Overwhelmed: A Day in the Life of an Estimator

Published On
Jun 1, 2017

I scheduled the whole day to finish the restaurant takeoff. I even came in a bit early. Of course, just as I start counting, the phone rings. It’s my foreman on the strip mall project. The utility company has not shown up to turn on the power. I jump on the phone to track down the company. Half an hour later, I get the correct phone number. They apologize and tell me they will be there in 20 minutes.

Just as I turn back to the restaurant plans, it occurs to me I need to follow up on the quotes for this job. It takes me a while to convince the vendors that the bid is due next Monday, not Tuesday. I also need to reinforce that the quotes must be broken down per the bid form. I end up retransmitting the bid form to everyone.

As I return to the restaurant plans, my strip mall foreman calls again. Now he’s shouting, “Where in hell is the utility company?” I get back on the phone to the utility crew, and they tell me the truck is just around the corner. It had a flat tire.

Now back to the restaurant takeoff. I count about a dozen more items when the phone rings. Now I’m angry. I call the receptionist to ask her why she put through a telemarketer. She tells me it really did sound like a vendor. I tell her it’s fine and apologize for yelling. After doing takeoff for about another five minutes, the receptionist calls up to tell me my lunch appointment is here. Already? How did it get to be noon so fast?

I am looking forward to a good meal with a customer. However, about 20 minutes into the meal, the strip mall foreman calls to tell me the utility crew refused to turn on the power for some reason. The rest of my lunch is spent cramming food in my mouth and running back to the office after apologizing to my customer. Of course, I end up with acid reflux from eating too much too fast.

At the office, I coordinate the corrections the utility company wants and set up getting the materials to the job today. 

I work for another half-hour on the takeoff when the boss calls me into an unscheduled meeting. We need to discuss the scope on a job we bid last week. He grills me for more than an hour because he is convinced I left out something. It takes me a while to explain the scope and show him the notes spread across a dozen plans defining work to be done by others.

Back to my takeoff. As I’m counting, I run across a huge mistake on the plan, and today is the last day to send in requests for information (RFIs). I call the general contractor to see if the problem has been reported. Naturally, it hasn’t, so I take time to write and email the RFI.

Again, back to the takeoff, which, of course, means it’s time for the phone to ring. The wholesale house can’t make the delivery to the strip mall. No one else is available, so I am elected to go get the material and deliver it myself. By the time I get back to the office, it’s 5 p.m., and I’m frazzled.

This story was based on experiences I have had and inspired by one of my customers who recently had an entire week of days like this. Most estimators in small-to-medium companies are required to do more than just prepare estimates. Many are also project managers, purchasing agents and truck drivers. Often, they are the company owner. This type of job description can wreak havoc with an estimating schedule and estimator’s accuracy. Constant interruptions are a major cause of estimating errors.

I have been to several seminars and read many articles about personal time management. None of them taught me what I needed to finish an estimate in the environment described above. The answer is simple: You must carve out periods of time when you will not be interrupted. 

As an employee, I would shut down the phone and close my door for an hour at a time. At the end of the hour, I could take care of anything that came up. As the owner of a company, I come in before my office opens. I can get more estimating done in a couple of uninterrupted hours than in the rest of a crazy day. You can too.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen 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 steve@electrical-estimating.com, and...

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