Estimating Under Pressure, Part 2

A new week of estimating has begun, giving you another chance to beat your bid schedule. You tell yourself that this week you will take a lunch break every day and go home on time. You will not be distracted. You will make every minute count, and you will not work on Saturday. Unfortunately, maintaining a crazy bid schedule is one of the most difficult tasks an estimator faces. Chances for success are slim, but you can succeed by learning how to creatively organize your estimating time.

Organizing your estimating time is critical. You must allocate enough for a job walk, to complete the take-off for multiple systems, prepare several requests for vendor quotations, obtain and review multiple addendums, review your take-off and, last but not least, bid the job. Of course, there are the interruptions: meetings with your boss, a foreman holding on line one, your kid on line two, lunch with a vendor and the dentist appointment you have been rescheduling for months.

With all that mess, how can you organize your time to make sure you do not work weekends? A first step could be setting a list of “time goals” for your take-off.

For example, break the take-off down into systems-lighting, branch, gear and site work. Then, allocate an estimated amount of time to complete the take-off for each system. Perhaps you think the lighting will take eight hours, the branch, 10 hours.

Apply time to the other things you need to do to complete your estimate: preparing vendor counts and request for quotations, writing RFIs, talking with the general contractors, tracking down addendums and writing the proposal. Interruptions can easily account for 10 percent of your total take-off time, so make room for them.

Add it all up

You should now know approximately how much time you have to put into the take-off before bid day.

Using this knowledge, create a work schedule for your take-off and decide whether you are going to need help. This should also let you know if you can plan that Saturday family outing.

How you schedule your estimating time will most likely depend on whether you are a single estimator, responsible for your time only, or if you are a team leader who needs to allocate different responsibilities to others.

Schedule specific tasks

As a lone estimator, you are only responsible for you. However, you also have the work of two or three people. This means you have to schedule your time to specific tasks. An effective way to do this is to stay true to each task you are working on.

Try to avoid multitasking and schedule time for minimal interruptions. Do not let vendors into your office while you are estimating. Turn off both your office phone and your cell phone. You can answer voice mail later. Isolate yourself during your take-off. Schedule meetings for times when your eyes need a break.

Hold meetings during lunch. Also, make sure the entire company knows your scheduled isolation and respects it. This can be accomplished with a group e-mail or a sign on your closed office door that reads: “Do not disturb.”

If you are a team leader, assign specific tasks to each estimator or assistant, asking them to provide you with a report on how much time they think their tasks should take. You should also make up a separate schedule on your own for comparison, then schedule a team meeting to discuss the project and the take-off. Compare your time expectations to what each member estimated and then, as a team, come to a mutual agreement as to what the schedule should be.

Of course, the same rules I laid out for the solo estimator on avoiding interruptions apply to each member of the estimating team. Isolation and focus are keys to accuracy. Multitasking can open up the door to mistakes. Stay focused on each task until it is complete.

A few last thoughts

Be realistic, because setting unrealistic goals can only get you into trouble and leave you feeling defeated. Monitor your progress and take notes. Bring your experiences-both successes and failures-to the next project.

Learn from the mistakes and capitalize on the things that worked. The key to success is sticking to your schedule, constantly checking and revising it as you go along. Never lose sight of how much time you have left to finish the job before bid day.

Time management is a proven factor in achieving success. Managing your estimating time can lead to successful bidding. The more prepared you are, the less stressful bid day will be. The less stressed you are, the less likely you are to make mistakes.

Achieving a stress-free bid day is possible, but it will not happen on its own. Creatively manage your estimating time and avoid the interruptions. You just might be able to enjoy a relaxing weekend. EC

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or


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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