Keep Calm and Estimate On

By Stephen Carr | May 15, 2020




How to stay productive when everything goes south

I did it again. I let the stress of life and work get to me. Recently, I had two major bids due at the same time with fast-approaching deadlines. It was no big deal, as everything looked good for on-time completion.

Then, the interruptions started. First, the toilet clogged. Immediately after that, family business started intruding. Then, the truck needed to go to the mechanic because of the check engine light. Next, I received an email demanding that I immediately file a few documents. Then, it was time to deal with a change in medical insurance for my family. What a nightmare. Take it from me, this is not something to leave to the last moment.

Of course, it did not end there. My neighbor called with electrical problems. I felt like telling him to call an electrician, but, being a good guy, I went over to help. Pretty quickly, I found the 50A, 2-pole breaker for his air conditioning had come loose, causing a hot spot that welded the breaker to the bus. After a little struggle, I removed it and sent him to the store to get another one, while I got some work done on my estimates. As soon as I walked into the office, the phone rang. It was a customer wanting to go over an estimate we had finished three weeks ago. As soon as that call was done, my neighbor returned with the new breaker. I installed it in an unused slot, tested it and got back to work.

After less than an hour of work, I got an email about a huge addendum, with no extension of the bid date. To say the least, I did not handle it well. Curse words were heard throughout the house. To let you know, I never cursed until I got into this industry.

At that point, I had not made progress on my estimates, and my workload was growing. I thought, how am I going to finish these bids on time? Sometimes, my brain turns to scrambled eggs when my schedule is this fragmented. However, remaining calm always saves the day.

I used to have a problem with being too rigid in my scheduling. I was not aware of this until a management company interviewed my co-workers. The results of the survey were very convincing. I was guilty of “kneejerk reactions” every time my carefully crafted schedule was destroyed. I worked hard to become more flexible with my scheduling, but, obviously I can still let things get to me from time to time. The most important thing here is what I do after I calm down.

Since the bid dates are fixed, I have to meet them. I only ever missed one bid date: after having a heart attack. I suppose one could say that was excusable. However, others would say that it would not have happened if I had taken better care of myself.

This is priority No. 1. If you don’t have your health, you can’t take care of business. Even with the pressure of looming bid dates, sticking to a good diet and exercise routine should be the first task in your day. If you do not have an exercise routine, start one. Estimating is not on the list of effective exercises.

After taking care of yourself, dealing with your bid schedule is next. In this case, I have to face the fact that I will be working some nights and weekends. There is no point in getting worked up about it, as the anxiety works against being productive. Prioritize what needs to be done first, get to work and stick to your standard methods for completing an estimate. Remember, consistency is a requirement for error free estimates.

Overbooking has been a problem for me in the last few years. The continuing decline in the quality and completeness of the bid documents is affecting the time it takes to finish. I also see a significant increase in the number of addendums on projects, which is directly attributable to the poor quality of the bid documents. Because of this, I have adjusted my time budget for estimates. I also leave a small cushion of extra time between bids.

I highly recommend keeping bid logs. In addition to information about what the bid prices were and who the jobs were awarded to, I record the time spent on an estimate, expressed as hours per plan sheet. This is a great tool for budgeting your time on future estimates.

Estimating can be very stressful for a number of reasons. The pressure to produce profitable, winning estimates can be overwhelming. It is very important for your health and productivity to remain calm and carry on.

About The Author

CARR has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or [email protected], and read his blog at


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