Take a clear look at both lead and lag measures
    • Brainstorm how to push lead measures
  • Clear your path and make new plans
    • Resolve issues
    • Prepare to get back to work and continue making progress

By holding both your team and yourself accountable you can maintain focus and balance to continue making progress and knocking down both your wildly important goals and other tasks despite the whirlwind that balancing graduate school, professional life, and personal commitments can often stir up.

Learn Today. Implement Tomorrow.

When you learn something at IEM, such as time management for example, you won't have to wait to use it. Our goal at IEM is to help you find the best practices and rhythms to become a leader in both your professional life, today. Several of our former students have already found their way engineer to manager by making simple improvements in their day-to-day, and we can help you make those changes as well. If you're interested in learning more about other lessons that you can learn today and implement tomorrow, fill out the form on this page to schedule a time to talk or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About IEM

The Master of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a specialized concentration designed primarily for engineers and people in technical positions. The concentration presents business systems and soft skills in a curriculum that is based on actual engineering industry needs and is offered completely online.