Estimators Wanted: Alive, Not Dead

Estimators come in all shapes and sizes. Most I have met are not very athletic, except for a few golf games between bids. I’m sure there are many who are very athletic, but let’s face it—on any given day, our most strenuous moment is lifting a 40-pound set of drawings onto our workstation.

I’m certainly not the great athlete I used to be. I haven’t really exercised in years and as a result, I’m 10 pounds heavier than I should be. I used to surf and swim religiously. Now, I drive two blocks to the office and sit. During an average 10-hour day, I probably sit for seven. Estimating is not strenuous. And, except on bid day, it isn’t even pulse raising.

Healthy questions

What about your estimators? Are they healthy and in shape? Do they golf? Work out at the gym? Are they overweight? Are they eating right? Do they drink too much caffeine? Do they smoke? How are they when they come back from lunch? Tired? Lazy? Motivated? Energized? How about you? Are you in proper estimating shape?

Why should you care?

Estimating can be very stressful. Stress can cause illness. A sick estimator affects a company’s bottom line. Projects might not get bid or someone has to step in and cover their work. This is very costly because it takes him or her away from being able to work with clients or manage the company.

What can you do to help?

What standards can owners set for their estimators when it comes to health and healthy working habits? What can you demand or expect? Who are you to recommend what they might eat or how much exercise they should get?

There are many ways to motivate and help employees to stay healthy. Reward them with an extra day off, a game of golf, a gym membership. Fitness and competition go hand-in-hand. Perhaps you can turn it into a company-wide event with an awards dinner at the end of six weeks.

(Note to owners: Make sure you know your estimator’s health needs and all state and federal employment laws before you impose any exercise or health program.)

Put them in the comfy chair

Are you providing your estimators with a comfortable workspace? Do your estimators sit all day? What are their workstations like? Can they both stand and sit? How are their backs? Do they look directly at their monitors or are their bodies twisted?

When it comes to sitting all day, nothing can replace the value of the right chair. But be prepared to pay. A really good chair can easily cost more than $400, and ergonomic stools can be as much as $1,000 or more. Take it from an old surfer with a rickety neck—a great chair can change your life.

Other health ideas

Encourage your estimators to take a short walk during their breaks. Put the printer in a room down the hall—a decent 100 steps round trip. Ten trips to the printer equals 1,000 steps—the American Heart Association recommends 10,000 per day to prevent heart disease.

Encourage healthy foods and beverages at the office. Water instead of soda, herbal tea over coffee. Provide information on health, diet and exercise.

There are many great desk yoga diagrams available online. Estimators can perform these exercises for five minutes every hour or so. This could easily account for 20 minutes a day of deep breathing, hand and back strengthening exercise.

Exercise increases blood circulation. Active blood stimulates the brain. The faster an estimator’s blood is pumping, the more active his mind will be. If he is sitting there, barely moving—he might just as easily fall asleep. Boredom and yawning can lead to big mistakes and slower take-offs. Active and interested leads to accuracy and faster take-offs.

Windows to the soul

Another critical area of focus should be protecting the eyes. An estimator’s eyes are their most precious tools. Resting the eyes throughout the day is critical and again, it only takes a few minutes every hour or so.

Make sure they occasionally look outside a window or at something far away—anything but their computer screen. This is especially important when they are on a break. No surfing the Internet or playing video games.

Now, I’m a pretty healthy estimator— mainly because my wife feeds me really healthy food and I take a long walk with my dogs almost every day. I never sit still and my hyperactive nature burns calories like the sun.

But I just don’t really work out anymore. I need to and every day I tell myself “Today’s the day I...” OK, enough! It’s time I finish this article, get off my butt and walk my dogs. 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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