June 2009I believe it was less than a year ago that we were talking about how to best manage our time because there just weren’t enough hours in the day. What a difference just a few months can make, eh? And while bidding activity has not quite dwindled to the degree that we’re all clocking out at noon to catch the latest episode of General Hospital, most of us will have to confess to a few gaps in the daily schedule that were non-existent for most of 2008.
But does this give us an excuse to take up electronic solitaire while we wait for material pricing to come in? Of course not! There are a number of beneficial ways to spend downtime that will contribute to our efficiency at least, and maybe help us to land another job or two at best.
Consider the following: Many of us have, as a consequence of the overwhelming work load from previous years, relegated ourselves to the narrow role of simply producing take-offs. Face it: That’s all we had time for. But somewhere deep down in the secret recesses of our bean-counting souls we are aware that an effective and successful estimator performs many tasks over and above just cranking out take-offs. The thrust of this piece is aimed at reminding us just what those multiple roles consist of.
For starters, we can take a page from the craftsmen in our industry who utilize slack time to renovate and restore the tools of their craft. We’re talking about saw-sharpening here. Similarly, we estimators can update and refine our programs, our databases, our hardware and ourselves. Remember how annoying it was when you were in the thick of a take-off, under the gun, and that pesky unit of measure kept coming up as a square footage when it should have been linear? This is the time to get into the properties and repair all those minor glitches that were so frustrating—the ones that you had to stop and "fat-finger” when you were under deadline. Fine-tuning is now the order of the day.
Along those same lines, now might be the time to build some templates for all those repetitive assemblies you reinvented for almost every estimate you performed last year. Typical walls, soffits, specialty ceilings and shafts can be pre-built in the program for pasting into any take-off in a few seconds time. How’s that for an hour well spent?
If these preceding activities sound rather alien to you, chances are you haven’t had the time to invest in re-educating yourself by graduating from the wheel to the digitizer—or from the digitizer to full on-screen. Slow periods allow for time to upgrade ourselves. Attend some seminars, webinars or tutorials to get yourself to the next level and ready to hit the ground running when the next wave hits (it will; it always does).
Maybe while you’re revamping your database, you should look at your material costs and productivities. Are they current? It’s a longstanding rule in our universe that shrinking demand begets shrinking prices. Perhaps a long lunch with one of your regular material suppliers might convince him to send over a list of his products with some substantially reduced pricing.
Likewise, time may now permit you to revisit the historical data on recently completed jobs. If you’ve reduced your manpower pool down to your very best people, as many of us have, it’s likely that line items in your labor budgets are coming in under what was previously expected. Take time now to adjust accordingly; it will help you be more competitive during the bidding process.
Perhaps your most effective expenditure of "extra time” will lie in your development (or re-development) of relationships with clients. An enjoyable round of golf or an afternoon of skeet-shooting with a regular customer may incidentally pay off in big dividends down the road when there is a job to be negotiated.
So next time it seems that you aren’t quite putting in a full day, consider that you might simply be too narrowly focused. Try some of the above activities that contribute to the well-roundedness of the effective estimator. I guarantee it will be time well spent.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.