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Monroe Porter

Don’t give yourself homework

By Monroe Porter

Contractors are notorious for not liking paperwork. Remember how hard it was as a kid to sit at home doing homework while all your buddies where out having fun. Doing paperwork when you should be enjoying your life is not much different.

Taking an action-oriented ADD-type individual and chaining them to a desk to type estimates and other paperwork can be pure punishment. Yet many contractors’ daily habits inadvertently create paperwork logjams. Too much “homework” can take all the fun out of your profession and make work drudgery.

Embrace the discipline of “Doing it now as the need occurs.” Disciplined behavior initially feels like a loss of freedom but ultimately it is this discipline that sets us free. Putting things off to the future when we have more time is a fantasy that only feeds the false illusion that you will be less busy in the future.

Most small business owners and managers are constantly busy. Pretending it will someday turn into a less hectic situation only creates hopelessness and dread. So how do you gain control of your paperwork and limit your homework?

  • Step one is to get caught up. Even if you have to work all weekend, get it done. Clear your desk and backlog of daily tasks. If you are a project manager or superintendent that spends much of the day in a truck, clean up that dashboard and seat that is full of miscellaneous tasks. Start fresh. The physiological burden of always being behind can be devastating.

  • Eliminate time wasters. Avoid people who enter your office and suck up your time. Don’t be distracted by little things that have little importance. Ask yourself, “Is this the most important thing I should be doing?” Assign a dollar value to what you do. Completing an estimate might be worth $100 an hour where changing the oil in a truck is $15 an hour. Stay focused. Avoid firefighting. Don’t let trivial interruptions hijack your day.

  • Next, kill small tasks and paperwork as they occur. If you are doing smaller estimates and repairs, do them in the truck and on the spot. If you visit a job and see material that needs ordering or have a specification question, reach out for an answer at the moment.

    Much of the thought process required to do this task has been done. If you wait until later, you will have to get your brain back around the situation and this will take more time than if you had done it initially. Complete the task while it is fresh on your mind. Consider software solutions that will help you do estimates and change orders on the spot.

  • For larger estimates and projects, block out time to do nothing but complete that task. Shut your door and cut your cell phone off. Dive into the project and get it done as a singular task. Trying to multi-task when doing activities that require a slow brain thought process breeds inefficiency. Focus and absorb your mind into the task at hand. Due to context switching and lack of attention, multitasking is rarely efficient in the long run. The shortest way to do many things is do one thing at a time.

  • Don’t fool yourself by trying to work late into the evening catching up on paperwork. You are tired and such night owl activities are not efficient while also cutting into family and social time. Set your alarm clock for an hour earlier and get yourself out of bed and go to work. Process info from the day before and keep current. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I know very few successful contractors who do not start the day early.

Will Rogers once said, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” It’s amazing how many people “lock up” when overwhelmed. If you are feeling overwhelmed, focus on the present and prioritize. Focus on what’s important. When finished, consider giving yourself a little reward like calling a friend or drinking a coffee. Take a moment to absorb the satisfaction of the accomplishment.

Again, I can’t overemphasize the importance of a “Do it now” attitude when out in the field. Order that material now. Call the sub now. Write up the change order now. Your mind is fresh, and you won’t forget to do it later. Everyone is guilty of procrastination, even me. Now I’ve got this article done and don’t have to worry about making next week’s deadline.


Monroe Porter and PROOF Management offer business consulting through industry networking groups and he can be reached at (804) 267-1688.