One of the key qualities of an effective electrical estimator is their ability to manage themselves productively.

There’s always someone relying on you; from company management waiting to put in a bid on a project or electricians waiting for you to recalculate costs on change requests for a job.

The more efficient and productive you are, the better the throughput on estimates. … which, of course, means your company can potentially win more projects. But what does it take to work productively as an electrical estimator? Here are some of our top tips:

Free download: Tools for productivity

Time management

Managing your time is an important skill for an electrical estimator and has a direct impact on productivity. In fact, there has been an increasing demand globally to do more with less time …. and there are tools and systems springing up in aid of this goal.

As an estimator, there are things you can do to improve your time management – here are a few tips:

Eliminate distractions

You’ve probably heard many people proudly proclaim that they’re excellent multi-taskers, but according to science, they’re not multitasking at all; they are in fact rapidly serial-tasking. Every time we switch from one thing to the next in rapid succession, there is a stop/start process that goes on in the brain. This actually makes us less efficient as there is a lag to get up-to-speed on the new task.

Consider how many times in a day you might be interrupted. The phone rings, an email pings or someone strolls by for a chat. Every time any of these things happen your attention is taken away from the task you’re doing and your brain has to work harder to get back to it. In the case of preparing an estimate, you’re potentially in danger of making a mistake. If you’ve ever had one of those days where you felt that you were always busy, yet didn’t accomplish what you needed to, then you’ve probably spent a lot of it on distractions.

One recommended method to avoid these distractions and get some solid work done is to block out the time. Block out your calendar, turn off your phone, email, social media or whatever the distraction may be and either shut your office door or take yourself somewhere quiet.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport describes a highly productive state where distractions are eliminated and people get more work done in less time. A big part of this is making the space to do distraction-free work, as well as setting goals and timelines for it. So for example, you might set the goal, “I don’t work after 5 PM or on weekends.” This will compress the timeline for any work you have and push you to work more efficiently.

Productivity tips

Do the most important thing first

When you consider how many messages you may be bombarded with via email or other channels, it’s easy to find you’ve just spent a good two hours on it if that’s the first thing you do with your day.

The key is to prioritise the tasks you need to get done and start with the most important thing. This way, you’ll never have a day where you feel you didn’t achieve anything.

Speaking of email, an idea borrowed from Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek is to have email turned off most of the time, but check it at specific times of the day. He also suggests setting this expectation with others by having an auto-responder that lets them know you check email at 3pm (or whatever time you choose). Rapid methods of communication have created an expectation of rapid response, but there needs to be a distinction between what is truly urgent and what can wait. (Hint: Something really urgent probably shouldn’t be communicated by email…)

When you start with the most important task, you’ll achieve something every day Click To Tweet

Use efficient tools to manage your time

This will look different depending on the preferences of the individual. Some people swear by writing everything down on a piece of paper – there is something satisfying about physically checking off the items you need to get done.

Modern technology is here to help too. For example, you might use project management tools such as Asana or Trello to plan and track tasks. You might opt for a more basic time management app such as Toggl or Timecamp.

It’s always helpful if you have a good understanding of how exactly you spend your time so that you can be proactive about making any necessary changes. Time tracking apps such as Harvest or Everhour can help.

Avoid time-consuming re-work

One pitfall of electrical estimating is that if there are any changes or if something were missed on the drawings the first time, you can end up spending a lot of time on re-work. As they say, time is money so any re-work is costing you (or the company).

How can you take steps to avoid re-work? There are three specific strategies we can think of:

  1. Have a good electrical estimating system to ensure accuracy the first time. We recommend automated takeoff software like Countfire so that projects are saved to the cloud and counting is truly automatic. It also helps you to easily see if anything has been missed
  2. Develop good relationships and excellent communication flows with customers and subcontractors. Sometimes re-work is a result of miscommunication, so it’s important to communicate early and often. Have clear channels set up and processes for communicating. For example, if a client wishes to make a change, they should know to talk to a particular person (such as a project manager) who will oversee the project.
  3. Use an automated system as a time-saver for any changes that are made. For example with Countfire, your project is saved in the cloud and you can simply upload any updated drawings. This means if a recount is needed, the time taken is significantly cut.

Look into workflow management systems

Did you know that there are electronic workflow management systems that have been built especially for electrical contractors? The idea is that they can help you to establish consistent processes, especially for the repeated tasks that you do in your business.

For example, a good workflow management system might:

  • Help you to manage customer service and communications
  • Reduce physical paperwork by digitising documentation
  • Help make time tracking and scheduling simple
  • Automate reminders or other key repeated tasks

While there isn’t a particular system we recommend over all others, you can search under terms like “CRM for electrical contractors” or “project management tool for electrical contractors.”

Productivity tips
Download our list of productivity tools here

Final thoughts

The ability to be highly productive is an important trait for any electrical estimator. When you are more productive, you have a better chance at winning the bids your company really wants and putting in more tenders than you may have otherwise done.

Managing your time well is a great start, as well as finding ways to be more efficient. For example, you might use electronic tools to automate systems and processes.

Even if you start by blocking out distraction-free time and completing the most important task first, you’re sure to notice a difference in your overall productivity.