Planning to Multitask

Bid day is the most critical moment of your estimate. It is the time when you work with numbers and calculations, which can affect the entire job, not just the single installation. So when mistakes happen, they can be severe, and because bid day often includes stress and panic, they can easily be overlooked.

In last month’s column, I wrote about estimating more than one job at the same time. Now I want to share some tips and ideas for bidding multiple projects on the same day and especially at the same time, which can be extremely stressful.

Be prepared
Preparation is the best strategy. Many things about bid day are simply mechanical. You have bid forms and other paperwork to fill out, and you need to apply final pricing. The “known information” required for these forms can easily be done ahead, usually by an administrative or front-office employee.
Various people, both inside and outside your company, will be involved with your bids. You will rely heavily on their timely delivery of quotations and other vital information. Take steps to ensure they come through for you. Help remind and push them in whatever polite but stern way you can. Ensure they are ready, and know exactly what you expect of them.

One way to do this is to create a bid day events schedule: a basic timeline of events and to-do-list items, showing what is needed, when and who is responsible for it. I also recommend creating a bidding general contractors or client fax list, a quoting vendors and subs list, and a list for any other companies or individuals from which you need information. Each list and schedule should have the contact info for each person applied to a task as well as the primary estimators for each bid.

Distribute these lists to everyone on your team at least a full day before your bids. This will give everyone a chance to review their tasks and confirm whether or not they will be able to complete them. Ensure they commit to their responsibilities. If they can’t, you will have to adjust and find other help.
Fair is fair. If you want anyone to perform well for you, you need to respect their schedule by giving them enough time and information to prepare. Don’t call your vendors on the morning of a bid and expect them to jump because you asked them to. Sure, they might jump for you, but will it be high enough to get you the best pricing and service? Think about that.

All these lists and schedules should be easily accessible during the bids. You should not lose any time tracking down vendors, subs, pricing, completed forms or answers from anyone.

Plan, schedule and set up early
Assuming your takeoffs are finished (and they should be), you will likely have several extensions to run and review. Remember, reviewing takes time and should be done in a calm, studious frame of mind. I recommend creating and reviewing them the day before if you can. If not, they should be the first thing you do on bid day. Schedule enough time to make adjustments and re-extend. Remember, if you are handling two bids, everything will take twice as long.

Set up your bid summaries early. Get yourself deep into them. Start inputting figures, such as percentage markups for sales tax, labor burden and labor rates, etc. Be careful, though. If you input any of them as plugs, usually to the higher side, don’t forget to review and adjust them later. Most estimating software allows you to set alarms or to flag or color highlight important input cells. I recommend using these features.

Also create a bid summary checklist for reviewing and approving these cells prior to finalizing your bid. If you flag your vital input cells and run through your checklist, you should eliminate and/or find mistakes.

Avoid distractions
Close Facebook; shut off your talk radio shows. Turn off your cell phone too, unless you need it for the bid. Forget your personal life for the next eight hours. Tell the family you’re not available. Make sure the office staff knows that bids are happening. Tell your electricians they are on their own for the day. Don’t plan any personal appointments, and don’t plan anything for the night before. Get a solid night’s sleep.

Remain calm
If you are handling everything for two or more bids at the same time, I wish you well and the best of luck. If you are working as a team, stay focused on your roles and your tasks. Develop a plan, create a schedule, and stick to them. Eat a complete breakfast, and have healthy snacks during the morning. Don’t get all hopped up on coffee and sugar; you won’t last, and your brain won’t stay sharp. If your bids are due at 2 p.m., make sure to take a lunch break promptly at 11:30 or noon.

On bid day, don’t create confusion, eliminate it. Stay focused, avoid interruptions and don’t get stressed. And one last thing: remember to breathe.

SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. During the past 12 years, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at or contact him directly at

About the Author

Stan Shook

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly

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